Wake Up!
by
Jack LaFountain

Photograph by Nsey Benajah courtesy of Unsplash
 
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The rugged wall of purple mountains thrusting their snowcapped peaks into the eastern sky reminded me once again of exactly how far we had come. West Jordan, Utah, was not just a world away from our old home in Maui—it seemed to be in an entirely different universe.

In retrospect, I suppose you could call that little observation of mine a premonition.

I glanced back at the mountains once more. A full month after my company had transferred me there, the stark contrast between the two places could still give me a brief moment of disorientation. I shook it off and started up the walkway to the front door of our new house, with my wife and two children following me.

 

At that point, we were all good and tired of living in a motel. We had chosen an attractive home, with an even prettier price tag on it, cozily nestled into a quiet, upscale neighborhood, and we were looking forward to settling in there.

The bright sunshine that greeted us outside the front door seemed to conceal a strange chill. That may have been an omen. But for me, it meant that Maui was behind us, and we had to get acclimated to our current location.

 

The movers had finished unloading everything the day before, and we were about to face the daunting task of finding a place for everything in our new home. I opened the door and in we walked, immediately setting about the drudgery of emptying boxes into closets and onto shelves.        

Surprisingly, the only resistance to making the new house

our home came, not from the children or my wife, but from

our dogs Cracker and Jack. They acted homesick. Both had to be coaxed inside and thereafter spent the first week moping around and barely eating. The old cat of ours fared better. As long as she was fed on time—and laps and petting were available on demand—she faced all the changes with a purr. 

 

Everyday life rushed in soon after the boxes were emptied. I found myself back at work, and life at home fell into its familiar routine. At least that’s the way things seemed…

It was a Friday night, I had the weekend off, and the kids would get to stay up late. We all settled in together on the couch then to watch Disney’s That Darn Cat.

We had always had a little family ritual of sorts to stack our soda cans in a pyramid on the kitchen counter before recycling. The living room in our new home connected to the kitchen through an open walkthrough, but the counter was not visible from where we sat on the couch.

The movie was wrapping up when the cans went crashing to the floor.

My somewhat fitting cry rang out, “That damn cat!”  My family laughed.

“Yeah, like they say,” my wife added, “cats are proof the world isn’t flat. Because if it were, cats would have already knocked everything off of it.”

I jumped up and rushed into the kitchen. To my shock, the cans still sat in an orderly, undisturbed pyramid atop the counter.

“How big a mess is there?” my wife called from the living room.

“You heard that crash, right?” I asked from the doorway.

“Of course, how could I miss it?” She turned her face from the TV to look over at me. “Why?”

“You need to come see this,” I told her.

“John! Can’t you take care of it by yourself this time?” she said, a clear note of annoyance in her voice. “I work at a stressful job all day just like you do.”

“Just come look,” I insisted.

I couldn’t make out the words she mumbled on her way to the kitchen, but I had a pretty good idea they were not complimentary. It wasn’t like the kids had never heard words like that before. She just didn’t want them to hear her say them. The muttering gave way in midsentence to openmouthed confusion.

“Huh…wha’…how’d you do that so fast?” she sputtered.

“I didn’t do anything,” I said, “that’s the way they were when I came in here.”

“But, you mean, the noise…”

“Yeah, I know…”

We stood side by side, staring dumbfounded at our little pyramid. Time stood still for a while, then Pat slowly shook her head.

"Tell me I'm not going crazy," she said.

"If you are, you're dragging me right along with you," I told her with a chuckle, trying to laugh it off. “No, we must have just thought the sound came from the kitchen. It’s something we heard on the television.”

I knew it was no such thing. Cognitive dissonance. But I didn't want to think about any other possibilities. That really would be crazy. No, I’m an engineer. With rational explanations being rather hard to come by, I settled for an unlikely option. Instead of the crazy, unbalanced one.

"Yeah, sound effects for the end of the movie," my wife said after a long pause.

It sounded as false coming from her lips as it did inside my own head. But it was all we had, and so we went with it. That bit of self-delusion lasted a week, aided by a lack of any unexplained kitchen noises. Life settled back into its usual hectic pace. Sanity returned, if only the chaotic sanity of everyday life at the Danbury house.

That relative peace came, quite literally, to a crashing halt the next Saturday night. A scene of quiet conversation playing on the television was shattered by the clatter of cans hitting and rolling across the kitchen floor. Pat and I rushed into the room.

Once again, we found the cans neatly stacked on the counter.

“John, I’m scared,” she said, stepping close and putting her arms around me.

I looped my arm around her shoulders. She was trembling. I didn’t know what to say. Blaming the whole thing on two runaway imaginations was out. There had to be a logical explanation. I struggled to find it.

The frequency of the movie-night sound escalated into an all-hours-of-the-day occurrence. That summoned an explanation, although an illogical one—a ghost. Although my family accepted it, my mind just wouldn’t take me there. I didn’t believe in ghosts, hobgoblins, or evil spirits. It wasn’t rational. My adamant refusal to entertain such a notion, though, served only to cut me out of the whispered conversations of my family.

Even the dogs shut me out.

They began to forsake my company in the living room for a place in the hall. They would lie on their bellies facing the bedrooms and growl in that deep, soft, rumble dogs reserve for a somewhat friendly warning. They would come when called, but soon they were back there standing sentry—or lying sentry as the case may be—in the hall.

After a few nights of that, assuring my wife and kids that mice had caught the dogs’ attention, I went out and bought some mouse traps.

“If it’s mice,” Pat said, logically enough, “how come Prissy isn’t going after them?”

“That cat’s too fat and lazy to be interested in chasing mice,” I told her.

Honestly, the cat hadn’t crossed my mind, but by then I was too invested in the mouse explanation to give it up that easily. Besides, that darn cat was indeed the laziest creature I knew.

A week went by. Not a single mouse had been caught in the traps. The dogs’ interest in the hall continued. Their growling grew more intense, and they inched incrementally further down the hall until they were just outside our daughter’s bedroom door. Alice was nine years old at the time. The dogs would growl and occasionally bark, but they refused to go into her room.

On Saturday morning Alice and I lingered at the breakfast table. The others had gone to get dressed for a day trip to the mountains. Finishing my coffee, I stood to take my cup to the sink and shooed her off to get ready. She reappeared moments later still in her pajamas.

“There’s something in my room,” she announced in a shaky voice.

“What do you mean something?” I asked.

“I don’t know… something.” She came over and took me by the hand. “Come and see.”

I let her trembling hand lead me until she let go outside her door. Stepping over the grumbling dogs, I went into her room while she waited outside. I saw nothing out of place but conducted a thorough search in the closet and under the bed.

“What did it look like, honey?” I called to her.   

I waved for her to come stand beside me. She leaned through the door glancing around the room before slowly venturing inside to take my hand once more.

“Where did you see it?” I asked.

“I didn’t really see anything,” she said, “but something was in here. I could feel it. You know, like ants crawling all over me. It was creepy.”

I got the picture.

Alice wasn’t one to make things up. But I could feel nothing like what she described. All their talk about ghosts was getting to them. That happens. You buy a neon green car and suddenly you see them everywhere. You start talking about spooks, and the world takes on an eerie feel—everything becomes dark and ominous.

I admit that I wasn’t as immune as I tried to make out. If it was getting to me too, then I could imagine what it must have been doing to her more impressionable mind. Telling her to forget about it, or that it was nothing, was not going to allay her fears.

I settled on what I hoped was tone of skeptical acceptance.

“Tell you what,” I told her. “I don’t see or feel anything, but you come tell me if it happens again, and I will come take care of it, okay?”

I remained true to my word, making several visits to my daughter’s room over the next few weeks. The results never varied. I saw and felt nothing out of the ordinary.

While the dogs still stood watch over the hallway, both Bobby and Alice had all but abandoned their rooms. They spent most of their time in the evenings on the couch, even though it meant watching the boring television programming favored by Pat and me.

An hour after tucking Alice safely in bed one night, I heard a scream, and she came streaking from her room crying.

This has got to stop, I thought. This is nothing but attention seeking. I’m done!

 

Then I saw the terror in her eyes. She was trembling uncontrollably, and she seemed to be talking out of her head. When I got her calmed down enough to speak clearly, she told me something had pushed her out of bed.

Down the hall the dog’s barking seemed to be filled with real menace. When I got to Alice’s bedroom door, they were on their feet, hackles raised, snarling at the empty room. The mattress was halfway off the bed, canted at a forty-five-degree angle to the floor.

No little girl did that.

I slipped between the dogs and through the door.

Damn, it’s freakin’ freezing in here!

The room felt like it was thirty degrees inside. I stepped back into the hall—normal temperature. I went back into my daughter’s room and lifted the mattress back onto its foundation in the arctic chill of the room.

The closet door was open. I remembered clearly that it had been closed an hour before. And I knew from nightly experience that Alice did not leave it that way. I walked slowly over to close it. The closer I got to the closet, the colder the room seemed to grow.

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I could feel something there. I don’t mind saying that, that time, I was scared. I shoved the door shut and rapidly retreated.

Before I passed from the room, it had already returned to its normal seventy degrees. The creepy sensation was gone. The dogs lowered their haunches and lay down again.

Was that what she experienced all those times I found nothing?

“I’m never going back in there,” Alice said when I returned to the living room.

“Okay, sweetie, okay,” I assured her. “You can sleep with us tonight.”

“Not just tonight, Daddy,” she said. “I’m not going back in there. Ever.”

“Of course not,” Pat said, stroking our daughter’s hair.

My trip into that icy room was enough to convince me that something was going on in our house. I still couldn’t buy the idea of a ghost or a haunting, but the door of that possibility was no longer locked. There had to be a logical explanation, but damned if I could think of one. I did what men do—tried to put on a brave face on the entire situation. I was doing it as much for myself as for my family.

Pat took the approach wives do when husbands are lost and won’t admit it. She asked for directions.

Her many calls to the Catholic Church didn’t necessarily go unheeded, but the church refused to take any direct action or commit to any action. Finally, after about a month of her persistent calls, a priest agreed to come to our home…unofficially.

He came one afternoon, offered up a prayer, and sprinkled holy water about the house, inside and out. When he left, things seemed to improve. No more cans toppled off the kitchen counter and magically repositioned themselves. Alice still slept with us, but the dogs retreated to the living room.

A month later school was about to start, and my wife and kids decided to take a trip to Las Vegas to visit relatives. Work was hectic, and I couldn’t get away. I sent them off, looking forward to a few days replaying the old bachelor days of  watching sports on television, eating junk food, and drinking beer. It was a grand idea, even though I knew the anticipation usually was better than the alone time.

My first night on my own I dropped down on the couch with a pizza, a six pack, and the Dodger’s game on the tube. Sometime around ten thirty, I toddled off to bed with a full belly and a slight buzz. I was asleep almost before my head hit the pillow.

I came out of a dreamless sleep with a start. Someone’s hot breath was breathing on my face. In the second it took me to realize what I was feeling, my entire belief system came undone.

“Wake up!” a deep voice snarled at me.

I felt the force of the spoken words hit my face. My heart hammering, I sprang from bed, gulping air in short, sharp gasps. No one was there. Yet there had been someone breathing on my face, the feeling was real, vivid and unmistakable.

“Holy crap!” I said, looking around the room.

I stood there a minute, slowing my breathing, and forcing myself to calm down. I’m ashamed to say it, but horror movie buff that I am, I went looking through the house for the intruder I knew had to be inside. I might have taken it better if I had found a burglar.

I spent the rest of the night sitting on the sofa with all the lights on. Every time my mind would wander back to that voice dripping with malice, I’d get the shakes. I made up my mind, then and there. No more brave fronts—we were getting out of Dodge.

Thankfully, though there were no more voices or hot breaths in my face. My sleep remained fitful though, even after Pat and the kids returned from Las Vegas. I put in for a transfer, we rented a U-Haul truck, and Pat and I started packing.

As we were loading the truck, one of the neighbors came over to say goodbye.

“Well, you guys lasted longer than anyone else ever did,” she commented.

“What?” I asked. “You mean this has happened before?”

“Oh yeah, nobody stays in that house long,” she answered with a shrug and a wave of dismissal.

“And you didn’t tell us?” Pat broke in.

“Would you have taken it seriously if I did?” she asked, one eyebrow cocked.

I knew that I certainly would not have.

“It’s haunted,” Pat said flatly.

The neighbor nodded. “A woman that lived there years ago was murdered by her boyfriend who then set fire to the room.”

 

“Let me guess,” I said, “the second bedroom on the left side of the hall.”

 

“That’s the one.”

 

It took us a couple of days to pack everything into the truck. The ghost, the house, whatever it was, kept quiet while we loaded up. I guess it figured out we got the message.

 

I am awake now. I’m awake to the paranormal and very glad to find it absent in our newest home, four hundred miles away. I pray it stays that way.