Knock on Wood

Avery watches as the numbers on the elevator go down, the elevator jolting dangerously. His apartment is on the first floor, but he always enters through the main lobby on the third floor, so down the elevator he goes.

He would take the stairs, but it takes four flights of stairs to get down to his apartment, and that isn’t a good number. It would take more time for Avery to go up and down the stairs, instead of just going down the elevator once.

Avery bites a hangnail on his thumb absently. He’s been on this elevator thousands of times, and other people from his building have been on this elevator thousands of times. Nothing bad will happen.

The elevator doors open with a painful groan and Avery jumps out, breathing a shaky sigh of relief and running his fingers through his curls. Avery just wants to get back to his apartment, the stress of today getting to him.

As he walks to his apartment, he digs his left hand into the pocket of his jeans for his key, his other hand occupied with a shopping bag. He walks past the neighboring apartments, looking at the Halloween decorations.

Spiderwebs to danger tape to a sign saying ‘Home Sweet Haunted Home’, he walks past them all until he reaches his blank, white door.

Avery has never really decorated for Halloween. With the event celebrating the Gods and Goddesses, Avery hasn’t found the appeal in years.

With only one key on his keyring, he unlocks his front door, opening it and entering his apartment quickly before shutting and locking the door once more.

He feels movement brushing against his legs and looks down at the black cat at his feet. Avery picks up Thirteen after placing his bag down, petting her softly. The knot in his chest loosens somewhat at the familiar routine; his muscles relaxing now that he’s home.

It was difficult for Avery to get home with the beginning of the Festival crowding the streets, and along with what his therapist assigned him to do…

Avery pets his cat thirteen times before setting her down and she scampers to the kitchen, waiting for Avery to feed her.

Avery’s apartment isn’t very large. He does a quick scan over everything as he slips his shoes off of his feet. A window takes up the entire far wall, his couch set on the left perpendicular to it. In front of that there’s a glass coffee table, and since Avery doesn’t own a tv, stacks of books are in place of where it would have been, against the wall opposite the couch. The opening leading to Avery’s bedroom is right next to that.

Avery’s eyes skip over the area next to the couch, lowering his eyes to the ground and walking into the kitchen. While doing so, he goes through the mental checklist of all the things that he has to do tonight:

Feed the cat— Check

Ask for help

Make dinner

Call Caroline

Do routine

Avery frowns at recalling his therapist’s words. Ask for help. She had given him this as his homework, although Avery wants nothing more than to ignore it altogether. He knows that it will help him get better, and his therapist hasn’t steered him wrong yet.

Nevertheless, he thinks it’s best if he does it later. Feeding the cat is also finished, so that doesn’t need to be there. Calling his sister is always at six o’clock, and considering Avery is behind schedule because of the crowded streets, dinner will probably have to come after that. Avery makes the necessary changes to the list, so now it reads:

Do routine

Call Caroline

Make dinner

Ask for help

Avery doesn’t think he’s ever been more afraid of a checklist in his life. Hopefully his routine will calm him. He’ll be okay. He can do this. His therapist wouldn’t have given him this homework if he wasn’t ready.

Thirteen is satisfied once Avery has filled her bowl and handed it to her, and so he continues to move about the next item on his list.

He walks over to where he keeps his umbrella, opening and closing it thirteen times. He walks over to his front door, where he set down the shopping bag. He takes one of the small mirrors he bought out, taking it with him as he walks into the kitchen and opens the drawer with his hammer.

Holding the mirror over his trashcan and making sure his reflection is clearly in it, he breaks the mirror. After doing things for so long, Avery knows what to do to minimize clean up.

Avery sighs, the rest of his routine looming in the back of his mind like an itch he can’t scratch.

Putting the hammer back in its proper place, he stays in the kitchen and grabs his salt shaker. He knocks it over on the counter, the salt slightly spilling out.

This is the last of Avery’s routine for today, but after he sweeps the mess into the trash with his hand, the itch hasn’t left him. He let his neighbor borrow his ladder earlier in the week, and has yet to be given it back. Part of him wonders if his neighbor did it on purpose, if somehow he knew about his routine, if maybe his sister told him.

Avery remembers the first time Caroline had seen him doing his routine, before he started going to therapy; before his diagnosis. They argued the worst that day, and didn’t speak to each other for weeks. Caroline said that what he does is an insult to the Gods, and Avery didn’t know what to say to that.

Caroline broke the silence after weeks to tell him that she made an appointment with a specialist for him.

Avery shakes his head. Caroline and him have gotten better since then. She still doesn’t understand, but she knows he’s trying to get better. The neighbor probably only forgot to give the ladder back, or maybe he still needs it.

Avery bites his bottom lip, bouncing on his feet a little. It wouldn’t hurt to go and check, would it?

He walks over and slips on his shoes, not bothering locking his door or anything seeing as he’s just going next door. Avery walks down the hallway to the door next to his. He looks at the caution tape covering the door, along with a pumpkin carving at the bottom. Avery nudges it with his foot before looking back at the door, the numbers ‘133’ pinned to it. Avery raises his hand, but pauses before it can make contact with the door.

Avery looks between his fist and the door, his mouth slightly open. He can’t do this.

Avery blinks, taking a couple of steps away from the door, shaking his head. He turns back the other direction to walk back to his apartment. His neighbor probably was at the Festival anyway. He’ll get the ladder back some other time.

Avery bursts back into his apartment, leaning against the door once it’s shut. Avery shakes his head once again, bringing his mind back to the task at hand.

Avery can’t finish his routine with the ladder, and so instead he decides to just repeat the entire routine again, and once more after that so that it’s three.

When Avery is finished with them, he grabs the shopping bag with the remaining mirrors inside. Avery had run out of his previous stock of mirrors, and so this was to replenish the stock. Avery always buys as many as the store has. There were fourteen, and so Avery bought one less than that.

Now that he’s finished, he places the remaining mirrors in his bedroom for safe keeping. Even though he completed his routine multiple times, it still feels unfinished. The feeling overwhelms him, the knot in his chest squeezing tighter. He feels as though the Gods are taunting him, and so he shuts his eyes while repeating his therapists’ words in his head.

The urge will only come back stronger if you give in to it.

So Avery tries to ignore it, focusing on his list instead. He’ll be okay. He can do this.

Avery jumps when his phone starts ringing on the kitchen counter. He walks cautiously over to it, his heart speeding up without his permission. No one ever calls him. Is his sister in the hospital? Did she get into an accident? Avery picks up the phone and looks at the caller i.d.

The screen reads, ‘Caroline’, a picture of her blonde hair and smiling face in the center.

Avery accepts the call. “Caroline?” he answers cautiously. What if it’s someone calling from her phone?

“Avery?” She says, her tone mocking. “Yes, it’s me. You didn’t call.”

Avery looks at the time. 6:04. He always calls at 6 on the dot.

His mouth twists, unhappy with how off his night seems to be going, but he crosses it off his list anyway, leaving only:

Make dinner

Ask for help

“Do you need me to hang up so you can call me back?”

“No, no,” Avery trails off. The offer is tempting, but the damage is already done. It wouldn’t make him feel any better now. “I was just busy is all.”

“Oh, alright.” A beat of silence passes. “Are you sure you don’t need to call me back?”

“Seriously, it’s fine Caroline.” He doesn’t want to tell her that no, he won’t call her back, because then that would make two calls, and she would find it strange if he wanted to hang up for a third.

Caroline has been slightly overprotective of him since he got diagnosed. She doesn’t want others to judge him as harshly as she did at first. He supposes that getting his diagnosis made her realize it was a real issue, not something he was doing for attention. It took the diagnosis for her to realize that just because it was in his head, it was just as serious as any physical ailment.

Avery thinks she blames herself slightly for what happened. That maybe if she had noticed sooner she could have somehow prevented it. Avery tries to let her know that it’s okay, and that it isn’t her fault, but he doesn’t know if it’s working.

“Anyway, I figured that instead of doing a normal call, I could stop by for dinner? We haven’t seen each other in a while and I’m in town. But it’s fine if you’re busy.”

Avery wonders if she’s only offering to keep his mind off of the Festival, and he feels bad that she’s missing out. She doesn’t come into town often, she probably had plans to go to the Festival. “Yeah, no, that’s fine. I was just about to start dinner.” Now Avery has to think of something better than a microwave meal to serve his sister. “When do you think you’ll be here?”

“Half an hour? I’m already on my way but traffic, you know, the thing.”

“Okay,” Avery ignores her tiptoeing around the Festival, “call me when you get here so I can let you into the building.” He’ll have to have her call when she gets home from his apartment as well now.

“I know the drill, see you soon.”

Caroline ends the call. Avery looks around his apartment. Maybe he’ll clean up a little as well. He opens the fridge to see the chicken that he intended on making in a recipe tomorrow, but he supposes tonight will work instead.

Raiding his kitchen for the other things that go with it, his mind travels to the Festival.

Avery didn’t always dislike the Festival. Like everyone else around, he rather enjoyed it. A celebration of the Gods and Goddesses is what the Halloween Festival is for. It marks the beginning of the three day event. Tonight is All Hallow’s Eve, celebrating the Gods and Goddesses, tomorrow is All Saint’s Day, and the final day is the Day of the Dead. There’s a feast and candy and fireworks. The dressing up, the atmosphere, everything about it was something to remember. It was an event Avery always forward to as a child.

This was before he realized that everyone around him seemed to have the Gods’ favor but him.

Avery begins cooking the chicken after mixing some of the other ingredients in a bowl. His sister will appreciate the meal, although most likely not as much as the feast that’s happening tonight.

His mind travels once again, but this time to his therapy session from earlier.

“Do you know why you do your routine?”

“Because if I don’t do them bad things will happen.” Avery has explained this to her countless times, but she still continues to ask him this question every session. It’s like she’s expecting his answer to change somehow.

“Why do you think bad things will happen?”

“Because the Gods hate me.”

“The Gods don’t hate you, Avery.”

Avery shakes his head. His therapist told him that what happened in the past wasn’t his fault. Illusory correlation. That’s what his therapist calls it. Correlation doesn’t equal causation.

When kids are first learning about the relationship we have with Gods and Goddesses they tend to get a bit overzealous. When they learn how we are able to ask for favors, and as repayment, the Festival is thrown every year, they begin to see what they can get granted.

Obviously the Gods won’t grant every single wish, and this is explained by the parents, but kids will be kids; they always have to see for themselves.

This is what Avery did. He asked for all sorts of things, for his favorite toys, to not have to eat his vegetables, to have ice cream for breakfast. He asked and he asked and he asked, until he asked too much.

One day his father never came home from work.

Avery didn’t realize what it meant at first, until he asked for something else and his dog died, and he asked for something else and both his sister, himself, and his mother were in a car crash. His mother didn’t make it.

Avery doesn’t ask for things from the Gods anymore.

Illusory correlation. That’s all it is. His brain connected the two events all those years ago, to try and create a reason for all the things that happened, and a means to prevent it from happening again. It’s not his fault. He’ll be okay. He can do this.

He repeats these words thirteen times.

The chicken is done, and so he cuts this up and puts it into the bowl with the other ingredients. He cuts up the biscuits, mixing this into the bowl as well. Avery puts this all into a glass dish and puts it into the oven.

Avery sets the timer on the oven and turns around. Dinner is taken care of, and so Avery looks around the apartment. He trails his finger along the countertop; no dust at all. It’s clean, but Avery thinks it could be cleaner. Avery ignores the thought of the rest of his checklist, going instead to his closet to get his cleaning supplies.

Avery dusts, wipes and sprays every surface that he can. He vacuums the entire apartment, he empties the bathtub drain, he cleans the dishes. He even contemplated giving Thirteen a bath, although decided he would spare her that torture when she gave him a glare, as if knowing what he was thinking. She wanders off into the apartment, so Avery is left alone.

The time is already 7 o’clock, and Caroline still hasn’t called. Avery bites his lip, the tension in his body not letting up as he also thinks about the only thing left on his checklist:

Ask for help

He realizes he can’t procrastinate the problem much longer, and he looks at the space next to his couch. The table was a gift from his sister when he moved into the apartment, the only piece of furniture that he didn’t buy himself, and one he never would have bought of his own accord.

The dark stained oak dining table is easily the most expensive item that Avery owns. It remains the most expensive item since he never uses it. He always chooses to eat on the couch, for fear of what he might accidentally do. It’s covered with a layer of dust seeing as it’s the only surface in his house that he doesn’t clean.

If it were up to him he would have gotten rid of it, but he didn’t have the heart to do so. His sister would notice if it suddenly went missing, and he wouldn’t be able to come up with an excuse if she saw it suddenly went missing whenever she visited. So he chooses to ignore the table instead, in order to keep Caroline happy.

It’s common to have something like it in almost every home. Whether it’s cabinetry or furniture, it’s a way to keep the Gods close. Oak was considered a status symbol. A sign that you were close with the Gods, and also that you were rich enough to afford so much of the expensive material. Caroline most likely didn’t think when giving him the gift, or maybe she had been thinking, hoping it would force him to face his superstitions.

“Nothing will happen, Avery. People do it almost every day. See?”

The memory thuds loudly in his head, his therapists’ words echoing, trying to persuade him as he walks closer to the table, now only a foot away. The table sits still, as if daring him to do it. Part of Avery thinks that it will suddenly launch out and attack him.

The itch in Avery’s head grows stronger, his stomach queasy, he wants to scratch at his skin, wants it to go away. His head is pounding, his breathing growing faster as he begins to reach his hand out slowly.

The itch grows stronger, Avery’s stomach queasy. He wants to scratch at his skin, scratch anywhere, just to make the itch go away. His head is pounding, his breathing growing fast as the knot in his chest squeezes around his heart, his throat constricting.

He’s shaking. Avery notices this as he looks at his hand as it creeps forward. Avery can hear the blood rushing in his ears, his brain on overdrive. He doesn’t want to do it. But he needs to do it. He needs to. He needs to.

Avery knocks on the wood two times and it sounds like thunder to his ears.

Avery freezes, his eyes squeezed shut, hand still in a fist as it hovers over the table. He’s done it. Avery looks at the spot on the table, seeing a gap in the dust. Proof that it’s really happened. Avery’s heart is still pounding, he’s still breathing, nothing is happening.

Avery jumps when the phone rings. He quickly scrambles to it, snatching it off the kitchen counter.

“Hello?” His voice is strained as he answers the phone.

“I’m here Avery. Let me in.” It’s Caroline. Avery glances at the time, it’s 7:13.

“Okay,” Avery mumbles, hanging up the phone. Everything’s fine. Caroline is here. Nothing bad has happened. Nothing bad will happen. Avery glances over at the table before he shakes his head. He has to let Caroline in.

He quickly checks on dinner to be sure that it isn’t burnt before going to the door and putting his shoes on. Thirteen reappears from wherever she had been hiding, meowing. Avery pets her quickly three times before grabbing his key and leaving the apartment.

He moves quickly down the hallway to the elevator. Nothing has changed, and yet everything feels different. Avery looks at the decorations adorning the hallway a little bit better now. The adrenaline from before is still pumping in his veins, but he feels better. His therapist was right. Everything is okay. Avery chuckles, feeling giddy now. He’s okay.

Avery presses the button for the elevator and it opens immediately, greeting him with a pleasant ding. He moves inside and presses the button for the third floor, the doors closing.

This is great, he thinks, he can’t wait to tell Caroline what happened. Maybe by next year he’ll be able to go to the Festival again. She’ll be ecstatic. Finally all of Avery’s hard work seems to be paying off, progress is finally being made.

The elevator creaks up, and Avery watches as the numbers change.

The second floor, the elevator groans.

The third floor, it jolts.

The doors of the elevator don’t open. Avery presses the button for the doors to open, jamming his finger into it thirteen times.

“Come on, come on, come on.”

It’s the thirteenth time that the elevator gives one final snap before it goes down.

Kasper Boehm is a sophomore English major in the Creative Writing concentration. He likes to read and write in his spare time and hopes to pursue a job in publishing or writing in the future