One of my favorite authors is Shirley Jackson but that doesn’t mean I have read all of her books. I read The Lottery in high school, but it wasn’t until the last ten or so years that I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I read her two memoirs: Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons and then I read Come Along with Me, just last year.
I bought The Haunting of Hill House because I do want to read it, but also because its cover art matches We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but haven’t brought myself to open it because I’m afraid to. I’ve seen both films so I know the plot and where the scary parts lie but the book feels more scary somehow. Make sense?
Shortly after we moved into our house in Bethesda we discovered we had bats in the attic. We were not concerned. I loved bats (even after the Pittsburgh bat) and we saw no way for them to get into the house proper.
One afternoon we were getting ready to go somewhere. Clare, then about 3, walked into the bathroom and announced there was a bat in the house. I told her that, yes, there were bats in the attic, but none in the house.
She then found her dad and told him there was a bat in the house. He told her that, yes, we had bats in the attic, but none in the house.
She insisted there was a bat in the house and Dean and I sighed and looked at each other, knowing that Clare and a vivid imagination.
Round about then, a bat swooped down between us and Clare said, “See! There’s a bat in the house!”
She reminds us of it often.
One night I was awakened by the loud call of a katydid, next I heard the noise of claws on the screen and a soft whoosh of wings. I looked towards the sound and saw a creature flying around the room in the dim light from the streetlight. It took me a while to register that it was a bat, but when I did I yelled for Dean to wake up (he can sleep through anything) because there was a bat in the bedroom.
I then jumped out of bed and said I’d gather the cats and hide in the bathroom until he got rid of the bats because I was worried the cats would try to catch the bat.
According to Dean he spent the first few moments hiding under the covers. The way he tells it, he’d take his head out and the bat would swoop towards him and he’d hide under the covers again. Then he got up and opened all the windows in the house and the bat flew out.
In Pittsburgh, we lived the Shadyside neighborhood – not the part near the fancy shops and fine homes, but on the border of East Liberty (or “sliberty” as the locals called it). We rented the top apartment of a shabby, but affordable, three-story walk-up on a tree-lined street.
Dean is a window person so the head of our bed, in the summer months, was up against the radiator, under the window (windows really – two side-by-side double-hung windows) at the front of the house. Outside the window was an old horse-chestnut tree. We slept with the windows open to the screens all summer long because we had no air-conditioning.
We knew there were bats in the neighborhood because we’d seen plenty flying around at night, catching insects near the mercury-vapor streetlight a few doors up College Avenue.
It’s autumn, which means the leaves on the trees in our yard are turning brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. The birds are in transition, some leaving us, some arriving in our back yard. The garden is finished, only a few straggler tomatoes hanging on the vine, and the zinnias are nearly done blooming. The sun is noticeably lower in the sky at noon and the temperature is gradually dropping.
Unfortunately, the autumn also brings the stench of our female ginkgo tree’s rotting fruit. I never quite remember how bad it is until I get my first whiff of it, and often cannot place the smell.
Yesterday I put some trash in the garbage bin outside the kitchen and wondered what the hell was rotting in the bin the day after the trash had been collected.
Then I remembered. Ginkgo ball season has arrived.
Clare developed a fascination with post-mortem photography a few years ago and I believe she is still interested in it.
I think it is morbid and gruesome. I understand the reason behind it, but I think that owning one of someone you never loved is akin to freakshow mentality.
Last autumn Clare called and said a local photography buff and antique store owner found a photograph that he thought could be a post-mortem photo. She sent me a photo of the photo that she wanted to buy from this man.
After reluctantly examining it and showing it to Dean and friends, we all agreed that it was not a dead child in a crib, but a sleeping child. Clare was not convinced and asked for money for Christmas to buy the photograph in a gilt frame to hang in her apartment.
She ended up not buying it. Maybe she came to her senses.
Fifteen years ago, the kids and I, while visiting friends in Lake Tahoe, took a side trip to Reno, Nevada where we visited a local cemetery. It was very old and extremely “Western”.
I took dozens of photos at the cemetery, having just got my first digital camera. One photo stood out from the rest when I opened it on my computer. It is of a bleached-from-age fallen tree near a fenced-off grave with what seems like mist hovering over the grave in three spots.
The photos I took just before that and just after that show no mist, so it was not caused by smudges on the lens of the camera. It was not a misty day, nor was it at all windy, so I don’t think it was dust. I don’t know what it was, but that photo haunted me enough to never leave it on my computer.
Here is the photo. What do you think? Mist? Dust? Smudge? Spirit?
I have a collection of old electronic devices that sit in a box on a shelf in my office closet. Some are Clare’s, some belonged to my mom, the others are mine.
I purged the large electronics a couple years ago, which felt good.
Some of these items are waiting for one of us to visit the county transfer station, but not all of them.
How can I dispose of my old Sidekick? And that Franklin Language Master was a godsend when I had to write anything because my spelling was so bad. I cannot get rid of Mom’s phones, not yet. Clare will let me know about her old phones when she is home for Christmas.
So now they sit in a box on a shelf in my office closet. And haunt me.
The PE teacher told me that the sanitary pad machine only took nickels, so I headed to the restroom where I bought a sanitary napkin and secured to my underwear with safety pins.
After taking care of the immediate issue I went back to the phone and called my mom. She said she could not pick me up and that I should walk home.
I went to the school office to sign out and to tell them I needed to walk home. The secretary asked why, and I whispered to her that I had just gotten my first period. She then shouted across the office to the assistant principal, Mr. Block, that this girl just got her first period and wanted to walk home.
Mr. Block said I could not walk home alone but could walk with an office page. As we left the building and walked towards my house I saw my mom’s car in the parking lot. Apparently she changed her mind.
It began as a regular day. I awoke, got dressed, ate breakfast and walked the roughly five blocks to my junior high. I was thirteen and in seventh grade.
It was in algebra, or maybe history class when I felt a warm rush of liquid between my legs. I immediately knew what had happened. I’d begun menstruating. I asked my (male) teacher if I could use the restroom and he must have seen panic on my face because he let me go.
In the restroom, the red spot on my underpants confirmed I’d started my period. All I wanted at that moment was to go home so I headed towards the pay phone to call my mom.
As I was getting ready to put money in the slot of the phone my PE teacher asked why I wasn’t in class. I explained to her what happened. She asked if I had a nickel. I thought she was talking about the pay phone, so I said I had a dime.
Dean and I spent the summer of 1984 in Los Angeles while he interned at RAND. His aunt and uncle who live in Pasadena loaned us a small, white pickup truck while we were there.
One sunny day on our way to a beach we were driving along the Pacific Coast Highway and the vehicle directly in front of us, a small truck with a covered bed, suddenly swerved up along the hilly side of the road, then flipped over on the road and burst into flames. Dean slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the car and ran toward the truck. He didn’t get close because of the heat coming from the fire. No one else stopped. We never saw anyone get out of the truck. It haunts me still.
I meant to write about this nightmare of a dream during the month of September, but never got around to it. I think it’s one of those sleep paralysis dreams.
I’m lying on my back and open my eyes. From the ceiling a large, black, hairy spider slowly bobs down on a silk thread until it is about a foot from my face. I try to move, but I can’t. I can’t get out from under the spider. I can’t swat it away with my hand. I just lie there, terrified.
Eventually, I wake up and realize the spider was a dream but the dread and fear and feeling of helplessness sticks around for a while.
I like spiders, at least ones not in my dreams, so this recurring dream surprises me.
I am afraid of my work email box. Every time I open it there’s another request for my time. Time I don’t have to give because what I do has become very important to some project managers and because another part of our company suddenly discovered my team. Unfortunately, my team is a team of one. Me.
I’ve not taken a vacation without my work laptop in years. I’ve not taken a full week off in years.
Efforts to hire another person for my team was stalled in March when the higher-ups decided it was not necessary. Efforts to hire another person this month has stalled because of salary requirements and immigration labor laws.
Thus, I constantly work. I sit at the computer from morning to night, getting up only to use the toilet or to grab a snack to eat in front of the computer.
And fear the “ping” of a new email.
One of the many stories my father liked to tell people was one that haunts me still. For years my mom would make me leave the room when Dad started telling the story, or shush him if I couldn’t leave.
As a kid in farm country, young Elvin took some odd-jobs in his community to earn spending money. One was warming the schoolhouse in the winter by feeding the coal furnace before the teacher and other pupils arrived. Another was caretaker of the old cemetery across the street from the schoolhouse. Dad would cut the grass and tidy up the graves.
He was happy doing this until he noticed clumps of what looked like hair near the graves. When he asked an adult about it they told him was caused by rodents: rats, mice or chipmunks, who’d gotten into the coffins and pulled off the hair of corpses to make their nests.
The disaster area that is my side of the attic is getting worse by the week. I pull things out of the closet and knee-walls and then shove everything back in. Two weeks ago, I started cleaning out my file cabinet and today tossed an extra-large grocery bag full of papers and folders into the recycle bin. Of course, I had to look at each paper because I didn’t want to throw papers with my SSN into the bin and need to burn those papers instead (we don’t own a shredder).
Today I spent several hours trying to fix a refurbished Chromebook whose battery wouldn’t keep a charge. Nothing I did worked, and I wasted all that time on something that I probably won’t use anyway.
The horror aspect is that if I am lucky I have maybe twenty good years left and I’m wasting every weekend playing hide and seek with all my shit. Help!
I went dead cold, remembering the program, remembering the nightmare. I was terrified by the statue and vowed to not look at it again, praying the girls would not wake up while their parents were gone so I didn’t have to go past it again.
I returned to the living room and could not stop thinking about the statue and the peeping Tom. The television program could not keep my interest, so I decided to try to go to sleep. I reclined on the sofa and looked at the ceiling, where a chandelier hung.
As I stared at the chandelier it began swaying, very gently, but very definitely. I had never been more terrified in my life.
The next thing I remember was the parents coming in the door, several hours after I’d checked on the girls.
I think I might have passed out from fear. Needless to say, I never babysat there again.
Walking back down the stairs I saw it. A pure white statue stood in the corner next to the front door and would have been behind the door when I entered the house. The statue was the likeness of an elderly man with a staff and a long beard (think Gandalf), and a large shaggy dog that I now know was a wolfhound wrapping itself around the man’s legs, looking up at its master with affection or fear.
While the statue itself was not frightening, I’d seen a scary TV program earlier in the summer when I was at my grandparents’ Wisconsin house. In the TV show a white statue that looked a lot like the one in the corner haunted a man and appeared to him suddenly, wherever he went. These appearances of the statue eventually killed him out of pure fright. After seeing the show, I had a nightmare the statue was haunting me.
The house seemed huge to teenaged me. It had a real second floor and not just a converted attic like ours. It seemed old too. I remember it as a Victorian, but the street it was on has no Victorians now, and probably didn’t back then.
I was happy to be babysitting in such a place — at first. The parents told me the kids were sleeping upstairs and I should check on them in about an hour. They also said I could have a pop from the refrigerator. Finally, just before they left they warned me to not answer the door because there had been reports of a peeping Tom in the neighborhood.
I then walked around the main floor, checked the fridge to see what kind of pop they had, then went to the living room to watch television. After an hour I went up and checked on the children, two girls, one a toddler and one a little older.
I am 62 years old and am afraid of the dark.
Unless my eyes are closed I cannot be alone in a dark room and not feel terrified. I know it stems from my teenage love of horror films and maybe only that one film where a ghost’s evil and contorted face pushed out from a wall. I am afraid I might see that if I open my eyes in the dark.
I take many unnecessary steps at night to ensure I am not in a dark room. I turn on one light, walk to the next room, turn on that light then go back and turn off the first light, repeating the steps until I am in my bedroom and close my eyes.
A flashlight (or cell phone) does not help because it only lights up a narrow path. I can, however, read my kindle or cell phone, as long as I don’t look away from the screen.
I am also not nearly as afraid of being outside in the dark as I am of being in a dark room.
I used to watch a lot of horror films as a teenager – usually the kind on late-night TV featuring ghosts, vampires, mummies, werewolves, etc. They rarely bothered me at the time, but something changed as I grew older. I’d recall those movies and my imagination went wild, especially when I was alone, especially at night. Vampires never scared me, but the other preternatural beings terrified me.
These days I am reluctant to watch anything that might be scary, although I don’t mind psychological thrillers and I’ve only seen one slasher movie (the original Halloween) and will not ever watch another (Serial Mom which we watched last night doesn’t count because it is John Waters). Even trailers of scary movies or television shows are enough to make me keep the hallway light on while I try to sleep.
Scrambling for a last dream post I searched “dream” on my CCL blog and found one in which I was violent to a family member. In the comments I mention my dreams about having killed someone in the past. I’ve had a few of those lately and they are very disturbing, only partly because I am about to get caught.
After my grandparents moved to Chetek someone gave them a tape recorder and they’d create audio tapes for family. My grandma had a toy organ and their beagle, Chubby, would sing along with her. Ten years ago I converted one of the tapes to .mp3 files and uploaded them to my Clutch Cargo Lips blog. Here’s Me and My Shadow.
I need to pee and walk into a room containing toilets. Sometimes the toilets are in stalls without doors, but often they are just sitting in the middle of a public place like a department store with people milling around. Other people use the exposed toilets so I do too. I must have this dream at least once a month.
Three songs remind me of growing up in Elgin around Christmastime: Suzy Snowflake, Hardrock, Coco, and Joe, and Frosty the Snowman because they were all played (with accompanying animation) on the local (Chicago) WGN TV station in the days leading up to Christmas. This was back in a time of my life that Christmas was something to look forward to.
Retirement is currently my greatest life-dream. Not that I am wishing away three of the remaining years I have left on Earth, but I no longer love what I do for a living and I don’t feel like changing careers at 62. I look forward to the day when using a computer is something I do for pleasure and not work.
When I discovered Kate Bush’s music, I knew no one else who liked her. It wasn’t until I got online almost 20 years later that I realized how many people not only knew who she was, but loved her music as much as I did. Those first two decades were very lonely, but at least I had her music for comfort.
In my late teens and early twenties I told anyone who would listen that my dream house was a cabin in the woods with chickens for eggs and a cow for milk. I’d grow my own vegetables near the house. It never occurred to me that a wooded lot would be too shady for vegetables. I ended up in suburbia.
There are two pieces of music that stop me in my tracks when I hear them. One is Our House by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and one is Pachelbel’s Canon in D. They both evoke in me strong memories and feelings that must be relived and felt without distractions. I wrote about both on Jeux San Frontieres (previous links).
I can get lost in daydreams if I am not careful so when I feel a daydream coming on when I need to be thinking about something else, I stop and file it away to think about at night when I cannot sleep. I am remarkably good at this, although my daydreams are becoming rarer as I age, which sucks.
Until I really listened to the lyrics to Downtown I never quite understood my mother’s obsession with the downtown of cities I’d visited. She was usually disappointed that I’d not gone downtown, but her idea of downtown was from the song:
So go downtown, things’ll be great when you’re
Downtown, no finer place for sure
Downtown everything’s waiting for you
I have trouble with numbers, I always have; dialing a phone number makes me nervous. That problem has wormed itself into my dreams: I’m desperately trying to dial a phone, but can’t punch in the numbers and I panic. In a relatively recent dream I shouted “Alexa, dial 911” and she unhelpfully replied, “Hmm, I don’t know how to do that.”