Total Pageviews

Monday, 29 October 2012

post script to My Haunted House

    My sister read my story and had an interesting comment
"Buses didn't run in the middle of the night when I would hear it coming up the stairs. I spent many early mornings under my bed waiting for Dad to get up."

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Our Haunted House

 I didn’t become aware of the sounds until I was old enough to baby sit.  I already knew that every house produces its own sounds; air ducts thump, old heating pipes and radiators hiss and clang, while siding cracks and moans as it expands and contracts with the various heating cycles.  Yes it truly is, “The hole in the ear that lets in the fear”, as the old saying goes. I knew all of this and I also thought that I was familiar with the individual sound signature of our house.   That was until I sat alone that first night being left in charge of the safety of the house and my sister.
  This was not the first time that I had been frightened in the house.  As a teenager it seemed to be a rite of passage to spend time at the movies trying to get scared half to death.  Most movies of my teen years really didn’t do the trick as they usually involved lame costumes and weak plots about invaders from outer space and some sort of fire breathing, city stomping creature.  Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” came along and changed all that. True fright had arrived.
  I saw “Psycho” as a matinee and returned home in a state of wide eyed paranoia just as my parents were heading out the door to see the same movie.  By some cruel twist of fate, my father started going on about how it seemed that I had been avoiding soap and water lately and that it was high time that I made use of the shower. I baulked at the suggestion but never bothered to explain that the last person I had seen taking a shower got cut to ribbons.  My father was piqued at my stubbornness and insisted that a shower was going to take place right at that very instant. After the front door closed I headed off for what was going to be the quickest shower of my life. I barely got wet because I couldn’t stop imagining that there was someone lurking on the other side of the opaque shower curtain. When my parents returned, my mother was still so scared that it seemed like she wouldn’t let go of Dad’s arm for about a month.
  You could say that after “Psycho”, I was primed to be anxious about being alone and perhaps you could assume that I was just a little too alert to noises. This I would accept if it wasn’t for the fact that the noises were both repetitive and as regular as clockwork.
  The sequence never varied.  It would start at the back door entrance to the cellar.  The door looked like it had been hastily cobbled together with discarded lumber from a derelict barn.  The thin, slightly warped boards had spaces between them. The whole rickety affair featured a rusty thumb latch.  From the outside a thumb latch looks like a spoon has been shoved into a key hole. When you press your thumb down on the spoon, it lifts the metal bar from its holder on the inside.  There is no lock. The thumb latch would begin to rattle and the door would shudder back and forth on its own like there was someone trying to get in.  On a quiet sleepless night the sound would carry clearly to the top floor.
   After the outer door, came a set of wooden steps that led down to the basement. It was important to be able to count the eight treads as you stepped, for when you closed the outer door behind you, there would be no hope of light.  Directly after the door had finished its peculiar sounds, the treads would creak in order from top to bottom.
 At the bottom landing there was another door that led into the basement. The landing itself was home to a great number of the strange little creatures of the dark that we called pill bugs. These were small greyish millipedes that rolled into a ball when touched and crunched loudly when you stepped on them, while milling about in the dark searching for the door knob that would let you into the basement. This basement/landing door was in better shape than the one above, but it too would rattle briefly in its turn.
  Next there came a brief period of waiting as if the intruder was inspecting the grey geography of the cinder block basement with its oil furnace,  cement laundry sinks, cold cellar, and light bulbs on pull chains. The wait was over when the steps leading up to the kitchen door began creaking.
  I would make a point of making sure that the kitchen door had been firmly shut but it didn’t help.  After the creaking had reached the last tread leading up from the basement, the door would open slowly and smoothly. You could stand there and watch it happen or as I did when I baby sat, you could sit parallel to it in the green armchair in the living room that was only a few steps away.  Either way, the door was going to open, leaving you to wonder if anything was going to appear from behind it.
  Once in the family room, the invisible intruder would cause the lead weights which were sewn into the fabric at the bottom of the drapes, to begin to sway and leisurely knock against the wall of the large front window.
 After that it was a waiting game again until whatever force I was dealing with toured the remainder of the main floor until it found the staircase that led up the second floor and hence my bedroom.
  “Creak,..creak,…creak,…” as I lay in my bed I could hear those stair treads being tested one after another, as whatever it was journeyed up the first section from the main floor to the landing and then after a brief pause continued to the second floor.
  Just as the last tread strained under some unseen weight, there was the briefest of pauses and then the energy was thrown at my door with its full force.  My closed bedroom door would shake like someone was trying desperately to get in. The handle would be visibly forced in and out at rapid speed.  How long did it last?  Two seconds?  Three seconds?  Who can tell time in a panic? Then it would stop. Dead silence. Just like that.
 The cycle would repeat itself with machine like accuracy well into the night.  If I wanted to pack it in before my parents came home I would try to get to sleep between episodes.
  Of course living with this odd rhythm of sound and movement fostered a bit of paranoia.  Whenever I had to babysit I took to comforting myself by skulking through the house with the largest knife that I could find from the kitchen drawer.  I would start at the bottom of the house and inspect the cold cellar. Then I would go to each room and throw open each closet door with the breathless anticipation of lunging at some hidden intruder. After a full house inspection I would park myself in the green armchair near the kitchen. There, knife in my left hand, junk food in my right, I would simultaneously watch the TV and the kitchen door.
  At some point I shared my burden of fear with my father in an attempt to gain insight into the hauntings.  I was expecting to be told something wondrous like that the house had been built on an old cemetery or that it been cursed for some terrible reason.  His answer came with little hesitation and with no mention of the supernatural.   The house had been built on farmland and the foundation dug by horse and plough scoop.  Dad had built a good deal of it himself and the only curses were the type heard when he hammered his thumb nail or ran short of money for building material.  The house did what it did because newly build houses take some time to settle in the earth.  Certain kinds of soil prolong this settling activity and our house was still settling. Add to this that we had a new bus route that went in front of our house and you had the answer.  Each time that the bus went by it would send vibrations into the soil which would cause the house to twist as it settled.  The twisting would set off the sequence of creaking staircases and vibrations. It was an adult answer. There was comfort in its logic.  However until the day we moved away I always babysat from the green armchair with a knife in my hand.  Ken

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Marg's Pick


 I awoke to the sound of rain. It had been raining all night.  No big surprises I suppose, as the rain had been almost non-stop this past June in British Columbia. A cool eleven degree breeze blew in from the open window.  No real reason to leap out of bed, after all it was Marg’s pick today.
   Back in the summer of 79, Jan and her university friend, Marg, had hopped a train from Toronto, heading west.  Visiting friends and family, they played their own version of trains, planes, and automobiles across Canada until they settled briefly in Vancouver. There they were joined by another friend, Wendy, and the threesome headed south to San Francisco to give California a look.
 As often happens when you are young, your pocket book begins to run out sooner than your spirit of adventure. They compensated by staying in “Flea Bag Inns” and subsisting on a diet of cheap cheeseburgers. Marg would frequently complain of having cheeseburger hands, a persistent odour from holding too many of them.
 At summer’s end Jan returned to Ontario to her teaching job. Wendy went back to Edmonton to her job with a TV station. Marg, who by this time was by far the most broke of the three, took a chance and went to Vancouver hoping to land a job. For a while, that job turned out to be a night clerk at a hotel. Enough  for a start that would enable her to eventually she became a community centre manager with the City of Vancouver.
  This past June found us in BC once again. Upon our arrival, we hauled our luggage up the front steps of Marg’s Burnaby condominium knowing that she wouldn’t be home until later. No worries.

We found the stashed key, crossed the threshold and headed for the kitchen. As the note said, there were munchies, a very well stocked wine rack and a fridge well stocked with craft beer. Craft beers are big in B.C., big enough that we had just missed The Vancouver Craft Beer Week, a regular “hopapalooza” with 60 participating breweries.  One look at all of the singles that occupied a complete shelf of Marg’s fridge made me feel that I hadn’t really missed out.
 I knew that if I scrounged around enough I would find a bottle of scotch. However it would be better to wait because Marg and I had a long history of sharing a dram or two.
 Our scotch sharing tradition cemented itself back in 1984 after what had been billed as a fun white water rafting trip down the Thompson River.  It started leisurely enough in the upper stretches that flowed through scenic desert canyons. Things began to change as swollen tributaries entered and brought the Thompson to flood levels.  The rapids became larger, but still fun. The mood began to change as we passed over the tree tops of an island that we were supposed to have stopped on for lunch.
 There were other rafting groups on the river, but most of them were professional enough to have a least one heavily motorized rescue raft plus a few kayaks for back up. We had nothing. We couldn’t just stop, as we were mostly in the middle of nowhere and the canyon walls were straight up.  A group ahead of us had to be helped by rescuers who had made their way down the cliffs. Our guides just decided to go for it.
  The raging water was creating its own whirl pools. Sometimes the water would be flat as if it were lying in wait. We had just gone over a flat section when we began to get drawn back.  We began to spin and slide towards a widening dark hole. The water tipped, forming a funnel and we began to descend. “Hang on, we’ll come up eventually!” yelled the guide and I immediately began to wonder how long “eventually” was.  Just as the front end was starting to be engulfed, the river seemed to lose interest in us and the whole thing began to flatten out. We paddled furiously as the guide rowed. We had just made it to the edge of the whirlpool’s influence when it started again. This time we broke free.
 Somewhere in the rapids of either the Devil’s Kitchen or the Witch’s Cauldron we got broadsided by a rogue wave that had been built up by the high waters and high winds bouncing off the canyon. The raft was pushed up to near perpendicular, causing people to be spilled down onto the people on the downward side or tossed right out into the rapids. When the raft righted itself it was full of water, making it really unstable, and there were people missing. Some of us tried to bail with a couple of buckets (“Bail for your life!” were the guide’s exact words shouted in my ear) while others reached out to those caught in the white water. 
 When the raft had tipped, its metal top frame had briefly separated from its rubber body leaving enough space for the arm of one young girl to slide through, but when the craft righted itself, the frame snapped back in tight, acting like a giant mouse trap. Now she was being dragged, her head just above the water while she was helplessly pinned to the raft. If she didn’t drown she would be bashed to death by the rocks. The guide and I were working together to try to lift up on the frame and down on the raft and slide her broken arm out.  We weren’t having any luck.  Although our guide was an experienced raftsman, he had never been dumped before. At one point I looked over to see the guide standing still holding her wrist with his left hand while holding a large knife in the other. I will forever be left wondering what he was thinking, as at that moment her fiancĂ©, a chiropractor, scrambled over the side of the boat and joined us.  While the guide and I pushed down together on the raft, he was able to free her arm and haul her in, in one motion.
  Marg was the last to break the surface. She had been trapped under the raft.
  By the time all three rafts made it to the landing, everyone was completely wired. The company tried to calm everybody down by bringing down three cases of beer to the shore. Marg would have none of it. We went straight to the nearest hotel and ordered scotch. Then we ordered more scotch.  We’ve shared a scotch each time we’ve gotten together ever since.
  So, by the time our feet hit the floor that rainy morning, in-laws Mary Lou and Bryon, along with Jan and myself, had already completed our “2012 Tour of Vancouver Island’. Jan and I were back at Marg’s, and Mary Lou and Bryon had stayed over in a hotel and had given themselves but one day to see some of Vancouver. There could be no better guide than Marg.
 Over coffee she scrutinized weather reports from online sites and the newspaper and the TV weather channel until she found a somewhat optimistic forecast to plan our day around. A brief in-car tour of the Olympic Village proved to be enough to soak up the rest of the morning’s rain, so we headed off to the Vancouver Aquarium. This place is going to be busy no matter when you go but today was the start of all of the summer day camps and it seems that every darn one of them had booked into the Aquarium to kick off their programmes. It was jammed. I was on a bus in Beijing in rush hour once that was slightly more crowded but that would be it. The 4D movie, the beluga show, the penguin display, the Rainforest room, were all “enjoyed” while we were being pressed on all sides by kids who had just escaped the confines of the classroom for the unbridled noisy freedom of the day camp. Looking at the faces of the young camp leaders I figured that they’d all be full blown alcoholics by the end of the summer.  I started to get to the point where I was willing to pay more to leave than I did to get in when Marg declared that our time allotment here was over.

  Next came a driving tour of the Stanley Park seawall with lots of stops for photo opportunities and “lupper” at Prospect Point – a beautiful setting, and salmon burgers all around.

 Being practical she next included a stop at Everything Wine so that we could all stock up. Like the name indicates, there are lots and lots of choices to be made here and choose away we did.

   The real find of the day turned out to be a trip to Deep Cove. The drive wasn’t far as it is on the east side of North Vancouver but the change in scenery and mood was amazing.
A lot of what makes this place unique is that the town must accommodate the steep slope of the foot of Mount Seymour.  An eclectic mix of housing styles is also designed to incorporate the numerous streams that come raging down the mountain. The water can be found tumbling under anything from dens to car ports. 

The houses that are nearest the shore have driveways that go up to the road at dizzyingly steep grades. I couldn’t imagine having good enough brakes and fast enough reflexes to avoid driving through the garage door and out the other side. An ascent up to the road would require an extra low gear even on a rain or frost free day. If this was Ontario you would be stuck at the bottom of your driveway for 10 months of the year.
  The harbour is a great place for a walk as you will get to do lots of people watching. A large group was having a BBQ.  Two people were getting deliberately overturned into the cold sea water during their kayak lesson while another person blasted by practicing an Olympic kayaking sprinting style.  Several people were mucking about on their sail boats and the Rowing Club was having a gathering.
 The town is an interesting walk in itself and if you are a mountain bike enthusiast you might want to stop in at The Deep Cove Bike Shop which is credited as being the shop responsible for bringing the first mountain style bikes to Vancouver.  Their web site is quite interesting to boot if you are a fan of the sport.  
 All this walking around made Bryon and I hungry for a little snack before dinner so we headed over to Deep Cove Pizza. This is not your usual slab of bland cheap cheeses with the same old toppings. These people use ingredients fresh enough that you can taste the difference and have a good stable of interesting choices like “Patate Con Aglio-Crumbled feta, thinly sliced potatoes, white onions, split garlic roasted to perfection, fresh rosemary and crushed black peppercorns”.
By the time we had finished enjoying our pizza al fresco, the clouds and fog had thinned and the sun was in full retreat. Marg had one last pick. “Let’s go home and start drinking some of that wine we bought today.”  Good choice, Marg. Good choice. 

Panorama photo of Deep Cove courtesy of Bryon Monk