Tap, tap, tap.
I awoke from my dream with a start.
“Who’s that knocking at the door?” I wondered, at a loss to know. I strained my ears andlistened intently. There wasn’t a sound. The lamp overhead gave out a pallid glow, shiningdimly on my face, still half asleep. The paper windows and hanging scroll remained as still andsilent as before.
I turned over, and was about to drift back hazily into my dream when suddenly the soundawoke me again. This time, besides that slight tap-tapping, I could hear also a great howlingsound. Was it the angry roar of the North Wind? Or the awakening of Man? I couldn’t be sure.But my blood surged with exhilaration, as if I had already flown out of the room, straddled theneck of the North Wind and galloped off into space.
Yet that great sound became indistinct again, became fainter, and disappeared; all thatremained from this metamorphosis was a lonely void.
“That great sound only happened precisely because there was this void for it to fill in the firstplace,” I laughed, realising that I’d been fooled.
Eyes wide open now, I became immersed in thought. A multitude of faces danced randomlybefore my eyes, whilst in my ears, a cacophony of voices fought to be heard. Then, suddenly,everything vanished, and there was that little tap, tap, tapping again, coming from over by thewindow, as if someone was knocking at the door.
“Who’s there? What’s the matter?” I shouted impatiently. But there was no reply.
I put out the light. Outside the window, a few cold stars shimmered in the blue-black sky. No-one should be knocking at my door at this time of the night, I thought. And even supposesomeone really were doing so, it must surely be an ignorant good-for-nothing—waking peopleup like this yet giving no reply.
Yet these musings were cut short again—this time, the sound from outside my door was arumbling, like the sound of thunder. Naturally, it couldn’t be the thunderous din of mosquitoes.Certainly, there were mosquitoes around, but they were all hidden in dark corners, long sincehaving lost any impetus to make such a sound. I knew too that it wasn’t real thunder, for it wasstill too early for that just then. I turned over under my quilt, pressing my left ear firmly intothe pillow, suspecting that this rumbling was nothing more than a ringing in my ears. Yetsuddenly, there it was again: that tap, tap, tap!
This third time, the knocking seemed to spread through the cold air, more penetrating thanever, bringing with it a sense of mournful desolation. I could stand it no longer: I leapt up,flung open the door and stared outside.
There was nothing. The faint light of a sickle moon shone cold and dim in the pond beyondmy door, whilst a row of cherry trees, bare and denuded, trembled slightly in the frozen air.
There was nothing; nothing except a black dog cringing in the doorway, its head cocked, asif eavesdropping son something. Now it hung its head, as if abashed, sidling slowly off to thefloor under the eaves, burying its muzzle in its soft furry neck, withdrawing into a heap.
I felt a momentary sense of pity for this ashen beast, but then my mind was seized by afurious reproach:
You wretched cur—only fit to follow the rest of the pack. You wake people up, startling them intheir deep sleep like an apparition; and yet all you leave them with is a void.