We came to Delphi to visit the temple, but I doubt we’ll ever make it there. I doubt that we’ll ever make it to the morning, if truth be told. If my calculations are correct then this night has lasted for over one hundred and seventy thousand seconds, not counting the first few hours of the evening when everything seemed to be okay.
Let me explain. We’re on a school trip that the Classics department set up in order to prepare us for our A levels. London to Greece isn’t too far in the grand scheme of things and it will, apparently, help us pass Classical Civilisation with flying colours. Apparently. Well, tonight, due to the school curfew, we had to return to our rooms at 10.00 PM. My room, which is comprised of my classmates Lizzie, Tilly, and Vasu arrived a few minutes earlier than we had to and so we spent a few minutes sorting out our suitcases and changing into our pyjamas before deciding to turn in. It had been a four hour coach journey from Athens, after all, and we were all feeling the effects of a couple of sleepless nights in the big city.
I had offered to take the rickety camp bed by the door, God knows why. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, however, I regretted it. All I could feel as I tried to drift off to sleep were the slats of the bed digging into my spine whenever I so much as breathed. Anyway, it was no use trying to get to sleep before 11.00 PM. Although the rural location of Delphi lends itself to darkness, the blue light coming from Lizzie’s and Tilly’s phones seemed to light the room as brightly as any streetlamp. I lay back on my pillows and listened to them tapping the screens, wondering how long it would be until the alarm clock finally rang in the morning.
“Fuck, what was that?” asked Lizzie.
The sound came from behind the headboard of her bed.
“A ghost?” Tilly joked, though her eyes looked troubled in the blue glow coming from her phone.
“Fuck that.” I shuddered. Thoughts of the ghost stories I’d heard at camp began to swim around my head. Such stories never ended well for the group of teenage girls. “It was probably a tree or something.”
“Exactly,” Vasu laughed. “Ghosts don’t exist.”
I wished I could share her confidence but something about that knock wasn’t right; something was different about the room now. I shivered under my blankets, overcome by an unnatural, seeping coldness. From the way that Lizzie put her phone down and tugged her sheets up over her shoulders, I could tell that she felt it too. We were quiet for a while, the light of Tilly’s phone the only thing to break the oppressive darkness.
It was behind Tilly’s headboard now, and the force jolted her so much that she almost dropped her phone. It wasn’t sound like the noises a swaying tree branch or settling bricks would make but sharp, deliberate. It reminded me of my mother when she had forgotten her keys, as if whatever was knocking expected to be let in.
“That’s not funny!” Lizzie snapped.
No one argued with her. The temperature of the room seemed to drop again, so much so that I could swear I could almost see my breath misting in the darkness. I tucked the blankets tightly around my legs and wished for the duvet that covers my bed at home. This was no balmy Greek night.
“You’re being ridiculous,” said Vasu, tucking her legs under the blankets. “I told you, ghosts don’t exist.”
“Then explain that,” I choked, my voice catching in my throat. “That’s no tree.”
The knocking was as loud as if someone was punching the wall, insistent and fast. I checked the time on my phone. How could it still only be 10.00 PM? It felt as if at least half an hour had passed already. My chest was as tight as if someone was squeezing it, my heartbeat all too slow as I placed the phone back on the nightstand.
“That’s it!” Lizzie snapped. “If they’re going to knock then we can sure as hell knock back!”
Knock, knock, she rapped on the wall. Knock, knock, knock.
Knock, knock, knock. It was like a reply. Knock, knock, knock.
“Did you hear that?” Lizzie exclaimed. “It copied me!”
“It’s probably just some local teenagers messing with us,” said Vasu logically. “Look, why don’t we just get to sleep? I bet they’ll stop when we stop reacting.”
“No offence, Vasu,” said Lizzie tensely, “but I don’t think we’ll be able to get to sleep like this.”
“A story might help,” I said quietly, not sure what to do. Ignoring it and going to sleep seemed to be a good idea, and Lizzie was right in that we needed something to take our minds off of the strange knocking. “How about Cinderella?”
“Okay,” said Vasu. “Long ago, in a land far, far, away, a rich man’s wife became sick, and when she felt that her end was drawing near, she called her only daughter to her bedside and said, “Dear child, remain pious and good, and then our dear God will always protect you, and I will look down on you from heaven and be near you.” With this she closed her eyes and died…”
Her voice echoed as much in the cold room as it would have in an empty church. Nothing we said seemed to be enough to dispel the oppressive silence. Nonetheless, she kept speaking, her voice calm and level. At least someone wasn’t scared of whatever was trying to contact us. Well, to be honest, Tilly didn’t seem too bothered either. She barely reacted when the next knock came, this one at the exact level of her head.
“Jesus!” Lizzie shut her eyes. “I can’t deal with this.”
Tilly said nothing. I stared at her, confused. She seemed utterly uncaring as she stared at her phone, her relaxed features at odds with the tension apparent in the room. The blue light did not seem comforting now but cold, impassive.
“Tilly?” I asked quietly. No response but the slow flick of a finger as she scrolled down. “Tilly?”
Lizzie and I looked at each other, obviously thinking the same thing. No one should be that still, that calm, when faced with such a tense situation. A small smile played around the edges of Tilly’s mouth as she looked at her phone. It didn’t reach her eyes. For all intents and purposes, she might have been one of the sinister kouroi we had studied in Athens. Indeed, she was so still she could have been made from stone.
“Tilly,” hissed Lizzie, “fucking answer!”
She didn’t even glance away from her phone, the archaic smile never abating as she scrolled down the screen. I shivered. Something was profoundly wrong with Tilly. Was it linked to the knocking on the walls? What could cause a human being to lose response in such a dramatic way?
“This isn’t funny,” I said. “Tilly, say something.”
She didn’t answer. To be honest, I didn’t expect her to. Vasu was ignoring Tilly’s inaction, still murmuring the words of the story into the darkness. It figured that she would be the one to ignore the clear signs that there was something wrong. If science couldn’t explain it, I supposed that she didn’t want to know.
“Tilly.” Lizzie’s voice broke. “Please, you’re scaring us.”
She reached out to touch her arm but the beds were too far apart. However, when she went to swing her legs off the bed, Lizzie paused, her face stricken. A few loud knocks sounded, but neither of us paid them any attention.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I can’t move,” she said slowly.
“What?” I raised an eyebrow. “Like, literally?”
“Try it,” she insisted. “Can you?”
I tried and soon came to the realisation that I couldn’t either. My body wasn’t exactly frozen, I could move my head and my arms, but it was as if the blankets were weighing me down, pinning me to the bed. I greeted this realisation with no small degree of panic, scrabbling frantically at the thin sheets. My mouth felt as dry as cotton wool as I tried to answer Lizzie’s question, wondering what on Earth was happening to us.
“No,” I said hollowly. “I can’t.”
“What about you, Vasu?” Lizzie asked.
“The girl cut off her toe, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince,” Vasu said softly. “He took her on his horse as his bride and rode away with her.”
This was my cue to look more closely at my friend. Though the light of Tilly’s phone was dim, I could see that Vasu’s eyes were unfocused and staring blankly at the darkness in front of her. She, like Tilly, was lost in some strange dream-state. I reached out and picked up my phone from the nightstand. Its screen read: 10:00 PM. Not a minute had passed since the knocking began.
“Charlotte?” Lizzie said softly. I looked over to see her staring at her phone, too. “Can you see it?”
“Yeah,” I breathed. “I know.”
“What do we do?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, and I still honestly don’t. “Shall we get some sleep?”
“I guess,” said Lizzie, pressing her fingers over her eyes. “It’s not like we can do anything else.”
I closed my eyes, trying to ignore the heaviness of my legs and the monotonous droning of Vasu’s voice in the darkness. Far on the other side of the room, I heard Lizzie shifting restlessly too. So we settled down to wait for morning, trying to act as if nothing strange was happening. Maybe everything would be okay in the morning, as long as we could get to sleep.
Knock, knock, came the gloating response every few minutes, knock, knock, knock.
So that’s where we are now. Still in Delphi, still in the dark, still pinned to our beds by whatever sinister force is knocking on the walls. I think the worst thing is that we have been lying here in the dark for days now. Hours upon hours have passed and Vasu has not yet ended the story, the sky has not yet lightened, and the knocking… the goddamn knocking will not stop. If anything, it feels like it’s getting louder.
Well, at least one thing has changed. A few minutes ago, I felt the blankets loosen around my legs, allowing me to move again. None of the others seem to have noticed, each locked in their own states of reverie. Tilly’s phone ran out of battery over a day ago but she is still staring at the screen, eyes darting to and fro as if she is reading from the glassy surface. Lizzie’s eyes are open, too. They stare blankly at me from over Vasu’s bed, showing no movement but the occasional blink.
“Anerrhíphthō kýbos,” Vasu murmurs to herself, laughing lightly.
I can’t remember her switching languages but I also can’t understand what she is saying anymore. The words and phrases she is forming are not English, nor any other language that I know. It might be my natural paranoia but I don’t think it is her voice that is coming from her lips now. The rasping words don’t sound like her own but the low grumbling of a much older man.
Another knock just rang out, this one coming from the door.
I’m so tired.
What’s the worst that could happen?
I think I’ll answer it.