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The Happening

by L. Roger Quilter

I don’t believe in ghosts. As far as I’m concerned when you’re dead, you’re dead. In my opinion the idea that some nebulous wraith can reach beyond the grave is the stuff of pulp fiction, although I must admit that I enjoy well-made films such as ‘A Christmas Carol,’ ‘Ghost’ and ‘Blithe Spirit’ where unearthly creatures abound.

Spirits that float through solid walls? Haunted castles? Mediums who converse with deceased relatives? Bunkum! Maybe I have no imagination and perhaps I shouldn’t put down other people’s beliefs, but that’s the way I am.

Until tonight I wondered how people could scare themselves so badly by thoughts of the unexplained. The day had begun the same old familiar way. Following a quick breakfast, I said good-bye to the family, drove to work, then returned home.

My life as an accountant, rapidly approaching middle age, is humdrum to say the least. My wife and I have three teenage daughters and we live in a middle class area of suburbia, where basketball hoops in driveways abound and skateboards flip their human cargo all over the paved surfaces of road and sidewalk alike. If this isn’t enough to rile me then the myriad of cats and dogs roaming the neighborhood definitely is.

I drove home during rush hour and tried to curb my road rage as the senseless dolts moved in and out of their lanes, causing me to hit the brakes. People on cell phones while driving make my blood pressure soar.

I detest basketball. Bouncing a ball repeatedly from hand to ground gets on my nerves. My gastric juices start to flow when I am disturbed by these sounds after supper because I am mentally tired after staring at figures all day.

Now I love to eat and I can’t stand teenage squabbling and wifely comments about her day when I am seated at the table. Needless to say, I have to suffer these indignities on a nightly basis. Who could possibly silence four females? Needless to say I suffer from heartburn.

We might have had sons, but they would only play basketball. Maybe I would have learned to love that activity; anything but the incessant chatter from my bevy of beauties. No wonder I hit the bottle on a nightly basis.

Following supper I retired to the living room to watch the news on television and relax with a small glass of scotch. It is a nightly ritual that would be very pleasant except for the unceasing endeavors of my family as they whine and wheedle to extract the contents of my thin wallet from me.

“Dad! I need new shoes.” Thirteen-year old Sally pouts in my direction.

“Dear, I saw the loveliest cocktail dress at Sears today. I’ll need a decent dress for your boss’s party next week.” I noticed a devastating smile from my wife, but it was only a surface commitment. If I refused her request I’d see that lovely face disintegrate into a malevolent grimace.

“I can’t wear these old-fashioned outfits any longer!” this from Joy, who bought the clothes just six months ago when they were the current fad,

Elaine had to have her say. “Dad! If you give her money, I want some too!”

All this chatter is making me angry and when three teenage girls snap bubblegum at the supper table I have to grab the edge of my chair to control my temper.

My standard reply to all these statements is, “Yes dear.” I tried to ignore their banal chatter, but I knew it was useless and I pulled my wallet from my pocket. At least I have some control over my finances as I do not have a credit card. The thought of my family overspending with those plastic cards is enough to make me tremble.

Having depleted my resources sufficiently enough to satisfy their immediate needs they departed for the shopping mall, leaving me alone.

I moved to the living room to relax. After hours of female conniving and verbal battering I needed a few stiff ones to settle my agitated state of mind. Without my wife’s influence to curb my intake I knew I wasn’t about to limit the amount of liquor I drank.

I poured myself a scotch and water, heavy on the scotch and light on the water. The tumbler was completely full and had two ice cubes in it. It didn’t take long before I was sipping from an almost empty glass.

I was unaware that this particular evening was going to turn out differently for me. It was Friday and the stores were open until late, so I knew I had the peace and quiet I desired for a while, and the kids next door had taken their basketball inside as soon as it got dark.

It was time for a refill, so I filled two glasses this time to ensure I had enough fluid to sip on. I returned to my chair and settled down to watch some boring film on the idiot box.

Time passed and I felt warm and cozy in my recliner. Unfortunately the call of nature became strong and I was forced to answer its urgent plea. Before I sat down again I managed to fix myself up with another drink, just a single glass this time as the level in the bottle was depleted like the money in my wallet. I opened the freezer door and pried out two more ice cubes, added them to the liquor then topped the glass with cold water. I was feeling absolutely no pain by this time and slowly staggered back to the living room.

The events that passed from that moment I leave for your opinion to dwell on. Suffice it to say that I was shaken to the core. I am unsure about my condition at that time or whether my lack of sobriety had anything to do with it, but it all seemed real to me.

The light filtering from the table lamp on the living room coffee table enabled me to pour my drink, although it was dim in the kitchen and the silence seemed strange, eerie almost. The loneliness must be getting to me, I thought, but I felt apprehensive and I didn’t know why. I noticed a change in the atmosphere in the kitchen caused by the different shadows. Without the bright fluorescent light that floods the area with brilliant illumination everything seemed distorted.

For twenty years I had been in the company of my wife gradually adding a new member of our family every two or three years to join in the cacophony that surrounded me. Now I was alone for a change and it felt totally different. I felt lost; my imagination was acting up.

As I left the kitchen I noticed a coldness on the back of my neck which compelled me to stop where I was in the doorway. The low throb from the refrigerator was all I could hear. A low voice came from the living room and my heart skipped a beat until I realized it was a man on the TV exhorting me to buy some expensive product. With the back of my free hand I wiped cold perspiration from my brow.

My head was spinning from the booze I had thrown down my gullet and my coordination was woeful but, despite these deficiencies, I had sense enough to know that something weird was going on.

An icy chill again wafted against my back and my knees felt like jelly, I don’t know which flavor, and a lump was developing in my throat. I seemed to know that there was something behind me that was not human. I didn’t know what it was and I felt too apprehensive to turn around to find out. Was I sure that ghosts were not real? I didn’t know.

I staggered blindly to my recliner and sat down to await what was coming. Panic engulfed me. Sheer dread set my pulse racing. I could feel my heart beating like a pendulum. For a man who didn’t believe in ghosts I was now trembling and agitated, afraid of some unseen, ominous presence.

I heard the creaking as the back door slowly opened and felt, rather than saw, another presence enter the house softly tap-tap-tapping towards me.

I closed my eyes tight shut and nervously swallowed the entire contents of my glass. The ice cubes hurt my throat on the way down and my head ached from the sudden cold in my forehead. I was in a blind funk; I didn’t know what to do.

Then I heard my wife’s strident voice screaming in my ear, “Are you trying to chill the whole world? Why don’t you close the freezer door?”

Copyright © 2005 by L. Roger Quilter

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