In the spirit of the season I am dipping my toe in the scary stories river. Blogonia Grandma L. reminded me of this story when she posted her own scary story on Pet Peeves and Other Ramblings.
The essentials of this story I believe to be true. It was told to me in the 1970s by my sweet little grandmother. She was a daughter of the Missouri Ozarks of Dutch and English extraction. That meant that you could eat off her floors if necessary and that she could keep going like so many of those who’d experienced the Great Depression or Hard Times as it was called in the Ozarks. It is possible that when she was telling me this story that she was pulling my leg, but Grandma wasn’t given to disassembly. She did not appear to be kidding and I remember how the hair stood up on the top of my arms and the back of my neck when she told me. Everyone involved in the story save my aunt, who was a child at the time it happened and says she doesn’t remember the incident, is gone. I wish I would have paid more attention to the details my grandmother told, but in the interest of the season and a good story I’ve tried to recreate it as accurately as and entertainingly possible.
The time was WWII. My father and his older brother were in the Navy in the South Pacific. They’d been at Kaneohe Bay on the island of Oahu on December 7th when the Japanese forced the United States into the war. There were no cell phones or email in those days. Communicating with the Hawaiian Islands could take days at least and so for several days my grandmother hadn’t known if her boys were dead or alive before a wire came from them saying that they were alive. The United States had been attacked and that set people on edge. Would the Japanese or Germany attack the U.S. mainland? Americans did what they’d done since Valley Forge. They picked themselves up and began doing what needed to be done to win the war amidst blackout curtains and civil defense exercises, especially on the coasts of the United States. People felt a lot like people felt after 9/11. No one knew what would happen next.
While their older sons were away fighting in the Pacific, my grandparents lived modestly in Vancouver, Washington with their two younger children. Vancouver at that time was a midish sized city across the Columbia River from the larger Portland, Oregon. One night Grandpa worked late at the shipyards on a literally dark and stormy night. It was one of those storms the Pacific Northwest is notorious for when the wind and rain come out of the Southwest dumping rain on that corner of the country, keeping it green. Grandma was home with the children.
During the course of the evening, Grandma and the children heard footsteps on the front porch steps. Probably Grandpa, maybe a neighbor. Who would be out in weather like this? Grandma wondered. They waited for a knock, but none came. Neither did any retreating footsteps. Grandma looked at the children. The children looked at Grandma. Tenuously Grandma cracked the front door to see who was there. She found no one. The electric bulb above the porch cast a yellow light on wet and muddy footprints leading up the steps to the porch, two foot prints squarely before the door within knocking distance, but none led away.
Grandma quickly closed the door. She and the children sat on her and Grandpa’s bed listening to the wind and the rain until he came home from work.
Epilogue: Twenty years after Grandma told me this story and some fifty years after it happened something of a similar nature happened to me. At that time our family had a furry doorbell in the form of a Toy Fox Terrier named Speck for Pee Wee Herman’s dog in Big Adventure. We also had a squeaky front door. Certainly the sound of the door bell was enough to send the dog into a frenzy of barking, but as little as the squeaking of the front door was enough to set him off.
Also at that time we had a friend living with us. Joe. Now Old Joe was charming and funny and a pathological liar, but we didn’t know that last bit when we let him move in temporarily which turned out to be eight years. It was possible that Joe was responsible for what happened, but I don’t believe it. It would have required more time than he ever had of a morning. Joe was the first to leave while I was still making lunches for the rest of the family and getting ready to leave for my job at a middle school. He was always late and always rushed to get to his job at a junk yard in Tacoma.
On this particular morning nothing seemed amiss. Joe had left for work and I was finishing up in the kitchen. The front door opened which sent Speck into a spasm of barking. I assumed that Joe had forgotten something.
“What did you forget?” I called from the kitchen.
When I got no answer I came around the corner from the kitchen to find the dog looking quizzically at the front door. I peered through the faux leaded glass in the door and saw that Joe’s car was not in the driveway. I went down the hall and checked his room. Empty. I cracked my son’s door, but he was asleep. On my way upstairs I locked the front door.
A search of the second floor yielded nothing more than my sleeping husband and daughter. I sat down on the edge of the bed to consider what had happened. I didn’t think I’d imagined the door opening because the dog had heard it, too. There’d been no car in the drive so it wasn’t Joe. Had someone seen him leave and walked up and opened the door, closing it when the dog began to bark? I got dressed and left for work, but not before going around and making sure that all the windows were closed and the doors locked.