by Corey Farrenkopf
The first knock came as Master cpl. Keith asked question fifteen.
Which Native People are credited as the source of the Wendigo myth?
It was Trivia night at the Dr. Neil Trivett Global Atmosphere Watch Observatory in Alert, Canada. Or, more accurately, it was trivia night at the Canadian Forces station just down the road from the Dr. Neil Trivett Global Atmosphere Watch Observatory. The guys liked the other name better, the air of intellect it added, so it stuck. Twelve men and two women sat in the room, some from the weather observatory, the rest from the army installation, all trying to whittle away another night in the northernmost settlement on the continent.
The sun hadn’t risen in a month. The outpost’s lights illuminated a sea of snow mounding up against the low rectangular living quarters and the hangar. Buildup caused the roof to groan, letting the gathering know it was time to get out the shovels. Earlier that day, a polar bear had been spotted a distance from the outpost, but it never wandered near, never requiring station warrant officer Bryson to go out with his shotgun and scare it off before it got into the trash.
When the knock resounded, all eyes moved to the door on the far wall.
Everyone stationed at the outpost was accounted for.
No one liked to miss trivia night. It was the highlight of the week. Keith could see his comrades going through the mental math, doing a headcount, running rosters over their tongue, searching for a missing name which no one found.
“Probably the wind,” Ellery, the programs manager from the weather station, said.
“Or maybe it’s that polar bear come back for round two,” the warrant officer replied.
A nervous laugh rounded the group.
“I’d say it’s the wind,” Keith said. “But let’s quit stalling. You know we do this on a timer.”
Everyone nodded in agreement.
“Ok, so question sixteen,” Keith began as the men and women lifted their pens. “The oldest shark in the sea goes by many names and can be found in the waters not too far from here. List one of its several names.”
There was the sound of writing, scribbling, tapping at unknown answers.
Then there was another knock, this time louder, more insistent.
The scribbling stopped.
There was no way it was the wind. Polar bears don’t knock.
“Who’s going to look?” Ellery asked.
She, like the rest of the group, knew the security cameras had been down, something in the wiring. No one seemed too concerned about it. There was very little crime so far from civilization. An electrician was being flown out in another week, a time frame most hadn’t minded until the third knock shivered through the thick metal frame.
“I believe that falls under the jurisdiction of the warrants officer,” Keith said, looking at Bryson.
“I don’t think that’s in my job description,” Bryson replied.
“What? You didn’t watch The Thing again, did you? Or 30 Days of Night? I told them they need to take those horror movies off the evening rotation,” Keith said, shaking his head.
The station had a cache of over five thousand movies that played across several channels on a loop. They played comedies and period pieces and more horror than Keith thought wise for an outpost five-hundred miles from the nearest town.
“No, I didn’t watch it again,” Bryson said, averting his eyes.
Everyone knew Bryson was a horror junkie. He was the only one to ever get Keith’s spooky trivia. Which actor played Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elms Street? Which serial killer was Leatherface based on in Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
Everyone else stuck to Pixar movies or the latest superhero trilogy.
“I’m just saying, we’re all in here. No one’s showing up for another week. There can’t be someone knocking at the door. There’s no way,” Bryson said.
“But we all hear it,” Ellery said.
All eyes were on Bryson. Everyone knew he was the guy who was supposed to handle the basic goings on at the outpost.
“Could be ice breaking,” Bryson said.
“Definitely not ice breaking,” Keith replied, hand drifting to the pistol holstered at his hip, reassuring himself it was there.
The knock came again.
“Why doesn’t the new guy get it,” Bryson said, looking at the Second Lieutenant who’d arrived earlier that month.
“You can’t do that to the kid. This one’s on you,” Keith said.
“Fucking hell, I’m not doing it,” Bryson said. “This is ridiculous. Something’s out there. We know that. No one shows up unannounced. We’ve seen the movies. It’s going to be one of those snow zombies, or a werewolf, or some other freak that’s going to eat every one of us until all the camera has left is a long shot of smoke rising from our barracks and a dog running off into the snow.”
“You did watch The Thing again,” Keith said, leveling a finger at Bryson.
“Doesn’t matter. There’s truth in fiction. I say loser opens the door,” Bryson said.
“Loser of what?” Ellery asked.
“Trivia night,” Bryson replied, as if it was an obvious answer.
The next knock was so loud it shifted a swath of snow from the roof. It pounded down on the frozen ground beside the building’s entrance.
“Sounds fair to me,” Keith agreed.
“You’re only saying that because you can’t lose,” Ellery said.
“Hey, don’t shoot the host,” Keith replied.
The doorknob started to rattle, the metal mechanism shifting back and forth, grinding against itself. The lock held. Another knock shivered through the barrier. it wasn’t frantic or concerned like someone trapped out in the snow should be. It was calm.
“So question seventeen…” Keith continued as the knocking persisted, each blow punctuating his subsequent questions, keeping a steady pace as if whatever was on the other side knew the game was winding down, that soon someone who didn’t know who the voice actor of Maui in Moana was? was going to answer, to find out who or what had been left waiting out in the snow.
Corey Farrenkopf lives on Cape Cod with his wife, Gabrielle, and works as a librarian. He is the fiction editor for The Cape Cod Poetry Review. His work has been published in or is forthcoming from The Southwest Review, Catapult, Tiny Nightmares, Flash Fiction Online, Bourbon Penn, Campfire Macabre, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. To learn more, follow him on twitter @CoreyFarrenkopf or on the web at CoreyFarrenkopf.com