September 26, 2014

Gifts From The Sea…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:01 pm


We must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest.
We must learn to sail in high winds.

—Aristotle Onassis

Beach Week is almost an idol to me. Almost. But not quite. So I make no excuses for raving about it. It happens once a year. For one week. One minute, out of every fifty-two. Problem is, those minutes are condensed. You look forward, to them coming, for a long time. And then they arrive. They speed by at a highly accelerated rate. And then, they’re gone.

I felt it coming, that Friday. One more day, then the beach. It wasn’t so much joyous anticipation. It was more like, man, I need this break. And I kept sighing loudly at work as the hours crept by. I wanna leave. By 3:30, Rosita told me. “Just go. We’re tired of hearing you sighing. You’re not getting a lick of work done, anyway. Just go.” Yes, Ma’am, I said. And I clocked out and headed straight home. No gym. I had things to do. Packing, mostly. I never pack until the day before. Or the evening before. And I texted the tenant as I bustled about. Are you home? He was. And I walked upstairs to see him.

I had told him I would be leaving for Beach Week. And now, I just wanted to fill in all the details for him. We’re leaving tomorrow. And I’ll be back next Saturday. “Ah, man, have a great time,” he said. “Just relax, and chill.” Yeah, I plan to, I said. This has been one tough year. “I know it was, for you,” he said, looking at me. “Your family’s gone through some tough things.” Yes, I said. We have. He nodded wisely.

He’d pick up my mail, every day, he told me. I can’t tell you how handy it is, to have a guy around like that. You know the place is in good hands, when you leave. And I looked at him as I was getting ready to leave. I want to know if you hear any noises, downstairs, when I’m gone. If Billy (we named the ghost Billy) makes any sounds, I want you to tell me when I get back. “Not a problem,” he said. “I will, if I hear anything.” And I looked at him again. Are you afraid? I asked. He shook his head. Dismissively. “No,” he said, simply. “No, I’m not afraid.” I’m not afraid, either, down there, I said. That’s my home. OK, we’ll catch up when I get back. And I left him, and went back downstairs to finish packing.

The next morning, right at seven, I pulled into Wilm’s drive. We take turns, driving to Beach Week. Well, I always drive. But we take turns, taking our vehicles down there. We split the costs for gas and tolls, right down the middle. Last year, I took Big Blue. This year, it was her turn. She has a little Toyota. It gets way better gas mileage than my truck does. But it doesn’t have a lot of room. I pulled up, and unloaded my bags and packed them in, wherever they fit. Wilm flitted about, dragging out trays of tomatoes, and all kinds luggage and other stuff, like large floppy hats. She makes Amish peanut butter for Beach Week every year. We stuffed all our stuff into her car, and it actually fit in without obscuring my rear view mirror view. And by 7:15, we were pulling out. Next up, Nag’s Head, NC. The beach. It all felt different, this year, though.

It was a sunny day, kind of cool. And I felt the stirring inside, to get there. But still, there was a sadness, too, and a deep tiredness. We had seen things, most of us heading to Beach Week. Everybody went through something tough this year, seemed like. Medical issues, and no, I’m not just talking about my heart. Wilm has lost all her hearing in one ear since last year, and the other one’s fading. That’s a tough thing. There’s been loss. There’s been death. Our little group had seen a lot since Beach Week came down last year.

We pushed on, down Rt. 1 to Rt. 13, on south toward the bridge tunnel. Wilm’s little car chugged right along. And a few miles before the bridge tunnel, we stopped at the dumpy little gas station where we always do. I fueled the car. Wilm walked inside. In a minute, she had returned. “The restrooms are out of order,” she said. “Both of them.” What? I hollered. This place was a dump, we knew that. But it was tradition, to stop here. Not anymore, if their restrooms don’t work. We got into the car and headed on south, hoping to find another gas station before the bridge tunnel. Thankfully, there was one, the last one, I think, before the crossing. Next year, we’ll stop a little further up the line, I grumbled. That was a close thing.

Through Virginia Beach, then, and onto the coastal highway toward the Outer Banks. That old familiar run, the anticipation stirring inside. Janice texted Wilm. She and Melony and Brian were half an hour ahead of us. They had already stopped at the fruit stand and stocked up. We’ll meet at Awful Arthur’s for a bite, then head on out to the house. And then came the warning message. We’re in a terrible traffic jam, here. It’s stopped. We sped along, and soon enough, the brake lights flashed on the cars ahead of us. We slowed and stopped. Traffic piled up behind us. I mean, we stopped, right there on that four-lane road.

We sat and sat. I asked Wilm if she’d read my blog, yet. She hadn’t; she’d been packing half the night. So I told her my ghost story, in all the colorful details. The tenant woke up one night, and he knew there was someone looking at him through the cracked open door. She shivered. And still we sat. Janice texted. There’s a disabled car on the bridge ahead. Disabled car? What does that mean? I grumbled. Here we are, so close, less than thirty miles away. And here we sit.

After an hour, the traffic began crawling along. Slowly, slowly. Onto the long, long bridge leading to the Outer Banks. They had one lane open, the fire truck and a cop car sitting where the accident had happened. The disabled car was gone, with nothing but charred pavement where it had sat. “Wow,” Wilm said. “It looks like the thing just blew up.” Unbelievable, I muttered. Of course, it had to happen just ahead of us, on the very day we’re heading for the beach.

We got to Awful Arthur’s, eventually. And found a place to park, that opened up like magic. We walked in. Janice and Melony and Brian had already found a table. They greeted us. And we all hugged each other. This was the classical start of Beach Week. Hanging out, here. We ordered our food. And our drinks. Celebrate this moment. That’s how we felt. And that’s what we did. Laughed and talked, and caught up with each other. It’s always a special thing, the very start of things.

We headed to the house, then. Clouds rolled in, and rain drizzled down. A dreary day, to arrive. None of that mattered, though. It was big and brand new and bright yellow, the house. Built on stilts, three stories high. We pulled in and unpacked our cars. Dragged up all our luggage. I seized the room back in the corner on the second floor. My usual spot, a place where I could get away from late-night noise if I wanted to. The house was laid out just like the one we’ve had the last two years. Kitchen and dining room on the top floor, so everyone could enjoy the scenery. We trundled our supplies up in the little elevator. No big beach house is complete without an elevator.

My nephew, Steven, and his load arrived right shortly after we got there. Him and Fred and Greg and Courtney. Evonda was getting there late Sunday night. They had a few new people with them. Will and Brandon, Steven’s friends. And Malissa, Fred’s friend. It’s one of the most exclusive groups I’ve ever been a part of, the regular beach week crowd. A much harder invite to get than, say, to my garage party. And if new people show up, I’m totally fine with that. They had to pass someone’s screening to get there. We hugged, the old friends, and I shook the hands of the newcomers as Steven introduced us. And we all just kind of settled into the house.

A few people wandered off to the grocery store. That first day, we always spend a few hundred bucks on food and supplies. We moved a few couches out onto the top balcony. That was the meeting place, where everyone settled for late night talk. And it was the spot for the smokers in the group, too. Everything was all snug and comfortable.

The rain stopped, but the dark clouds roiled and brewed out there. And just as dusk was creeping in, I wandered out to the beach. By myself. Just to see and feel the sea. And no, I won’t say all my tension and tiredness washed away like magic in that moment. It didn’t. I just stood there in the wind, absorbing the waves, and the roar of the ocean, for ten or fifteen minutes. And then I turned and walked back inside to join the others.

We just snacked on stuff that night, no formal meal. Afterward, we all sat outside, as the night closed in and settled. And that night, the first night, we talked about death. Mom’s and Abby’s. About our families, and how the clans came from all over. We relived a bit about Mom’s funeral, and then Janice and Steven spoke about that awful week when Abby passed. How eternally long it had seemed. How people came, of an evening, and no one knew quite what to say, how to comfort Dorothy and Lowell. Not that anyone was blaming anyone. They were just telling how it was. How exhausting it all was. How, by week’s end, there were simply no more tears left inside.

“But there was one lady,” Steven said. “She came around one afternoon and didn’t even come into the house. She got busy, weeding the flower beds. And then she disappeared for an hour or so. Then she came back with mulch, and mulched the flower beds. She never said a word to anyone. She just came and saw what needed doing, and she did it.”

Our talk drifted to other things, then. And by midnight or so, it was time for sleep. Our first night at the beach. The one thing about the beach is, you sleep in as long as you want to. Sure, you go to bed late. Very late, sometimes. But you sleep in. I usually get up somewhere around 9:30, and wander up, all bleary-eyed, to drink some coffee and eat something someone fried up. But that didn’t happen that first morning. At exactly 8:00, there was a pounding at the door. Get up. Good grief. This is Beach Week. Why do I have to get up at 8:00?

I remembered, though, from the night before. Steven wanted to get out early, and go get our fishing licenses. We were gonna do some serious fishing, this year. Last year, we stepped out timidly, tentatively. Bought some cheap junk rigs off the clearance rack. And Steven had told me, at Abby’s funeral. He had taken those cheap junk rods and reels home, and cleaned them. The reel gears were made of plastic, and just fell apart. I guess that’s what happens when you buy from the bargain bin. Anyhow, he had discarded all that junk tackle. And he had gone out and bought some real good quality stuff. Mostly used, from Ebay. I had told him. That’s great. I don’t care that my tackle is shot. I’ll look forward to seeing what you got.

And that first morning, that Sunday morning, we were heading out at nine. To the tackle shop, for gear and tags. It was actually a pretty nice day. The sea was calm. When we returned, I checked out Steven’s equipment. The man went all out. He had four spinning rigs, for fishing from the shore. But he had heavier stuff, too. For shark fishing, he told me. Trolling rods, short and stout and stubby, with open reels loaded with 60 pound line. You can’t cast with those rigs. But Steven had all that figured out.

They had fetched along two kayaks, loaded them on top of the trailer he hauled down. The plan was this. Steven had been at the beach last summer, and somehow he got connected with an old shark fisherman. You don’t fish for shark from the shore, by simply casting in your line. You take one of those trolling rigs. You bait it with a large hook, and a drag anchor, so the bait won’t move, once it’s down. You set up that rig on the shore. And then a guy gets into a kayak, and hauls the hook and bait way, way out, beyond the breakers. The guy drops the bait, and heads on back in. And you sit there, and you wait for your drag to scream.

I was pretty intrigued by it all. Steven had even done the research, and gone and bought a little fishing cart. A thing on wheels, with all kinds of slots to stick your rods in. And lots of room for tackle and bait. OK. We had the tackle, to go after shark. And now, all we had to do was go and do it.

That first day, Sunday, the sea was calm. That would change, later in the week. The days all fuse together, at the beach. So I’m not exactly sure when what happened happened. I guess I could go look at the pics. Anyway, either Sunday or Monday, I caught the only fish I caught this year. Three little things, almost too small to celebrate. But I was proud. And it felt good. We pitched our little fish into a tub, to use later for bait. For shark.

And the sea was calm and the air was clear, those first few days. It’s impossible to describe the calming effect the ocean has on who you are. Impossible. The waves keep crashing in, and you stand out in them and watch. Or you sit back in a chair, fishing pole stuck upright in the sand, and watch. You watch, either way. It’s eternal, and it’s unfathomable, the sea.

And it’s all kind of random, the things that came down at Beach Week. Turns out the brand new beach house was painted bright yellow for a reason. It was a lemon. Half the light bulbs were burned out, and didn’t work. Janice was horrified to find mold in the washing machines. And the first morning, a curling iron blew up in the hands of whoever plugged it in. Bad connection. Janice got right on the phone. This is unacceptable. We were at the beach for seven days. I think there was a maintenance man on the property on at least five of those days. I’m not sure if we’re going back to that same house, even though the rental company offered Janice a $600.00 discount next year, and promised to have it in tip top shape. It was shoddily built, the whole place. A brand new house shouldn’t act like this house acted.

On Tuesday night, I think it was, the boys set up their shark rigs. In late afternoon. We ate early that day, at 5:30. And then we walked out to the beach. The kayaks were loaded. The water was calm. And Fred and Brandon paddled way, way out, and dropped the bait. We sat there, in our chairs, and fished from the shore with the spinning outfits. And waited to hear the drags scream on the dropped baits. All stayed quiet. The sea rolled and roared. And we just sat there, and absorbed it. Most of us drifted back to the house, around 10:00 or so. Steven and Brandon stayed out. But there was nothing biting that night, when it came to sharks.

Moving along, then. After Tuesday, at the beach, you might as well wave the week good-bye. That’s how fast it goes. The days whoosh right on in to each other. And you feel it, the end approaching. Last year, and this year, I was fine with all that, though. You feel what you feel. You see what you see. And when the end comes, it’s fine.

Wednesday. It was windy, out there. The sea roiled and rolled. Still, the boys dropped their bait, way out there. And early that morning, Brandon pulled in a large sting ray. A flat fish, ugly and uneatable. I wasn’t there when it happened. A large crowd gathered, Steven told me. The sting ray had swallowed the hook and bait. But the crowd insisted. Release the fish. So they did. No pictures, even. I grumbled at Steven. Good grief. If you pull in a hundred pounds of anything from the sea, at least take a pic. The story wasn’t done, though. Later that morning, when I was out there, fishing, the sting ray washed up to the shore. It had died. Butcher that thing, I told the boys. Let’s cook it and eat it. And they did. Cut it up for frying. And suddenly, right then, the drag on one reel started screaming. Brandon stepped up and hauled it in. Another sting ray. This one was hooked only on the lip, so the guys flipped it on its back. Unhooked the hook. And turned the fish back to where it came from.

Wednesday night. Hymn sing. Many from the group came from the plain Mennonites. Not me. But others. And Wednesday night is church night. We always sit around and sing hymns, after dinner. And that night, it seemed to be dragging, the tradition. But Janice and I insisted. So we all gathered, and someone got out a hymn book. Fred strummed his guitar. And suddenly, we all got into it. We sang a lot of old classics, some of them twice. I think the neighbors probably think we’re bipolar. Every night, so far, we had sat outside on the deck. Drinking and talking and laughing real loud. Smoking, too, those who do. And suddenly, on this night, loud hymn singing erupted. I mean, it was good, it was loud, and it lasted for about an hour. If you’re an English neighbor to something like that, you’ll have to be scratching your head.

The sea was roiling on Thursday morning, too. Janice told us this would be a morning for the pool. It was a bit chilly, out there. But she had gotten our landlords to heat the pool for practically free, because of all the maintenance issues. A pool session is a structured thing. First, you mix up a light drink in a large cup. Last year, we used flower vases. It was claimed that I stored those vases in my garage, for use this year. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find them. So Wilm brought along Mason quart jars, for the pool drinks. That morning, Janice mixed up a bunch of drinks in a bunch of those jars. We each grabbed one, and headed down. I sat off to the side, and just dangled my legs in. Most of the others relaxed on the floats we had bought earlier at a discount store.

A pool session goes like this. Each person takes a turn, being questioned by all the others. And I mean, nothing is really out of bounds. You are questioned. Drilled. Interrogated. I used to never join these sessions, because I didn’t want to talk. Last year was the first time for me. And this year, too, I wouldn’t have missed it. I was the first one up, before everyone was out there. So I got off pretty easy. How was your year? Crappy, I said. What do you see, coming up? Not sure, I said. I’m uneasy, inside. I’m writing on my blog. I traveled the Midwest, this summer. Long term, I think I’m gonna end up there. They drill you about relationships, too. It’s not been good, I said. Well, I said a lot more than that. But I don’t have to drag all that out, here.

We fished the roiling waves, too, when it was all windy on the beach. Steven and Brandon stalked the sea. Fishing, fishing incessantly. I wasn’t quite that committed, but I did join them when I wouldn’t have other years. You cast in your line. And then you sit and watch those foaming waters roiling in the wind.

And late one afternoon, I was inside, all restless. It was windy out there. I finished the book I had brought along to read. P.G. Wodehouse. Summer Moonshine. I hadn’t laughed so hard in a long time. Nobody was going on any runs, so I took a walk down the street. Half a mile or so, to one of those big beach stores, where everything is half off after Labor Day. And I mean, it is. Good quality T-shirts for six or seven bucks. I wandered around, and picked up two or three. And then I started walking back.

There was a little bar, there, on the way back. Well, a restaurant and bar. What the heck? I thought. I’m out here, by myself. I’ll go in and have a beer. I don’t drink beer, much. But it seemed like the right kind of drink for that moment. I wandered in. Can I sit at the bar? I asked the matron.

It was pretty much deserted, the place. Including the bar. Late afternoon, before dinner. A few people way down on the other end were just finishing up. We chatted a bit, and then they left. I ordered a local brew. The barmaid was young and very pretty and smiling. And I got to chatting with her. Is it really true, that everything is 50% off, at these stores, after Labor Day, or is it all a ruse? I asked. She smiled very brightly. In the busy summer months, they have sales. But not half off across the board. So, yeah, it’s true.

I asked her a bit about herself. She had just graduated last year, with a degree in journalism, and some sort of minor degree. Business, maybe. I don’t remember. And we talked about what it is, to write. And she told me. She was heading to Chile next spring, to teach English. I cheered that, quite loudly. Yes. Go. Travel. You don’t have to figure out what you’re doing with your life, right now.

I sipped that beer for probably half an hour, as we talked. And just as I was winding down, fixing to leave, I couldn’t help myself. I told her about my writing on this blog. And my book. She got all excited, and claimed that she’ll definitely go out and buy a copy and read it. I scrawled the title of my book on a scrap of paper, and signed it. And then I walked out, back to our beach house.

And I thought about it. It’s so strange, how the book has affected my life. It’s a connection point, if you want it to be. Not that it often is, in a setting like that. I don’t often tell strangers I’m a writer, especially not in a bar. But in the right setting, in the right moment, where it seems fitting, I do.

The week wrapped up, like lightening, that quick. There’s so much left untold. Like the grease fire on Sunday night, I think it was. The girls were cooking bacon on a flat pan, in the oven. The grease rolled right off, and started a real fire. For a few moments, there was lots of confusion and shouting. Don’t throw water on it. The guys doused the fire with wet towels, while I ran around and opened all the windows, to let out the smoke. It was tricky, there, for a moment. The place could have burned to the ground. But it didn’t.

We feasted on lots of good food, every night. Gourmet burgers, grilled by Brandon. Steak, grilled by Fred. And one night, there were sting ray appetizers, wrapped in bacon. Don’t ever let anyone tell you sting ray ain’t fit to eat. It is fit. And it’s delicious.

And on the very last evening, at almost the last hour, there was a hue and cry from the beach. A shark. Brandon caught a shark. We all rushed out. A small crowd of gawkers milled about, all excited. The boys were still wrestling with the beast. A shark. Probably five or six feet long. Lots of good meat, right there. Let’s butcher that thing, I said. It wasn’t to be, though. There was no time. It was late, already. And people were heading out early, tomorrow morning. Steven unhooked the hook with some kind of tool, careful not to get too close to the shark’s teeth. We snapped a bunch of pics. And then Brandon dragged the fish back into the water by its tail. Set it free. Maybe we’ll get to eat it next year.

Saturday morning. Steven and his crowd left real early, to get Fred back home for a singing gig. The rest of us cleaned up the place. Packed everything out. And loaded our cars. Beach Week was over, for one more year. It had come to an end. Just like everything has to.

Was I rested? In some ways, yes. In some ways, not. The tenant hadn’t heard anything from Billy, down below, when I got home. I was relieved about that. But still, there was a restlessness, deep down. And I got to talking to a friend about it, the other day. My writing’s not coming, this week. I sit and brood a lot. I think there’s something spiritual going on. And he asked. “Do you have bitterness in your heart? Unforgiveness, at anyone?” And I thought about it, and I looked at him. Yes, I said. Yes. I do.

“Well,” he said. “You can have all kinds of clean rooms in your heart, as a Christian. But if there’s one room that is corrupted, that spirit will settle and stay. That room will bug you. Because you’re allowing darkness in there. You have to clean that room, and get rid of that bitterness. Get rid of that unforgiveness. It doesn’t mean you don’t have reasons to feel that way. It just means you let it go. Cast it out.”

I’m so tired, I told him. Tired of all the unrest. I want to clean it all out. Get rid of all the crap that shouldn’t be there. I want my heart to be free. He offered to pray for me, right there, that that would happen. Yes, I said. I want you to. He placed his hand on my shoulder. And then he spoke to the Lord, as one would speak to a friend.

September 12, 2014

The “Visitor”

Category: News — Ira @ 6:00 pm


If a man harbors any sort of fear, it percolates through all his thinking,
damages his personality, makes him landlord to a ghost.

—Lloyd C. Douglas

It was kind of odd, the thing that came at me just a few weeks back. Over Labor Day weekend, was when it happened. And it was a little unsettling. I’m not sure where to go with it, so I guess I’ll just tell the story.

I live in a fairly old house. Well, not old, as they think old in Europe, or anything. Near as I can tell, my house was built in the 1920s, sometime. It’s made of brick. Two full stories. A full basement. And a full attic. Lots of old wood, to creak and groan around at night in the wind. I’ve lived all alone, too, here in the old house. Tenants came and went, over the years, and most of them were a good riddance when they left. This time, before the current tenant came wandering along, I had lived alone for two-plus years. It never bothered me. Actually, I liked the solitude. No fuss or hassles. No one around, to worry about. No one around but me. But I sure did miss that rent money.

The tenant got here last year, in the spring. The man has been real good for my place. And totally fine, to have around. He doesn’t bother me. We talk, when we see each other. Now and then, we’ll sit out on the front porch, outside his door, and drink a beer or something I mixed up. He knows the territory, he’s been around. If I need a contact of some kind, he usually knows who to talk to. He’s not religious, that I know of. We’ve chatted, now and then, about it. He gave me his sympathies, back when Mom passed away last spring. And told me in detail of how his own Mom had passed. I never told him I write. As far as I know, he still has no idea I ever wrote a book. He never even knew I was an attorney, until I mentioned it offhand, a few weeks back. He about had a fit. I figure when and if he ever finds out about the book, he’ll probably have another fit. And I’ll give him a copy. That day might come, or it might not. So far, it hasn’t.

What I’m saying is, the man is a solid, rational man, who’s been around the block a few times. Not given to telling wild tales. But it was kind of strange, back in July, when I got back from my road trip. I had been gone for ten days. No worries, though, about things at home. I just tell the tenant the dates I’ll be gone. He gathers my mail for me, and keeps an eye on the place. I feel very good about having someone like that around when I’m gone.

When I got back that Saturday afternoon, he was around. He brought my bag of mail to the door, and knocked. I opened it, and we stood there and talked. Thanks, I said, taking the mail. “No problem,” he said. Then: “Man, I’m glad to see you back. This old house makes some very strange noises at night.” I’m sure it does, I said. It’s old, and creaks and groans some. But at least the furnace is turned off, downstairs. It doesn’t clank and rattle, at least not during the summer. “It makes some very strange noises,” he said again. But he didn’t seem all that perturbed about anything. And we left it at that, as far as any strange noises the house makes. But I thought about it later, what he had said. It was just an odd comment, I thought.

Labor Day Saturday, early afternoon. I was fixing to leave to run some errands, see some friends. A beautiful sunny day. The tenant had the big garage door open, his car parked outside, the front wheels up on ramps. He’s always tinkering with that thing. I ambled out to chat a bit. He told me what he was doing, some little repair. He was sipping a cold beer, and offered me a can. Nah, thanks, I’m driving here, shortly, I said. He stood there and took another sip. Then he looked at me very strangely, kind of sideways. And then he spoke.

“Have you ever considered the fact that your house might be haunted?” He asked. A question I sure wasn’t expecting. And as I like to say now and then. Well, what do you do with that? He kept looking at me, half sheepishly. And then he got to telling me a few stories.

“You know,” he said. “I’ve never been one to pay much attention to such stuff. But I’m telling you, there is something in your house. I’ve heard it walking, clear as a bell, when no one else was around. Usually of a morning, after you leave for work. The steps are as heavy as yours, so I figure it has to be a man about your size.”

Ah, are you sure? I was a little dubious. I’ve never felt anything like that, except once. I can tell you a pretty freaky story. But I’ve never sensed any presence around me downstairs, ever. And I’m up late, often, on my computer. You know that, you probably hear me when I go to bed. Are you sure it’s not the cleaning lady, of a morning like that? She comes around once a month, and she has a key to get in.

He shook his head. Dismissively. “No, it’s not her. I hear you walking down there all the time. And I know what footsteps sound like. I know when I hear them. And it’s someone as heavy as you. And I haven’t heard it that often. Maybe ten, a dozen times. But the one morning, it was so clear that I thought it must be you. I actually walked around and looked out all the windows, to make sure your truck wasn’t parked where it usually isn’t. It wasn’t. You were gone. Those footsteps down there were as clear as yours ever are.”

And we talked about it. Strangely, there was one emotion that didn’t come to me. And that was fear. I felt none. This was my home. I won’t be afraid in my own home. The tenant told me he had felt a presence of some kind, upstairs, on different occasions. And once or twice, in his little living room, he caught movement out of the edge of his eye, as if someone were there. I wasn’t sure what to make of it all. The tenant is a calm and steady man, from all I’ve ever seen of him. Not given to hallucinations, he has no habit of excessive drinking that I ever saw, anyway. I drink way more than he does.

I’ve never felt any presence like that, I told him. Never. Never felt any malevolence from anything in that house. But I’ll tell you a little story. I’ve ever only told one person before. A thing that happened about three years ago. He looked at me, very interested. And I told him. I got home from work one day. Normal day. And I noticed the round wall clock, up behind the TV. It was stopped. I forget the exact minute, but sometime earlier that day. No big deal, I figured. The battery had just died. I’d just change it. The clock is hard to get to, up in that corner. I struggled around and finally lifted it from the nail it hung on.

It was a clock Dad had given me, years before. A “bird” clock. Every hour had a picture of a different bird. And if you put two batteries in the lower slot, you’d hear that bird singing or chirping on the hour. I never was interested in hearing those birds. So I never put any batteries in the bottom slot. The clock was just a clock, with a single battery in the top slot, to make it run.

I looked at the clock in my hands. Turned to the back, to remove the battery. And a chill shot through me. The battery had been removed from the top slot, and inserted into the bottom slot, where it took two, to make the birds sing. The battery had been removed from where it was that morning.

That freaked me out pretty bad, I told the tenant. I could find nothing else out of place, in all the house. I mean, I looked. I had stuff lying around, stuff you could easily pick up. Everything was exactly as I’d left it that morning, except for the battery in that clock. And for some reason, I thought of a ghost, a spirit, right then. Something had done that. I was pretty freaked out, at that moment. Oh, yes, I was. And I was a little jumpy for the next week or so. And I wrote a little note, and stuck it on the clock. Whoever you are, whatever you are, stop it. I will come after you if you don’t.

The tenant looked all wise when I finished. “It hasn’t happened often, that I heard something,” he said. “But believe me, I heard it.” I do believe you, I said. And he told me more. He woke up in the middle of the night, once. His bedroom door was cracked open, about a foot. “And as sure as I’m standing here talking to you, I could feel someone behind that door, looking at me,” he said. “I got up with a flashlight and walked over and opened it. Nothing was there. Do you know what the history of your house is? Did anyone ever die in there, in a bad way?”

I don’t know, I said. I know a previous tenant tried to overdose once, with pills, in my bedroom. He didn’t get it done, though.

“Well, it couldn’t be him, then,” the tenant actually chuckled. “If he didn’t get it done, it couldn’t be him.” I agreed. It’s usually a suicide when the spirits stay. Or often, anyway. I don’t know anything about the history of my house. I left then, to see my friends, and run my errands. The tenant was working away, at his car.

I got back around five or so. And I had it on my mind, what he’d told me. I wanted to talk to him some more about it. So I texted him. You got a minute? He came right down, handed me a cold beer, and we sat out on the front porch and talked.

I asked him a lot of specific questions, about what he had heard. And he was adamant. Well, I said. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll mention it to my pastor. See what he thinks about it. Maybe I can have him come over and put that spirit to rest. The tenant looked at me. “I have no problem with that, if he knows what he’s doing,” he said. Oh, I trust my pastor, I said. If he tells me he can do it, he can do it. We sat there and sipped our beers, and got to talking about a lot of other things.

I believe places can be haunted. I totally do. I believe there are ghosts, and such things as spirits, mostly unseen and unheard. I don’t know how you can be a Christian, and not believe in them. They are there, in a spiritual world. Thing is, all my life, I have never, never “tempted the spirits.” I’ve never dabbled in anything even remotely, that would make such entities show up. I’ve never visited a fortune teller, never consulted a medium. I would never play with any Ouija Board. That kind of stuff is not for me. I would never walk into a “haunted house’ at night to see what I can see. I just don’t want to go there, I never have. It’s best to leave alone what you don’t understand. That’s how I’ve always felt, what I’ve always believed.

And now, here’s my tenant, a totally rational man, telling me he’s hearing things in my house. Below him, right where I live. I don’t know. I can’t help but believe him. Or at least I believe he’s telling me what he believes he heard. This is an older house. There are all kinds of pipes running through it. Hot water, cold water. And those pipes make all kinds of noises, when they contract and expand. Rational thought, to me, goes like this. I take a shower, every morning. And then I leave. Who knows, what kinds of noises the water pipes make, after all that hot water just flowed through them? Not saying it’s one way or the other. Just saying, that’s where my mind goes, trying to rationalize what the tenant’s telling me. But on the other hand, he’s telling me he heard those footsteps only ten to a dozen times, in the year and a half he’s lived here. It’s all kind of weird.

Other than that freaky clock battery incident, I have never, never felt any presence down here in my part of the house but my own. Never. I’ve never sensed anything. Never seen any “movement” out of the corner of my eye. And I’ve never been afraid. This is my home. This is where I live. You can’t live in fear in your own home.

The next morning, after church, I didn’t get a chance to chat with Pastor Mark. I had to leave a few minutes early, for a cookout more than an hour away. The next day, Labor Day, I was just lounging around that afternoon. And I decided I’d call him. So I did. He didn’t act all that surprised to hear from me, until I hemmed around a bit. Do you believe a house can be haunted? I asked.

“Yes, I believe that,” he answered. “Why do you ask?” Well, I’d come this far. So I plunged right on in. The tenant swears my house is haunted, I told him. A slight pause. He was still on the line. At least he hadn’t hung up on me. Or called me crazy.

“Well, tell me about it,” he said. And I did. Told him all the stuff the tenant had told me. How he had clearly heard footsteps, right down here where I live. Right here, in my house, when no one’s home.

I give the man a lot of credit. How many pastors get a call like that, from anyone attending their church? My house might be haunted. Pastor Mark didn’t blink an eye. He engaged. First, of course, he went through all the rational things. Old house, creaking timbers, creaking floors, thumping pipes. Things that go “bump” in the night. Combine all that with the human imagination, and it’s very real, what you hear. Yeah, yeah, I said. That’s what I told the tenant. I’ve never sensed any presence here, except once. And I told him about the clock battery. He absorbed that. Someone snuck into your house and did that. He didn’t say it. But I could hear him thinking it.

It all doesn’t matter, I guess, I said. I feel no fear. I’ve never felt any fear, living here. But I’m intrigued by what the tenant’s telling me. He’s a rational man. And he’s not leaving, or anything. But I believe him, when he tells me what he heard.

And Pastor Mark told me. There has to be a portal, somewhere, for a spirit to enter and settle. He took the worst case scenario. “Let’s say there was a mass murderer, down there in the basement. And let’s say he slit a whole bunch of victims’ throats, then committed suicide. Right down there, in your basement. Yes, I could see where evil spirits would enter and stay, and haunt your house. But they have no authority, to physically hurt you. They don’t.”

There’s no record of any such thing in my basement, that I’m aware of, I told him.

“That’s the most extreme example,” he said. “There are lesser ways, lesser portals, for a spirit to enter.” And he mentioned an example. I don’t have a problem with that particular thing, I said.

And then I thought about it, and I asked my pastor. Could that portal be alcohol? I drink. More than I should. (I’m fixing to do something about that real soon, now.) Which he already knew. Because I told him. And now I was asking. Could that be it?

He didn’t hesitate. “No,” he said. “That’s a chemical thing, alcohol. That in and of itself will never open your house to any spirit. What you do when you’re under the influence might. But not the alcohol alone. It’s a chemical thing, by itself.”

We chatted for a few more minutes, then wrapped it up. “It could be something natural, like imagination combined with the house creaking. It could be a spirit, or it could just be a mystery,” he said. “We live free in Christ. And in the end, if you want, we can walk through the house and rebuke whatever it is that’s in your home. In the name of Jesus. I’ll be glad to do it. That is your home. You own it. And you can tell anything that shouldn’t be there to leave, because Jesus is Lord over all.”

His words were calming. But still, I wasn’t quite ready to go that far, right now. Look, I told him. I’m leaving soon for a week. The tenant doesn’t want a lot of hassle. So let’s leave it as it is, for right now. I’ve never felt anything, any malevolent force in my home, except maybe for that clock. And the tenant doesn’t seem all that eager, to get anyone else involved. I’m leaving for a week, for the beach. Let’s just wait until I get back, and we’ll go from there. If the tenant keeps hearing things, I’ll get back to you, and we’ll do the walk-through. “Certainly, that’s no problem,” he said. And that’s how we left it.

And that’s where it all is right now. Just resting. Waiting.

And yes, that beautiful magical time is here again. Beach Week. We head out tomorrow, for a full week of relaxation and no drama. And I am beyond ready for it. This has been a tough, tough year. In more ways than one. It’s been a while, since I’ve seen one like it. There have been hard things, there have been sad things, and real joy has been sparse. I have never claimed more than a mustard seed of faith. This year, sometimes, even that tiny little seed seemed to be slipping away. But I grasped it, held on to it, because there was nothing else to do. God is always there, even when He doesn’t seem to be. I know that, and I hold on.

I am so, so tired. Weary, right down to my bones. And I am ready to breathe again the salt air of the sea, to absorb the sound of those crashing, calming waves. Ready to relax and let it all sink in. Ready to rest my heart and cleanse my soul.