Things that go bumpApril 12, 2012
Mine were not the only critters that escaped into the house from time to time. But if they were my animals, I would know they were around and be far less fearful of the sounds they make in the night.
When I turned eight I was finally old enough to sleep upstairs with the girls, leaving all of the yucky boys downstairs. I didn’t yet know how much of a coward I was with regard to darkness and shadows doing crazy dances on the slanted ceiling and walls and tiny attic doors of the upper level of our cape cod home. I didn’t realize how quiet it seemed up there when I was alone, huddled under my covers and afraid to peek out. Afraid to stick out one toe. Afraid to allow a single inch of skin to be exposed to the black void waiting to devour me. Afraid to lie too closely to either side of the bed for fear that the thing under the bed would reach me. I learned to be small.
While sleeping with the girls was something I had desperately wanted, it never occurred to me that because of the difference in our ages, I would always go to bed before my sisters and would have to brave the terrifying darkness all by myself.
Brothers and their antics did nothing to help me to find my courage.
The light switch at the bottom of the stairwell—you know the switch that once was covered with the guardian angel light switch cover I have carried from house to house until it was back in the old homestead, now in the hallway—controlled a ceiling fixture that could also be controlled by pulling a chain switch hanging from the ceramic base, near the bright, hot, and bare light bulb. I would stretch to my tallest to reach up and pull the chain switch when I became too afraid to handle the darkness for one more moment. At the bottom of the stairs the boys would take turns flipping the switch on my safety and plunging me into darkness. If I wanted to turn the light back on with the pull chain, I would need to leap far from the bed and balance one foot the bannister, in the dark, so that the monsters under the bed could not catch me, and then repeat my tallest stretch to reach the pull chain. Most nights it just wasn’t worth it. One of those monsters was going to grab my ankle; I just knew it. I usually became sleepy while battling my demons and pretending that creaking and footfalls on the stairs were my brothers pulling another prank.
Then one night, the noises became real. There were real rustling sounds in the attic. I wasn’t imagining it.
Grandma Beanie was out playing cards with her lady friends, so I went downstairs and told Grandpa John about the sounds. It didn’t help. Everyone older than me was skeptical because I was the little girl who cried noises far too many times. My younger siblings and the one closest to my age were the perpetrators of the pranks designed to scare the heck out of me, and they were enjoying the spectacle. I was sent back to bed and the light was switched off at the bottom of the stairs. I am not sure which one of the siblings did it.
About an hour later it was time for the older girls to go to bed. Finally exhausted and almost asleep, I no longer cared about the creepy attic sounds. But Cindy did. Just as she lay down in her bed there was a rustling in the attic. Cindy sat straight upright in bed, then hopped to her feet on the bed.
Linda was coming up the stairs at that moment and Cindy said, “There’s something in the attic!”
Linda said, “Really?” and high-tailed it to her own room, just beyond the room I shared with Cindy. The lights were all on. I was wide awake and standing on my bed, just like Cindy.
After opening the attic door in her own room Linda let out a little scream, saying, “I saw it!” She grabbed her curler bag (it’s like an over-sized pencil bag, and most of us had them back then), unzipped it and dumped the curlers on her bed.
Crouching low, Linda held the curler bag open at floor level. I had never seen such bravery, and Linda was usually such a girl! But not that night. The disturber of the peace was about to meet its match. With one smooth motion, Linda reached across the floor with her curler bag and scooped up a small black mouse—Johnny’s science experiment!
For some reason I don’t know now and probably didn’t know then, Johnny was outside sleeping under one of our canoes that night. Linda was not amused by the mouse and took her curler bag and its cargo to Johnny. He took the mouse and Linda took her curler bag inside. She scrubbed it with soap and very hot water.
Outside under the canoe, Johnny was paying for losing his mouse. The mouse was probably agitated from being man(woman)handled in a curler bag and gave Johnny a couple of good bites. He let go, and the mouse raced off into the night.
Johnny continued his night under the canoe. Upstairs in the house, all was quiet. In fact, it was the last time I heard noises in the attic. I beat the fear of black voids and shadows dancing on the ceiling and walls a few years later.