... a tall, thin shape next to my bed ...
Recalling a mysterious incident that happened during the twenties may set my mind at ease, perhaps revealing some kind of understanding, or yet again, raise further questions. For the many years that it has been an enigma, I have held the belief that I was the only witness.
My mother and younger sister slept in the brass bed. I slept in the trundle bed. A portiere of heavy, woven material guarded the entrance to the bedroom. The bed covers were made of the same cloth. They weighted down the occupants, presumably to keep them still.
There was on tall, narrow window wearing white lace curtains and a heavy, green window shade that, when pulled down, would effectively eliminate every bit of light. The shade was never allowed to cover more than the upper section of the window,
When it was time to sleep, the small electric lamp hanging from the ceiling would be turned off. For a moment the room would be pitch dark. But the soft light of the old fashioned street lamp would soon filter into the room causing the total darkness to disappear. My bed faced the light.
The floor was of dark mission oak. There would be a scatter rug or two, to warm one's bare feet or to stifle any unwanted noise. The colors of the wall paper during this era were misty rose, dusty tans and just a touch of yellow. The paper was decorated with ferns, tiny flowers and medallions. The furniture, composed of dark, stained oak, was square shaped, merely functional.
Was it a shelf or the bureau that held the ebony mantle clock shaped like Napoleon's hat and that fearful, black china leopard? To this very day, as I try to remember the forgotten details, my skin becomes prickly and damp.
One picture hung in this room that somehow enhanced the absence of warmth. It was a brightly colored Victorian painting of a beautiful child lying on a large satin pillow. She was in the process of waking, rubbing her eye with a chubby dimpled hand. Her adoring golden retriever had extended his paw protectively across the body of his mistess. Light, safety, joy and beauty was represented in this gold framed picture. Should it have been in this room?
I was nine years old, my sister, about seven. I awoke suddenly at the sound of the clock on the mantle striking the hour of four in the morning. There was light entering the bedroom from the street lamp. A tall, thin shape was standing close to my bed. Its covering appeared to be a loosely pleated white cloth gathered together at the top, closing neatly over the head. The gleaming garment clung softly, gently circling the nose, the eyes and throat, partly defining, but not revealing its features. Not a sound did it make. It just stood there, unmoving. I bravely reached out to touch it; I am reasonably sure I touched it. Perhaps it was only the bed clothes. It continued to stand there with not the slightest sound or movement. I tucked my head under the bed clothes, making not the slightest move until I heard the spirited cadence of the milkman's horse-drawn wagon coming down the road. It was daylight. It was all right to emerge from the safe darkness of my bed covers. I said nothing of the incident.
The next morning the clock on the mantle again struck the hour of four. The unknown visitor was standing in the very same place beside my bed. I did not reach out to touch it. I buried my head in the covers and did not relate the incident to my mother or sister. The episode repeated itself night after night. My head would disappear into the darkness of my bed covering until I knew daylight had arrived by the sound of the approaching milk wagon.
That black, shiny leopard, poised beside the clock, always faced in my direction. Perhaps he wanted to devour me.
The nightly visits of this unwelcome guest seemed to press on for months. More than likely these calls were not extended for more than a week or two, although it seemed to me as though it had been forever.
I vividly remember one of the stranger's last visits. I had begun to look forward to the dawn as a time of release from my early morning prison. I could hear the rhythmic clippity-clopping of the horse-drawn wagon as it sauntered along its familiar delivery route. I glanced expectantly toward the window. There it stood. My uninvited visitor had noiselessly raised the half-drawn green shade to the very top of the window. He was standing as silent as ever, facing outward, obscuring my view completely, extinguishing any hope of immediate freedom. I retreated, once again, into my cell of safe, smothering bed clothes.
What caused the mantle clock to strike precisely at four A.M. each morning? Why did I not tell someone of my deathly quiet visitor during these many years?
A few months ago I did speak of the unknown caller to my sister. She assured me that she, too, had seen the apparition. She is sure she saw its face. His face evidently did not lend comfort to her. She reacted exactly as had her older sister. She promptly pulled the bed clothes over her head. She related the story to mama. I know that our mother always listened to my little sister, but for some reason known only to herself, she declined to offer a single comment. We will never know whether she, too, witnessed the phenomenon.
I am somewhat relieved to find that it need not have been a figment of my imagination but it does not take away the fear of the dark and the dread of being awakened by a clock on the mantle that spells out the witching hour of four.