The following week, my mother and step-father left town for several days, and I was given the choice to either stay with friends or remain at the house alone. My sister was too young to be given that option, but my teenage desire nudged me in the direction of remaining in the house by myself. A decision I would later regret.
Beth and her friend Shannon were due to arrive Thursday night, so I spent that day on the lake with Chris and another friend named Sean, who’s family also owned a ski boat. It was blistering hot, so the three of us spent the entire afternoon bouncing back and forth across the lake. After several hours of sun and water sports, we returned to my dock and made our way up to the house to find something to eat and to mess with my newly acquired Ouija board, Parker Brothers variety.
The house was silent, bright in the Texas late afternoon, and the first thing I tried to do was show my damp friends the creepy snakes in the fireplace. Unfortunately, there was no gray movement behind the glass doors, so we raided the upstairs kitchen instead, eating chips, swilling juice and milk from bottles and jugs. I offered Chris a jerky dog treat that was stacked in a glass jar that my mother kept for our pet shih tzu, Annie; which he did partially, until he realized what it was and dramatically spit it out in the kitchen sink. Chris was also obsessed with the “bag incident” with my mother and sister from the week before, constantly bringing it up, recounting it for Sean.
Eventually we found ourselves in my downstairs bedroom, which was located at the base of the stairwell leading down from the entryway landing. Next to my door, my mother had left a large plastic garbage bag filled with old clothes to be taken to the local shelter. She instructed me to deliver the bag of clothes while they were gone, a task I hadn’t thought about once since her departure.
The boys and I positioned ourselves on the floor of my bedroom, the Ouija board positioned in the center of our shirtless, sloppy circle. We were listening to loud new wave music from my stereo, wafting and intermingling with cigarette smoke from my room and into the rest of the house. Neither of my parents smoked, but I was confident that I could air out the house appropriately before their return. Again, another decision I later came to regret.
We asked the board ridiculously adolescent questions like: Will I get a hand job tonight? or Will Kelly let me feel her tits? or Will I be rich and famous when I grow up? Things that boys that age, from that period of time thought about; and even today when I think about my own daughter who is about that same age, I can’t help but worry a little about her being the focus of that same adolescent desire, stupidity, awkwardness. We were harmless, punk rock nerds who were guided more by our insecurity than anything else; and although we certainly weren’t the most altruistic kids, we also weren’t nefarious by nature.
Regardless, nothing was happening with the Ouija board; we couldn’t seem to conjure the appropriate amount of seriousness or spirituality to deem it effective. We smoked pot, giggled, and ultimately decided to head back down to the lake for one final ski before the girls from Dallas arrived I was the last to walk out of my room, barreling into the back of both boys as they stopped just a step into the living room. “What the fuck?” Chris shrieked.
It took me a moment to register their hesitation but then realized quite quickly what it was that had stopped them both in their tracks. The large black bag of shelter clothes had been turned out aggressively across the entire floor of the living room. A soft mess connected from couch to chairs, and entertainment center, with an old pair of 501 Levi jeans hanging, spinning limp from the ceiling fan blade, as well as several shirts draped across the fireplace mantle. The other boys laughed, tussled with me because they thought I was the reason for the trick. I laughed too, but not in the same way. I knew they thought it was me, the one who was known for elaborate pranks, but I was more concerned with how one or both of these two idiots had managed to pull this off. They starting throwing clothes at one another, smelling my mother’s old bathrobe, being immature. It was also at this moment that I realized the lights were on in not only the living room, but in fact, every single room in the downstairs area but my bedroom.
I called for the family dog, realizing that I hadn’t noticed seeing her since coming in from the lake. Still laughing, they aided in my search for Annie, hollering her name on the back deck, throughout the downstairs, then clamoring over one another as we ran upstairs, finally finding her in my mother’s closet, curled up sleeping at the base of her well organized shoe wall. Annie looked up from her slumber, wagged her bushy black tail, sneezed, then put her head back down to sleep. Odd behavior for this normally gregarious dog who generally liked company, even when it was my friends who would at times pick her up, mimicking lewd acts like boys do…or at least, like my friends did.
I was relieved when we found the dog, but the three of us were still adrenaline rushed by the mysterious bag happenings downstairs, so we decided to return to my room to attempt another round with the Ouija board, but not before shoving all the displaced clothes back into the black plastic bag. It was Chris that noticed that all the lights were turned back off downstairs, even asking when I had time to accomplish this inexplicable feat while we were searching for the dog. In an instant, we were all very suspect of each another, still laughing but not quite as loudly as before.
After returning the refilled, opened bag back to the base of the stairwell, we re entered my room, closing the door behind us. The stereo was turned up, The Talking Heads blaring, “I can't seem to face up to the facts, I'm tense and nervous and I can't relax” Again, we failed miserably at successfully maneuvering the Ouija board, so after several minutes of accusations and punching one another in the arm, we emerged from my room, tanned shoulder to shoulder to shoulder. “Psycho Killer, Qu'est-ce que c'est” For the second time that day, Chris dramatically called out, “Oh, God…what the fuck?”
The first thing I noticed was the family dog sitting on the bottom step of the stairway, looking up at us, wagging her tail, blowing out three tiny, quick sneezes, then barking once before bounding onto the floor. The next thing I noticed was that the bag was no longer resting in the position we had left it; rather it was now sitting, cinched tightly, in the center of the living room. We all three stood slack jawed , standing around the bundle, until finally I bent over to open the bag. It was too tight, so I impatiently tore through the top just below the double knot. The dog barked, startling all three of us at the sliding glass door; and as I broke from the group to let her out, the music seemed to increase in volume, “You start a conversation you can't even finish it, you're talking a lot, but you're not saying anything “
Sean stoically asked, “ And there’s nobody else in the house?”
Chris stomped quickly into my bedroom to kill the music. “No,” I replied, closing the sliding glass door. “There’s someone coming to fix our phone line tomorrow, and other than the girls tonight, that’s it.”
It was true, my parents had arranged for a phone tech to come out on Friday to evaluate the cost of changing the current party line to a private line due to some recent bickering with the British neighbor with the pretty, young wife who currently shared a line with us. In fact, a few weeks early, while on a business call, my step father had curtly asked the neighbor’s wife to “please get off the phone” which caused a rather dramatic confrontation between the two men at our front door moments later. I rather liked hearing the man’s proper British accent defending the honor of his wife to my step father. Regardless, the issue had motivated my parents to arrange for a new private line for our home, and the phone guy was scheduled to be at the house the following day to start the process. But nobody other than him and the girls from Dallas were expected to enter into our very gated, security monitored neighborhood that entire week.
For the second time in a week I found myself “Swearing to God” to someone scared out of their mind. Chris was visibly shaken, pleading with both of us to “get the fuck outta here!” Although Sean was frightened, he was intrigued enough to push onward with me, in search of an explanation. We convinced Chris to stay for one more experiment.
This time we decided to table the Ouija board altogether, leaving the music off, listening intently for something, anything. The house was more than three decades old, and when people walked upstairs, it was easy to hear the floor creak above my bedroom ceiling. So we sat silent for nearly five minutes, a feat nearly impossible for three fifteen year old boys; and it wasn’t until just before we exited my room that I alone heard what I knew to be only the faint, dark sound of tap, tap, tapping of cold scales on glass. I quickly opened the door, both boys standing behind either of my shoulders. Chris moaned slowly, “Oh God..” as we all three recognized the same black bag now on the floor directly outside my room. The bag that moments before had been sitting in the center of the living room was now waiting inches from my bedroom door, turned upside down no less.
None of us wanted to touch it, so we carefully traversed the wall around the ominous bag, arm in arm. Again, we noticed all lights were turned on as we made our way together up the stairs to the second story. Chris began to tremble uncontrollably as we crested the last step, pointing toward my mother’s bedroom. His tremble coursed through Sean and I as we both caught sight of his gaze. Hanging from the outside door knob of the bedroom was a single red spiked heel, and a few feet adjacent was the other shoe, but rather than hanging, the second heel was turned up toward the ceiling.
We tumbled back down the stairs, through the living room, and out the back door down to the dock. Both friends pleaded with me to leave, but in this time before cell phones, I explained that I had no way of contacting the girls from Dallas who were due to arrive in under an hour. We debated, both of them already in the boat while I stood shaking on the dock as I held my dog, despite the 90 degree heat.. I watched them speed away just as the sun was setting, bright red hues dancing atop the surface of the eerily calm lake.
Pressing Annie close to my bare chest, I walked back up, avoiding the interior of the house, making my way around and into the detached carport as the highest point on the property. I sat cross legged on the warm cement, the dog in my arms, looking down for any sign of movement from within the house. I saw and heard nothing for the remainder of the evening; even an hour later as the girls arrived, choosing not to tell them the story for fear they might not stay.. In fact, nothing strange occurred until two weeks later, after my sister returned home, on the night that we both experienced something so terrifying and inexplicable that even to this day she refuses to acknowledge it.