Rolling down his window, “Beware,” he said. “There is some beast in there. These old houses. It’s easy for them to hide between floors and the double walls.”
But, I thought, we’re not in the jungle, so I don’t understand why there would be any kind of wild animal in my house.
I said, “You sure you saw something in there?” wondering why a carpenter would do anything other than saw and pound nails, careful not to cut off a limb or drive a nail through his hand.
He should have been paying full attention to installing my new cabinet doors, not worrying about things crawling around the house.
“I for sure saw it, putting my tools away. Out of the corner of my eye. Its eyes lit up like headlights flashing, and I heard its low growl.”
You sure it wasn’t just my dog?” I asked.
He shook his head, looked scared shitless. Perspiring and pale, it seemed he might be experiencing heat stroke.”
“That was no freakin’ dog?” he said. “And wasn’t your dog locked downstairs? Isn’t that what you told me when I came in and you headed out?”
“Well yes,” I said, ‘but she could’ve got through the gate, maybe, and come upstairs.”
He repeated, “That was no dog. No dog I’ve ever seen,” and began rolling up his window.
“Wait,” I said. “How much do I owe you for the job.”
“I’ll send you a bill,” he said, gunning his engine to life and tearing off down the road.
I can’t say he’d put the fear of God into me, but I have to admit I was a bit nervous as I turned the key in the lock and slowly pushed the front door open.
“Oh Doris,” I called out.
She barked from downstairs, from where I’d expect. I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. Looking at the stairs leading up to the third floor, I wondered what the carpenter might have actually seen up there.
He was a big man, young and well built. What did he have to fear from anything that could fit between floors and double walls? There couldn’t be anything very large in such confined spaces, right?
Dropping my grocery bags, I picked up the aluminum bat I keep by my front door to deal with crazy people who might come to my door.
I took off my shoes, not because that’s what you do in Hawai‘i. I wasn’t trying to be sneaky.
Very slowly I walked over the staircase and stood at the bottom, contemplating the empty distance between me and the top floor. I counted the steps. Fourteen. If I were to fall, and least they were carpeted.
Picturing the scene from Psycho, where Martin Balsam climbs the stairs right into the poised kitchen knife of Tony Perkins (aka Perkins’s dead mom).
My kupuna falling class had only a few rules. The first rule is, Don’t Fall. I tried very hard to follow that one. The second rule is, Protect Your Head. I was ready to do that, although I wished at that moment I’d not given away my bike helmet to my friend Scott.
The third rule is, If You Fall, Drop Anything You’re Carrying. I fingered my bat lightly, just enough pressure to wield it if necessary, but slight enough to drop it quickly.
The fourth rule is, If You Fall on a Stairway, Throw Yourself Toward the Railings or Wall To Stop Yourself.
I looked at the wall on one side of me, and the banister guarding the other side of the stairs, built in 1932. They don’t build ’em like that anymore. I was sure they could handle my hurdling weight should the occasion arise.
Finally, after what felt like an hour, I reached the top of the stairs. I walked quickly to the open bathroom door. The carpenter had left some tools behind, littering the floor. Only one cabinet door had been changed. There were still two to go.
Whatever happened to pride in craftsmanship? I mused.
I walked to the first doorless cabinet and knelt. Peering inside, and then poking my bat into the darker back space, I encountered nothing.
Sliding to the second one with no door, I repeated my exploratory procedure. I realized I’d been holding my breath. If I passed out, I’d not be able to employ any of my falling strategies. I took a few deep breaths to calm myself and to oxygenate my brain.
I fingered the handle of the cabinet with the new door. The carpenter had left a flashlight on the floor. I reached for it, feeling oddly like Fox Mulder, about to encounter some unknown entity. One hand for the flashlight, one for the gun, that’s the Mulder and Scully way.
But I didn’t have a gun. Very well, one hand for the flashlight, one for the baseball bat.
Freeing my right index finger from its death-grip on the bat, I hooked it around the door handle. Another few deep breaths helped steady me. The new handle looked good. I congratulated myself on my good choice.
Pulling ever so slowly, I eased open the door, leading with the flashlight, when I wished I’d led with the bat. Oh well.
The beam shone against the back wall, and I could see the open space where the water pipes and the electrical conduits came up from the floor below.
Training the light on the pipes, I took my bat and reached back, then tapped on a pipe.
I tapped again, louder, and then I heard it. A low, deep growl.
My heart began to pump iron, and I broke out in a massive sweat.
I sat backward on the floor hard, thought about protecting my head. All the time I kept the light trained on the pipe area. If it were coming for me, I’d want to look it in the eyes.
And then it hit me. My contract with Terminix. They dealt with all kinds of pests. I pulled my phone from my pocket and dialed them up.
“A what?” the woman asked.
“A beast of some kind. I can hear it growling”
I could hear the puzzled hesitation on her end. “Well, generally we don’t deal with, ah, beasts, but I can send someone out next week Thursday.
“For God’s sake,” I said, please help me now. This is an emergency.”
“Okay okay okay, sir, I’ll find someone who can get to you today.”
I thanked her and hung up. Like a scab you can’t resist, I got back up on my knees and bent into the cabinet again. Again I tapped at the pipes. There was no sound. I tapped again. Nothing.
Breathing a small sigh of relief, I stood up – cautiously, so as not to fall, and made my way downstairs, holding onto the banister all the way down.
I opened the front door and sat on the low stone wall outside. the wait was not as long as I feared. In under 30 minutes, a Terminix van pulled into my driveway.
The young man, a Hawaiian mix, was tall and strongly built. Even more so than the carpenter, I could tell that here was someone who feared nothing. I explained the situation to him, told him how I’d heard the growl twice, but then no more. As I told the harrowing tale, I could see he was holding in a bus load of laughter.
“Okay,” he said, “show me.”
We proceeded up the stairs. I wished he were in the lead, but that would have been rude, following him up and giving him directions. It just didn’t feel right.
I stood back by the door. He walked forward, produced his own flashlight, and got down on his knees. His flashlight was more powerful than the carpenter’s, lighting up the inside of the cabinet as though the sun had risen inside it.
“Do you want my bat?” I asked.
“Not for this,” he said, reaching in for something and then pulling it out.
I recognized the furry creature. It was Marie, my cat.
“This one yours?” he asked.
“Yes yes, that’s Marie, my cat.”
“So you don’t want me to exterminate her?” He smiled.
I laughed. “No no, of course not. But I’ve never heard her growl like that? And I don’t understand how she could’ve got back there.”
“Cats are pretty flexible,” he said, “and some of ‘um will hunt down anything, anywhere.”
I held Marie as I ushered the Terminix man out the door.
“Marie kitty,” I said, stroking her. “Please don’t you ever do that to me again.”
She meowed. The same way she always meowed. How could she growl like that? It didn’t seem possible.
I put her on the floor and headed for the downstairs. Halfway to the bottom I froze. What had he said?
“Some of them will hunt down anything, anywhere.”
Marie was at the bottom, rubbing her face with Doris’s.
Hunt down anything. I had to think long and hard about that. But I never did hear that growl again, and I actually managed to finish installing the other two cabinet doors myself.
The carpenter never sent me a bill, and neither did Terminix. The carpenter also never got back to me about picking up his tools. They’re nice ones.
Every time I use that bathroom, I kneel and open each of the cabinet doors. I look and listen in vain for the sound of that creature again, like I’m practicing some weird religion, this repeated action a picture of some soul picking at that scab I can’t let be. What, if anything did those cabinets conceal? Would I come face to face with whatever it was, the pair of flashing eyes that would match that deep growl.
I always give those secret spaces one last look as I leave the bathroom. But they have yet to reveal what, if anything, they hide. The mystery remains shrouded in darkness to this day.