When I was about eight, I went through a ghost phase. I checked out all the books in the library about ghosts and scared myself silly with ghost photographs. I still remember a story about a ghost of a man who had no feet, and when it came up the stairs, you could hear it "walking on the stumps." If I remember that story when I'm home alone, late at night, I have to think of something else, quickly.
Several years ago, we lived in a house on a road that ran around a lake. There were no streetlights, and lots of undeveloped lots. One night Matt and Gorm and I were taking a walk. It was late and there was no moon. We came to a curve in the road where it's impossible to see any houses and it feels like you're walking out in the country. It was also impossible to see more than 10 feet ahead of us.
A shadow, and then a form -- there was a person ahead of us. Close, because we couldn't see that far. "Evening," we said. The person said nothing, and walked at us in such a way that Matt and I stepped apart so the person could walk between us. It was too dark to see features or clothes, and so remembering this story, I imagine someone wrapped, or smoky.
The oddest thing about it was that Gorm didn't react at all. When walking, he would usually tense with anticipation when he saw someone else on the road. As the person approached, he would leap and wriggle with delight, hoping against all hope that the other person might possible come over and pay attention to him.
But with the stranger on the road, he did nothing. Even when the person invaded our space and walked between us, Gorm didn't notice.
We did not look behind us after the stranger passed. Not out of any superstitious fear that the figure might not be there anymore, but because there was no point in looking, it was so dark. We didn't speak for a few minutes. Then both of us said at the same time, "What just happened?" "Did you see somebody?"
We moved to this house almost five years ago. On our very first night here, we were awakened at 2 a.m. by the most bizarre sound I have ever heard.
At first, I thought there was a drunk woman in our front yard. The voice babbled, then gave a screamy frantic laugh that made my heart race. Gorm was barking and whining, and I worried he would wake up John, who was 8 months old.
Matt was more perplexed than alarmed. The screaming cackle broke out again, and he said, "It's moving. I think it's in the back. I'll go look." He went into the bathroom, and then another scream outside.
Have you ever read "The Last Battle," the final book in the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis? There is a god called Tash, a terrible bird-headed many-armed heathen god, who is defeated by Aslan. In the middle of the night, in a new house, I could not get it out of my head that Tash was in the backyard, screaming.
When Matt was in the bathroom and the voice screeched, he dropped to the floor. He says now it was stupid, but in his mind all he could think of was the Joker from Batman. "And how dumb is that? Could he see me in the window?"
All I'm sayin' is that people think silly things when faced with the unknown. We never found out what was making that noise, and we've never heard it again.
I told those stories because they are mentioned in this one.
Last night Matt and I woke up abruptly at about 11 p.m. There was a strong soapy smell in the room, like lemon detergent. We got up, checked the dishwasher, checked everything else, and noted that the smell was strongest on the stairs and in our room.
I wondered if our drainfield had somehow flooded, it being outside our window, but it hadn't, and besides, there was no wind to carry scents in or out.
After searching the house, we went back to bed. The smell was strong and irritated our throats. It was like Pine-Sol if Pine-Sol came in lemon -- that kind of strong smell that's nice for one second, and then makes you feel sick.
I started drifting off and my eight-year-old brain kicked into gear. What if the stranger on the road was back? What if the Tash-Joker-screamer was wearing perfume? What if the ghost who walked on stumps had its own fragrance? What if, when I left the door open this afternoon when I took the kids to the park, some meth addict snuck under our bed and waited until 11 p.m. to shoot off a can of Lemon Pledge just for the hell of it? Should I check under there? Why is a scent so scary?
Then Matt said, drowsily, "Maybe that's the propulsion exhaust from an alien ship. And we've lost time."