I am not an easily frightened person. I love horror movies and scary books and sitting around the fireplace telling ghost stories. I jumped at the scene with the little girl in The Sixth Sense (and my friend who was with me that first time I saw it takes some sort of eerie joy in reminding me of this each time I see her), but that’s about it as far as being freaked out goes.
No, my fears are more existential than visceral: I have hypochondriatic tendencies, so I worry about my latest migraine (what if it’s more than just a migraine this time?), about my asthma (what if it’s something worse than pneumonia?), and so on. I get scared whenever I think about our President (I’m seriously beginning to doubt the man’s sanity in addition to his intelligence, and I wish he would just sign up for a series of sessions with a therapist or something). But spooks and goblins and long-leggedy beasties just have never frightened me.
Well. Hardly ever.
I usually try to get to bed later than Jennifer, just because I know that I snore, and when she’s already asleep, the snoring won’t bother her as much. This is not really altruism on my part: when she isn’t fully asleep and I start snoring, she pokes me and wakes me right the heck back up. And I always start at that; “Wha–?!!?” I shout, which wakes Jennifer up more, and… Well, it’s a vicious circle.
But last night, we’d been out all day, going to the Scottish Games in Pleasanton, visiting with my sister and her cats, seeing a play that my parents had produced. We didn’t get home and in bed until after 2:00 a.m. And since I was absolutely exhausted, I dropped into bed at about the same time that Jennifer did. And I got poked. Frequently. Every time I was close to drifting off.
So, after about half an hour of that, in frustration, I finally got up and dragged my pillow and blanket downstairs to the living room, uncovered the futon and opened it up and lay down, finally ready to sleep.
That’s when I heard the voice.
Ours is not a truly silent house; any house with seven cats is unlikely to be. There is the ceiling fan which occasionally squeaks, the wind chimes on the front porch that ring intermittently in the faint breeze, the trains on the railroad half a mile away.
But you tune out the regular noises. When I hear the thumping on the stairs, my brain registers it immediately as Tangerine plodding down as if she still weighed more than she does, and my brain tunes it out. I likewise tune out the wind chimes and the trains.
But not voices.
The voice was a woman’s voice: definitely feminine, deeper than Jennifer’s, a half-whisper that I didn’t recognize at all. It was too syllables, but I couldn’t make out the sounds around the syllables. The first syllable was a long, drawn out “eee”. The second was “eye”. The phrase could have been something like, “please try” or “peach pie” or something like that.
At first, I thought it was Jennifer, having come downstairs to ask me if I was all right. So I turned over to tell her I was fine.
And, of course, there was no one there.
At this point, I was terrified: the voice was there, as if someone had spoken right into my ear, but there was no one there. Frightened, I actually screamed.
From upstairs, I heard Jennifer say, “Honey? Are you all right?”
For a moment, I couldn’t say a word. I looked around the living room, trying to peer into the dark corners, but saw no one and nothing. There were a couple of cats downstairs we me that I could see in the faint glow of the streetlight outside: Tangerine was down there, as was Zucchini. Neither cat seemed particularly perturbed by my outcry.
“Honey?” Jennifer called again.
“I’m okay,” I called back up to her. “I thought I heard something.”
“What did you hear?”
“I thought I heard a voice. It freaked me out.”
“Do you want to come back upstairs?”
Of course I did. I told her I’d be right up, so I grabbed my pillow and my blanket again, and went upstairs and lay back down, determined, at least, to stay awake until after Jennifer had drifted off again so that she wouldn’t poke me when I started snoring.
I lay in bed and told Jennifer what had happened and confessed how it had frightened me. And after she had fallen asleep, I lay there, hyper-alert, expecting to hear the voice again, my mind racing: I kept thinking back to ghost stories I’d seen on television, especially one I saw when I was probably about ten years old, involving a woman looking up from her bed and seeing a tall, pale figure dressed in black with bloody tears running down its face. I was almost afraid to open my eyes. I kept flashing back to the scene in The Sixth Sense that had startled me the first time I saw it. I kept trying to relax and go to sleep, and I kept failing.
But, eventually, of course, I did. I heard no more voices, saw nothing hellish in our bedroom, and received no pokes for my snoring.
I’ve been thinking about it all morning, of course. Is our brand new house, less than two years old, haunted already? Of course not. Most likely it was my half-asleep brain misinterpreting a sound from the fan or the windchimes or even one of the cats who might have snuffled into my ear at just the wrong moment. Might have just been a random neuron firing in my temporal lobe, making me hear a random voice. Such things are not uncommon. They’ve happened to me before. I still remember times, when I was a kid, when I would hear someone distinctly call out my name, even when there was no one around.
But this was different. I don’t know why. It just was.
In the daylight, everything looks normal and fine. It’s hot in the house today, and the lack of breeze outside makes me think it’s even hotter outside. I’m still a bit sleepy and I’m close to three hours late taking my medication.
Yet a hint of the fear remains. I think it might even be a day or two before it fades completely.
Because in spite of everything that I know rationally, in spite of what I’ve told myself and what I know to be true, there’s something still in my mind. Two questions, in particular.
What if this isn’t an isolated event — what if it’s a beginning?
And, if so. What is it the beginning of?