By the Pricking of My Thumb

Listen my children and you shall hear… of a frightful occurrence that happened one year.

No tall tale, this story I share. . . I know this happened–because I was there.

In her last months  my pain-wracked  and bedridden Aunt seemed haunted by nightmares and delusions.   The darkened room with heavy draperies  tightly drawn, the drugs, and her erratic sleep patterns took away any sense of time for her and she neither noticed nor cared whether it was day or night.  If she phoned me at 3, it was as apt to be 3am as 3pm.  On more than one occasion she called me at that ungodly hour, fearful of noises she thought she had heard…sometimes believing them to emanate from under the house, sometimes the attic.  She was convinced that something…someone… was trying to reach her.  

She was not in the house alone:  her husband, my uncle, a dear in his 80’s, often puttered in his workshop  on one of his ongoing projects, and  at least one nurse always hovered nearby.   They rarely turned on a tv; the house was silent. So why had  she called me in those early hours, her voice high and thin, to tell me of the sounds?   Could they not hear  them, too?  Did they not hear her

. . .something evil this way comes….

I lived 200 miles away.  I could not rush over to comfort her.  Even if I could wake myself enough to drive that distance safely, it would take four hours.  So I’d talk to her in what I hoped were reassuring words, promising to be there soon, then I would lie back in bed and hope for sleep. 

The first couple of times she phoned, I would leave home at first light, arriving there in mid-morning.  By then she had been bathed and dressed in a fresh gown and had her hair brushed. She would have breakfast by whatever method she could tolerate that day, usually some sort of liquid vitamin drink.  I would sit by her bed and hold her small, birdlike hand as we talked.  She would doze for awhile,  awake with a start, and we would talk some more.  She never mentioned the sounds or her fears of the previous night.  Not wanting to upset her, I did not ask.

 She weighed less than 90 pounds, a parchment figure lying under layers of blankets.  She was always cold and ate almost nothing.  I made soups,  froze them in small portions, and took to be warmed for her.  The first time she ate heartily and asked me to bring more, but either I did not make subsequent offerings properly or her appetite  vanished, for she never ate with that initial zest.

 The nurses seemed pleasant and competent, but Aunt did not like them around her, though they  quickly responded whenever she called.  One nurse smiled  sadly and told me this herself:   “I  do everything I can for her, but sometimes she seems almost afraid of me and I don’t know why.”  

I believed her.  I’d seen her by Aunt’s bedside, singing what I knew to be Auntie’s favorite hymns: Aunt was lying peacefully, eyes closed and Nurse’s soft, surprisingly lovely voice on perfect pitch.  And He will lift you up on angel’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn. . .

One night  Aunt phoned at 4am.   “Don’t come any more!  I don’t want you near what’s going on here!  Promise me you won’t come!” 

 My mother had dreamed in the weeks before her death…nightmares so real  she could not be persuaded they were not actual events.  Her doctor had a word for them:  night terrors.  

A couple of days later I called Aunt, who felt up to chatting for a short time.  She sounded brighter, but cautioned again that I should not come,  adding no details.   It was an exhausting trip for me, driving there and back in one day,   so whether sufficient excuse or not, I confess that I took Aunt at her word without protest and did not go back that week. . . the week she died.

Uncle called to give me the sad news and I drove up in the rain the next morning to be with him, to help select her burial clothes, and make any final preparations. They had planned and prepaid these arrangements  years before, so there was little to be done. 

I’d expected to return home that evening but Uncle looked so bereft I decided to stay the night. I had brought no clothes or toiletries, but found one of  Aunt’s gowns to wear…which left only the matter of where to sleep.  Uncle slept in his bedroom at the far end of the house.  Aunt’s room seemed  the logical choice with its tv and a large Victorian bed, but even with  hospital bed and medical equipment removed and the room freshened,  it felt oppressive. 

My other choice–a small office/guest room next to Aunt’s–had only a narrow cot–“the cat’s bed” they’d called it.  Indeed, they had bought it for the large black stray  they had befriended, vaccinated, and spayed.   Jane Austen, Aunt had named her,  returned their kindness by acting  like a Tom –frequent overnight jauntsk, coming back full of fleas and scratches.     I like cats.  Jane was the exception and the feeling was mutual.  No one was able to touch  her except Aunt, and for her, Jane was a lap cat until Aunt became too frail to hold her.  Then Jane would  snooze in the chair beside Aunt’s bed, the same chair I sat in during my visits.   I had not seen the cat this trip and I did not miss her aloof presence.    Yet it was in that room I chose to sleep.  

There was no bedside light,  so I read by the overhead light–three large globes on a ceiling fan much too large for the tiny room.  I felt myself  being bitten by real or imagined fleas,  but finally turned off the light around midnight and between scratches,  drifted off to sleep.  

Crash!  A loud tearing, crunching sound  woke me and before I could react, something very heavy hit my legs and bounced off.    I was covered  by a sheet and light bedspread and it  happened so quickly  I was at a loss as to whether  something alive or inanimate had struck me.   No time to sit up or scream before the  terrifying sound of shattering glass and something raining  upon my face, my arms, every part of me.  Was the roof collapsing?  The bed covers did not protect my legs from the sharp, quick stabs and I felt the stickiness of blood on my legs.

Then silence…complete silence. 

 I was  too frightened to move.  It took only a moment to realize I was lying in a bed of  glass shards and in the total darkness I could only imagine what lay beyond the bed.  I remained rigid for some time, hoping that uncle had heard and would come to my aid, but the silence continued.  Slowly, gingerly, I turned my arms outward to let the glass slide onto the bed, then carefully lifted the shards and slivers from my face, my neck, my body since I could not, or course, brush them away.   Finally I managed to sit up cautiously, still in darkness.   Trapped by the broken glass, I could not cross the room to reach the light switch.  I sensed, rather than saw, a large shape on  the floor in the center of the room.  Was it Uncle?  Had he come into the room to warn me and tripped?  Heart attack?  Whatever it was, there was no sound or movement from the form. 

I do not know how long I sat in that glass sea, but eventually the rain clouds parted to allow  moonlight to penetrate the window shades and reveal,  not my uncle on the floor, but the large ceiling fan, lying askew with one blade raised in the air.  It must have  ripped from the ceiling and to hit the bed–and me–then onto the floor, shattering the glass globes and sending the glass bits upward.  The glimmer of glass in the carpet fibers  reminded  me I was still trapped, so I sat motionless until  the grey morning light arrived.  I could not walk without wincing from the slivers which cut into my feet, so  I dropped to my hands and knees and slowly, carefully, crawled to the door.

The rest of the house looked normal;  fans  turning indolently, all looking solid in their ceiling attachments.  Odd that on the only night a human ever slept in that room, the fan should have fallen.   Uncle, who had slept through it all, later stood at the door to the room and looked at the mess.  “I just don’t understand it, ” he said, rubbing his chin.

As we stood there a pair of green eyes gleamed from under the cot and the large black cat emerged.  She ignored both of us and walked regally around the fan and out the door.  I never saw her again.

Why the fan fell remains a mystery.  It  was never reinstalled and the house was sold upon Uncle’s death several months later.  Within a few months, it was on the market again. 



*By the pricking of my thumb, something wicked this way comes” is from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.


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