Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Just as in the Christmas poem, not a creature was stirring, but it soon became a nightmare. All alone in my dead grandfather’s three-story house for the first time since we’d moved in, I had been an excited teenager, feeding the cows and horses and generally taking care of business on our Woody Creek ranch. The rest of the family had gone on vacation somewhere, leaving me in charge. That night, sleep was elusive and as the day’s events rolled through my mind, I was suddenly put on guard.
The back door, off the downstairs kitchen, creaked slowly open, which at first made me think perhaps I’d left it ajar and a dog had wandered in. Instantaneously, my heart began to pound as human footsteps could be heard entering the house; then, the sound of the door slowly being latched. Whoever it was turned from the door to face the interior of the house, and slowly, no, methodically, began walking through the kitchen, one thudding footstep after another, into the hallway and stopped at the bottom of the stairs.
My first thought was to get up and lock the bedroom door, but on some primal level that seemed cowardly, and besides, if I started moving around, it might give the intruder a good take on my location. Instead, I lay there, breathlessly listening for any unfamiliar sound. It was quiet for a time, as though the intruder was assessing which direction to go ” up the stairs toward me or continue through the rooms on the first floor.
Then, as in an ugly dream, the plodding footsteps began their journey up the stairs, one slow rise at a time. Who the hell could this be? Why hadn’t the dogs barked? They’d been barking earlier, at a coyote I’d thought, but maybe this interloper had tossed them some camouflaged poison and bought the stillness he needed for whatever malicious deed was about to transpire. My guns were in the closet on the far side of the room, but still, maybe that would be an overreaction. Wait and see, I kept telling myself.
Soon, it was apparent the unseen stranger had reached the top of the stairs, and quiet settled in again. My room was about 15 feet down the hallway, and it was getting difficult to remain still and breathe silently, although my eyes remained intently fixed upon the bedroom door. Sure enough, it was no surprise when the steps resumed, coming down the hall in my direction. I was scared, there’s no doubt, but I was getting angry, as well, cussing this person for taking control of my emotions in the middle of the night.
The treading of the irresistible boots stopped directly in front of my room and now the darkness was pierced by brilliant, adrenaline-laced colors flashing through my mind, a call to action that was almost impossible to stifle. If I allowed myself to move a muscle, or even flinch, I knew I’d bolt toward the doorway, giving up every defensive tactic I could think of. Better to wait and let the intruder commit before I stepped into a trap.
I fell asleep staring at the door, waiting for the next shoe to fall, so to speak. When I awoke, my fear was gone and examination of the house found no one there. Everything was as I had left it.
Each night, the same thing happened, and after the second or third repetition, I began to smile at the predictability of such a seemingly supernatural event. When my father returned, I eagerly presented him with the idea that something extraordinary had taken place in his absence. Before I could truly begin, however, he reiterated to me, in detail, an almost exact replay of my experience. He said that as a youth, it happened to him every time he spent the night alone in that very house.
Is the house haunted? As good an explanation as any, I reckon.
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