It's funny what can prompt a memory. I just read something on Facebook by author Jeff Bennington, and a memory from thirty years ago washed over me. Here's Jeff's post. Interesting night: I heard a tapping noise on my bench every few minutes last night. It came and went, sometimes every few minutes, sometimes every ten. It sounded like someone was tapping the eraser end of a pencil on my desk. When I put my hand on the desk where the sound was coming from, my hair stood on end--everytime. I could not find a reasonable explanation. I'd been with my employer for about three years, flying helicopters in the Gulf of Mexico, when they asked me if I'd like to transfer to the new base in Santa Barbara, California. I grew up in Oxnard, less than an hour away. I didn't have to think long about my answer. When I first moved from Austin, Texas back to Southern California, I stayed with my parents. I was back in my old bedroom in my old bed, and one night I started thinking about my little kid years, when I was just sure that a monster lived under the box spring. My mom and dad were patient about looking under the bed for a year or so, but exasperation eventually took root, and they finally delivered the big boy law: "You're a big boy now. Quit imagining things and go to sleep." The first night after my parents saddled me with the big boy law, I tried talking with the thing under the bed. "Can you talk?" Nothing. "Can you make a sound?" A faint brushing sound, like someone sweeping the floor a few rooms away. Gulp. "If you can hear me, poke the bed beneath me." Immediately, I wanted my words back. My heart hammered, and my mouth went to the desert. What the hell was I doing? It felt like an hour passed, but it was probably minutes. My heart rate had slowed to something near normal, and I'd nearly convinced myself that I was acting like a baby. Then, I felt a gentle poke through the mattress. My heart raced back from idle to fight-or-flight speed. "Are you going to hurt me? Poke once for yes, twice for no." One. Two. My heart began to slow. I started breathing easier. I believed him. It. "If I shine my flashlight under there, would I see you?" A pause. Then one. No. "Is there anything I can do for you?" One. "Are you glad I know you're there?" One. Two. "Do you want me to talk to you every night?" One. "Do you want me to talk to you sometimes?" One. Two. So, once a month or so, from the age of six until I turned ten, I talked to him, or it. Perhaps four or five times in those years did those subtle pokes come through the mattress. Once a year or so, it would let me know it was still there, but only after I'd fallen asleep and woken later, and only after midnight, as I recall. In the wee hours, it seemed all so real. But after being awake for a few hours, a hard veneer wrapped itself around the memory, and I'd feel just sure that my imagination was running away with me. It was a strange dichotomy of perception, but it felt comfortable, and just maybe like it was part of some unwritten rule. I thought of it as The Daylight Rule: what is real in the night is not real in the day. Fast forward to thirty years ago. I was back in my old bed. I'd moved away after going into the Army at the age of eighteen. At the age of twenty-six, I'd all but forgotten about it. Until my third night back in my parents' house, that is. That was when I felt a gentle poke through the mattress. It was three in the morning. I chuckled. I guess I still have an imagination. Another poke, but I felt even more sure it was my imagination, because it was barely perceptible. But then, two knocks on my bedroom door. Muffled knocks. Not the kind of knocks a person would make. Not the kind of knocks my sister's cat would make when she's hungry. I chuckled at myself, amused at how realistic my dream about something knocking on my bedroom door seemed. But then, another knock. And another.
I was scared, and I laughed at myself for being scared. I was grown man, a former soldier, and a big guy. Another knock. I got up. I walked to my bedroom door. I paused, took a deep breath, and opened the door. Nothing. Nothing, until I looked down the hall toward the living room. There was a shape at the entry into the living room. It was about a foot tall, and furry. My sister's cat was white. It was not white. It was dark. It moved farther from me. I took a couple of steps closer to it, and I sensed that it was about to run. "I'm sorry," I whispered. There wasn't much light in the living room, but I could see its shape, and I detected movement, but not in retreat. It felt as much as looked like a wave of a . . . What? Hand? Paw? It moved to the side, out of my field of view. I walked down the hallway and into the living room. I heard a soft brushing sound. I turned on the lamp. Nothing. Nothing but a feeling, a feeling that something had left, and was not coming back. "Goodbye," I whispered. I went back to my old bedroom, got in bed, and strangely, I felt sad. I felt a little like when my mom told me Santa Claus wasn't real. Somehow, I knew that I wouldn't see or hear from the thing
under the bed again. Thirty years later, I think back to those nights, and I feel certain that it was all part of an elaborate, realistic string of dreams. At least, I'm certain in the daylight.