I had an okay time. I know that you want to know what’s bothering me but, please understand, it’s a little hard to explain. So, I told you that we were going up into the mountains… You know that city.. The one with all the pine trees and no one goes there except for the winter carnival and for camping in the summer? I can’t remember what it’s called; but I told you that we were going up there to meet with some of his family that get together for the winter carnival every year. Pretty basic: dinners together, sledding down the hill at the lake, checking out the massive ice sculptures that are vying for first place. Well, that wasn’t entirely all of the facts.
This year, it was going to be a little different. I mean, it was still the standard get together but there was another purpose this year and it was much less jovial than years past. I only went last year and it was a fun time then. This time, though, things seemed complicated, stressed, the mood in the room was almost tangible. You know when things are off, people are irksome, no one smiles, and conversations appear to have been staring contests, rather than spoken words, the minute you walk in the room?
It was like that only… No, it was worse than that. The family had three time-share condos that were all rented right next to one another so that everyone could spend as much time together as possible; same as every year. We were sharing one with his mom and his uncle. The reason we were there was due to his other uncle having recently passed. Passed? I shouldn’t say that. It’s such a stupid thing to say. No one really “passes”, do they? They don’t pass go, they don’t pass the sign that says “stop here if you want to live”, they don’t pass on into that good night (personal experience had led me to believe otherwise). No, they don’t “pass” anything. I guess, in a way, they sort of fail to live. It would be insensitive to say that someone had ‘recently failed’. Yes, I know, I’m using avoidance techniques.
Since I like my words like my bourbon (sharp, full-bodied, and neither of them cheap), I’ll cut to the chase and give you the bottom of the barrel. His uncle had died and this was supposed to be a sort of ‘celebration of life’ gathering only it was far from a celebration. When we went last year, we were greeted at the end of the driveway by hugs and questions and reminders to take off our snow boots. This year, we arrived, silently walked to the front door on our own, gave a cursory knock and let ourselves in. We removed our boots, hung our jackets, all to the choir of hateful whispers, the sopranos of sharp inhales, and the incessant drum-beat of cigarette lungs from the family’s stock mouth-breather. We found his mother, his grandparents, his siblings, and made our otherwise most important hellos.
I won’t bore you with the details because I know that you’re here for the worst of it. As I said, we were staying in the condo with his mom and one of his uncles. I’m assuming that the uncle that died was his mom’s brother or her uncle because his father wasn’t here. She was sleeping on the couch and we were in the loft of the cabin. The other uncle had the room downstairs. So, here’s what happened on the first night. I don’t like sleeping in unconfined spaces (as I’m sure you’re aware) and I wasn’t terribly thrilled about being in the loft. One nice advantage was the view of the living room, its sliding glass door, and the bottom of the stair case that rose to where I was sleeping. For the mind of a tactician, this gave me the benefit over any intruder. During my sleepless times, I liked to pace the balcony or just stand staring at the fireplace below and to my right while his mother’s nostrils sang the song of the sinus-ly challenged.
It was that first night, just staring at the fireplace below and thinking about what the family would be doing the next day, that I noticed a movement to my lower right. This would have been a movement that blocked the light of the kitchen or the front entry and created a shadow. There’s a room down there but its light wouldn’t necessarily shine all the way into the living room. It seemed like a flutter of movement and I thought that someone had come in to grab something from our fridge for a recipe in the main cabin. This made me mildly irritated as I don’t like to be around strangers at night but, what was I going to do?
I stood silent, listening intently, waiting for the sound of a cupboard or door closing but heard nothing. Rigidly still, I could feel the bumps on my arms raising their battle standards as I realized that I felt a presence but could see no one, just under the edge of the loft floor. Against my will, my breathing started to quicken and I noticed that his mom’s breathing was becoming irregular. I took a quick look back at the bed and found him, still, peacefully asleep. When I returned my eyes to the floor below, another movement caught my eye. Something had darted (or so it seemed) from the kitchen hall into the nook behind the fireplace. I watched.
Silence was my only reward but, every now and again, I felt… (maybe saw… maybe sensed) some movement. I think I heard something. I couldn’t even tell you what my guess would be today but, at the time, it sounded an awful lot like “fire” and “into” or “defy” or maybe “intruder”. Those were my thoughts that followed me for days. Carving some left over ham from dinner and those words repeat, trying to make sense. Laying down next to him and those words repeat. Only…
The very next night I kept that same vigil. Standing and watching the fireplace, listening to my potential, future mother in law snarl her nightly mantra (I really do like the woman, don’t get me wrong), or pacing back and forth, waiting for sleep to finally claim me. But, then, it happened again. It wasn’t the same as the night before. This time, I didn’t see any quick flutter in the corner of my eye, I didn’t hear or see anything, I just felt it. To say “a shift in the room” is overdone. This was different. It was more like I became keenly aware of a soundless, live wire behind me.
I turned around to ensure that he was still sleeping and hadn’t gotten up behind me or something. I could see the mound of his body in the dark, under the blankets but, on top of him, was what looked like a man, in the dark. The man was straddling his waist and staring down into his sleeping eyes. In that moment, I heard no sounds, no heavy breathing or nasal noises from the couch below, just dead silent except for MY man’s breathing. I stood there, staring like an idiot, because no one locks the doors. I didn’t know this man on top of the man I love. I was mortified. Standing silently and listening, I heard those words again only muffled as if someone was speaking through a heavy cloth or try to breathe low under smoke. I couldn’t make them out. Undue? Pyre? Fire? Defy?
The shadow man started to lean slowly down, towards that sleeping innocent face, and that’s when I perceived somehow that there was a threat in the room. I don’t know how to describe it. I decided to fight. In an instant. The adrenaline kicked in and I launched myself onto the bed to attack the figure over him. In the split-moment it took to touch it, it disappeared.
I wouldn’t even be telling you this if it hadn’t happened for the two nights that we were there, AND probably not still, if, on the second night, it hadn’t looked me in the eye. We’re back home now and I’m afraid to go to sleep. You wanted to know if there was anything eventful on my trip so here it is. I can feel the tingle of my skin as the night grows darker. Like the static electricity in the room grows as the night progresses. He’s lying there on the side of the bed, closest to the door. My protector. But, amidst the usual signs of the night, I can hear the neighbor’s dog, Sadie, barking, I can hear the old man, down the road, getting ready to go his job at the cheese factory, and, maybe I’m crazy, but I think I hear the faint and fierce whisper of a hateful voice repeating, “Into the fire!”
My autobiography can be found (here) [https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KOM4BFO] and my other stories (here) [lacy.sereduk.wordpress.com]