Jack O’Lanterns blaze fiery grins.
Spirits prepare for All Hallows Eve.
How about a creepy little tale?
So rest, well, not assured. Disturbed, maybe? Yeah. Rest disturbed this story is completely true.
Growing up, my older cousin lived in Buffalo.
He’s still my older cousin. It’s important I remind him of that.
His fourth kid was born the Christmas I was 12.
Or maybe 14.
I could message that kid and find out. But he now has kids of his own and unlike my cousin, I don’t need reminders of my age.
I planned to spend Christmas break in Buffalo, but my last day of classes arrived without a baby. In a time before cell phones, the anticipation made for a long school day.
My only distraction was a reading of The Tell-Tale Heart in English.
A frenemy so obsessed with an old man’s diseased eye he breaks into his darkened house, murders him, then buries his body in the floor?
Merry freakin’ Christmas, am I right?
My cousin picked me up at the airport, his kids piled in the car.
The baby had finally arrived. We were eager to see him, but hospital visitation was restricted to parents and siblings.
So my cousin smuggled me into the hospital.
That was the second time my family smuggled me into a hospital.
Yes. My family escapes from hospitals while bootlegging me into the very place they consider a prison.
I could link every word of that sentence to an old post.
Once we had the day settled at home, my cousin headed out for another visit with his baby.
One of the kids and I curled up with a story in her bedroom. The other kids, the boys, retreated to their room.
Barely ten minutes after he left, I heard my cousin pull up out front.
I heard him open the front door.
I heard him cross the living room.
I heard him pound up the stairs.
I glanced out the window.
His car — his car wasn’t there.
The street in front of the house, the driveway — both empty.
But I’d heard him. I’d heard the front door. I’d heard him on the stairs.
The stairs I couldn’t see because the ever-obsessive me had closed the bedroom door.
Whoever bounded up those steps had stopped on the landing.
Outside the bedrooms.
And between us girls in our room and the boys in their room.
I thought of The Tell-Tale Heart. The frenemy narrator pauses when the old man hears him breaking in. For a whole hour the narrator waits, absolutely still, to quell his victim.
Foolish me stopped reading when I heard footsteps on the stairs.
Like the old man, I had tipped off the intruder.
I instantly knew three things.
One, the boys’ bedroom door was closed. If I heard their door open, I had to attack the intruder. I had to protect the boys.
Two, I had to keep reading our story. I couldn’t let the intruder know I knew he — it? — was there.
No. Oh no. What if the intruder was an it? A person — well, that 12- or 14-year-old, 100-pound me stood a chance against a human intruder.
Not cemetery. Never cemetery.
And three, I had one hour. Right? Isn’t that how long the narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart waits? One hour, then he lunges into the old man’s room, murdering him because of his filmy eye?
Well, I waited that hour. Those clock hands ticked by as ominously as the old man’s tell-tale heart in the floor.
I kept reading so the intruder wouldn’t know I was ready to attack.
I threw open the door.
No intruder stood on the landing.
In fact, no intruder hid anywhere in the house.
Which was just so much worse.
I mean, obviously it had been a ghost all along.
Go ahead. Say I’m being ridiculous.
But think about it.
I heard someone enter the house.
I heard someone on the stairs.
That, my friends, can only be a ghost.
So maybe I’m not the ridiculous one here.
And yes. Of course I asked my cousin — later, in the warm light of day — if he had returned.
Well, I asked him in the overcast light of day because this was Buffalo and it snows like every 12.7 seconds in Buffalo. It’s probably why he now spends half his year in Brazil.
Well, he hadn’t come back that night.
Not until, you know, he actually came back.
And I’m thinking he’s not the only one who came back.
If you know what I mean.
As an adult, I’ve often reflected on that night. The adolescent hubris of scheming to take down an intruder.
A house that was haunted.
Still think I’m ridiculous?
The old man in The Tell-Tale Heart convinced himself he was being ridiculous, that he didn’t hear an intruder.
Look what happened to him.