Lights Out

there is nothing to fear but …

Ken Szymanski

Shhhhh. Listen to this. My story is brief. You’re lucky it’s brief, though, because you’ll be scared out of your mind. If, at some point, you need to toss this magazine aside and run for daylight, there’d be no shame in that.

When this story took place, I lived alone – or so I thought – on Eau Claire’s Eastside Hill. In my spare time, I had been shadowing Chad Lewis, a professional paranormal investigator, for a Volume One article. We explored haunted houses, graveyards, and forests. Lewis told me that, after years of immersion in the paranormal, he had to sleep with his lights on. That wasn’t all. He also had to close every door and double-check every lock in the house. Then, after one of our scarier outings, Lewis gave me a friendly warning: “A few more nights like this, and you’ll be sleeping with your lights on, too.” I laughed, not knowing that one night it wouldn’t be so funny.

“I bet this place is haunted,” Jason said. “Did anyone ever die here? Sometimes dead people linger around a place after they die. Or it could be some spirits that followed you home after one of those ghost investigations.” I faked an easy laugh.

I was writing late one evening, as I often did back then, with the stereo cranked. I had a five-disc CD player, so the music could spin for hours without me having to leave my seat. Then, when the last CD ended, and the house went silent, I heard a sound: “Shhhhhhhhhhhh…”

I sat motionless, trying to figure out what that sound was. I didn’t want to follow the sound, but I had to follow the sound. I left my office, slowly walked through the hallway, and found the source. The “shhhhhhhh” was coming from the bathroom. I flipped on the light and saw that the faucet was on. It was a lift handle, so this completely defied the laws of gravity. I feared that someone was in the house … that he’d snuck in when the stereo was on, and turned on the faucet as a distraction. That way, when I went to turn it off, he could knock me out … I spun around.

No one.

I slowly reached for the faucet. Right as I was about to turn it off, a crash came from the kitchen. I slammed the faucet off, hesitated, then crept to the source of the next sound. It was a bowl that had fallen off the counter. Gravity defied, yet again. If I had a cat, that could’ve explained it, but I had no cat. I was convinced that someone was in the house. I checked all of the entrances. They were all locked.

This was reassuring … and then it wasn’t. What if the intruder snuck in and locked the doors behind him to impede my escape route? So I did what any logical person would do: I grabbed a baseball bat. I treaded from room to room with the bat cocked on my shoulder, ready to smack somebody. Each time I turned on a new set of lights, I yelled “HEY!” as if that would help.

Every room, every closet, behind every big chair, even under the bed. Nothing. Finally, I put the bat away, went to bed, and eventually fell asleep.

Early the next evening, two friends of mine – Jason and Heather – happened to be walking through my neighborhood, and they stopped in for a chat. “The weirdest thing happened last night,” I said. As we sat in my living room, mere feet away from the haunted faucet, the haunted kitchen, I explained the previous evening’s “activities.”

“I bet this place is haunted,” Jason said. “Did anyone ever die here? Sometimes dead people linger around a place after they die. Or it could be some spirits that followed you home after one of those ghost investigations with Lewis.” I faked an easy laugh.

When they were ready to leave, I offered to walk home with them, third-wheeling on a late summer evening. I walked them down the hill and walked back alone. Then, when I stepped back in the house, I heard it: “Shhhhhhhhh…”

It was the bathroom faucet. I swatted it shut and immediately went for the phone, calling Jason. “You won’t believe this,” I said. “When I came back to the house, that same faucet was running. I think we made whatever it is mad. I’m not staying here tonight. Can I crash at your place?”

Jason’s only response was deep laughter.

When he finally composed himself, he said, “I turned that faucet on right before we left. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice until you got back!”

And, in relief, I laughed, too. But after hanging up the phone, I had a nagging thought. That only explained the faucet being on the second time. It still didn’t explain how the faucet turned itself on the first time … or why the bowl crashed all by itself when I reached for the faucet.

I didn’t ask Chad Lewis to investigate what happened that night. The last thing he needed was more items added to his nightly paranoia checklist: locking up his kitchen cabinets and turning off the water main water valve.

Not that there’d be any shame in that.