Things are never as bad or as good as they seem in the middle of the night. Darkness conceals, and that's good. Deal with it in the morning when you can look at it straight in the eye. This approach always calms me down and guides me into the dark cave of deep sleep.
The doorbell went off at just after 3 a.m.
Two dulcet tones. Then silence. My body clenched. The REM elevator doors closed. I was now on an express ride up to the mouth of the cave.
"Bing-bong, bing-bong, bing-bong." Three times this round, one chasing after the other. I opened my eyes.
Peggy stirred. The bell-bonging and my movement launched her own elevator to the surface.
"It's the doorbell!" I said.
"Is that the doorbell?" she said.
"It's the doorbell!" I said.
Then it stopped. Thank God. Whoever or whatever was there was done and gone.
"Is somebody at the door?" asked Peggy.
"I don't know," I said.
"Why would there be somebody at the door?"
Then the bell came again, with a long smear on the first note. "Binnnnnnng-bong."
Well, this is the end of us, I thought. It wasn't a matter of who was down there but by what means they would be killing us tonight. Who lays their finger on the bell that hard unless they have a weapon in the other hand?
"We gotta go down there," said Peggy.
This elated me. I figured by virtue of the fact that she brought it up, that it was her idea, she'd be the one to go. I forced back a giggle of relief.
"Do you want me to go with you?" she said softly.
The bell was bonging madly now. A Stephen King soundtrack to our little early morning conversation. The ceaseless ringing sent me into a world-class case of the whim-whams, but then, curiously, it also squeezed something inside me, something that produced a drop of testosterone. A little, teeny slice of courage emerged. I climbed down from my tower of cower.
"I'll go," I said.
"Do you want me to go with you?" Peggy asked again.
"Yes! I do!"
"I'm not gonna."
"Then why did you ask?"
"I didn't think you'd say yes," she said.
There's a fine line between I want to protect my castle and I want my mommy. I put my feet on the floor. I can't emphasize enough that the bell was firing away down there this whole time. Over and over. I looked around in the dark for a weapon. The choices were not encouraging. An iron or a lamp. I reached for the iron and then changed my mind. I pictured myself getting all tangled up in the electrical cord as I banged away on the guy's head and upper back.
Yes, indeed. Darkness conceals. I subconsciously decided that short of deploying the Black and Decker No-Wrinkle Steam Express, I'd use the damn dark to my advantage. I made my way out of the darkness of the bedroom into the darkness of the hallway. A middle-aged man about to be murdered in his own home. No Christmas this year. Or next. And the cable guy's coming next week to give us HD and HBO, too.
"Hurry," said Peggy, as the bell pounded away.
"I don't think they're going anywhere," I said.
Bubbles filled with hot oil rose to the top of my stomach and burst open on the surface.
From the top of the steps I could see the lower half of the front door but not the window. There were no shadows cast from the yellow front porch light.
Silence is its own threat when in cahoots with uncharted mayhem. Halfway down the steps, the bell stopped. No sounds from below or outside that I could make out. Not a stir. I opened the front door. Nobody. I closed and locked it. The bell started again.
I should say that the bell has been broken since we bought the house in 1999. People would come to the stoop and go away, only to report later we weren't home. We've destroyed 30 acres of forest with "please knock" signs taped to the storm door for the pizza guy.
It's not true to say we've never heard it. In over a decade it actually worked a half-dozen times. It made up for lost time tonight. I looked over to the living room wall where the sight of it working so hard on its own gave me new goosebumps.
Our tool choice is about as varied as our weapons. I settled for some chopsticks for the operation. With no anesthesia, the patient buzzed uncomfortably under my skillful wire-ectomy, setting free once and for all the ghosts of a thousand attempted arrivals.