TWELVE

KNOB CREEK

Passion Fruit Marinated NC Amberjack Tacos w/Red Cabbage, Cilantro, Smoked Jalapeno, Ranch Dressing

 I was at the Penny, on my own, just me and my trusty notebook. I love my Field Brand notebooks; I always have one in my back pocket to write down the stray thoughts that float into my head when I’m working on a project. For the last few days I’ve been researching ghosts and the paranormal on the Internet and keeping notes.

I was drinking a Knob Creek bourbon. My choice on the list came not because of any taste considerations, but because I wanted something that was easily reachable behind the bar. There seems to have been some sort of a firing blood-bath at the Penny, and my usual server, Josh, is out and they’ve hired two newbies. Janet is my waitress, and she doesn’t know the drill when it comes to the 69 drinks, so I’ve been schooling her. It seems a little unfair to send her up on the rickety plastic crate to reach the more exotic liquor choices that are high up on the back wall. I could see the Knob Creek was in easy reach on the back bar, so that’s what I’m drinking. It’s pretty smooth, even at 100 proof, one of Jim Beam’s excellent small batch whiskies. When I look Knob Creek up on the Internet I find that it is very popular with the hip hop community. I have no idea why.

The hot burn of quality bourbon settles into the background of the usual Penny uproar as I go through my notes.

I expected the Internet to be awash in crazy blogs written by people who firmly believed in ghosts, or at least believed in the ghosts they have personally experienced. Blogs penned by paranoid paranormal conspiracy theorists. It turns out that while those types are certainly in evidence, most of the sites up at the top of my searches are about why certain people “see” ghosts; the “scientific” reasons: rational, informative but unexciting articles. I thought the number one reason people saw ghosts would be insanity, as discussed in my last entry, but that hardly made the various lists. I’ll give you the most widely accepted explanations, in no particular order.

Carbon monoxide poisoning was sited in a number of examples. One extended family that lived in a large old house reported feeling weak, being held down in bed, hearing strange voices in the night, among other strange phenomena. After calling in experts they found that the furnace in their haunted home was pumping out carbon monoxide. After it was fixed, they were fine. This sounded reasonable to me, so I logged off the computer and went to Home Depot and bought a few carbon monoxide detectors. After a couple of days, they found no evidence that we have a problem.

Mold. A few experts report finding toxic molds in some reportedly haunted houses, molds that produce symptoms such as irrational fear and dementia, but there was no universal conclusion. My crawlspace is dry and I have never seen evidence of mold in our house, so I’m crossing this one off the list.

Infrasound — sounds just below the typical human hearing threshold of 20 hertz. A number of citations for infrasound circulate in ghostbusting circles. “Other environmental explanations for ghostly phenomenon include low-frequency sound waves (infrasound), said to cause feelings of nervousness and discomfort and vibrations in the eye which can produce illusions.” I walked around the house trying to find something that might operate in the ultrasound range. Other than the furnace or the air conditioner, which were not running when I experienced my visions, were the only possibilities. Take it off the list.

Fluctuations in the electronic field. “Persinger and his colleagues reported on the strange case of a teenage girl who said she’d been impregnated by the Holy Spirit and felt the invisible presence of a baby on her left shoulder. The girl had experienced a brain injury earlier in her life, the researchers wrote, but the trauma wasn’t the sole reason for the religious visitation: Next to the girl’s bed was an electric clock that generated magnetic pulses similar to those used to trigger seizures in epileptic rats. Once the clock was removed, the feelings of a presence vanished.” I unplugged my bedside alarm clock for several nights. I noticed no difference in anything other than I had no idea what time it was when I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.

Those were the most oft-cited possibilities, aside from this catch-all line: “They are also associated with mental conditions that affect the brain, including epilepsy, stroke, migraine and cancer.” Well, I guess I could be afflicted with any of these possibilities, but rather than check into the Mayo Clinic for an evaluation, I’m going to take these physical conditions off the list as well.

I’m crazy. That seems to be the most reasonable possibility (other than drunkenness) but until someone tells me I need to wash my hair (see last entry, number 11, for an explanation) I’m going to reject that one as well.

I finished up my drink, put away my notebook and walked home. So much for finding any answers on the Internet. Next step: leave the house and do some primary research. I have always been aware of the limitations of secondary research, reading what other people have to say about something rather than asking the questions myself. So, it’s time to talk to some people who might have some answers. Living people, not ghosts. But wouldn’t that be interesting? Finding a ghost or two to interview.

And for those of you who want to engage in some personal ghostbusting, check out this nifty ghost hunting kit for sale on Amazon for only $159.95. Nifty ghost busting kit

PAUSE ONE

I am astounded.

I am not alone.

My daughter Leah, who lives in New York, passed along the Twitter address of a guy, Adam Ellis, who is tweeting about a paranormal experience he is having in his life. His twitter site is known as Dear David. He began the tweets in August 2017 and has assembled four months worth and put them up on Spotify, a site that organizes social media projects. I thought this material was so relevant to what I am going through I would write this interim post, calling it Pause One because I imagine from time to time things will come up that don’t exactly fit the regular format.

So here are Adam Ellis’ first seven Dear David tweets, put up over the course of a few minutes on August 27, 2017.

So, my apartment is currently being haunted by the ghost of a dead child and he’s trying to kill me.

 

He started appearing in dreams, but I think he’s crossed over into the real world now.

 

The first time I saw him, I was experiencing sleep paralysis and saw a child sitting in the green rocking chair at the foot of my bed.

 

He had a huge misshapen head that was dented on one side. I did my best to draw it:

 

For a while he just stared at me, but then he got out of the chair and started shambling toward the bed.

 

I couldn’t move because I was paralyzed. (I have sleep paralysis fairly often. It sucks.)

 

Right before he reached my bed, I woke up screaming.

 

Here is the address of the Spotify site: https://storify.com/moby_dickhead/dear-david. (I don’t know what’s up with the moby dickhead designation.) You can also go on Twitter and enter his name (Adam Ellis) in the search function and you’ll come up with his Dear David stuff. If you start reading the Spotify material, you’ll quickly see how addictive his tweets are and why he has almost a million followers.

He lives in New York and began having terrible dreams that seemed to become real. The spirit haunting him is named David, a toddler-aged child with a bad expression and a seriously dented head. Adam’s cats react to this spirit; he hears sounds that come from a crawlspace over his ceiling; he sets up a camera and records, unclearly, pictures of David, there are strange noises in his apartment. (The camera is a good idea; I’m going to get something like it and put it in my crawlspace.) David seems to fall down from the ceiling. Hmmmm.

Sound familiar?

At first I was shocked to read this story. Was he copying my blog? No, he started his tweeting before I started my blog. Was I somehow copying his? No, I never heard of him until Leah told me about him. Every one of his tweets has a thread of followers discussing the events described. The comments (there are many thousands of them) range from suggestions about how he can rid himself of David, concern for Adam’s well-being, accusations that it’s all a hoax and he should admit it and stop tweeting. There was a time when I would have been solidly in the hoax camp, but his material is genuinely disturbing. Couple that with my own experience and the only conclusion I can draw is that his experiences hew so closely to mine that this is more than coincidence. Are there then common elements that these spirits (God, I wish I had some better word for these things. I feel like such a fool writing spirits and ghosts. Can anyone think of a more neutral term?) have in common? Strange sounds, strange lights, appearing as children, falling from above, hiding under and over houses? And more? There must be a reason they are so similar.

I signed up for Twitter, (my address: twitter.com/my69drinks. If you’re on twitter, follow me) so I could follow him. I’m not very good at it yet, so there’s a huge swath of tweets of his I haven’t yet accessed. And, truth be told, I don’t think I want to access them.

His spirit, David, seems to me to be different than my ghost child. I would call David a demon. I have never been afraid of my doll/child. I’ve been scared when this strange stuff was happening, but I never felt as if I was going to be harmed. In the beginning, Adam says he thinks David is going to kill him, and it certainly sounds like it’s a possibility as you read deeper into the tweets.

Seriously, folks, this is some very creepy stuff. Bad dangerous creepy. Read it and see if you don’t agree.

The discovery of the Dear David site was a bump in my current events, but it isn’t going to change anything for me. I spent the afternoon in the Penny yesterday going through my recent research, so I’ll put up a post about that in a day or two, rather than waiting a week.

And now I’m going to sent a tweet to Adam Ellis, just in case he wants to talk to someone who understands, or at least sympathizes with what’s been happening to him. I don’t expect him to respond, he has thousands of people sending him tweets every day, but who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Tweet…

Adam. You are not alone. www.my69drinks.blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELEVEN

BOOKER

Local Burger w/Swiss, Pork Belly, Sweet ‘n Spicy Sauce, Tomato and Onion

 I blame this all on my son, Charlie. When he was a very little boy, he used to sleepwalk at night. I would find him standing in the bathroom taking a pee into the wastebasket, or trying to get outdoors, dressed in his little one-piece footy pajamas. With his eyes open. Fast asleep. I learned to carefully herd him back to his bed and tuck him in, all without waking him. This sleepwalking gave me nightmares. I envisioned various scenarios like him going into the basement and deciding to tackle a building project, one that required the use of a power saw. All while he was fast asleep.

I learned to lay in bed with one fist under the side of my head, so my ear wasn’t pressed against the pillow, so I would be sleeping with both ears functioning, so I could hear him the second his tiny feet hit the floor and he began his peregrinations. Charlie left home for college pretty much for good more than ten years ago, yet I still sleep so I can hear out of both ears, with my fist under my head; if a mouse farts in the living room a floor below, I wake up. Once I’m awake I feel impelled to get up and investigate. I have trained myself well; too well. I haven’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep in more than 25 years.

The thing is, if I slept soundly, I wouldn’t be aware of any of this. I wouldn’t have the slightest clue that there was something going on under my house. No lights, no digging, no children falling out of the sky.

For the last week I have made it a point to stay in bed, every night, all night long. I get up to go to the bathroom and resist any urge to take a stroll around the house to see if any animated dolls with cut-off noses and sewn together lips are in evidence, maybe sitting in the family room in the dark, staring at the turned-off TV. I can see, in my imagination, that little rag doll head swiveling toward me, and those sad lips attempting to twist into that ghastly smile. No, I have stayed in my bed where I lie awake for hours, but where I am safe. I am safe there, aren’t I? I tell myself that I am.

I’m sitting at the bar, at the Penny, nursing my drink of the evening, a pour of Booker, a bourbon that runs anywhere from 120 to 130 proof, which makes it strong, which is what I like. I should throw in some water to calm it down, but I’m not into such niceties. I’m looking for some mind-numbing this evening. This is number 21 of my 69 drinks. I’m alone, Mark having gone off on a trip to Boston where he is attending a bookseller’s convention. Mark has a business selling rare poetry books that he operates out of his house, which means he’s out of town for weeks at a time over the course of a year. So I’m drinking my drinks, writing my blog entries, trying to stay in bed all night, trying not to think about what’s under my house, wanting to know, not wanting to know.

I still haven’t told Sherry. It’s funny, she could simply read this blog and she’d know what was going on under her nose, or rather under her house. But she stopped reading my blogs years ago; they don’t usually have anything that’s of interest to her or her friends. I would ask the rest of you from refraining from contacting her and saying, hey, you want to know what’s living, if living is the right word, under the floorboards of your office? If you feel the urge to do so, please don’t, because knowing what seems to be going on would drive her nuts.

Or maybe I’m the one who’s nuts. There are only a few distinct possibilities: one, I’m mentally unbalanced and have been having visions; two, I’m a drunk and have been having visions; three, it’s all happening just as I’m reporting.

I don’t think I’m crazy, and I don’t think I’m a drunk. Yes, the evidence on the second possibility is mildly damning. After all, I write a blog about my systematic drinking at the Penny, and I’ve logged plenty of instances of my overall liquor consumption, which is significant. But do I stagger around at night running into the furniture, hallucinating goblins and gremlins, lying on the floor listening to unusual goings-on under my house? Well, yes to the last one. But I’m not drunk when I’m doing so.

I’m not the sort of guy who normally would believe in the supernatural. I’m a science guy. I deplore religious thinking, both the good and the evil aspects, meaning both God and the Devil. I’ve never been faced with the kind of eyewitness “evidence” that I have been seeing. My recent coping strategy is to push it all to the back of my mind and very carefully not consider it. And stay in bed all night long. But, alas, that no longer seems to be working, at least the not-thinking-about-it part.

What to do, what to do?

I’ve decided to tackle this just like I deal with any of the subjects that arise when I’m starting to write a book: I’m going to research the hell out of it. I’ve been mooning around all week; it’s time to take a more proactive approach. I’m going to work the Internet, and I’m going to get out of the house and ask some questions and see what turns up.

I’ve thought about closing down the blog. Obviously the 69 drinks have morphed into something else. And what is this “something else?” An investigation, I guess. For what purpose? Maybe just to see if I’m going crazy. I don’t think I am, or at least it doesn’t feel like it to me. Which is probably a symptom of being crazy. During my 72 years I have had friends who did exactly that — went nuts. (I know, there are better, kinder, terms for this condition.) Some of them ended up killing themselves. Some of them heard voices, some of them saw “ghosts,” many of them were under the care of trained professionals, all of them seemed, well, crazy to me. And there was nothing I could do to talk them out of their convictions.

What I’ve noticed over these years, is that they all had one thing in common: they stopped washing their hair. I’m not kidding. So, do me a favor, if you see me on the street, or more likely down at the Penny and I’m looking kind of rough around the edges, in particular if my hair is long and greasy, tell my wife it’s time to take me to Duke Medical and get some professional help.

One more thing. You know how private detectives and investigative journalists always, when involved in something dangerous, package up their research and send it to their lawyers or The Washington Post with instructions to Open only in the event of my death. The blog will be my contingency plan, my fail-safe. If there is a sudden silence from my end, if there is no entry for a week or two, call my wife and ask her to alert the authorities.

Thanks.

TEN

NIKKA COFFEY

Local Beef Chili w/Smoked Poblanos, Pepper Jack, Black Beans

Two nights later Mark and I were back at the Penny. I didn’t even think about my drink. I told Josh to bring me anything on the list. He explained that the Nikka Coffey he brought me was a Japanese grain whiskey, but I wasn’t really listening. The glass he set in front of me was the usual dark amber color; I could smell the sweetness of the liquor.

The squirrel and nut attack had been, as I said, two nights ago, although the squirrels had done nothing more than passively observe. Last night I spent the entire night in our bedroom. Sherry slept in the guest room again, claiming she hadn’t heard the nut bombast. I didn’t mention the squirrels or the child/doll. I decided to forgo my usual nightly perambulations. I had seen enough the night before to keep me from peering into the backyard with my flashlight, looking for trouble.

For trouble I had surely found.

I hadn’t slept much the night before. We have a cool-looking Federalist couch in our bedroom, which is where I tried to sleep. The back is to the window, so I wasn’t looking out. That was why I was sleeping on the couch. The bed faces the window. I didn’t want to see again what I had seen before.

“OK, tell me again what this rag doll looked like,” Mark said. I walked over to his house this morning to see how he was doing. After getting little help from his doctor, he’d consulted the Internet and found that washing his bug-bitten body with dandruff shampoo would take care much of his itching problem. It did. The various welts were fading. He’s an easy-going guy anyway, he wasn’t angry with me anymore.

“She looked like a rag doll when she bounced off the roof and fell into the yard, but when she started crawling toward me it was obvious this was no doll. She was definitely alive,” I said.

“Describe her.”

It’s not like I hadn’t been thinking about this girl-creature for the last couple of days. “Easier said than done, though I couldn’t tell you why it’s so hard to describe her.” I thought about it while I took a sip of my Japanese whisky. It tasted like a great bourbon even though Josh said it was a grain whisky. I didn’t know what the difference was. I could look it up, but I’ve got other things on my mind.

I went on. “She had short limbs, and looked around seven or eight-years old, though she would have been very small for her age. I’m not good at guessing the ages of children. She was black, as in African, with hair in braids or dreads. She looked very dirty.”

“Dirty because she’d been digging around under your house?”

That thought gave me no comfort. “I guess, though I’ve been trying to avoid that conclusion. There’s something else I’ve been trying to avoid. The reason I’ve been thinking of her as a rag doll, is because of a video I used to watch with my daughter Leah when she was little. It was an animated film called Raggedly Ann and Andy. In the film, the classic Raggedy Ann doll has lots of adventures. Leah loved it. She probably watched it fifty times, and I was there for most of those viewings. It was actually well done and not that painful to watch, even after you had most of the dialogue committed to memory. My backyard doll looked like Raggedy Ann, only a black version.”

I was speaking slowly because I didn’t really want to get to the next part. Mark waited patiently. He was drinking a sour beer, a style of brewing that was edging out IPAs in the hipster world.

“Go on,” he said.

“If you can, try to remember what a classic Raggedy Ann doll looks like. Red yarn for hair, buttons for eyes. A red triangle for a nose. Thick hands. But in this case, the doll was African.”

“Got it. Your classic rag doll, only black.” He took out his cell phone and began keying in text.

“Yes. Here’s the thing,” I said. “It was night. I had been drinking. There were a hundred fucking squirrels staring at me, and walnuts were slamming down on my house. A child/doll body had just bounced off the roof into my back yard and started crawling toward me. I wish I could say I couldn’t really see her, but I could.”

“Of course you could see her, you were using the World’s Most Powerful Flashlight.” He was making a joke, but I wasn’t smiling. He turned his phone toward me to show me a picture. It was a photograph of a doll, a black doll. It certainly resembled the child who had fallen in my back yard, only this was clearly a doll. Not a real person. “They’re called Topsy dolls,” he said. “Named after the little slave girl in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. They were popular in the late nineteenth century.”

I nodded, but I wasn’t really focusing on the picture. I was focusing on the scene in my head. I went on.

“When she reached about two feet from the base of the house, she looked up at me. All told she was about five feet away from where I was standing. I could see her face quite clearly. Here’s the thing, Mark, the really terrible thing. This was no doll, this was a real person. Her nose was a little red triangle because it had been cut off. Her mouth looked made of thread because her lips had been sewn shut, very crudely, with thick black thread. Up-and-down stiches, like a railroad track.” Mark had his beer half-lifted toward his mouth. “And she had no fingers. She had Raggedy Ann hands because all her fingers had been cut off. And here’s the worst part, Mark.” I leaned across the table and spoke quietly. I wasn’t sure if I was trying to keep anyone else from hearing, or I didn’t want to hear what I was saying.

“She smiled at me, Mark, not that she could really smile, not with her lips sewn shut. But she gave it a try nonetheless, and it was truly horrible.”

Josh appeared at our side.

“You want another one?”

“Sure. You pick,” I said, just wanting to get rid of him. Josh turned to Mark.

“I’ll have whatever he’s having,” Mark said. “No more beer.”

Neither of us said anything for a minute while Josh went back behind the bar.

“You don’t look so good,” I said. Mark had gone a faint grey color. He nodded. Josh came back and put two glasses on the table. “Four Roses,” he said. We each picked up a glass and drank. After a few more minutes of silence, Mark started looking a little better. He leaned toward me, the way I had leaned toward him. When he spoke it was just loud enough for me to hear.

“Tell me you were drunk. Or that this is one of your jokes.”

I shook my head. He sat back in his chair.

“It’s all true?”

“True? True? Are you asking me if I’m bullshitting you?”

“Have you told Sherry any of this?”

“No. And not because I don’t think she’ll believe me. I’m not going to tell her because I think she will believe me. I don’t think there’s any physical harm in it at this point. Even though I don’t understand it. She’ll just worry.”

“And rightly so,” Mark said. “No harm in it?” he asked, sarcastically. He shook his head. His voice was grim. Good old easygoing Mark. “OK, I’ve just got one question.” He turned his drink glass precisely one-quarter turn of a revolution and folded his hands in front of him.

“Just what the hell is next?”

NINE

GEORGE DICKEL 8 YEAR   GEORGE DICKEL 12 YEAR

North Carolina Peel n’ Eat Fresh Shrimp

 My wife Sherry taught me to drink George Dickel. It’s our house whiskey. There’s a gallon bottle of it in my liquor cabinet, a bottle that I empty with distressing frequency. Sherry has always insisted that we drink the white label Dickel, which is the 12-year, the pricier of the two options, as opposed to the green label 8-year, which, according to her, is swill consumed only by yahoos. I have always bowed to her better judgment, but am looking forward to comparing the two.

I met Sherry many years ago when we both worked for the Washington Post. She and I had friends in common. I am not alone in thinking her then, and now, as a smart, beautiful woman, thin with waves of striking black hair, quick to laugh. When she schooled me on my bourbon drinking she moved the needle on her hotness level up several notches; who doesn’t love a beautiful woman who has strong opinions when it comes to drinking bourbon?

Because I have such a strong emotional attachment to Dickel, I actually looked up a few facts…

George Adam Dickel emigrated from Germany to the United States just about the time the interior of my house was being ripped off its foundation and hauled away to where it now sits. At the time, he was a shoemaker, though in the Civil War he became a liquor smuggler. George, who died in 1894, never actually made whiskey, he just bottled and distributed it. Dickel was different from other whiskeys in that it was distilled through thick vats of maple charcoal before going into barrels for aging. In 1958 they began making Dickel in Tennessee, aging it for six years before putting it on sale. The brand did well in the 70’s and 80’s when most brands of bourbon were doing poorly. Thus endeth the results of my George Dickel research.

I was at the Penny when Josh served me up two glasses of Dickel, neat, the eight-year and the twelve-year. To tell the truth, while I could taste the difference between the two Dickels, it was mostly a matter of the younger version tasting less refined… well… younger. Although I usually prefer the harsher versions of my liquors, this was not a striking difference. Maybe it’s because the older was what I was used to, or maybe I just didn’t want to look like a yahoo in my wife’s eyes, but the white label gets the nod as the better, more interesting liquor.

I was by myself this evening because Mark was mildly pissed off at me. I should never have shut the door when he was under the house. I don’t know why I did that. But he had a reason beyond my poor joke to be pissed off, or at least he had a good reason. I saw him the day after he crawled around under my house, and he was on his way to see the doctor. It turns out that he was covered, and I mean covered, with insect bites and rashes acquired while on his journey into my crawlspace. While this wasn’t strictly my fault, I understood why I should stay out of his sight for a day or two. He did admit that he wasn’t aware of any biting by bugs while he was under the house, which would have told him to get the hell out of there more quickly than he had. But he hadn’t noticed, so now he was scratching himself bloody.

I finished off one of my two glasses of Dickel and thought about everything that had been going on. Events had taken a turn for the worse. Things, as you will see, had turned serious.

My house has been under severe attack for several days. A giant black walnut tree looms just eight feet from the addition on the back where the kitchen is situated. My relations with black walnut trees have always been benevolent. My family used to go to the woods in West Virginia every fall to collect the nuts, which my mother would then eventually turn into black walnut coffee cakes. But now, in North Carolina, the trees have turned on me with, as they say, a vengeance.

The walnut tree behind the house is at least 70 feet high. Its branches are loaded with nuts; I don’t think numbering them in the low thousands is an exaggeration. When a nut breaks off, it begins to plunge earthward at a constant, if frightening rate of speed. If you were of a scientific bent, you could measure this velocity by applying the following formula: objects accelerate at 9.81 meters per square second, m/s^2, or 32 feet per square second, ft/s^2. In real terms, if you get hit square on the head by one of these nut bombs, it’s probably going to knock you unconscious and it just might kill you.

One of the archaic, if charming elements of my old house, is that the various roofs of the various additions are sheathed in metal shingles. This means that when a nut slams into the roof, it makes a sound that reverberates throughout the house. It’s as if we live inside a gong. And while it’s usually a simple, sharp BANG, it sometimes sounds like a dead body has been dropped on the roof, a loud, flat thudding contact. This is the sound of a squirrel launching itself from a branch thirty feet in the air, hitting the metal roof with a mighty THUD. It has to be heard to be believed.

When we moved in, it was late in nut-drop season. This problem had not been mentioned by the seller in the pre-sale, disclosure document. In those first days, I’d wake up ten times a night thinking the banging was gunshots. This is because I had PTSD from living in Maryland outside Washington, DC, where the bangs often were gunshots. After a couple of weeks in NC, the hits still woke me up, but I lay in bed with a smile on my face knowing they were not caused by gunfire, no one was shooting anyone on the cul-de-sac outside. I was in a new land, where violence was not the order of the day, or night. But that was before we came under serious attack from the trees and the squirrels. This year – now — it was serious.

Over the last week, smack in the middle of nut drop season, the roof hits began occurring every ten seconds. If that doesn’t sound like much, let me come over to your house and rap on your head with my bare knuckles every ten seconds. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

Last night at bedtime Sherry decided to attempt to escape the nut onslaught by sleeping in the downstairs guest room. This is our most interior room. She wrapped her head in her pillow and curled up tight in her blankets. After my usual number of George Dickels, (three? four?) I went to bed in our upstairs bedroom and fell asleep for a solid two hours. Then about one o’clock I woke up. And lay in bed for an hour while the nuts crashed down. Could they have even increased their frequency? Were they even louder than usual? Yes, it seemed so.

I gave up at two AM, put on my classy dark blue robe and went downstairs. Sherry had closed both doors to the guest room, so there was little chance my moving around was going to disturb her, if she could even have heard me over the nut crashes.

These days my first stop in the middle of the night is to check the light coming up between the floorboards. No lights this night; the crawlspace was dark. I eased down on my knees and put my ear to the floor. No sounds of digging. I had put the shovel in my backyard shed. I got up, sat in my easy chair, and covered my lap with my furry lap rug. Sweetie jumped up, snuggled in and began purring. Is there any scenario more conducive to sleep, if you discounted the walnuts thundering down on the roof with now almost constant frequency? This can’t be normal, can it, this constant rain of nuts? I vowed to call a county extension service tree guy and ask him this very question.

The cat jumped off my lap. I figured she had had it and was going somewhere she could pull a pillow over her head. I gave up any notions of sleep, found my Extremely Powerful Flashlight and wandered back to the kitchen.

BANG!

BANG!

BANG!

THUD!

I collected a glass of water out of the refrigerator door and stared out the windows to the backyard, more in idleness rather than interest. I could see the walnuts as they bounced into the yard. I’ve mentioned in an earlier entry that there is a bright streetlight over my neighbor Sam’s house, which illuminates my back yard as well. I noticed that besides the hillocks of black walnuts, there were other odd bumps as well. I flicked on my powerful flashlight and pointed it through the window.

There were hundreds of squirrels in the back yard. All sitting up in cute little squirrel prayer positions, staring at the back of my house. It had rained earlier, so there was a haze over the yard. A thick halo surrounded the streetlight. My flashlight caught the squirrels’ eyes and the beam was reflected back at me. Unmoving, flat green dots. Hundreds of them.

Weird.

I’ve never seen so many squirrels in one place before. I’m not sure if anyone has seen this many unmoving squirrels in one place. I felt like if I went out into the backyard, and I had absolutely no intention in going out into the back yard, they would leap on me and rip the flesh from my bones. Crazy, no? Piranha squirrels.

THUD!

At that moment, I saw what my brain interpreted as a very large rag doll, a child-sized rag doll, bouncing off the roof, plunging flat into the wet grass and lying there, unmoving. Let me repeat: a child-sized doll. I stepped further back into the kitchen and turned off the flashlight, afraid of being seen by, what? The squirrels? The child/doll body that was lying in the grass?

I gathered my courage and moved back to the kitchen window. The squirrels were still sitting there. I, reluctantly, moved my flashlight beam to the body lying on the grass. It looked like a little girl. She appeared to be about seven or eight years old, maybe older. Was she dead? Was she alive before she began her downward plunge? It sounded as if she had fallen out of the tree, onto the roof, bounced and tumbled the rest of the way to the ground. It was not a pleasant sound.

In the beam of the flashlight, she raised herself into a pushup position.

And began dragging herself toward the house.

Toward me.

I kept the light on her as long as I could bear it. When she was close to the house, she looked up, as if she could see me through the window. And perhaps she could. It seemed as if her face was twisted in concentration. Was her nose bleeding? Her lips?

Did she smile at me?

I turned off the light as she scuttled beneath my sight line, underneath the house. I heard one of the low wooden doors open, then close. I stood, unmoving, holding my breath. When I steadied myself, I turned the flashlight on the backyard.

The squirrels had all disappeared.

The cat was standing beside me at my feet looking out through the sliding glass door. Her back was arched like a cartoon black cat in a rage. Her mouth was open in a silent hiss.

EIGHT

It just so happens that I own one hell of a flashlight. I bought it when we lived in Maryland. The only other option to the flashlight was to purchase a nine-millimeter Beretta to deal with the local thieves and drug dealers.

This flashlight is so bright the literature said it would blind a person even glancing into it and they would remain blind for a full seven seconds. Which I figured was long enough to grab any guns being pointed my way, or at least long enough to turn around and run. I went inside and found the flashlight.

There are access points to the crawlspace all around the house. Most of them are small, low, ground-level doors; one of them, around the west side of the house, is upright-person-sized, leading three steps down into a small rock-walled room where the heater and the air conditioner are situated. This area is on the other side of the house from where I saw the light and heard the digging.

The exterior doorway closest to the light is about 18 inches high and two feet wide. It’s wooden, painted the same shade of light greyish green as the rest of the house. I knelt down on my hands and knees and pulled on the door. It swung open easily.

“Be my guest,” I said to Mark. He bent down beside me and peered into the darkness. The sunlight was bright around us, and the contrast made it difficult to see under the house. I handed him the flashlight.

“That right there,” I said in my police officer voice, “is a Surefire P2X Fury Dual Output LED 15/500 Lumen Flash light. Look directly into the lens and you will be blinded for seven seconds. Push the button on the end and you will turn on 500 Lumens of tactical-bright illumination.”

Mark shot me a look that showed what he thought of my cop imitation. He peered into the crawlspace. I stood up.

“You should be able to see the heating duct. The light bulb is right above it. You’re sure you want to go under there?”

Mark shook his head. “No, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to go under there. But I guess I should see what you’re going on about. See whether you’re full of shit, which it sounds like you are.”

To tell the truth, I was perfectly happy to have him be the one crawling around in that dank, dark, vermin-ridden space. He clicked on the flashlight, and I watched his back and then his legs scrabble around and disappear inside. He’s thinner than I am and more agile. I could hear him dragging himself around. I waited a few minutes and toed the wooden door closed. The latched snapped shut. I didn’t hear any more from under the house for a minute. I’m not sure why I did that. I’m not the sort who plays practical jokes on people. A bubble of manic laughter rose up in me. I was surprised by it.

“Very funny.” Mark’s voice was muffled. Could I hear a note of fear around the edges? I bent down and opened the door. “Just messing with you,” I said. Actually, I was sorry I had played the joke. I don’t know what had come over me. If he had done it to me, I probably would have wet my pants. I looked up and saw Sweetie the cat sitting in the window inside. She had a disapproving look on her cat face. OK, OK, I’m sorry.

I could hear Mark dragging around again, then a clank of metal on metal. “Be careful of the duct work,” I called. “Charlie the plumber says if you even touch it it’s going to crumble into dust. But then Charlie wants to sell me a new eight thousand dollar heating and cooling unit.”

Mark’s legs appeared, then his back. He blinked in the bright sunshine. After a minute he pushed himself upright and began dusting himself off. It was futile. No amount of dusting was going to get all the dirt off his clothes. “Straight into the washer when you get to your house,” I said. “Otherwise your wife’s going to kill you. Or kill both of us.”

Mark gave me one of his looks that said he couldn’t tell if I was making a joke. I wasn’t. “See anything unusual?” I asked.

“It’s all unusual,” he said. “But what do I know? Maybe you mean something like this,” he said, bending down and feeling around inside the doorway. He pulled out an old shovel. It was about three feet long from handle to the top of the rusted blade. The weathered grey handle was fashioned from a six-inch dowel and attached perpendicular across the top. It had a crude, hand-made look. Cobwebs draped its entirety; it looked to be a hundred years old, not that I had any real idea of what its age might be. Mark pushed it toward me. I took it gingerly, reluctantly.

“You heard digging,” Mark said. “Remind me to not be so quick to think you’re full of shit the next time you say something crazy. You’ll notice that the working end of the blade is rusty but clean, like someone has been using it. I’m going to go change my clothes.” He shook his head, wiped his hands on his pants and headed across the neighbor’s yard toward his house.

I turned the shovel over in my hands. He was right. It was covered with cobwebs, but most of the blade itself was clean.

I heard digging in the night.

We found an ancient shovel.

Seven

HIRSCH BOURBON   JEFFERSON RESERVE BOURBON

Wasabi Chicken Tacos w/ Crunchy Slaw, Ginger Thai Sauce

I was at the Penny with Mark. I seem to have lost my sheet of 69 drinks. What can you expect when a project involves this much drinking? I was momentarily panicked; I was only six drinks in, but I didn’t really want to go back and have to drink those six again. I explained this to Josh, our server. He went to the cash register, rooted around on the shelf and brought back a loose-leaf notebook that was filled with plastic page inserts, each one with several annotated lists of the 69 drinks. “This is where we keep the sheets,” Josh said. “That way you guys can’t lose them.”

No one told me, was my first thought. My second was that I could see hundreds of lists with notations in the notebook. Each must have belonged to a drinker who thought he or she could make it through all 69. Or hoped they could. And from the number (few) of plaques on the wall, it was clear that the vast majority of those attempting did not make it to the end of the quest. The notebook was a record of broken dreams. I elected to keep my list in my wallet, just as soon as I could find it.

I told Josh to pick a couple of bourbons for me to try. I was getting tired of Scotch. I don’t know why that was; I often go on jags at home and drink nothing but one type of liquor over a period of weeks or months. Often it’s Scotch. But now I felt the urge to move on. I hoped this was not some sort of harbinger as I had eight more bottles of Scotch to work my way through.

Josh brought me a Hirsch from the Mictar brewery and a Jefferson’s Reserve. I tried the Hirsch first and found it possibly the most elegant bourbon I have ever tasted. Thick, sweet, with oaky notes from the barrel it had been housed in. God, I was starting to sound like one of those pretentious taster guys that I really don’t like.

I polished off the Hirsch over the next 20 minutes or so. During which time I told Mark about my nocturnal wandering and the light beneath the floorboards. He came up with the same possibilities that I had already considered – the inspector, the plumber, the guy who lived there before me, nothing new. Neither of us was taking the phenomena seriously. I thought about ordering a basket of chicken wings, but it seemed somehow a dishonor to the fabulous bourbon that I’d just had. I tried the Jefferson’s.

Completely different. Almost all of the drinks I’d tasted had been sweet, and this was just the opposite, though if the opposite of sweet is sour, then this was not that. I can’t even describe it, other than it had a pleasant mouth and throat burn. For the first time I thought about going back and ordering it again, though that seemed like a total waste of my drinking time. Stick to the list; check them off one by one; no repeats.

 

I had been downstairs every night wandering around, as usual, in the week since I noticed the light coming through the cracks in the floor. I had not mentioned any of this to Sherry. She has an active imagination and is quick to spot troubles, both large and small, real and imagined. I’m sure she would say the cracks are the source of the dank odors she often smells in her office, emanations from the crawl space. I poo-pooed these smells when she first brought them up, but she’s probably right. The solutions for this, a common crawlspace problem, (the odors) are few, difficult and expensive. I’d rather pretend they don’t exist.

It was approaching fall outside and the old house stayed around 68 degrees, day and night. Unable to sleep, I went downstairs. I’m not sure if it was the possibility of the weird light thing that was keeping me awake or the number of espressos I’d had over the course of the day.

It was dark in the house, except for the streetlight outside and the plethora of small LEDs that indicate that there is something nearby that is drawing a tiny bit of electricity. I believe these LEDs are called electricity vampires, and the Internet is always counseling users to turn them off, thereby saving significant amounts of money. It seemed like too much trouble to me; besides they threw enough light to help me navigate in the dark.

I decided to get down on the floor where the cracks were to see if I could make out anything unusual. No lights. It was cool on the floor, not particularly uncomfortable, so I turned my head and rested my cheek on the hundred and fifty-year-old- boards. Sometime in the past, they had been painted a deep brown; now the paint was worn away, leaving bare dark wood behind. I could smell the faint odor of dank earth from the crawl space and the even fainter odor of dog urine. The former owner had a pit bull and a corgi, neither of which must have been very well trained. I was a tiny bit worried about falling asleep on the floor and having Sherry come down in the morning and find me sprawled there. She would assume I had a heart attack and when I woke up and told her I wasn’t dead she would want to know what I was doing sleeping on the floor. There were really no good answers.

That’s when I heard the sound of digging. My ear was pressed to the crack, and it was very faint, but it was definitely digging. I strained all my senses. Yes, digging. I pushed to my feet, dizzy for a minute from standing so quickly. What to do? Turn on the light? I could no longer hear anything now that I was standing up. I thought about getting back down on the floor and listening again, but I was, I admit it, unnerved.

I went back upstairs and climbed into bed. It took awhile to fall asleep. After ten minutes I convinced myself that it had been some sort of aural hallucination. Surely there was an explanation.

The next day I waved to Mark who was in his back yard building a fenced-in garden, a project he’d been working on for some weeks. I brought him into the house, into Sherry’s office and pointed at the floor. Sherry was out somewhere doing good works.

I explained that I had been up wandering around the house in the night again.

“This is where you saw the mystery light?”

“Yes, but there’s something else.”

He raised his eyebrows.

“Digging,” I said. “I could hear something digging.”

He looked from me to the floor then back again to me. “Is that unusual? It’s a crawl space. Who knows what sort of critters are living under there.”

I shook my head. “When we moved in there was evidence something had been rooting around under there. It had torn off the insulation on one of the ducts. I called a pest control guy and he said it was probably a squirrel and that I should seal up the ventilation holes in the brick foundation. I bought wire mesh, cut it to size and screwed it into the mortar. While I was doing this I made a lot of banging noises under the house. If there were any squirrels, they beat feet. There are no critters, or at least no critters of any size, under there. Granted, I didn’t go very far in.”

“How about termites? If you’ve got an infestation you can hear them chewing on the wood when it’s quiet.”

“This was not chewing, this was digging. Besides, I thought of that. I had a termite guy come over and check it out. No termites. Anyway, I know what an animal digging in the ground sounds like. They scratch. This was different. This sounded like someone using a blade, maybe a shovel, maybe a trowel, hell, I don’t know, maybe a knife, digging into the ground.”

Mark looked at me with a mix of emotions: amusement, worry, disbelief, exasperation. “Someone?” he said. “You said ‘someone using a blade.’” His eyebrows were raised.

I shook my head. “I didn’t mean someone. Not ‘someone.’ Something?”

It was his turn to shake his head. Now he just looked exasperated. “Something? A squirrel with a shovel? A possum with a hand trowel? You know what you have to do, you have to crawl under there and see what’s going on.”

We both contemplated that unwelcome task.

“No way, I can’t even get the cable guy to go under there. This is all probably my imagination.”

“So you’re going to just forget about it? The light, the sound of digging?”

“Yeah.”

“Go get a flashlight,” he said. “We’re going to look under there.”