In last week’s post I described some of the many visual hallucinations I’ve experienced. After reading it, my dear friend Claire M. remarked that I live “a quietly exotic and thrilling life.” This is why she’s a dear friend. She took a description of an addled consciousness and called it thrilling.
She’s partly right, but it’s just my brain that’s having the thrills. And that’s the key difference between all those visual hallucinations vs. the ones I hear: Upon examining the evidence after the fact—after waking completely, recovering from a fever, or walking around to the tailgate to double-check what kind of truck I’m driving—I realize that my brain alone is responsible for producing visual delusions. But I’m not so sure about the auditory kind.
Some of them clearly do fall into the “all in my head” category. For instance, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been awoken in the morning by the ringing of a phantom doorbell. (So many that years ago I wrote a poem about how opportunity had quit knocking and instead was ringing the doorbell to get my attention.) Each time I heard it, I’d crawl out of bed and stagger to the front door, even though our front gate was locked and I knew no one would be there. And no one was.
There have been similar instances of a phantom telephone ringing. (Unless, of course, that was the Nobel Committee calling. If so, I imagine they’ve tired of trying to reach me and have given the prize to some other writer by now.)
No matter how real they sounded—the clarity and volume were always perfect—those telephones and doorbells weren’t distressing, and were easy to set aside. I decided it was my brain poking me, saying, “Hey, dummy, it’s time to wake up.” Since dispensing with door chimes and landlines a few years ago, I’ve stopped hallucinating their voices.
But I’ve also heard things less easy to explain away. Things that have made me wonder if something out there is just messing with me. (Paranoid much, Rooke?) Footsteps. Dead—or otherwise incorporeal—cats meowing (also heard by the dog). Doors slamming shut in the absence of any draft. And twice, things much scarier.
How scary? The first time, I was about 17 years old and spending the night at a relative’s house. By 11:30 PM, all of us had gone to bed and the house was quiet, except for faint snoring coming from another bedroom down the hall. I was reading—something I used to do every night in bed before the invention of iPads and Spider Solitaire. Then came three huge, resonant reports.
The walls shook and trembled, as if in an earthquake. My first thought was that some enormous being—a monster half the size of the city—was stomping the house to splinters.
Then silence. The uproar had lasted only a few seconds.
I was petrified. The female relative I was sharing the bedroom with never stirred. After a few tense minutes of waiting for some disaster to strike, I whispered her name, but she was sound asleep. Then I realized I could still hear the snoring from down the hall. The next morning at breakfast, I asked everyone to be sure, but it was already clear: No one but me had heard a thing. And everyone but me made light of it, which was kind of a relief.
The other time was much more recent: about four years ago.
Glen was out of town, and the animals and I had settled in for a quiet evening of TV, dinner and bed. Cat Phoebe and dog Lucy were on the sofa with me: Phoebe asleep (naturally!), Lucy not. It was around 7 PM, already dark out, and I was turning over ideas of what I could put together for dinner. The TV was at a low volume; I was waiting for a program to come on.
Suddenly, there were three tremendous, crashing booms. But this time, they were even louder, more violent, than they’d been decades before. And I could pinpoint where they came from: Someone was pounding on the door leading into the house from the garage. That solid, heavy door that was only a few feet from where I sat. Someone with gargantuan fists, someone boiling with fury, smashing down the door, there to drain my blood and grind my bones to make its bread.
I leaped up from the sofa, and I think my heart stopped for a moment. Then I looked at Lucy. She gave me a happy dog smile. Phoebe, undisturbed, continued to snooze. Seriously?
It was several minutes before I got up the nerve to check the garage for intruders. I made Lucy come with me, of course. Her obvious nonchalance made it a little less scary, but I was still terrified. I’d heard the door rattle in its frame.
Later I related the incident to Glen and Katie, but we’ve never arrived at a firm explanation. How can we? There isn’t one.
I do have a theory about what it was, though. And while it’s true that the animals heard nothing, it definitely wasn’t all in my head.
And it definitely wasn’t harmless.
To comment: Go to the right sidebar and click on the title of the post you want to comment on. You’ll find the Comments box on that page.
To receive notice of the latest blog updates: Go to the right sidebar where it says “Subscribe to Blog Posts” and fill in the boxes.
Thank you for reading! And if you haven’t done so yet, I’d be thrilled if you’d sign up to follow!