I wasn’t going to write a Halloween post this year, it not being my favourite holiday, but then this happened:
I haven’t been sleeping well lately, which means I’ve been exhausted and generally worthless, so the other day I decided to take a nap. Just a quick nap on the couch, maybe 20 minutes. Heh.
I woke up roughly two hours later, about the time the sun was starting to go down, feeling all groggy and worse than before my nap. I went to use the downstairs bathroom and noticed a weird reddish glow on the wall of the back stairs. Still feeling mostly out of it, I stopped and looked up the stairs at the glow and thought, “Wow, must be a really gorgeous sunset going on.” Not wanting to miss it, I backtracked to look out the windows by the deck, but the sky looked very ordinary. No red at all. No orange or even any pink. That was weird.
So I used the bathroom and then looked again and there was still this weird red glow coming from upstairs. Groggy, I briefly wondered whether the bonus room was on fire. But it wasn’t that kind of light. No flickering, no smell of smoke. No sound at all. Fire is noisy.
Then I wondered whether maybe there was something red up there and the sun was hitting it or reflecting off it. Like maybe a red vase. Or maybe my daughter had hung something in a window last weekend when she was home. But I couldn’t remember seeing anything up there that might do that.
Now by this time, the sun had pretty much gone down and there was no way the red glow was being caused by sunlight. And it was definitely still red. Very red. And it was sort of starting to freak me out. Normally, the staircase leading to the bonus room is completely dark at night.
This is what it looked like, as if maybe a portal had opened to the ninth circle of hell up there:
It didn’t help that I’ve already been a bit jumpy for the past week or so. The oak trees have produced a bumper crop of acorns this year and the damn things have been hitting the house and deck with great force at irregular intervals. The ones that land on the deck bounce up and hit the French windows and it sounds like someone is trying to break in. Startles me every single time. Sort of like an ineffective mash-up of The Lottery and The Raven. Smooth, round acorns, carefully selected, gently rapping, rapping . . . tapping my house to death.
In fact, I can easily imagine both Jackson and Poe, sitting in their respective houses being pelted by acorns, thinking, “This sound is irritating; I wonder how I can make it horrifying, so that years from now some woman with a wild imagination . . .”
I did mention I’ve been sleep deprived, right?
I stepped up onto the bottom stair, to get a better look. I craned my head as far off to the side as I could and— the neon Budweiser sign my son brought home from college and hung on the wall was lit up!
Okay, now I was TOTALLY FREAKED OUT. Not to mention finally wide awake. I know that sign wasn’t on before then. I definitely would have noticed the red glow. I was the only one in the house. Who the hell had turned it on? Had someone come into the house while I was napping? I’d been totally zonked out, dead to the world, but surely that would have woken me. Wouldn’t it? And why would anyone even DO THAT? Who breaks into a house and TURNS ON A LIGHT?
If someone was gaslighting me and using a neon sign to do it, I could appreciate the pun, I guess, but that would be beyond bizarre. And unlikely.
I remembered that while I was drifting off, Cauliflower (my daughter’s cat who now lives with me, because allergies) had been spazzing out, running around downstairs and then charging up the back stairs and thumping around up there before coming back down and racing around some more down here. This is nothing new. It’s what she does. But now she was sitting in the back entry, all tense and alert with her tail puffed up like she was scared, and swiveling her head every once in a while to look up the stairs before looking expectantly back at me.
WHAT THE HELL?
I almost called my son to come over and investigate. Because he’s 6’3″ and strong and athletic and . . . I am not. But probably it was nothing. Probably. And given that he inherited my sense of humour, I’d never hear the end of it. Except, how could it be nothing? I can understand a light going OFF unexpectedly, but not one that turned on for no reason. Someone or something had to have turned it on. And then, predictably, helpfully, of course I had this bit of movie dialog running through my head:
Cowardly Lion: I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks. I do, I do, I do, I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do, I do!
Wicked Witch of the West: Ah! You’ll believe in more than that before I’m finished with you.
I would have scared myself silly and fled from the house by now, if I had a tail to pull.
Forget the tail, the acorns hitting the windows were going to finish me off.
Not yet ready to abandon all hope, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and decided to go upstairs to check it out. It’s not like I could just ignore it. At the very least, I had to go turn off the glowing red light. Never mind that I was starting to feel like the too-stupid-to-live heroine who goes down into the basement at night, wearing a diaphanous nightgown and carrying only a lit candle, to check out the strange noises after the power goes out in spite of knowing there’s an escaped serial killer in the area. But it was either go up there or put a sign in a front window, advertising hourly rates.
I don’t think there are any escaped villains in the area, not that I’d watched the news recently, not with an election imminent. And my power wasn’t out – obviously, given the sign was on – and I did arm myself with my cell phone. I mean, really, what kind of weapon would even be useful, let alone necessary, when confronting someone who entered a home with the sole intent of turning on a neon beer sign? I half expected to find some vagrant passed out on the couch, empty longneck dangling from his fingers, waiting for someone to come shoot a few games of pool with him.
Yes, there’s a pool table up there. If worst came to worst, I absolutely know my way around a pool cue. I am fucking proficient with a pool cue.
I went up the front stairs. If there was something in that room that was going to startle me, I didn’t want to be teetering at the top of the back staircase when it happened. I checked out all the other rooms first. Nothing seemed out of place. The house was quiet. Very quiet. Other than the sound of acorns hitting the roof from time to time, making me jump. And the stampeding feet of the cat thundering up the stairs behind me.
I cautiously made my way to the bonus room. If there was an intruder, it was the quietest intruder, ever, in the entire history of intruders. And also invisible. There was no one in the room. Believe me, I checked thoroughly. The only living things in the house were the two cats and me. And the big-ass spider that got away before I could smash it earlier.
My elderly cat was downstairs on the living room couch, blissfully deaf in her old age and sound asleep. The spider was somewhere in the depths of the hall closet, never (I hope) to be seen again. But Cauliflower was now sitting in the middle of the pool table, tail all puffed up and eyes gone dark, staring intently at the neon Budweiser sign. Which was still glowing.
Sure, I was relieved not to find an intruder. Of course I was. But that had been the obvious rational explanation for this mystery . . . and now . . . I didn’t know what to think. I don’t like unsolved mysteries and I don’t like feeling afraid. Not that I had a choice. It’s not like anyone asked me whether I wanted to participate in a locked room mystery for the evening’s entertainment.
Seemed like the only thing to do was turn off the sign and go back downstairs and, I don’t know, remain hyper-vigilant. For the rest of my life.
So I started looking for the off switch. I assumed it was one of those wheel-type things on the cord that you spin with your thumb. Standing at what I considered a questionably safe distance, because I’m now more than slightly leery of this thing, I ran my hand along the entire length of cord but couldn’t find a switch. Fuuuuck. There had to be a switch because, in my dogged pursuit of reason, I had decided probably it was faulty. I wasn’t giving up until I found it. No way was I willing to believe that some unknown force had picked up the cord and plugged the damn thing in.
I looked again, moving even closer. I’m telling you, this is as brave as I get, standing alone at night in a silent house with a freaked-out cat at my back, an eerie red glow painting my face, trying to figure out how to turn off an apparently possessed neon sign.
And then I saw it:
The World’s Most Perfect Cat Toy, dangling right there in front of me.
If you think there wasn’t some choice profanity at this point, you don’t know me very well.
I figure Cauliflower must have been messing around with that string attached to the pull chain when she was racing around earlier, probably got a claw stuck in it, and turned on the light. Idiot cat. I don’t have absolute proof or anything. But that’s the most likely, the only reasonable, explanation. Right? It’s not like there are ghouls running around loose and making mischief this time of year. RIGHT?!
The only consolation was that the experience seemed to have frightened the cat as much as it did me. I turned to look at her, still sitting on the pool table, still completely intent on the sign, still all puffed up and tense. If she could talk, I imagine at that moment she would have said, “See? I discovered how to make light! And it is fucking scary.” Yeah, tell me about it, cat.
So the Budweiser sign has now been turned off. And unplugged. I swear, if it happens again I’m calling an exorcist.
Enjoy your Halloween, all. Sweet dreams.
21 responses to “Are we scared yet?”
Brilliant as always!!
I love it! Brilliantly done, my dear!
what kind of weapon would even be useful, let alone necessary, when confronting someone who entered a home with the sole intent of turning on a neon beer sign?
I should think the best option would be to offer them a beer. Or, if the intruder happened to be a ghost, then you should offer them whisky or gin or some other kind of hard liquor. Since ghosts tend to appreciate … oh, you know I’m going to say it… I can’t help it…
I mean, everyone knows that ghosts like spirits.
*snort* Oh, Merry, that was soooo bad, it was good. Henceforth, I shall blame you for any aspirations by apparitions, assuming you were the one who made them laugh while . . . consuming spirits.
Thanks, Jen and McB! I’m not sure how brilliant it was, all I did was write down what happened. I didn’t make it up. This time.
I’m secretly — okay, not-so-secretly any more — hoping someone will see past the obvious literary references in this post [Poe, Jackson, Baum] and find the ones that are a wee bit more subtle.
*drums fingers impatiently*
Or maybe they’re just obscure and weird. And poorly presented.
The Wizard of Oz Is a subtle literary reference? Oh, you meant the gothic heroine.
Oh wait, Shakespeare was in there, too. Macbeth.
Yes, gothic heroines. And Macbeth! Good catch, McB!
Keep going . . . there are more (not all are direct quotes, some are paraphrasing or just brief references).
I’m over here sitting on my hands, trying not to give anything away.
Enjoyed it. 😄
But I think I would’ve called the son. You hung the thing, you deal with it.
I mean, after writing it, you are still going to hear about it. 😉
Jackson? That would be Shirley the creepy The Lottery writer, right?
Pen, I’m actually glad I didn’t call him. He would have just gone upstairs and turned the thing off and I never would have known what happened. Yes, Shirley Jackson, she of the very creepy short story The Lottery. Reading that story (8th grade) traumatized me.
Okay, here’s an example of how very “crypt-ic” some of these references are. In this sentence:
The “swiveling her head” is a nod to The Exorcist.
Okay, it’s somebody else’s turn now.
Well, I’ve already left a comment — in fact, two now — so I don’t want to be selfish. I’ll let someone rose take their turn.
May the Force be with you? Silly cat. Love the way you tell a story m’dear.
Thank you, T. You say the nicest things. And I love telling stories for you guys.
Merry, is that a rare typo from you? Or is this Rose someone I should know?
And good grief, you all should know this by now, there’s no taking turns over here and no politely keeping track. As if. We’ve all known each other too long to think that would ever work. Not that anyone would even want it to. I certainly don’t.
ROFLMAO! Don’t believe I got all the Cryptic references, but thoroughly enjoyed the story.
Typo? Not at all. That was… um… dialect. Yeah, that’s it.
Otto is creating his own language. It’s a conspiracy. He saw that I had typed “rlse” and rather than bother to ask if I meant to type “else” he simply assumed that he knew better than I did what I wanted to say. (For some reason, I think of Otto as male. Probably because he reminds me* of a more than usually annoying brother.
Thanks, RSS! I’m never sure whether I’ve hit the mark with humour and am so relieved it made you laugh.
Well, Merry, that’s the trouble– I have neither brothers nor a device contaminated by Otto. Can’t believe I missed those opportunities for conspiracy! Oh well, I have plenty of others…
I love the way you kept us all in suspense with the eerie atmosphere. I hadn’t a clue what your ending would be. Turned out it wasn’t anything at all like I’d imagined.
Are you sure you’re really alone in that house?
Thanks, Richard! I guess I could have ended it by not telling you all about the cat’s role and just left everyone hanging, wondering about ghostly doings . . . but writing scary stuff is SO not my forte. Got to end it with a laugh.
And let’s just say that, on any given night, I’m as alone as I choose to be. 🙂