Monday, March 19, 2012

9 Days of Madness Presents: Tap by Jodi MacArthur

Jodi MacArthur's stories are distinctive. She has a way of telling the most atrocious, most bizarre details, while at the same time weaving a thread of disarming innocence throughout. From smurf-eating ponies, to one of the most chilling femme fatales I've ever come across, Jodi's stories often make you smile - right before you gasp in shock.

Her story, Halloween Games, that was featured in Erin Cole's 13 Days of Horror two Halloweens back still resonates whenever I see her byline. It was one of the funniest, sickest things I've ever read. (Link!)

If you've never read anything by this Seattle-born Texan, you're in for a treat. If you have - that's doubly true.


My heart beats in tune to the
Tap, tap, tap. I sit on the sheets and keep listening to the
Tap, tap, tap on the window. I imagine the window is wet. Raindrops slide like tears of God. This reminds me my hair is wet and I am cold. I don’t think the taps are raindrops. I think it’s something else, so I reach under my pillow and touch the knife’s handle. It is still there. I put it on my lap, facing the jagged edge away from my stomach. I pull my pink robe to my chin. The robe I had slipped on as I stepped out of the shower and walked into my room and first heard the
Thud, thud, thud downstairs in the kitchen. Mom and Dad aren’t due home until midnight. I always hide the knife under my pillow when mom and dad are gone.  What if someone broke in like on Halloween or Scream? I know those are just movies, but I had also watched Crimes In The Dark. Detective Mike, the neighbor across the street, suggests to keep weapons handy when a young woman is by herself. I’ll be fifteen next month – this qualifies me as a young woman. Detective Mike always looks mean, so I’m never sure if I should really listen to him or not. I think the cute cop on Crimes In The Dark has much better things to say. Charge your cell phone, says the cute cop, but my cell is downstairs in the kitchen.
Tap, tap, tap. I imagine a creature in black with a white ghostly mask like in Scream. It has a bloody knife and it is tapping the window. No, no, that is a movie – stupid. What I need to worry about is why I haven’t heard the
Thud, thud, thud downstairs for a while, not for a full- I glance at my Betty Boop clock – twenty minutes. Besides, that sound was more like a
Creak, whisper, creak. I knew the creaking wasn’t the settling house creaks they talked about on Debunk Ghost Stories, because house noises don’t whisper and squeak like wet shoes on linoleum. Someone is in the house. I heard the sounds of wet shoes in the kitchen because they sounded like
Squeak, squeak, squeak not to be confused with the sound mice make. Or the sound wet mice make. Perhaps a wet mouse is making the
Tap, tap, tap on my bedroom window – but I can’t tell. I just don’t know. I can’t take it much longer – this suspense. Crimes In The Dark never talked about the suspense. The sitting in a dark bedroom and waiting for something terrible that will inevitably happen. And perhaps that something terrible will be something I’ll inflict on myself? I’ll go insane (the cute cop from Crimes In The Dark never mentioned this either). I’ll stab my pillow until the feathers fly like angel wings in the darkness. Then, I’ll turn on myself and slice off my ears with this butcher knife. I will, I swear I will, because I can’t stand listening to the
Tap, tap, tap. I keep thinking of that story Sally told me the other day between fourth and fifth period, the story where this girl and guy are making out in his car on the beach. And they hear this
Tap, tap, tap on the roof and it was an escaped villain with a hook or something like that. Then she told me this other story about prom night last week where these two sweethearts ran out of gas on a lonely rode and he leaves her to fetch more gas and she keeps hearing a
Tap, tap, tap on the windshield and it turns out, someone had chopped off his head and hung him on the tree above the car and his blood drained on the windshield. And the sound of the blood dripping on the glass, I knew it didn’t sound like a squeak or a creak, it was a
Tap, tap, tap.  I had not seen this on Crimes In The Dark, nor had the cute cop mentioned this. Why wouldn’t they report such a heinous crime? Why wouldn’t they warn the neighborhood! Meanie Detective Mike didn’t say anything either, but he doesn’t talk much, unless he is giving some kind of instruction.  Of course, Sally did have a way of stretching the truth. She said that Conner and Jill had done it and Jill’s mother had given her a morning after pill because she might have gotten pregnant, but it turns out all they did was kiss. So stupid.  The fact of Sally stretching the truth or that Jill was not pregnant does not take away my fears of the hook or maniac serial killers because I keep hearing the
Tapping, tapping, tapping and I can feel the tears on my face. They fall much faster than raindrops. I don’t know what to do! So I pick up my knife and put it between my hands and I shiver because my hair is still wet and I’m scared and I pray. I pray to God that the robbers or maniac serial killers downstairs have left. I ask that the noise outside my door is just the rain leaking through the ceiling.
Tap, tap, tap. Now there is another noise, slight and jarring. My doorknob is wiggling. I am wiggling under my bed. My pink robe scrunches around my thighs. I hold the knife in front of my face. My heart keeps thudding and I can’t hear the tapping because the door is opening, and I see dark boots. Black boots. They seep into the blue carpet like shadows. Shadow boots are silent. I can’t hear the
Tap, tap, tap on the window anymore and I can’t hear the
Thud, thud, thud of my heart anymore either. I do hear a little voice in the back of my mind, I think it’s Detective Mike, telling me to prepare. Blood courses through my veins. I clench my teeth.
Silent, silent, quiet. I watch the black boots walk towards me. They stop inches from my nose. The boots glisten as if wet, but not with rain, a thicker wetness. I clench my knife. And I know he is bending down…and suddenly, I can hear again. I can hear his heartbeat and mine 
There is a unique smell. The smell reminds me of last summer when I went with Dad to Uncle Bob’s farm to see the horses. It was butcher season, and the sun glinted off the bars straddled between the barn and fence posts. Hanging from the bars were chickens, their throats sliced. Blood dripped thick and the humidity multiplied the metallic scent. This is what I smell now. And what I hear is
Tap (the hook man slicing)
tap (serial killer chopping )
tap (the blood dripping from Uncle Bob’s butchered chickens)
And then a head pops down beneath the bed. It is masked in black nylon and all I can see are the whites of his eyes and red thin lips pressed together. I stop. I freeze.
I watch the thin lips turn upward into a smile and I know his hands, his evil hands are coming to get me, to hurt me.
Tap, tap, tap. My mind whispers Detective Mike’s instructions- I slash!
Slash! Stab! Poke! His face disappears. I hear his boots lift and rise from the carpet.
He shrieks, “Damn! Damn, bitch!”
His glistening shadow boots thump into the darkness, down the stairs…away. Tar droplets left behind stain the carpet. And then it is 
Silent, silent, quiet. I don’t know if he’ll return, so I hold my knife out like a cross to a vampire. It worked in the movies, but movies aren’t real. I wondered if Crimes In The Dark is even real. It seems so childish now. Detective Mike’s self defense instructions worked! I decide to stay where I am until mom and dad come home. Please, please come home! My heart is still racing and my eyes are glued to the dark spots on the floor left from the masked man. I feel nauseous.
Tap, tap, tap. It occurs to me what the tapping on my window could be. I thought of the prom night with the boyfriend hanging upside down over the car. I thought of Uncle Bob’s chickens swinging limply in the breeze. The blood dribbling out one drop at a time…
Tap, tap, tap My parents had been gone for an awfully long time; they hadn’t called to check in…they always call to check in. I keep trying to push the thought away, but what if on that old, giant oak outside my window… The thought is ridiculous – stupid. Or is it?  My phone is downstairs, but so may be the masked man. A faint creak reaffirms this fear. Perhaps I’ll hide here forever, wondering, waiting, listening to the tap, tap tap.
Thud, thud, thud Detective Mike is leading me down the stairs. I see dark, globby stains. It is blood. I hear sirens and hollering and voices talking through police radios. My parents are outside my window. I know this. They are hanging upside down with their throats slits or heads lying on the ground. I know this. He didn’t say and I didn’t look, but I just know. The front door
Creak, creak, creaks open and Detective Mike sweeps me out. He keeps asking if I’ve seen someone and I keep saying yes. Shadow boots. I saw shadow boots. He whispers in my ear, “Whatever you do, don’t look back. Theresa, do you hear me? Don’t look back.”
I hear him, but I don’t hear him. I swear I can still hear the
Tap, tap, tap. I have to know that it’s them. I have to see it with my own eyes. Detective Mike guards me with his body, so I couldn’t look if I wanted. He opens the police car door; I twist to get inside.
 I look back towards the big oak that sits above my window.
And that is when I begin to scream…

~~~ 9DOM ~~~

Jodi MacArthur hides in dark, deep places with feather pillows and boas. The scratch, scratch scratch of her pen can be heard on silent nights when madness has retreated back into its cocoon. Read more of her works here 


  1. Every muscle in my body was tense when I finished this. Spectacularly suspenseful and creepy as all get out. Well done, as usual, Jodi.

  2. Super creepy. You have such a talent for building suspense. It's wonderful to read your work again, Jodi. Keep the pen scratching, scratching, scratching...

  3. Very scary, very suspenseful. I imagined you writing it, all hunched over your keyboard, tap tap tap...

    Well done.

  4. The "tap, tap, tap"/1-2-3 device you used was very effective in building suspense. It also gave the piece a certain rhythm. Bravo!

  5. I think it's your inner monologue that is so scary, that constant second guessing of what's making the noise, and though usually more frightening than what it really is, never is the case with your stories. You take us all the way down that dark road, and we love it!
    Excellent writing, Jodi.

  6. Hello Jodi,
    Don't we all jump when someone taps the door. Become agitated by repetitive sounds, dripping taps and such like. The darkness magnifies these pesky sounds. The way you weaved that sense of barely suppressed panic into your story was breathtaking. Pure magic.

  7. Thank you, everyone! Glad to put suspense in that morning coffee- Yum!

    Erin, Glad you mention the inner dialogue. The story was originally a psychological suspense & one was supposed to wonder about the mental stability of this young woman. I decided to change the plot, but hoped I left qualities to make the reader feel very unsettled & yet captured by her innocence & rhythm of the words that you couldn't stop reading.

    CHRIS~ Love the Betty Boop clock! And thank you for intro. I had no idea you enjoyed "Halloween Games" so much. (Hee!)

    1. I was caught up in the driving pace of this. The insistent "Tap Tap Tap" seemed to ratchet the tension up a notch every time you brought it back around.

      Also, the interlacing of the real drama with the urban legend up until the ending really does give us a shaky grasp of her frightened state. The effect is just so damned strong.

      (P.S. I thought you'd like the clock. And I almost listed "Pillow Talk" as a favourite but I ... I can't read that again - Henrietta scares the crap out of me.)

    2. ha! I love Henrietta. I've written much more of her since then. And thank you ;-)

  8. Jodi McA knows where they live; those deep, dark,scarey places that, when touched send us running for brighter rooms; the company of people that breathe;puppies; gingerbread; tropical beaches -- or maybe even a land without semicolons. Jodie knows where they live and, more horrifyingly, knows where they live within each of us and, more horrorfy-inger, knows she can touch them anytime she wants. And she's a pirate too. Arr Matey.

  9. Absolutely... sublimely... jaw-droppingly terrifying. And a perfect reminder of the marvels that spill from Jodi's pen.

    I really enjoyed Theresa's juvenile conversation with herself and believed she was over-reacting to normal noises, but quickly began to feel unnerved. I was genuinely shocked that there really was someone in the house, and once the urban myths were 'out there' they started bouncing back and forth until my heart was racing with the possibilities. And the end - oh! the end! Superb.

    Jodi, it's wonderful to weave through your words again - as always.

  10. Lily, I truly appreciate your compliment & tickled to pieces to terrify you. Thank you, hon. x

  11. Physical, insistant, resonant, effective.
    That's Jodi.