I’ve heard fists pounding on my bedroom door, only to open up and find no one there.
When I was crashing on my dad’s couch one summer, he woke in the middle of the night and saw a translucent woman hovering above my sleeping body. Then there was that weird entity in my college apartment that took milk jugs out of the trash can and tossed them across the room.
But for some reason, I still didn’t believe in ghosts. Until I met Florence.
That’s what my future wife and her sister called the thing that lived with them on West Side. It would flush the toilet at random times, send alarm clocks blaring at 3 a.m. and stomp around the bedrooms of their townhouse apartment when no one else was upstairs.
I never witnessed any of that, though. So, being a fun-hating dipwad, I teased them for being paranoid.
Then the fire happened.
We were unloading an obscene haul from Sam’s Club one day. We’d bought a package of toothbrushes and set them atop the gas stove.
Now: in order for this story to land its punch, you have to know a thing or two about the stove. It was old, and you really had to push on the stove knobs to ignite the gas. It was like opening a child-proof pill bottle. They weren’t something you could just bump and engage.
We were stacking the last of the groceries into the refrigerator – on the other side of the kitchen – when we smelled something strange: burning plastic.
We turned and saw a fire blooming around one of the burners. The poor toothbrushes were engulfed.
Panicked, we extinguished the blaze. My wife looked around the kitchen, wide-eyed.
Not cool, Florence, she said.
After that, a weird tension filled the kitchen. One night I got up to get a glass of water, and when I walked downstairs it felt like the kitchen was encased in a bubble of dread.
Nausea riddled my stomach. Whatever you do, my subconscious whimpered, don’t go in that kitchen.
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