There is a man on the porch. There is man standing on the porch in the dark, in the rain, with no umbrella. The man does not have an umbrella and he is standing on the porch in the rain but he is not wet. It has been raining for hours. Around his feet, on the concrete of the porch, there is something like the inverse of a puddle. Around his feet, the concrete is dry.
The man on the porch stares at our door. He does not move. He does not rap his knuckles against the chipping, green wood. He does not press the doorbell. He does not peer through the peephole. He does not turn his head to meet our eyes as we gaze out from the living room window. He stands on our porch in the rain.
My baby sleeps. My baby sleeps upstairs in her crib. She is seven months old. I am scared. My wife stands behind me, looking out the window with me at the man who is standing on our porch without an umbrella. My wife stands behind me and when she breathes I can feel the heavy air pass across my shoulder, brushing its claws along my neck, dissipating.
“What do you think?” she whispers. She does not whisper: “What do you think he wants?” Nor: “What do you think he’ll do?” Nor: “What do you think he is?”
She whispers: “What do you think?” Anything more specific will be an invitation. Call him “it,” and the world will close around us.
All I can do is shake my head. My arms are cold, stippled with goosebumps.
“Maybe we should call the police,” she whispers, the steady waves of her breath cut into medallions.
“No,” I say. I can feel, or maybe I only suspect, that any motion on our part will spur him into action. We are rabbits, standing still in the face of a wolf, and if we bolt it will have no choice but to chase. He will have no choice. We already have no choice. We are trapped, were trapped who knows how long ago. We should have paid attention. If we’d paid attention, we’d have seen him walk up the drive, could have opened the door and told him we’re not interested, could have headed off the sale of magazines, time-shares, or Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, but we were not paying attention and we did not see this man walk up our drive and now it is not time-shares or magazines or Jesus Christ he wants to sell.
This I know. This I can tell from the way he is standing on our porch in the rain. This I can tell from the way he is not wet though it has been raining for hours and he has no umbrella. We do nothing. We stand in our living room, shivering and still. We do nothing. We can do nothing. If we do nothing, then he will do nothing. If we do nothing then it is he who is trapped, who cannot move, who cannot run, who cannot hide. If we do nothing until the sun rises, then he will evaporate, he will vanish as impossibly as he arrived.
This is the way of things. Rabbits run, wolves chase, when it rains the world is wet, when the sun is out there can be no ghosts, no gremlins, no tricksters. When the sun is out there can be only men.
There is a man on the porch. There is a man on the porch. My daughter is upstairs in her crib. My daughter is sleeping. My daughter is seven months old.
“We should call the police,” my wife says, the words as clipped as fingernails. One hand releases its grip on my shoulder. One hand releases its grip on my hand. The warm river of her breath recedes, and the gravity of her presence diminishes. Floorboards creak with her passage.
The man on the porch turns his head to look at me.
As a child, the neighborhood kids and I played by the quarry. You could swim out into the clear water and you could see the stones beneath you as clear as if you’d held a magnifying glass to them. Only when you swam out to the middle of the great open space did they dim, but the blackness of the water beneath you was not the product of algae or the sky’s reflection, but of the depths beneath your feet, a great absence in the Earth whose mouth you now paddled so tenuously above.
The man on the porch turns his head to look at me, and I am more afraid even than when I treaded water as a child over that abyss. There is a deeper absence to his gaze.
The man on the porch turns his head to look at me, and his arm moves. His hand closes around the door handle like a flower blooming in reverse.
It will be okay, I think. The door is locked.
The door is locked. When the man on the porch turns the handle, it does not turn. There is a man on the porch, nothing more.
I turn away, looking into the kitchen to where my wife has gone to call the police. I look into the kitchen and the phone is still on the receiver. I realize I have not heard the words: “911 what’s your emergency?” Nor have I heard: “Yes. There is a man standing on our porch.”
I look back out the window, and the man on the porch is gone. My car is in the driveway, the streetlamps illuminate the rain so that it looks like an endless swarm of fireflies diving perpetually in place. The lights of the other houses are dim. I can see myself in the window.
There is no man on the porch. The front door is open. The floorboards upstairs creak. My daughter is upstairs in her crib. I am afraid, but my fear no longer surrounds my self. My self is a dead thing. My fear is with my daughter.
I run up the stairs, expecting the man’s silhouette to bar my passage at their peak, or around the corner, or in the door to my daughter’s room, but the way is clear. I do not have to charge forth, I do not have to scream, I do not have to tackle anyone or anything. I reach for the sill of the door and sling myself into my daughter’s room. She’s still in her crib, beaming up at a spinning mobile of the solar system, though Deimos is missing. I hear the sound of a door shutting and turn to go back down the stairs. There are no pictures on the walls.
The front door is closed. The bolt is locked. In the kitchen, the phone is on the receiver.
I go to the living room, expecting the man will have left, whatever this is will be over, but he’s there. He’s standing on the porch. He is dry. He does not move. He does not turn his head to meet my gaze.
Beyond him, a woman is walking in the street. She is walking in the street, and she pushes a stroller in front of her. In the stroller I catch the barest glimpse of tiny feet. She walks up the street and pushes the stroller, passing through the columns of light cast by the streetlamps. She pushes the stroller down the street, and they are out of sight.
Footsteps roll down the stairs. I look and my wife is standing there, holding our daughter.
I look back out the window. There is no man on the porch. There is only the street. My car is in the driveway. The streetlamps illuminate the rain. The lights of the other houses are dim. I can see myself in the window. I see myself in the window.
Patrick Lofgren is a speculative fiction writer and holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. He is an enthusiastic member of the Clarion West Writers Workshop class of 2017 and has previously published a short story in the anthology, The True History of the Strange Brigade. He lives in Salt Lake with his extraordinary wife, two ferrets, two lizards, and an axolotl.