Wednesday, October 18, 2006


An October Moment...

(If you're just joining us, it might be helpful to start here. That way there will be absolutely no doubt as to the level of sanity you're dealing with here.)

October 1980 and afterward...

Ever since I was a kid, when I've chosen to share my experiences of "growing up in a haunted house" (a phrase that was never of my choosing, but which was inevitably to be associated with this time in my life), I've always hastened to tell people that it was a positive experience, that I never felt particularly scared living there, and I suppose that's true, if you were to take my experience as a whole. Yeah, I was pretty shaken by my experience in the attic, but I was just as shaken when I fell out of the old willow in the back yard. Didn't mean I stopped climbing the willow; I just stayed off that high branch, much as I stayed out of the attic when I could help it. The rest of the house was quite an amazing and even fun place to live out my adolescence. I spent many nights there by myself, especially in my late teens, and even today would have no compunction about spending any amount of time there alone.

But not being frightened is still a long way from not being disturbed or unsettled by a place. Make no mistake: that house was a pretty odd place to live. But humans are amazingly adaptable to their surroundings, and I suspect that few humans are better at adapting, at coping with the unusual, than kids.

The plain fact was, regardless of what I'd witnessed, my parents weren't about to pick up and move again so soon after relocating to this place. My brother was already a sophomore in high school and I would start my freshman year soon. My parents, God love 'em, thought we should finish high school in one place. But there's always a deeper truth, and in this instance, there were several.

Truth #1: Not too long after he took the job that brought us to this place, my father had a falling out with his bosses and became a free agent of the welding world. He quickly found himself with numerous job offers which, while lucrative, involved him being on the other side of the country. But these jobs were just too good to say no to, especially since the hiring companies were in some cases tripling what my father was making in New Jersey. He reasoned that with this money, he could afford to fly home on weekends and still have plenty of cashflow left over.

Truth #2: In the event, my father flew home every month for the first few months. By New Year's, he was coming home on a quarterly basis. One year, he came home exactly twice. I once estimated the actual time spent with him when I was between the ages of 12 and 16--nearly the entire time we lived in the house--and it amounted to something like 90 days. Hey, I didn't say these were happy truths.

Truth #3: I didn't say they were exactly sad either. In the moment, we were perfectly fine to see less of my dad, since he was at that time pretty much in full pursuit of his real vocation, which was heavy drinking. We didn't know this--well, to be hindsightedly honest, we didn't allow ourselves to believe this--but we knew he was increasingly not a great guy to be around. Which brings us to...

Truth #4: We just plain didn't want to move. Not simply because we wanted to go to high school in the same place and not simply because we all sensed some distance from my dad would be a good thing. For want of a better way to put it, there was something about that house that made us want to stay. I'm not going clean round the bend here and suggesting that we were in the grip of an unholy force. I'm just saying that there was something about the place that made us feel we were meant to be there for a while.

And if you accepted that truth, then you had to accept everything that came with it. We all had our ways of coping with the strange shit that went on in the house. My brother didn't want to talk about it. End of story. Bringing up the subject of the Blue Lady or the Man in the Attic (for some reason, we all felt that whatever was in the attic, it was male) was as uncomfortable to my brother--and as likely to result in an impromptu pummeling--as reminding him of the time you caught him playing with himself in the back seat of the car. It was personal, it was nobody's business, and it wasn't a topic that invited scrutiny of any kind.

That could be because BB was singled out for one of the few poltergeist events that occurred in the house, and the only one that was witnessed by everyone.

It happened in the winter of 1981. We'd been in the house about six or eight months. It was just after supper and my brother and I were doing our homework. Being an old house, it was, of course, a drafty house, and the warmest place to be of a cold winter evening was in front of the old Franklin stove that sat in the family room just off the kitchen. We had a small breakfast table in there and it became our de facto dining room in cold weather. We sat at opposite ends of the table, my brother and I, me writing a 250-word essay about Christian Youth or some similarly pointless assignment for religion class; my brother engaged in the laborious process of reading Arthur Miller's translation of An Enemy of the People, which he had taken a good running start at earlier in the week. BB was on page two.

Mom was further down the room, closer to the massive oak door that led to our gorgeous but seldom-used living room, a part of the house that dated to the 1830s, along with the slightly opulent foyer with its double doors and its pull-chain doorbell. We knew this because that's what the realtor told us, and also because the previous owners had left a few scraps of provenance behind, including a faded copy of a work order for the addition of the foyer, paid for in full by a "Captain Weber" who I would later find out was a personage of some importance and means in the region.

So there's my mom, at one end of the room. At the other, by the stove, BB and I are studiously attending our devoirs. Behind my brother is a breakfast bar, installed when the previous owners put a fairly large hole in the kitchen wall and laid a couple of boards down to act as a counter. We almost never used the bar, so my mom had taken to displaying kitchen-related antiques there, including some old crockery and two wooden sifters, both of which were filled with pinecones that my brother and I had collected from our hill in New Hampshire.

My brother loved throwing these pinecones at me. When I say "loved," I mean that second to eating (and perhaps playing with himself in the car), nothing gave him greater pleasure than pegging me in a soft place with a hard, surprisingly sharp pinecone. And the worst thing was, these pinecones were virtually indestructible. They were the Last Pinecones of Krypton.

And I don't know what it was--whether he had simply decided that the plays of Ibsen weren't his cup of tea, or he just remembered some injustice I had done to him that warranted belated revenge, but my brother reached behind him, palmed a pinecone, and hit me on the crown of my head, just as I was copying a small excerpt from Vatican II about the apostolate of the laity, or some fucking thing.

"Quit it!" I growled. "I'm doing religion homework," I added, as if that made me more pious and above attack.

My brother didn't share this view. The indestructible pinecone skittered back to him--a rebound shot--and he winged it at me again. This time, I managed to deflect it with my religion text, Faith Under Construction (a singular work whose sole value in my life was the pleasure I derived from referring to it by its acronym whenever I could get away with it).

I had long ago learned that it was better to move away from my brother at moments like these than to involve my mom. If I tattled, I would of course be branded a pussy, which was unacceptable, but I was also worried that my brother's antagonism was entirely justified and in reporting him to the authorities, BB would simply counter by turning state's evidence and get me in deeper trouble.

So I quietly gathered my books and papers and moved over to the couch, putting me within about five feet of my mom and her ironing board. BB made a face at me--he couldn't throw a pinecone now without risking hitting Mom, and we both knew it.

"Gonna get you," I mouthed silently at him.

"Sure you are," my brother mouthed back, making a supremely disdainful O-K sign with his fingers. I quickly gave a hand-sign of my own, the kind of hand-sign you shouldn't make within five feet of your mother, because if you do, it will set off her spider-sense and cause her to look up right away. Which is what my mother did just then.

But before she could even speak to me in a sharp voice, she saw something that caused her to make a strange, stifled cry instead. I looked up and followed her gaze just in time to see the pinecone.

It was a different pinecone than the one my brother had thrown at me. I know this because as my mom and I stared at it--with the kind of open-mouthed awe I'm sure we both thought we'd save for a one-on-one with the Angel of the Lord or the Virgin Mary--it lifted itself from the wooden sifter and flew in a wide, fast arc at my brother.

He turned just in time to register the flying object, but not in time to avoid contact with it. It smacked him in the ear, so sharply that he almost fell out of the chair. So sharply that it crumbled to powder on the side of his face.

"OWWWWWWWWWWW! You SHIT FUCKER!" my brother cried, glaring at me. For him to swear in front of our mother like that, I knew two things: the pinecone must have hurt like a mad bastard, and he was so mad about being hit, he didn't care if mom was there or not. Either way, in his pain and rage, he was convinced I had somehow launched this attack, although even a moron could see I was nowhere near BB or the pinecones. Then again, BB has never let sub-moronic behavior be an impediment to him. With little preamble, he launched himself at me with a single-minded passion he normally reserved for the acquisition of the last piece of pie.

"Don't even!" I cried, climbing up over the side of the couch and grabbing the hot steam iron from my startled mother's hand.

"Stop it, BOTH of you!" my mom cried, then she pointed at the breakfast bar again. "LOOK!"

We both turned--BB with sticky pinecone dust covering one side of his head like a hideous birthmark, me holding the Sunbeam Ironmaster, ready to steam my brother's face like it was a shirt sleeve. And as we watched, all the rest of the pinecones came flying out of the wooden sifter as though they had been in a popcorn popper.

My brother uttered a strangled cry that would have chilled me to the bone if it hadn't been so funny, and then he was up over the couch, past my mother, the iron and me, and on into the laundry room, where he stood, quivering like a Chihuahua.

Well, we were a long time calming down from that one.

After that event, it's little wonder my brother--who carried a red, pineconesque indentation on the side of his face for a good week--wasn't keen to discuss the unseen occupants of our house. What's more puzzling, however, is my mom's refusal to acknowledge that anything unusual had happened. Indeed, for our first year in the farmhouse, my mom treated the strange goings-on much as if she were a government agent trying to maintain a level of plausible deniability at all costs. It wasn't that she refused to believe what was happening; it was just that she wanted us to maintain a cosseted existence parallel to the paranormal. Today, we recognize it for what it was: wishful thinking.

And by early in our second year in residence, it was clear that sort of thinking wasn't going to fly at the farmhouse. Whoever or whatever was there, it wanted attention.

And once it got mine and BB's, it went to work on my mom...

Nice tale, MM. I suppose BB regrets torturing you every time he sees another secret mentioned on your blog here. Which reminds me, I need to write some posts about my cousin some time.
Very nice. I suppose I could call you names for pretending that such things actually happen, but then I would have to believe that most of what you write is fiction, or mostly fiction, and I REFUSE to believe that! Ergo, I henceforth believe in the paranormal. Amen.
Bill Cosby voice:

Come on chicken heart, scare me to death!
(does anyone else remeber the chicken heart story?)
I'm spreading jello on the floor and getting ready to set the couch on fire now...


p.s. great digs on BB!
I seriously want to hear what your brother has to say about this one. C'mon BB... where are you?!?!

Otherwise, it's a fantastic story!
I don't want to talk about it. I mean, it happened, but it hapened 20 years ago. Some of us LOVE to relive shit (you listening, kid?) But not me. Sorry.

What? You wanted smartass? Okay? Who was caught his pecker in the knothole in the wall of the old smokehous in the backyard? Well?!? Accident my ass!
Very inventive..MM..I'm refering to the Knothole..ah, boy and their toys!
Excellent chapter in the continuing saga of your strange household goings-on.

And I expect this revelation by BB shall require some further explanation. Ball's back in your court MM.

*of course* it was an accident! You seriously think he meant to get stuck?
"pineconesque" There's a word I'm giong to have to find an excuse to use.

I agree with the above comments; apparently you've got a story to share about the old smokehouse?

Loving the October stories, as usual.
I actually cheered when I saw the "october moment" title - even though it's almost my bedtime and now I have that little shiver in the back of my neck again...

I totally agree with kathy's comment as well - people have suggested that perhaps these stories might not be real, but I refuse to listen.

Let me jump on the bandwagon of people wanting a response to the smokehouse knothole thing...
Sounds like that spirit was sticking up for you MM...knotholes and all.

I used to listen to my parents Bill Coby I've turned my son onto Bill...MP3 Style. He's still top shelf even after all these years.
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