The cottage is creepy, all right. How creepy? Bed and breakfast creepy. (Don't mean to get sidetracked here, but whenever I end up in one of those large dusty-shabby doilyful knickknacky places, with a collection of dolls staring down at me when I try to sleep, I wish I had opted for a chain hotel instead. Bland is not as bad as you think.) Anyway, our Maine cottage is like an extreme bed and breakfast, two hundred thousand years old, with broken toys, broken seashells, bleached barnwood walls, and a smell of salt and death. The kids are one hundred percent bases full all hands on deck creeped out. They were already in freak mode, counting the cemeteries on our road into town (sixteen!). Now they are standing in the kitchen jibbering at me, arms waving, faces twitching, voices rising into the ether.
There's a baby Jesus with an arm missing! There's a cover thing on top of the vacuum cleaner to make it look like a maid! There's a stuffed dog! There's spider webs everywhere! Inside I am rolling my eyes (can you do this? Roll your eyes inside yourself, I mean) and cursing, but I smile, and try to sound like calm old reasonable old boring old Dad. There there, I say, and, I'm sure you'll get used to it, and, Spiders are our friends. Then I take them grocery shopping. Things begin to look better to all of us as we discover American junk food (You can't get that flavour at home) and an entire aisle dedicated to cheap wine. A week at a bed and breakfast, I say to myself. Not so bad. That night I am awoken from a semi-vinous sleep by something large landing on my bed. Four somethings, I should say. My children are in my downstairs bedroom. Sam (Apache Chief, that is) turns on the light. Imo (Michilimackinac) speaks for them.
The place is haunted! she says. Huh? There's a ghost upstairs! In my room. I can hear it. We can all hear it! Can't we, guys? I am not quite awake. There's a what? I say. Dad, we want to sleep here!
They all nod. They have brought blankets, I see. They curl up on the bed (fortunately queen sized) like puppies. Shivering scared puppies. I don't know whether to laugh or pinch their cheeks. They are soooo cute! But I am soooo unlikely to get any sleep if they are all on the bed. I try for practical. Look, guys, I know it's a creepy looking place. But it's not haunted, I say. It can't be. Come on, go back to bed.
No, they say.
You can share, I say. Girls in one room boys in the other. It'll be fun, I say.
I am yawning deeply. They shake their head, and curl up even tighter on my bed.
We're not leaving, says Ham Hock. My will is weak. I cannot force them back to their own beds. If they won't leave, I will. Five minutes later I am upstairs in the ghost room, alone. I turn out the light and start the smooth smiling effortless drift back towards sleep. And then the rapping begins. It's on the wall beside my head. Tap tappa tap. Then nothing. Then, after a moment, Tappa tap tappa.
I turn over.
Tappa tappa tappa tap. Tap tap.
No denying it. It isn't ghosts, but it's something. I sit up and turn on the light.
Probably animals. I pound on the wall. Which rattles a shelf full of knickknacks overhead. A thing rolls off and lands on the floor, startling me.
It's a doll. She's bald and sort of naked, with wide open eyes and a shocked expression. For a half second I wonder if I am in a Stephen King short story, where the doll will open her mouth and speak to me. I put her back on the shelf. And lie down. My heart is moving a bit too fast for sleep. I keep the light on for a bit.
It's going to be a long night.