A Soft Knocking

I stumbled across a short story contest yesterday with a Halloween/horror theme, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I actually wrote the following story about ten years ago, and it was much longer than this version. The original was over 1700 words long, and even yesterday, when I set out to pare it down to the 500 word limit for the contest, I had my doubts I could do it. But I did, and hopefully it didn’t lose too much in the cutting process. In any case, I hope you enjoy it, and if you have time, go on over to Haley Whitehall’s blog and take a look at some of the other entries.

 A Soft Knocking


Charles Mashburn

Copyright © 2011 C. Mashburn

It was morning, and in my very bones I could feel the dampness that had been soaking the world throughout the night. The lamp cast a warm glow upon my work, but did nothing to ease the chill in the room. I heard a faint ringing in the distance.

The ringing of a carriage bell was not something I often heard, and it sent a chill through my blood.

Suddenly, a woman’s scream filled the cold morning air, and I moved quickly to my window.

Trembling, I watched a coffin-like visage approach. The driver cracked the horse with his whip, but it seemed not to notice and continued at a slow trot. When the driver pulled back on the reins and the coach slid to a stop, I turned away.

I somehow knew that what lay inside the black carriage had come for me, and I wished not to see, yet knew I must, and turned back to the window.

The driver stared forward, while the horse looked with wild eyes over its shoulder and snorted steam from black nostrils. A slender leg, clad in a white silk stocking, appeared at the coach door then fell on the road. A river of blood flowed from the severed limb, meandering through muddy water.

I turned away! It felt as though a fist were gripping my heart.

I knew with an instant dread that never more would my pen scratch the page.

Faintly, I heard the “Yaw” of the driver and the snap of the knotted whip. The scream of the beaten steed pierced the damp air like an ice pick through a warm beating heart. And then, there came at my door… a soft knocking. My aged eyes watered and one icy tear trickled down my cheek.

I stood looking at the great door, wondering how I had suddenly come to be mere inches from its thick boards. My mind fought to stay my hands, yet they moved toward the bolt then… stopped. Once again there came… a soft knocking.

Seemingly of its own accord, the door swung open, a small hand gently pushed me, and I stumbled into a deep blackness outside my castle door. Light had fled my world.

Tumbling, I floated through the darkness, my lungs burning as I breathed the vile substance in which I flew. I suddenly knew, with frightening certainty, it was the taste, and smell, and feel, of ink filling my senses. I knew, too… who it was had come to fetch me.

It was all those of whom I had written in my years at the desk. Those lives I had created then taken, oft in brutal fashion, in the dark stories I’d told.

But the cruelest of my acts was the shunning of the one in white silk stockings who wanted naught from the world but my un-given love.

For this, I will forever hear, as I tumble through my madness… a soft knocking.


Click on the following links to read the long original version:

A Soft Knocking ~ part one

A Soft Knocking ~ part two

A Soft Knocking ~ part three


  1. Sherry Mashburn said

    While I love the longer version, the brevity of this lends itself to a deeper horror . . .

    • The long version is a lot more descriptive and tense. This one is straight to the point. I’m glad you like the shorter version!
      Love you!

  2. jmdh said

    just right big guy !!!!

  3. Thanks for the second treat,

    your angel wife reads you, how divine.

    keep your creative juice coming.

  4. Love this! I felt as if I were there. Thank you for stopping by. Glad you liked the story. It was actually my first time writing this kind of story.

    • Thank you, Debra! I hope you’ll stop by again and take a look at some of my other writing!
      And you are very welcome. I enjoyed your story!

  5. Ahh, madness! The long, slow dread as you sense it creeping towards you, the utter bleak world-shattering nightmare when it fully descends.

    Well done, Charles. I think I detected a slight taste of Lovecraft in there, just a dollop to spice the broth that is otherwise entirely yours.

    • I don’t know that I’ve ever read anything by ovecraft, but Sherry agrees there is a similarity. This piece is way out there for me; I seldom do anything like it, so it’s definitely pulled from things I’ve read elsewhere. The longer original was even more gothic and old world sounding. I got really into it. Had to cut most of it out to get down to the 500 word limit for this contest.
      But, yes, the madness thing was fun, and I have written many thrillers where the lives of many characters ended abruptly. That is the premise of the story really; his characters and the love he spurned come back to haunt him, and drive him mad.
      Thanks for the awesome comments, Michael! I enjoyed them and also enjoyed responding to them!

  6. Morning said

    tomorrow will be a sunny day.


  7. Kay Salady said

    Oh Charles, this is wonderful! “A Soft Knocking” Wow!

  8. Oooh! It felt very Poe-esque to me, which I love. I could feel the chill atmosphere and the dread.

    • Now, Pe I have read, and enjoyed. I’m not knowledgeable enough about any of them to say this piece is reminiscent of them, however. I tend to think each reader will make of it what they will.
      Thanks for the great comments, Sonia!

  9. […] A Soft Knocking – Charles Mashburn […]

  10. cheri said

    well done my friend:) Happy Halloween!!
    Hope San Marcos was fun today:)

  11. I too was reminded of Lovecraft and Poe as I read it. It felt very old style horror to me and I loved that. Delicious read for a nice Halloween day.

    • I’m gonna have to find something by Lovecraft and read it. You’ve got me curious now. I wrote this piece kind of on the spur of the moment on a rainy day, and I believe I was reading Gone South, by Robert McCammon at the time. He writes some poe-esque type stuff at times, and he’s one of my most favorite authors. I like to try different styles now and then, but mostly I stick good ol’ redneck me! (It’s much simpler that way!)
      Thank you so much for reading my story and visiting my blog, Billie Jo!

  12. Very Poeish, Charles. And yes, Lovecraft too. You leave us wanting to know more about the one in the white stocking. Nicely done.

    • It was in springtime she began to drop by the castle unannounced. I paid her little mind, as she was quite young, and terribly shy; she spoke only if spoken to, and even at those times, so softly one could barely hear or understand her. I did get her name; it was… oh, dear… Miranda? Or was it Amanda? And therein lies the problem; I had such little notice of her I can’t even recall her name. But she loved me, and this could be seen in the sparkle of her grey/blue eyes on those occasions I would cast a glance in her direction. I was drawn like a moth to the flame by those dazzling orbs, but… so young; so very young.
      Thanks very much, Cynthia! I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on my story. I hope you will drop by and take a look at some of my “normal” stuff sometime.

  13. […] A Soft Knocking by Charles Mashburn […]

  14. Loved the short version, going to look for the longer one now.

    • You won’t find the long version on the blog, John. I’ll email it to you.
      Thanks for the great comment!

  15. Nice one! Definitely Poe and definitely Lovecraft (you do need to pick some of his works up– wonderful and madness-inspiring)….I’m always up for a dark tale 🙂

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