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Last year, at the beginning of June, my grandparents asked if I could house sit for them while they were away. They’re real active in their old age; since they retired they like to go on these months-long trips around North America in their RV. They offered me some money to boot, and the promise of easy cash isn’t something I often turn down (especially not when I’m unemployed). Plus, getting to spend a couple months in a nice two-story house down by the beach? Everything was lining up to make for a chill, awesome summer.
A couple of days before I was set to take up residence in my grandfolks’ house, my mom came into my room while I was packing. She touched me on the shoulder and said, a little weakly, “You know you can always come home if you change your mind about staying there.”
“I know, mom” I replied, a little puzzled. She hugged me around the waist and put her head to my chest. “I love you, kid” she murmured. I thought she was just being overly emotional about not seeing me much for the next few months.
In retrospect, I thought of a lot of things that turned out to be wrong.
By the time I got to my grandparents’ house they had already started out on their trek around the country. There was a note on the dining room table telling me about where to find grocery stores in their neighborhood, some good local restaurants, cool things happening at the beach in the next few weeks…pretty basic stuff. There was just one weird sentence at the very end: “If you see anything that looks amiss, it’s probably that way for a reason.”
I would never have thought to connect those words to what they ended up pertaining to, but at the time the strangeness of the phrasing didn’t even register with me at all; I was just upset that they forgot to leave their wi-fi password. Then I remembered that they still used DSL and that I’d have to plug my laptop into a cable to be able to connect to the internet. What is it about even the hippest grandparents being juuuuust behind the times enough to always leave at least one inconvenience when you go visit them?
The first night at their place was pretty chill. I watched some TV and strolled around the neighborhood: it’s one of those part beach, part forest kind of places, like someone stapled Brighton Beach into the middle of Montana. It was past dark when I got back and I figured I might go to bed early and try to do some more exploring in the morning (I’m not usually a Nature Calls kind of guy, but when in Rome…). After I locked up and turned out all the lights on the first floor I went up the stairs to do the same for the second floor when I noticed something peculiar: my grandparents had left the light on in the guest room. Easy enough mistake to make, I figured; who doesn’t forget to turn the light out in a room every so often? I flicked it off and went to sleep in their bed across the hall (I was willing to push the idea of sleeping somewhere that had hosted Grandparent Sex out of my head in order to take advantage of their comfy queen-size).
A digression, but an important one: Me and my mom never slept over at our grandparents’ house when I was young. Well, that’s not entirely true; the rare nights that we would sleep over, we would sleep in their RV, me in the bed and her on the couch. I didn’t think much of it at the time, since getting to sleep in a big car is something any little boy would find perfectly agreeable. The novelty wore off as I got older, though, and when I turned 13 I asked my mom if we could maybe just sleep in the guest room the next time we went to visit grandma and grandpa. “Maybe, sure,” I remember her muttering. I hadn’t visited my grandparents since; sometimes they would come to see us for important events like birthdays and graduation and stuff like that, but I hadn’t slept over on their grounds for nearly a decade before I took this house sitting job.
Now, as I said, the first night was perfectly chill. You could even extend that statement to account for the first week. I took in the beauty of nature, vegged out watching YouTube clips on their mediocre DSL connection, even met a couple of girls down on the beach (I didn’t expect them to call me, but sometimes just the fun of flirting can make up for the lack of results, at least for me). The Grandfolks had a big collection of old Flash comics from the ‘50s and ‘60s in their guest room, so sometimes I’d end the night by reading a stack of them, shutting the light out and going to bed. Again, a perfectly normal, unremarkable first week.
Then I heard the whistling.
I was up in my grandparents’ bedroom cruising the internet at around 2:30 in the morning (that’s where their internet connection is based). I think I was reading a Cracked article about funny video game glitches when I heard a very soft but very distinct high pitch noise for about three seconds. I don’t think I even turned my head when I heard it, thinking it must’ve been some goofy night bird. But then an hour later it started again; it was too tuneful, too specifically melodic, to have come from a bird, and it must’ve lasted for at least a solid, uninterrupted minute. I thought maybe an ad was playing on my laptop, but I checked the speakers and they were turned off. Right as I started to rise out of my chair, the whistling faded out, almost like an inappropriate laugh does. I closed my computer, locked the door of the room, and went to bed, unnerved.
The next couple of nights I had gone to sleep early, but four nights after I heard the whistling sound the first time it happened again. I was lying in bed awake at a quarter to 3, trying to get to sleep, when the same tune as before started looping, but it was a little louder than last time, and it didn’t stop. I knew I wasn’t imaging it; it was responding to the acoustics of the hallway the same way I heard any voice do the same when I was younger. The sound wasn’t only real, it was in the house, right on the other side of the wall. I was rigid in bed, too freaked to even breathe, until the sun came up after a grueling five hours.
Where have I heard that song before? was the only thing I had in my head when I woke up from a miserable sleep. I walked around the beach whistling it to myself in frustration for a couple of hours before it finally hit me:
“The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding. Something in my grandparents’ house had been repeating the whistle refrain from “The Dock of the Bay” all night long.
I went back immediately and checked all the windows on the second story. They were locked tight. My grandparents had a security system, so I couldn’t imagine anyone getting in very easily, but even if someone had broken in, they didn’t take anything. Who would go to the trouble of bypassing a security system just to walk up to the second floor, stand in one place, whistle “The Dock of the Bay” for hours, and then leave when the sun came up?
Unless they didn’t leave.
I ran down to the kitchen to grab a knife and then scramble-searched every room and every closet, looked under every bed, checked behind drawers and under the couch and behind the TV. Nothing to suggest anyone besides myself had been here over the last couple of weeks. Nothing except the whistling.
That night I mustered my courage and decided to try something. An experiment. I stayed on the internet until around 3:00 A.M. Sure as shooting, I started to hear the whistling again, and just like last night, it was the same song and louder than it was the previous night, now almost to the volume of a full, normal voice. After the refrain was repeated a couple of times I matched the whistle: as soon as the first half of the riff ended (the high part), I whistled, as clearly as I could manage, the second half (the low part).
After I matched the whistle there was silence, for a moment. Then the whistling came back, but it was not “The Dock of the Bay,” and it was not quiet. It started out at an even pitch, very low, lower than I thought it was possible to whistle. Then slowly the pitch rose over the course of a couple of minutes, higher and higher and higher until it turned into a piercing shriek. It was not an even tone now; it was stop-and-start, almost like someone was belting it out between short, sharp breaths, and it was ear-splittingly high. Worse still, the noise got slightly louder and slightly quieter over the course of the night, in rapid intervals, which led me to believe that whatever was doing this was running up and down the hallway, passing in front of my room every few seconds. But I never heard footsteps, and I never saw a shadow under the door.
This furious, oscillating scream lasted for hours and hours. I sat in the far corner of the room, clutching my knife and covering my ears, keeping my eyes clamped shut. Right as I was considering killing myself just so the noise would stop tormenting me, the sun began its ascent over the beach, and the siren noise faded away. I slept for three useless, nightmare-riddled hours.
I knew my mom had lived in this house until she was old enough to leave home, and as far as I knew my grandparents had lived here most of their lives. They had to have known about this nightmare, this haunting. How had they been able to tolerate it? And if they knew they had some horrible paranormal entity residing on their grounds, why had my grandparents kept asking us to come back over and over again throughout the years? These were the questions I asked myself all day. I tried to spend as much time on the beach as possible that day, even tolerating the overpriced burgers at the snack shack just so I wouldn’t have to go back to the house to make something. In my mind, I reasoned that my mom and grandparents had to have done something to make that place livable; they had to have found a way to coexist with whatever it was that lived there too.
Then I remembered: The light in the guest room.
Everything made sense all of the sudden. I went back and turned the guestroom light on; just for safety, I turned on every single light on the top and bottom floor. My understanding of whatever this thing’s logic was led me to think that it couldn’t come out if there were lights on, and since it “lived” in the guest room it wouldn’t be able to leave if the lights were on everywhere. Even though I’d have to adjust to sleeping with the lights on in my grandparents’ room, I figured I’d found a way to make this thing’s presence a nonissue. My grandparents could deduct the whomping electric bill out of my salary for all I gave a damn.
It happened later than it had before, at 4 in the morning, and at a boisterous volume. The next song it decided to whistle was the vocal melody to “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. That fucker. Not only did it change its tune, it lulled me into a false sense of security, thinking that I’d had it beat after it failed to show up at the same time it had in the past. But it whistled, and the lights burned on, and the sun rose, and I gave serious thought to drowning myself in the ocean.
Maybe it was a mistake to have engaged with it, and that was why it wouldn’t leave now, even with the lights on. Maybe when I addressed it, I “invited” it into the house proper. I never figured it out for certain, because I was never able to make it stop. I didn’t make the mistake of responding to it a second time, so it never changed songs again, and it always started around 4 in the morning. “My Favorite Things,” all morning, every morning, as preformed by a murderous, wrathful spirit.
For a while I came up with a consistent way to bypass it: I would just go to sleep early and pray to God I didn’t wake up between 3 and 4. And that actually worked for a little while. If I went to bed around 10 and slept through the night, I didn’t hear the whistling and no harm came to me. For the most part this idea worked out for me, for a couple of weeks.
Then one morning around 9 AM, in the middle of July, I woke up and my door was open, just a crack. I had shut and locked my door every single night for a month. I remembered the sound of the door shutting and the lock clacking every night before I went to bed. Including the night where the thing had opened my door.
Did it stare at me while I slept? Did it sing me a lullaby?
This was the last straw. I sat up and broke down crying. I had run out of strategies; I had run out of battle plans, and I had run out of appeasements. Now the thing was just toying with me, mocking me, showing it could get to me whenever it wanted, asleep or awake, lights on or lights off.
“What do you want?!” I screamed in agonized terror. “What can I do?!?”
Nothing responded, of course. It was the morning, and the thing wasn’t out and about yet, to my knowledge. Groggily, miserably, I dragged myself out of bed. When I got to the hall, I saw that the door to the guest room was cracked open, as well. I had kept it closed, locked from the outside for the last month like I had done for every other room. Why did it open that door too? What could it-
Oh, of course.
I had a normal day. I ate my breakfast, I strolled through the woods. I took a great picture of the sunset over the ocean, and when I got back I watched Adult Swim until around 2 in the morning.
Then I went up the stairs, and I got into my pajamas. I brushed my teeth and took a piss. I went into the guest room, got under the covers, and went to sleep.
The whistling stopped completely, for the rest of the time I was at my grandparents’. When my mom came to pick me up at the end of August, I told her I had had a great time.
On the drive back home she told me that grandma and grandpa had sent me the money for the house sitting with a simple, hand-written note that simply said “Thanks.” She hadn’t been able to get in contact with them over the phone for the last couple weeks, but when she last called they said they were in Colorado and having a great time.
A month later, my grandparents still hadn’t come back.
A month later, the whistling started again.
I was in my bed, trying to go to sleep, when I heard it. “Fly Me to the Moon.” Frank Sinatra. Just outside my door. I think my mom heard it too. I heard her crying. “Not this,” I think I heard her sob. “Not here. Not again. Please.”
I saw my mom at the dining room table the next morning, pale and haggard. She had not slept, looking at me with a mix of panic, exhaustion and fear. It is an expression I imagine she wore many times when she was young.
“Kid,” she whispered, “what did you do?”
I looked at her, wanting to cry, heavy with guilt. Then I looked at the table. My money was on it, next to the envelope, and next to the envelope was my grandparents’ note. “Thanks.”
I suddenly understood why they had invited us to sleep over so many times, all those years ago.
Why they always tried to make the guest room look so clean and nice for us, why they always assured us it was the most comfortable bed in the house.
And why I was so very sure that they would never come home from their RV trip for as long as they lived.
“…What did you do?”
Written by 40FB