A couple weeks ago, I found myself tiptoeing through the house, not wearing pants, wielding a kitchen knife at 4:30 in the morning.
Surprisingly, this was not the moment I realized I’m maybe not the greatest at living on my own – that came days later, when I still found no trace of the phone I was sure I had heard.
Perhaps I should backtrack a little.
I have an extremely vivid imagination, but only when it comes to one particular area. I don’t often remember my dreams, for example, and when I do, they’re usually about something mundane, like going to the dentist. Despite my desire to write fictional stories, I have yet to craft a character or setting that is in any way different from a person or place that I already know or have visited. I’ve never really been one to daydream about the future. And Lord knows my only ever attempt at a creative abstract painting ended up being essentially a greenish-grey smear with a few orange accents (believe it or not, it’s still available. My asking price, based on comparable works that have recently sold, is $4-million).
But when it comes to picturing myself in all kinds of scary scenarios – most of them involving either ghosts or zombies – my brain is in top form.
As long as it’s dark outside, my brain lights up with all kinds of spooky scenes – the undead filling the streets outside the house, or a poltergeist rushing down the hallway at me. I expect all kinds of unworldly creatures to be lurking around corners or inside closets. Of course, the only available protection from all of these potential attackers is to get under several layers of blankets and not come out until the morning. At least, that’s the strategy I’ve used up until this point in my life, and I’m still alive, aren’t I?
When threats to my personal safety (or sanity) are comprised of non-imagined qualities, like loud noises or my husband jumping out at me from around corners, my reaction is pretty similar – I cower in fear and hope it (he) goes away.
So, on the night in question, when I awoke at 4:26 a.m. to the sound of a phone ringing, that’s exactly what I did. At first, I sat up a little, as I had the intention to go answer it and receive whatever awful news would cause someone to call the house at 4:26 a.m. But then I stopped. And I held my breath. You see, the phone did not sound like the phones in our house. And after four rings, the answering machine didn’t pick up, like it normally does. Instead, it rang twice more, then there was silence.
I slunk back under the covers as I tried to figure out what the heck could be going on.
My first reaction was that someone must be in the house. But what about the dogs? I hadn’t heard them bark? Maybe they were poisoned? Gassed? No, that didn’t make sense. If someone goes into a house three doors down and across the street, the dogs make sure I know about it (thanks, guys – I really needed to know that Mrs. Henderson ran out for five minutes to get more onions. She must be making stew again.). They would have let me know something was awry long before anyone would have had the chance to silence them.
Instead, I came to a more logical conclusion; this was the night after the house had been on the market. Maybe someone who had toured the house had left a phone there. And maybe that person was supposed to be getting horrible-4-in-the-morning news.
I stayed under the blankets for another couple minutes, trying to convince myself that it was the only possible explanation, but also secretly listening to hear if the dogs were snoring (alive) or whether there was any shuffling of feet. I heard neither, but realized there was no way I was getting back to sleep unless I investigated.
I reached for the cane my husband bought on a whim on a cruise stop in Mexico and called Comet. I figured if he came, he was definitely not poisoned, and he would help protect me in case there was actually someone or something lurking around the corner. And if he didn’t come, I would need the cane.
He came bounding down the hallway and into the room. My enthusiasm did not match his.
Slowly, I untucked myself from the covers and heaved my pantsless self out of bed. I turned on the lamp next to the bed and approached the door to the bedroom slowly. From there, I could reach into the bathroom and get the light inside, which lit up the whole hallway. Cane firmly in my right hand, I peeked around the corner. Nothing. Nothing in the bedroom across the hallway, either. The kitchen was my obvious next stop, where I again peeked around the corner, turned on a light, and then grabbed a knife to better defend myself against the unlikely but still-possible-in-the-back-of-my-mind intruder. I cleared the dining room, the living room, the office – the entire first floor. I double-checked the locks on the front and back doors as well as the locks on all the windows. Everything looked good. Then, I checked the phone – our caller identification system would tell me whether we’d received any calls at that eerie hour. We had not.
So I turned off some of the lights (but not all – I’m not a lunatic) and returned to bed. I took the knife with me.
A minute later, I realized I hadn’t actually looked for a phone, which was the logical reason for getting out of bed (although I guess the real reason was to look for a possible assailant, since that’s what I had actually done).
So, knife in hand, I got back up, turned all the lights back on, and searched every surface in every room for whatever phone had been ringing. I found none.
That certainly punched a hole in that perfectly logical theory, didn’t it?
It was at that time that a fact from the horror movie ‘Scream’ came to mind – “the call is coming from inside the house.” I dashed back to bed and got back under the covers, certain that I had just missed someone in a closet or behind a door and would surely die.
After laying in bed and again not hearing anything, I tried once again to think a little more rationally. I realized I had not checked the basement.
Of course, the basement.
The phone could easily be in the basement, where I hadn’t checked. The problem, of course, was that if the phone were in the basement, it would just as likely be sitting on a table as it would be attached to someone who wanted to kill me (my reasoning was that if someone had broken in while I was out with the dogs, they easily could have been hiding out without being detected for eight hours in the basement. Which, of course, he or she would totally do).
I was terrified, but I had to know.
Still pantsless, I went through the same routine for a third time – you know, lights on, entering a room weapon first, and keeping my back to a wall wherever possible. I made my descent to the basement and was absolutely sure I was going to see the edge of a cloak disappear around one of the corners of the unfinished walls. But I didn’t. I walked around the whole place twice – checking behind me frequently, of course – and saw nothing but my own shadow (which was scary in its own right). I did another sweep, this time looking for the phone that definitely had to be there, and decided it definitely wasn’t there.
I left the lights on (to discourage the possibly-still-there-intruder from moving? I don’t know) and went back to bed.
Tucked back in, with the blankets up to my nose and the dim bedside lamp on, I lay awake, staring at the door as thoughts of modern-day ghosts seeking revenge for horrible misdeeds swirled in my head. ‘I wonder if newly-dead ghosts pass time by playing Candy Crush on their iPhones,’ I wondered. I giggled a little under my breath, and then immediately felt terrible because if there was a phone-wielding ghost somewhere in the house (at this point, the most likely option), its feelings would surely be hurt at my insensitivity to the situation.
To shorten a long story, that’s how I spent the rest of my night – wide awake, white knuckles clasping the blankets around my head, afraid to even let myself blink.
When daylight finally trickled in through the windows, I let myself fall back asleep, confident that ghosts don’t operate when the sun is out. (It’s science.)
I wish I could say this story has a satisfying ending. I really, really do, because then I’d be able to sleep better at night. But here I am, weeks later, still without an explanation for the sound of a ringing phone.Here’s what I can say: I am equally convinced that the ringing sound I heard was not imagined or part of a dream and that, for the sake of my sanity, I should not be allowed to live alone.
Now, every time it’s dark in the house, I wonder, “Is this the time the gadget-using ghost is going to reappear?” And when I get a text message between the hours of 10 a.m. and 8 a.m., I’m hesitant to check it.
What if it says, “Boo!”?