Apocalypticon by Clayton Smith
Three hard knocks, two soft knocks, one long knock, three short knocks, two and a quarter rapid-fire knocks, one flat palm slap, four knuckle taps, one palm slap, seven knuckle taps, two long knocks, seven left hand-right hand alternating slap-pounds, three short knocks, one knuckle tap, two palm slaps, three hard knocks, two soft knocks, three hard—
“Wait. Shit.” Patrick closed his eyes and ran through the latest sequence in his head. He raised his knuckles again. Three hard knocks, two soft knocks, one long knock, three short knocks, two and a quarter rapid-fire knocks, one flat palm slap, four knuckle taps, another palm slap, seven knuckle taps, two long knocks, seven left hand-right hand alternating slap-pounds, three short knocks, one knuckle tap, two palm slaps, three hard knocks, four hard—
“Dammit!” Patrick slammed his fist against the door, not quite hard enough to break it down, but hard enough to be able to claim later that he had. “Ben Fogelvee, you open this door right now, or I swear to all that is holy, I will rain down on you with blazing goddamn acid until you look like a Batman villain!”
He waited, huffing, out of breath, for a few seconds, but heard nothing from 24C. He had just decided to go find an ax when the deadbolt turned, the chain slipped back, the padlock clicked, the knob lock fell, and the door creaked open four centimeters. A suspicious eye with a crystal blue iris pressed itself to the thin opening and scrutinized the tall, razor-thin aggressor in the hall. Satisfied, the eye relaxed. Ben pulled the door all the way open. “Oh. It’s you.”
Patrick closed his eyes. “You make me so angry, you know that?” He pushed past him into the apartment. Ben shut the door and fastened the half dozen locks behind him.
“Don’t project on me because your memory’s going.”
Patrick kicked through the wrappers and crusty spoons littering the marble-tiled floor and plopped down on the stained velvet duvet. “My fist is about to be going into your mouth.”
“I used to pay eight bucks a month for a website that’d show me that.” Ben picked up a can of Yankee beans from the floor, sniffed it, made a sour face, then tipped the can up and shook a few of the slimy legumes into his mouth. “You’ve got a lot of pent-up anger happening today. I don’t think this yellow air agrees with you.”
Patrick sighed. “You know it’s me at the door. It’s always me at the door.”
Ben scoffed. “That Knock Code is the only thing keeping me alive,” he said, channeling some long-dead Vietnam vet. “This is the apocalypse, Patrick. The enemy is everywhere.”
“The apocalypse was years ago. If the universe wanted you dead, it would’ve put you down already. I think you’re gonna live forever, Benny Boy.”
“The code works,” Ben insisted. “I haven’t had a single breach.”
“Because it’s always me.”
“Someday, it might not be.”
“Yeah, and I can see why you’d be confused by who’s at the door when you hear my voice coming from the other side of it.”
“So what if it’s your voice? How do I know you’re alone? Jesus, for all I know, some desperate lunatic’s got a window shard pressed against your throat ‘cause you’re his ticket in here. Did thirty years of Steven Segal movies teach you nothing?”
“No one wants to get in here,” Patrick said, rubbing his eyes. Though, of course, there were plenty of reasons why someone actually would want to get into 24C. The previous occupant had been a loopy old widow with more money than Donald Trump (God rest both their souls) who had nothing better to spend it on than lavish comforts for herself and her mentally retarded Schnauzer. The old bat had been chronically paranoid, conveniently enough, which accounted for the attached panic room that had once been 24D. That little haven had certainly come in handy in the early days. Ben’s apartment was a penthouse war bunker. And it had a killer view of the lake.
“Everyone wants to get in here!” Ben said smugly.
“No one knows you live here, no one cares that you live here, and if anyone did know and/or care that you lived here, they wouldn’t care enough to climb through 24 stories of land mines to get here. Trust me. No one’s coming for you.”
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