No Special of the Day
Remember the plan? No Drinking. No visit to the Penny. No Drinking at home.
When it was time to go to bed, I wasn’t the least bit sleepy. This was the first effect of the No Drinking rule. No alcohol to lull, or, on some nights, club me to sleep. Not that I ever made it through an entire night’s sleep in one seven or eight hour session; I usually fall asleep quickly for a couple of hours before waking up. The choice is always either lay there and try to outlast the wakefulness, which can take up to a couple of hours, or get up, put on my robe, do some work or read, and fall asleep in my comfortable chair in the TV room. For years as a kid I watched my father fall asleep in his recliner while watching TV and later watched my father-in-law fall asleep in a chair at my house while watching TV, and always I fought back the urge to yell at them, If you’re going to sleep, go to bed! Now I do the same thing: fall asleep in my chair in the evening while watching TV. Shameful. At least I don’t own a recliner.
So I’m lying in bed awake; Sherry is sleeping beside me. This was the plan, an experiment to see if my visions or hallucinations or whatever they are come to me when I’m not drinking. I thought I would sleep for at least a couple of hours before climbing out of bed and going downstairs to see if there was anything unusual happening. But it didn’t feel at all likely that I was going to fall asleep anytime soon. In a few minutes, I was bored.
I got up. Usually I wear just my fabulous thick blue Polo brand robe (a gift from my wife) when I’m wandering around, but tonight it was especially cold in the house. I threw an extra quilt over Sherry, pulled on my Puma sweatpants and a tee shirt. The robe went on over the ensemble. I pushed into my fleece-lined moccasin slippers and crept down the stairs.
Everything was quiet in Sherry’s office. Not a creature was stirring, not even a squirrel in the back yard. I had a drink of water and settled into my chair in the TV room with a clear view of Sherry’s desk, chair and file cabinet. If it was cool in the upstairs bedroom, it was positively frigid downstairs. I pulled one of the fleece lap rugs off the couch and over myself and fell asleep.
3:10. I could see the time on the cable box underneath the TV. I had snapped awake, unaware that I had ever fallen asleep. I sat in the chair, organizing my jumbled thoughts. Stick to the plan. Time to explore.
I stood up. It’s only a matter of 10 or so steps from my chair to the area of the floor in Sherry’s office where I had seen the light coming up from below. But those 10 steps are a minefield of creaking floorboards; I wanted to be stealthy this evening. Halfway there, three slow steps and I could see light glinting up through the cracks between the floorboards. More disturbing than that — after all, the light function could easily be tied to an electrical short — was the sound of digging. I wasn’t even down on the floor with my ear pressed against the boards, and I could hear the sound of blade on soil. I half expected to hear the sounds of a full-blown party emanating up. It was as if my taking time off from my nocturnal wanderings had encouraged whatever, spirits? what should I call them? apparitions to proceed with their agenda undisturbed by me.
A board creaked as I took my next step. The digging stopped. Silence. The light went off. I drew the logical conclusion: someone was under my house digging. After a minute spent getting my nerve up, I walked normally the rest of the way into the office. It was as dark and as quiet — oh hell, go ahead and say it — as a grave. It felt like the room was holding its breath. More silence. Whoever was under there wasn’t going to do anything as long as he/she knew I was standing overhead. Let me assure you, knowing someone was lying on the ground only a few feet beneath me was very disturbing. But just standing there wasn’t going to resolve anything. Time to check out the back yard.
I went into the kitchen. The backyard was brightly lit by one of those moons the weatherman on TV is always telling us viewers to look out for, a harvest moon, blue moon, hunters moon, a moon so clear it cast sharp shadows from the trees onto the grass. So bright I could see that the door to the shed was partially open. I always keep the door to the shed closed.
The shed is one of those wooden storage units that you see for sale outside Home Depot. Mine holds lawn equipment, old cans of paint, storm windows, a ladder, extension cords and various other tools and odds and ends that you don’t want to keep in the house. Oh, yeah, it also is where I stashed the old shovel that Mark found under the house. I wondered if it was still there.
If it wasn’t, that might answer some questions.
Well, maybe not answer some questions, and in fact it would pose even more questions, but it would help me decide if I was going crazy! If someone had taken the shovel out of the shed and was now under the house digging away, I would know I wasn’t just imagining it. I had two choices, open the door to the crawl space and shine my flashlight under there and take a look, though I’d probably have to climb in and take a good look around to be absolutely sure there was no one in there, even though I was pretty sure there was someone under there. Or, I could go outside, walk to the shed and see if the shovel was there. I needed to close the shed door anyway. Which would you choose?
The shed, of course. It wasn’t even close.
I cinched my robe tighter, unlocked the sliding glass door and edged it open. Warm air poured in over me. Hesitantly, I stepped out onto the small outside deck. It was at least thirty degrees warmer outside. What’s up with that? Why was it so cold in the house? I closed the door behind me. The mosquitos are murder in North Carolina, I didn’t want them getting into the house. I almost laughed. Mosquitos? I was worried about mosquitos?
I padded across the backyard in my slippers and pulled open the shed door. I checked in the corner on my left. There’s no light in the shed, but there was more than enough moonlight to see. The shovel was gone.
Case closed, I thought.
As I turned back to leave, I heard something move in the back of the shed.
I didn’t even think about it because I knew if I did I would have leapt outside, slammed the shed door shut and run like hell for the house.
Groundhog? Squirrel? Possum?
I tried to calm myself, but I was ready to run. I took a couple of deep breaths. I thought about what a chicken-shit coward I was being. I turned back and lifted a piece of tin roofing off the pile where the storm windows were stacked. There was a natural little hidey-hole in the back there. I looked inside.
There was the little girl. Raggedy Ann. She with the no nose, no fingers and the sewed-up lips. My heart lurched, and I would have run, would have loved to run, but my legs were locked. I was so scared I couldn’t move.
She was looking at me. “He say I should hide here,” she said in a little girl’s voice. Clearly.
She leapt out of her hole and ran by me, out the door. I felt her brush my leg. By the time I got my breathing under control and was sure I hadn’t crapped in my pants, I looked out the doorway toward the house. She was gone. I didn’t know where.