Speak of the Devil

26 Nov

I’m sort of bored of writing about failure and rejection, so in the spirit of this perfectly nice letter I received from Weird Tales, I’m going to tell you about something extremely weird and scary that happened to me recently.

I had just graduated from nursing school, didn’t have a job, my parents were going on vacation to Maine and needed someone to look after the house. This entailed performing odd, retard-grade chores like feeding the fish, watering the plants, pressing a button on the answering machine every few days, coordinating the care of my grandmother as she transitioned into an assisted living facility–you know, things that I could reasonably be counted on to do while being drunk 100% of the time.

Of course, every time I come home, it’s really all about the fact that my parents have like 6,000 cable channels and a freezer full of meat. The only problem is that the house I grew up in is seriously haunted.

Oh, I could tell you about the time I sat down at the piano to play a song and literally a thousand tiny black spiders crawled out from between the keys. I could tell you about the time I was going through photo albums and a picture of my grandfather–a man I have never met, who died when my father was only nine–fell off the mantle and onto the floor. Or the time when I was staring at the grandfather clock for no real reason and the pendulum suddenly stopped swinging, and the hands started moving backwards. The time I was taking a shower and distinctly felt a woman’s breath on the back of my neck, followed by the sudden, painful twisting of my nipple. The half dozen times I woke up in the middle of the night with sleep paralysis. The endless unexplained slamming of doors.

Beyond these lame attempts at a haunting–staggered over the course of 17 years, so that each is conveniently forgotten in time for the next to occur–there’s just the sense that there’s a presence in the house. Note that I did not say “malevolent presence.” It’s just a presence. There’s nothing inherently evil about spiders in an old piano; nothing supernatural about a malfunctioning clock. It’s just a feeling the house exudes–that I’m never alone there. And that isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Anyway, I’m home for a week in this big empty house, and my parents invite me to sleep in their beautiful king-size bed, and to enjoy their wonderful flatscreen TV with surround sound and aforementioned endless catalog of premium channels. But I can’t bring myself to sleep upstairs. I feel like something might happen up there, a demon will possess me, the windows will fog up, the door will slam permanently shut, and I’ll be trapped in my parents’ floral-print bedroom, pissing and shitting myself until some good-natured UPS carrier hears my screams and decides to break a window and bravely intervene.

I decide to sleep in my dad’s library–a small, dark, comfortable room fortified with painted wooden birds and leather-bound tomes of Twain and Poe and Dickens and Conan Doyle; and sometime around four in the morning I manage to fall asleep. I do this by taking 6mg of Melatonin, 2mg Xanax, and half a box of wine to my head. And I have this dream that is deeply, primally disturbing. In the dream, I am sleeping in my parents’ library–just as I am, in objective reality, outside of the dream. My cell phone beeps; it’s sitting on a small table next to the sofa–just as it is outside of the dream. I pick up my iPhone, in its battered red case, and see a text message from a contact I am sure to have never added:

DEVIL

–and the text message, appearing in the iconic green Apple cloud, reads:

I’m in the house with you.

–and that’s when I wake up, on the small sofa in the library, drenched in sweat. My cell phone is on the end table exactly where it was in the dream. I pick up the phone, just hold it there in my palpitating hands, not turning it on, not wanting to ratify the horrible truth of the dream … and just then another text message comes through–

Buh duh-duh boop!

I throw the fucking cell phone across the room without even reading the message. It’s instinct. I’m alone in the dark and the BAD THING I’m holding in my hand just vibrated and made a noise and I need to get it AWAY from my body, away from my reality. After a few seconds I marshall the courage to gather the pieces of my phone–I still haven’t turned on the lights–and when I put the phone back together and turn it on I see that the message is not from the Devil but from my friend Rhiannon. It reads:

I don’t want to be a nurse anymore.

Now let’s just think about this. It’s like six in the morning, still dark. What are the chances that, mere seconds after waking from a terrifying dream about being taunted with a text message from the Devil, my friend Rhiannon from nursing school would text me at six in the morning?

I don’t know what the fuck is going on here, whether this is real of part of another dream–I just know I’m not going back to bed. So I turn on the TV. The TV just happens to have been left on channel 4, a local ABC News affiliate. The newscaster is seated behind her news desk, wearing a worried look. And, to my shock and horror, my own face, a picture I use on my Facebook and Twitter profiles, is superimposed behind her, as she reads from the morning news report:

A gruesome discovery this morning, as the badly mutilated body of a writer from Pittsburgh was found in his parents’ suburban Philadel–

I LEAP up off the sofa, throwing the blankets and remote control clear across the room. I stand there in the middle of the room for what seems like whole minutes, afraid to make a move. The first thing I notice is that the TV is off. Another dream. Had to be. Didn’t matter. I gathered the blankets and grabbed a book at random and went into the living room–a large, open room with lots of windows. I sat there with a copy of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense and the Rights of Man” and absently thumbed through the dusty, moth-eaten pages, absorbing nothing. I was nearly on the verge of tears. I considered calling the police. I stayed like this, eyes wide open, wrapped in blankets, shivering, pacifying myself by pretending to read, until finally I fell asleep, sometime after 8A.M., sitting up in a chair.

*  *  *

I have heard it said that in the whole of human history there has never been a single case where the supernatural explanation turns out to be the correct one. I will counter that wisdom by declaring that for the rest of my stay at my parents’ house–four days in all–I did not sleep at all. I switched from my regular regimen of alcohol and benzos to a more rigorous and sensible cocktail of downmarket CNS stimulants. When my parents returned from their trip, bearing gifts of lobster magnets and “Cool As a Moose” sweatshirts, my bags were already packed. Returning to Pittsburgh through the Squirrel Hill Tunnel was like sliding into a warm, exotic oil. I slept for whole days.

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