Voices in the dark

Our house is more than a century old, and sometimes that shows in weird little design quirks. And I'm not talking about the ghost.

Sure, we have electricity, central heat and air (pretty much - holy Hera it's been cold). But most of that stuff was added on much later, and not always in the most logical fashion. For example: There are no overhead lights in the foyer or living room. There's a switch in the foyer, but it turns on the porch light. There is no switch in the living room at all; we use a floor lamp in the corner behind Jim's chair to light the living room.

That means when you enter the house after dark, you stand a good chance of walking through darkness for a minute.

See, in a normal house you walk in to a foyer, you hit the light switch, the foyer light comes on, and you can proceed from there. In our house, you walk in and fall into a black hole. There's not much in the way of streetlights on our block - which makes me much happier than living under the orange glare of safety lights at the old apartment - and it can get very, very dark.

That means generally we leave a light on when we leave the house. What we waste in electricity, we save in stubbed toes, walking into furniture and general unpleasantness as we scramble through a dead-dark foyer and living room to the dining room, which has a switch on the wall for an overhead light fixture.

(We don't bother trying to turn on the floor lamp as initial illumination. At least I don't, as the shortest person in the house. I said it was behind Jim's chair, which is a large mission-style chair and there's no easy way to reach the floor lamp without bending over the chair and twisting like Gumby. The menfolk have an easier time of it; I've got a 50-50 chance of knocking the stupid lamp over in the dark trying to turn it on or dislodging the Godzilla DVDs from the rack on the wall, and wouldn't that be a shame.)

This is a long-ass setup to explain last night's moment of creepifying, and why writers are insane.

(Um, Tuesday night; I'm writing this Wednesday morning and it'll post Wednesday noon because all my posts are scheduled due to Real Life and Jobs intervening.)

Tuesday was the start of our new routine, where I get up early with the Boy and drive him to campus, so he can walkabout listening to music before class. It's his mental-focus routine. Personally I like sleep, but so does Jim, and he gets home at 2 a.m. That makes for a lousy night's sleep if he has to get up at 7, so we struck a deal. I get drive duty this semester, he takes the bus later.

That also means Jim is the last one to leave the house. And yesterday he neglected to leave a light on. On my way home, the Boyspawn said he needed a ride, and then when I arrived his buds had showed up and they were going to "hang out" at the VC - whatever that means - so my services were no longer required. We had ourselves a little chat - somewhat profane on my side - about the consideration of treating Mom like an Uber and the likelihood that he could just end up waiting for Jim to get off work and hitch a ride home with him at 2 a.m. next time.

When I got home, of course, the house was entirely dark. I was carrying my computer bag and the empty Tupperware from my lunch break, so my hands were pretty full. It was also -11 degrees, so I was freezing.

A side note: As you long-time readers will recall, I spent nine years working by remote. My office was in the house, and thus I found I developed a habit of talking to myself. Well, I was really talking to Charlotte the spider in the corner, but she wasn't much of a conversationalist. It has been hard to shake this habit, let me tell you. My apologies to my coworkers, now that I work in a newsroom and might occasionally begin muttering to myself as though I'm still in the Tower Office talking to Charlotte. I'm not crazy. Probably.

Thus I may or may not have been muttering about ungrateful spawn and how freaking cold it is as I walked from the driveway to the front door, stomping my feet in the porch-mudroom to try to shake the salt and dirt off my shoes, trying to determine if they were clean enough by feel because of the dark, alleviated only by the Christmas icicle lights on our roof line because it's been too cold to risk sending the Boy up the ladder to take them down.

I opened the door and went into the foyer, realizing that Jim had not left any lights on and the Christmas tree was gone as of last weekend, so the house was a black pit of nothingness.

"Hi honey, I'm home," I declared to an empty house, because I just amuse the shit out of myself.

And then I broke all over goosebumps, because my traitorous horror-writer imagination came up with a tenebrous voice creaking, "Welcome home."

No, I'm not hearing voices. See above: not crazy. But my imagination is so goddamn vivid that I almost heard it, a creation of too many ghost movies and too many midnight novels. I'm kicking off my shoes at the door to avoid tracking salt all the way across hardwood floors (which more consideration than I can attest for certain menfolk) and feeling my way through the shadow-furniture into the living room toward the dining room.

And since the Muse is never satisfied, she's dancing little images in my head. A fish-pale face popping up from behind the couch. An icy hand grasping my fingers as I reach for the light switch. The lights that don't come on. A scratching sound from the hall closet. The hole in the wall that is just large enough for eyes to glow back in the dark.*

Of course none of those things happened. Because I live in the world of sanity and reality most of the time, no matter what the Muse does. But for a writer, something as simple as entering the house alone in the dark can create all kinds of what-if scenarios, and now I know I have a short story to write.

As soon as I figure out... what happens next?

* Hole in the wall? It's a long story. Suffice to say it involves Boy, a stray sock, and yet another minor wound. To the Boy. The wound to the wall is more severe. Sigh.


  1. It's not just writers - anyone with an active imagination.... like myself.... can totally understand this. I have had the same thing happen to me when I'm home alone at night in the dark.

    BTW, get yourself a timer and plug that lamp into it and set the time to turn the lights on automatically when it gets dark. I started doing that after having my Christmas tree on a timer because it was too hard to crawl under the tree to plug the darn thing in every day. Once the tree was gone, I plugged a lamp into it and wow! What a difference it makes in your life! Timers are pretty cheap at Walmart or Home Depot and well worth the investment. And actually the cheaper timers work the best.

  2. I'm ashamed to say we already have a timer, we use it for the Christmas tree for just that reason. And it never once occurred to any of us to connect the lamp to one. I'd like to point out that I'm a college graduate and Jim has been on the Dean's List four times. And yet...


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