Tuesday, June 22, 2004

A Lemony-Fresh Mystery


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."

Yeah. Maybe.


  1. It fucks with your story, but was it a peacock that you heard that first night in your house?

  2. Oh how neat! I love ghost stories. -grins-

    Wether it was a peacock, or something entirely supernatural, it probably would have scared me too.

    A friend of mine heard something similar once, he swore it was a banshee.

  3. Definitely not a peacock, unless it was very sick. It was screechier than a peacock, if that makes sense. It was higher-pitched, and went way up and and down the scale. [shiver]

    I'm thinking that the scent was scary because when you see or hear somthing unexplained (a strange light or a creak downstairs), it's easier to explain away. But a a scent -- well, lemon detergent means someone's washing dishes. It doesn't mean anything else. So either someone is there washing dishes, which is freaky, because we were in bed; or else someone is not there washing dishes, which is freaky, because then what the hell is going on?

  4. I agree with you about unexplained smells being freakier than unexplained sights or sounds. Especially since my vision is so awful, I know better than to trust everything I see. And I know that things sometimes sound like something other than what they are. But smells? There is nothing freakier, IMHO, than smelling the "dentist office smell" in a random, non-medical place. *shudder*

    And ftr, if there is a meth addict under your bed, eventually you will smell paint thinner and B.O. rather than lemon Pinesol. *double shudder*

  5. Anonymous2:48 PM

    If you've never heard a bobcat really get going, you should know that they sound a lot like what you describe - just unearthly screeching.

    The smell thing would *really* bother me. My parents and sisters have all had extremely eerie encounters, but I haven't, and I don't envy them in the slightest. A couple of times, I've almost lost my shit trying to explain an event to myself, paranoid that it's my turn for something Weird to happen, but luckily things have worked out so far.

  6. Anonymous2:57 PM

    The above was funnie, by the way.

    I tried to find you a bobcat noise, and the two I came across, creepy as they are, aren't quite the noise I was thinking of. But here:



  7. I actually just spent some time googling bobcat wavs. I found one that made the bobcat actually sound like a State-Fair caliber hog. Very creepy.

    But yeah, the Mystery Sound was much higher. And I'm not sure if we have bobcats in these here parts. But it was one of our Possible Rational Explanations.

    I'm not getting any explanations for the lemony-fresh scent, however!

  8. Anonymous3:54 PM

    I thought you had a rational explanation for that: stair-stumping ghost has his own fresh scent. :p


    This one sounds like a B-movie ghost. Scary scary bobcats!

    I'll bet you've had them in the area (very rarely). We had one in our neighborhood for a few months when I was growing up. They do go all high-pitched screechy, but it's infrequent. At any rate, who knows? If it were explainable, it wouldn't be as interesting.

    As long as it happens to you, not me. :p

  9. Yeah, that's the pig-sounding bobcat, I thought. Eek.

    You know what it sounded like? It sounded like how I imagine a rabid hyena sounds. I don't think I've ever heard a hyena, but I can certainly imagine one.

    Off to find more wavs...

    Now that I think of it, I bet that Ghost With No Feet would wear Drakkar Noir. Just because he could.

  10. Anonymous4:09 PM

    even scarier than bobcats:


    just to keep you on your toes. check out the cougar noises on that other page.

    funnie, bundle-o'-joy

  11. How lame am I that I am more intimidated by peacocks than by bobcats?

    If peacocks had opposable thumbs, they would kill us all. Every one of us, I tell you!!

  12. Funnie, we also live within escaped-wild-animal-roaming distance of a "farm" that keeps big cats. There's also been a black panther sighted in our area a couple of times.

    And Lily, you're right about peacocks. They stare...and THEN they peck.

  13. Have I ever regaled you with my "psycho killer rock-pitching peacock" story?

    I fear telling it because I love telling it so much, I fear everyone I know has heard it upwards of thirty times...

  14. I don't think I've heard it! Tell on.

  15. *adopting Grandpa's Missouri drawl*

    Come on and sit down here, I'll tell you the story...

    Well I grew up where suburbs and rural land collide, so a lot of us kids lived on farms, mini-farms, houses with big backyards and livestock, and so forth. Meanwhile, the district declared we "unincorporated C______ County" kids must go to a high school where the wannabe white gangstas and yuppy Britney Mandy and Chad set looked down on us and our grubby, denim, twangy Maryanne Annie Joe lifestyle. There we took speech and drama classes and learned to get rid of Grandpa's accent.

    But the farm kids always had the best stories to tell.

    One day, a friend of mine, Pearl, told us the story of the Evil Peacock.

    Pearl's family had one of those "big backyard" farms, like my family's. They had chickens and geese, I think. Because they raised fowl they were used to having to fend off various avian predators, as well as bobcats and cougars. However, the day the spectacularly lovely, and enormously obese peacock took up residence along their back fence, they never suspected it, but they had met their match.

    It started innocently enough. Whenever someone would come within 10 feet of the back fence, he would puff up and make a horrific noise. They tried to shoo him away, but it was apparent he wasn't going anywhere, and he didn't seem to be hurting anyone, so they left him alone. As far as they could tell, he wasn't interested in hurting their birds, he just wanted the fence to himself.

    Then one day Pearl's little sister went out to the back of the yard and POW! A rock landed on the ground right next to her. She looked around and couldn't see where it came from until then she saw the Peacock staring at her, angrily. Could it have been? She ran into the house.

    Mom and Dad came out to investigate. Sure enough, when they got within the perimeter of Peacock's turf, he picked up a rock off the ground with his beak, and pitched it at them. He puffed up and made a horrible screeching noise. He strutted around clucking, "tut tut tut! Tut tut tut!" Dad picked up a rock and pitched it back at him. "Get outta here, crazy bird!" Peacock was unruffled. "Tut tut tut! Tut tut tut! SCRAWWWWWWW!" He picked up another rock and spat it at them, hitting Dad square on the shoulder.

    Bruised and wounded in pride, Dad went back into the house, and Mom followed. That was the beginning of the war.

    They tried everything to get rid of that bird. I don't even remember what all they did, but some of it was pretty out there and pretty funny. The usual pest-and-predator elimination tactics didn't work. They didn't want to try shooting him since, well, they had neighbors. What's more, the harder they tried to get rid of him, the more assertive and aggressive Mr. Peacock became. His perimeter doubled. Soon, he would start pitching rocks the moment anyone set foot outside the back door, in anticipation of an encroachment on his turf. Picnics and barbeques were no longer possible. Gardening was an uphill battle. The chickens roamed in a smaller and smaller area. Soon it was apparent that Pearl's family was living on the Peacock's land, not vice versa.

    They didn't know what to do. They had tried everything. They had even called county animal control, who had sent out an agent to trap the peacock--an agent who was, of course, defeated with a torrent of flying rocks and dirt clods. They hoped maybe a bobcat would get him, but it never happened. They lived their lives around the Evil Peacock, and even grew to like him a little bit. They'd talk to him when they came into the backyard.

    "Hey Mr. Peacock, I'm just coming out to pick some beans, I hope you don't mind. Say, I saw a nice looking peahen down by the creek the other day, you met her yet?"

    Tut tut tut tut SCRAWWWW! Thump! Thump!

    They learned to live around his miserly glare, though they did miss having unlimited access to the backyard.

    And then one day he disappeared, leaving not so much as a feather behind. They waited, anxiously, for several weeks, expecting to hear or see him again, or be reminded of his presence with a flying rock. But he was gone, to where, no one knew. All that was left was a pile of rocks and dirt clods, and memories of the months spent under his reign of terror.

  16. L!M!A!O! That is hilarious.

  17. Anonymous6:30 AM

    Lily, you have *got* to post that to your blog. Great stuff!


  18. Anonymous3:05 PM

    Reading your entertaining blog archives; meth addict uder the bed - funny! I suppose you've ruled out racoons fighting for the night screams? It's the eeriest night sound I've experienced. Hope this post goes through spellcheck...