“Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “You are.”

Photo by Dimitri Houtteman on Unsplash

The best-laid plans…

I was so proud of myself for writing today’s blog ahead of time and finishing it on Monday, March 16. It was supposed to be about the ways in which authors could spend their time while dealing with all of the hoo-hah about social distancing and the like. The feeling lasted until Thursday, March 19, when the wondrous and wonderful Jordan Dane posted her blog titled “A Writer’s Guide to Surviving Social Distancing and Quarantine.” 

Whoops. Jordan’s post was so much better than what I had prepared — no surprise there — that I couldn’t even be frustrated. That said, one might expect that such a state of affairs would have put me into a state of panic, given that my deadline was near. Well,  contraire, mon frere. I have it covered. There is always something, and something else, to discuss. 

I am of the age at which one may find oneself attending at least one organ recital on a weekly basis, if not more often. By “organ recital” I refer to one of those gatherings which takes place — or at least used to until recently — at a coffee shop or diner, where a group of duffers might gather and trade war stories about their latest hospitalizations, surgeries, doctor visits, blood work results, and gradual deterioration. I don’t want this to be that at all. But here goes.  

I have for a few years experienced occasional episodes where I’ve been awakened at night by knocking. Two knocks, to be exact. My impression has in each instance been that someone is knocking at my front door. My bedroom and its window are in front of the house on the second story. I leave an outside light on at night as well. I accordingly can quickly obtain an excellent view of the front yard. I never see anything, such as a neighborhood urchin dashing madly way, following these knocking episodes. I also go downstairs and check to see if possibly Steve Harvey, Michael Myers, out-of-season after curfew trick-or-treaters, or missionaries are there. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

These episodes don’t happen frequently or regularly. I can go a year or more without one and then experience one every few weeks. In the past, I have forgotten about these episodes until I have had another. After experiencing one earlier this week, however, I did a little research and discovered that I apparently have something called EHS.

Photo courtesy quickmeme.com

What is EHS? It’s “exploding head syndrome.” EHS is described as being benign, and it is, in my experience. The condition was first noted in medical literature in 1876 by Dr. Silas Wier Mitchell but was given its charming name in 1988 by Dr. John M.S. Pinafo…er…Pierce.  Those who experience it hear loud noises and occasionally see flashes of light at the beginning or end of a sleep cycle. There is no medication for EHS but some prescription sleep aids have been reported anecdotally to be helpful. It doesn’t bother me enough to take Halcion or Ambien or one of those medications whose potential side-effects include walking down a highway disrobed while singing the soundtrack from Hamilton. It’s not worth it. 

EHS may have been around for quite a while. I found a British legend that solemnly declares that if someone is awakened by one phantom knock it meant that good fortune (Steve Harvey) was coming. If awakened by three, however, it meant that death (Michael Myers) was imminent.  The legend is moot, however, as to two knocks. Maybe hearing two knocks means that nothing will happen. I should be so lucky.

Have any of you heard of EHS or experienced it? My most experience has inspired me to fool around with writing a Cthulhu Mythos story, even though I don’t know what I’m doing with it.  Porter stumbled toward the front door, jumping each time the ponderous knock sounded. As he reached out to turn the doorknob Porter heard a slithering and hissing noise, as if hundreds of snakes were seeking entrance via the door hinges.  Porter tried to keep his voice steady as he yelled, “Get back, I say, get back! The Innsmouth Police are coming!” I might share it here if I finish it. Or not. In any event, be well and safe. Thanks for dropping by The Kill Zone, where you don’t need to call or knock first. 

Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash


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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

53 thoughts on ““Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “You are.”

  1. I’ve never heard of EHS, Joe, but you’ve got me fascinated. What I have experienced is what we call “afternoon dreamers” which happened if I’d fall asleep in the afternoon, and these were vivid, “really happening” dreams which often included someone coming to the door. It was difficult to force myself awake during one of these episodes.

  2. I have EHS too and sometimes accompanied by the flash of light. I can tell it’s totally in my head because it’ll happen and the hubster will have no reaction whatsoever even though it’s SO LOUD. The first time it happened I was a kid. I thought someone had shot a gun in the house, and I actually felt around my head to see if I was bleeding.:-) And then I thought I must be going nuts until I found out it’s just an odd but natural phenomenon that healthy people sometimes experience.

  3. Priscilla, that’s interesting that your experiences go back as far as your childhood. Mine have only occurred for the last twenty years or so. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Joe, been in and around the medical field for a long time. Never heard of EHS. Please do write a story about it. The snake thing sounds dandy…

    I also have a weird medical condition, not well-known. Not as not-well-known as yours, however. Not sure if you intended to have another duffer start talking about her maladies, but here goes.

    I have “body migraines”. Never had a migraine headache. My legs are the target. It only happens maybe once or twice a year…and right now, thump on desk, I haven’t had a flare-up for about five years. One or both, usually just one, will go all pins and needles, then for the next two days-precisely two-will ache like I’ve been pulled through a wing window backwards. Then it slowly fades and I’m back to “normal”, whatever that is these days.

    I was evaluated once for MS. Thank the good Lord it wasn’t that. So, my neurologist said, “It’s body migraines. Nothing to do about it, except take XYZ medication for the rest of your life.”
    “No, thank you,” says I.
    “Go and get on with things, then,” he says.

    So that’s what I’m doing. 🙂
    (If any need to know what a wing window is, and how in tarnation you can be drug through it backwards, let me know. It was a familiar threat from my dad when I’d get in his face over something.)

    • Deb, thanks for sharing about body migraines. I just looked at the topic and it sounds like something that a friend of mine is currently experiencing.

      Your physician gave you terrific advice. Good on you for following it. We could all do more of that, IMHO.

      I know exactly what a wing window is/was. Thanks for the compliment, even if unintended. I remember when those were pretty much standard. I never heard it utilized as part of a threat, however. I love it! Thanks for sharing!

    • We called ’em “wind wings.” I loved them b/c my mother would hold her burning cigarette out the wing window. W/o it, I would have died by age five from smoke inhalation in the back seat.

      • You rattled another memory…both parents smoking in the car, wing windows open.

        It’s a wonder some of us made it to the age we are…

    • I had to look wing window up. I never knew that’s what they were called. LOL!

  5. I had no idea anyone experienced this except me. And it hasn’t happened in years so I never thought to search the internet for an explanation . The knocking is so real it’s hard to imagine it’s a dream.

  6. I’ve never heard of EHS, Joe. The condition immediately reminded me of Poe’s Telltale Heart. Perhaps a character with EHS and a guilty conscience believes the knock is from someone, or something, else. Imagine all the ways the story could twist and turn? 🙂

    • Sue…that’s terrific! Thank you. Who among us doesn’t have a guilty conscience connected to something?

  7. Remember the Chinese astronaut, alone in his craft in 2003, heard and recorded something banging on the outside of the entry/escape hatch? According to the China Daily, in a story published December 2, 2016, the knocking was simply changes in air pressure.

    But what if it wasn’t? It is the stuff of nightmares.

    Similarly, space agency psychiatrists say that long range, years-long missions in which astronauts would be placed in suspended animation for years or even decades, might fail or otherwise prove disastrous because the astronauts might be chased by horrid dreams for the entire length of the mission.

    Thanks. I’ll just fall asleep in front of the TV.

    • Jim, I think a Star Trek Generations dealt with the whole “chased by horrid dreams” thing. In that episode, their nightmares became reality, each crew member stuck alone in the terror.

      Couldn’t sleep that night…

    • Thanks for reminding me of this story, Jim. I bet that astronaut still hears the banging….wait a minute. What air pressure? I thought space was a vacuum.

      There is a vampire story here somewhere.

  8. Whoopsy on beating you to the punch on social distancing, especially after you were so organized in posting early. To make up for it, I will create a new treat for my dogs & call it “the sweet Joseph.”

    I thought you were kidding about EHS. My grandmother (God rest her soul) had a doctor tell her she had CRS (Can’t Remember Shit). No knocking required. Have a good Saturday, my fine friend.

    • Good morning, Jordan. No whoopsies are necessary. You got it done first and better to boot.

      CRS? I resemble that remark!

      Please pet those doggies for me. Thanks, Jordan, and you have a great weekend as well.

  9. Never heard of EHS but now reading your post, the responses, and knowing my own experiences, I doubt it is uncommon.

    Maybe 3-4 times a year, I will wake up because I think I hear chirping (like the sound of the smoke detector). But only once has it been chirping. I never stopped to consider there was a name for ‘hearing things’ when you sleep–I just assumed it was because I am a nervous Nellie and worry too much about everything. Occasionally I will think I hear other noises, but usually it’s chirping.

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who hears things.

    • Me too, BK. One benefit of the internet is that we learn that our quirks, idiosyncracies, etc. aren’t so unusual after all. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Very interesting! Apparently I also have EHS. In the past few years I have been awakened by various sounds which have included knocks, bangs (like things falling or closing) and a voice calling my name. The voice is a woman’s voice and is calling like someone coming into your home would call your name. I do not recognize the voice but it is friendly. It startles me awake, but upon investigation, nothing is there.
    I am a 76 year old widowed grandmother and live alone. I have only experience these noises in the past 8 or years.

  11. Whoa! Joyce, it’s YOUR experiences that are interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Still can’t tell if EHS is real or not, but I do have symptoms. For almost a year, I have been dreading “that phone call.” Every time my FB Messenger rings, my stomach explodes. But now, I am hearing that ring when no one is calling. And like you, I hear two rings and then it stops. This happens once or twice a day.

    You can tell if someone has called you on Messenger. I check. They haven’t.

  13. Hahaha! Love it! Now I have a label for all that knocking in my head. Well, one night there was a HUGE knock, or crash, or something, Thought it was just that random THING. Turned out, it was a thirty-foot oak tree in my backyard falling unwanted into my neighbor’s yard, narrowly missing his shed and his dog. Sometimes we must investigate these knockings more closely…..Thanks, Joe.

    • Wow, Nancy! That’s not a sleep disturbance, that’s a nightmare. I’m glad no one (particularly the doggie) was hurt. Thanks for sharing.

  14. I’d never heard of EHS. It’s a fascinating name for the phenomena. Bizarre, really.

    My most similar experience was waking at night to hear footsteps in the attic. It was especially creepy because there is no entrance to my attic but up a single ladder that pulls down in the hallway outside my bedroom. It really was Cthulhu style fear going on in my brain.

    I grew the stones to investigate after the sun came up.

    Raccoons. They didn’t need the ladder, apparently.

  15. Great post, Joe.

    Interesting, but in 40 years, I’ve never heard anyone tell me they were hearing “knocks” or noises that woke them up. They were probably worried that the symptoms would be called auditory hallucinations and lead to an evaluation for paranoid schizophrenia.

    Admissions of “myoclonic jerks” are common – sudden muscle jerks while falling asleep or waking up.

    I know you didn’t want an organ recital, but here’s my sleep-awake story. I was on gabapentin for neuropathy. I repeatedly would swing or punch at an adversary in my dreams, only to wake up and find that I had “sleep punched” and thrown myself out of bed, narrowly missing hitting my face on the corner of the night stand. After the third time, I stopped the gabapentin.

    I hope your EHS changes to one knock, and you find Steve Harvey at your door with a check for $5000 per week for life. (Did you ever wonder how that business model for Publisher’s Clearing House is sustainable?) And when you get that check, I’ll need to check my ancestry to see if we’re related.

    Have a good (quiet) weekend.

    • Good afternoon, Steve! Thanks for sharing your story about gabapentin. I should do a blog sometime about medication side effects and how to work them into stories, or how to write (or not) while under the influence. I’m glad you stopped. Nightstands have corners that hit back.

      I’ll let you know if I see Steve Harvey in the neighborhood.

      Also…on behalf of all of us here, Dr. Steve, thanks for all of your hard work over the last couple of weeks, which must have been incredibly difficult. Be well.

  16. I love your mentions of Gilbert and Sullivan, Lovecraft, and Publishers Clearing house.

    As a lover of anecdotal ghost stories, I’m quite familiar with it. Not everything is a ghost. I experienced it once, long before I knew it existed, and it was so loud and intense I called 911. The only thing worse to wake me up was a screech owl directly outside my window. They sound like a woman being tortured to death. I all but levitated above my bed in terror and came to my feet to look for a weapon.

    • Thank you, Marilynn. You’re very kind. I would hope that the screech owls stay away from your window and keep to the woods where they belong. I had a similar situation where I heard screaming in my back yard. It was two rabbits fighting. I’ve never heard anything like that since.

  17. I love this post! I never knew there was a reason for what happens, but I’ve always referred to it as auditory illusions. Happens to me all the time! Not enough to upset me, but definitely there.

    • Thank you, Karla! Welcome to our club. There hasn’t been much research into it because it doesn’t really hurt anything, but with all of the sleep studies going on I wonder if there will be some sort of byproduct data as to the cause…

  18. This is a great post. I love weird sleep stories, and many of them are the stuff of Lovecraftian horror.

    I never experienced this problem, but I’ve had plenty of other sleep weirdness. Once, in my 20s, I experienced sleep paralysis. Your brain is fully aware of your state, so you feel awake, but cannot move any limb. Very scary and only happened once.

    My oldest son had night terrors as a toddler and preschooler. He would awake and start crying and babbling, inconsolable, for a few minutes before falling back asleep. There was literally nothing you could do to calm him during these short episodes. In the morning, he’d never remember.

    • Thanks so much, Philip. I appreciate your sharing. My older son had night terrors as well as a child, with similar results. We chalked them up to nightmares. It’s tough to handle when you’re a parent and your child is inconsolable.

      As far as your sleep paralysis episode is concerned, that would be tough. I hope it never returns.

  19. The responses to this topic are fascinating! I don’t hear a knock, but every once in awhile, I will hear my name called when I’m all alone.

    • The responses really are interesting, Julie. It’s my favorite element of posting my blog. Thanks for sharing yours!

  20. Wow, maybe this is what I have. I hear weird stuff all the time that jerks me out of a dead sleep. I often get up to investigate, fearing the worst. But nothing is ever there. Doesn’t happen that often, so I just attributed it to my good hearing. My eyes are shot but at a recent ear exam the doc told me I could hear a flea fart.

    Thanks for the diagnosis. Check is in the mail.

    • Kris, your experiences sound like you are in the ballpark for EHS. Thanks for sharing

      I don’t know if hearing makes one any more or less susceptible. I’m deaf in one ear and can’t hear out of the other…

  21. I’ve got it, too, Joe. In the last decade or so. No lights, but booms that made me think a thunderstorm had rolled in, or something big had fallen over inside the house. I only discovered what it was by accident, going down the rabbit hole of research for a book and seeing a link to something called exploding head syndrome, which made me laugh. Until I went and read it–because, rabbit hole–and realized I HAD it. And it was nice to know many others did, and more importantly, that’s it’s benign. Whew!

    • I love research, Justine. Thanks for sharing your experiences and reminding me why.

      I’m really big on benign. Call me the Mayor of Benignville!

  22. Wow. How interesting. I’m a sound sleeper and I don’t have Exploding Head Syndrome. (With a name like that, I’d probably deny it even if I had it.) Sounds like great fodder for a mystery.

    Like Nancy, I did wake up out of a sound sleep one night to the loudest CRASH I’d ever heard. It was also a giant oak tree. Only problem was it landed on our house. Fortunately for us, it did a lot of damage to the house, but not to us. I’d opt for EHS anytime.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Kay. I am surprised at how many people I know who have similar ones concerning “house hits tree.” I’m glad you weren’t hurt. Yes, I’ll take EHS anytime…

  23. I enjoyed this post and everyone’s comments.

    I hear knocking outside my house usually in the spring. The first time I heard it, I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Sometimes I’d hear it outside my bedroom window. Sometimes I’d hear it coming from the backyard. I couldn’t figure out where the knocking was coming from. This has been going on for a few years.

    I have security cameras on my house. One night when I was viewing security footage to see if anything unusual was captured, I saw a bird fluttering around the camera itself. Thus, the birds think the cameras are another bird I guess. Not as good a story as yours but I laughed when I realized what was going on.

  24. Thank you droberts. I enjoy the comments as well, and am fortunate to have so many interesting people such as yourself visiting on Saturday and commenting.

    Could your bird buddy have been a woodpecker? I’m wondering why the birds would primarily in the spring as opposed to summer. If you still have the footage you might review it to see if Walter Lantz was hanging around in the background! Thanks again.

  25. I’m late to the party, but I’m with you, Joe & others. All my life I’ve heard the knocks, the voices (my father calling my name), and experienced the flash of lights.
    I quickly learned it was just me & learned to ignore it as best I could. Only in the last year or so did I learn the medical term (if you want to call that medical? Haha!). It IS comforting to know you’re not alone, isn’t it?
    I chuckled over the “wing window” comment. My Mustang has them, and we were thrilled to see that an older truck we just bought has them. I’ve always bemoaned the fact that our newer truck doesn’t have them! But I nearly put my eye out on the corner of an open one on the Mustang years ago, so I find the threat of being pulled through one intimidating indeed!

  26. Cyn, you are never late to the party at TKZ because we never close!

    It’s been gratifying to write about EHS because I’ve learned how widespread it apparently is, at least among TKZ visitors. I wonder if there is there is a correlation between the condition and being a reader, an author, an all-around wonderful person…

    Thanks for sharing, Cyn. And keep an eye out for those wing windows!

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