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Blame the Diabolical Possession

After removing all possible causes, the eerie rattling sound still echoed.

Leaving one possible explanation:

Charlie’s bathroom was haunted.

Sherlock Holmes would have concluded so. “When you have eliminated the impossible,” the detective said, “whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

We were well beyond the impossible.

The unsettling morning began with my wife coming into my office and jabbing the home phone into my side. My wild gestures indicating “Hello! Trying to work here!” were apparently too subtle.

“It’s Charlie!” she whispered.

Which means I had to answer.

My own father died twenty years ago. When I moved to Westchase in 1998, Charlie ably stepped into his place. We go out to lunch. We mutter at election returns together. He calls to ask if I caught a particular column in the morning paper. And when I get around to calling him back two days later, we have a typical Irish Catholic father-son exchange:

Me: Hey, Charlie. You called to ask me something?

Charlie: Yeah, I did.

Me: Well?

Charlie: “Well, if you actually called me back the same day I called you, I’d actually remember the very important thing I needed to ask you.”

Charlie was educated by the same nuns who honed my mother’s shaming skills.

Charlie’s also a true gentleman, hailing from a generation that understood that if you’re going to curse like a brother trucker, you do it exclusively around other disreputable guys. And you look around very carefully and then whisper it so your wife doesn’t scold you.

Charlie and I share tools and advice. I consult him about landscaping. And because I once accidentally fixed a toilet, he consults me about plumbing.

Which is why a frazzled Charlie called that eerie morning. “There’s a rattling sound like a machine gun going on in my master bath. Could you give it a look?”

In the middle of magazine production, I internally groaned. Whenever I undertake the simplest plumbing repair, I generally lose a long weekend.

But when a good friend calls and announces his master bathroom is shooting at him, a real man goes over, studies the situation, gives his head a sympathetic shake and hands over his plumber’s number.

Moments later I was standing in Charlie’s shower (alone, clothes on) studying the shower caddie and the shower head, which were rattling like all of hell’s demons were shaking the pipes behind the bathroom tile.

“It started right after Evelyn finished her shower!” Charlie said. “It just keeps going!”

He carefully looked around. “Strangest da** thing I’ve ever seen,” he whispered.

I touched pipe between the tile and the showerhead. It was madly vibrating yet no water was flowing.

“Let’s turn the water off to the house and see if it stops.”

So we cranked the shut-off valve in the garage, but couldn’t turn it entirely.

Back in the bathroom the eerie rattling still echoed.

I turned the shower on. Water trickled out and the rattling continued. I reached up to remove the shower head but then thought better of it.

Clearly the valve in the garage wasn’t working.

I looked at my phone and checked the time.

Then I nodded sympathetically and gave Charlie my plumber’s phone number.

Back in my office, the Irish Catholic guilt quickly consumed me.
If the pipe was rattling, there was a leak somewhere I couldn’t see. Probably inside the wall. So when the bathroom wall exploded and drowned Charlie and Evelyn, it would be on my head.

I called Charlie. “Did you call the plumber?”

“He can’t come for three hours.”

Five minutes later, I was kneeling at the curb under the blazing sun, staring into the water meter box, filled with ghastly looking rainwater.

A couple of moldy old frogs looked up at me. And a handful of lizards. And two or three spiders, one of which looked deadly.

Oh, and probably a cobra.

I sucked a deep breathe, plunged my quivering pliers in and torqued the water main shut off.

“It’s still running!” Charlie hollered from the laundry room.

I cursed and plunged again.

“It’s off!” he cried.

Which meant no possible vibration.

We dashed into the master bath. The shower pipe was rattling like a skeleton’s knees in a blizzard.

“The air conditioner’s on this side of the house, isn’t it?!”

Charlie rushed out to poke the thermostat while I ran outside to check that the unit stopped.

The ghastly rattling continued.

“Kill all the power! If that doesn’t stop it, then we’ll know…”

My words drifted off. I had no clue what we’d know.

Charlie looked worried. “Evelyn will have to reset the clocks.”

I pointed at the rattling pipe.

Charlie screwed up his courage and went into the kitchen to ask permission.

Moments later, I threw the main breaker in the house. The TV went off. The ceiling fans died. The garbage disposal went silent.

A lone dog barked in the distance.

Back in the bathroom, the shower pipe still rattled.

Charlie cursed.

“Your house is haunted,” I announced. “Or diabolically possessed, which I’m fairly sure is a violation of Westchase’s deed restrictions.”

Charlie raised a doubting eyebrow. “The devil possesses showerheads?”

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

With one nagging exception. With the water completely off, I simply had to pull off the showerhead and listen inside the pipe like a lunatic. I pulled off the shower caddie and reached up to unscrew the showerhead.

The shower caddie was madly vibrating in my hand.

I nearly screamed in fright, then realized it was highly unlikely the devil was passing from the showerhead into me.

I looked at the possessed caddie.

And handed Evelyn’s rotating facial exfoliator to Charlie.

“Evelyn!” he cried.

Two hours after my wife’s phone jabbing, Evelyn walked into the bathroom. She eyed the exfoliator, her face contorting as she struggled to concoct a believable way to place the blame squarely on her husband.

Failing, she just eyed me.

“You are not going to write about this.”

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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Smackdown in San Juan

The lights flicker once. They flicker twice.

There’s only one way this is gonna end.

The wind and rain rattle the metal louvers and the neighborhood plunges into darkness.

The high school sophomore lets out a shriek.

Because the zombie hiding under her Westchase bed the last 15 years has secretly jumped into her carry-on and is now stumbling down the hallway of her grandparents’ home in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Where six of my in-laws’ seven children, their spouses, 13 of their grandchildren, one of my niece’s boyfriends and me (that’s 25 total for those perplexed by Sunshine Math) are staying in their San Juan home to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Just as Tropical Storm Bertha decides to drop in.

When The Sophomore runs out of air, there are actually two full seconds of perfect stillness before the electric generator coughs, sputters and roars.

Puerto Rican Travel Guide Factoid #76: A significant number of families in Puerto Rico own electric generators because the power company down there is as reliable as your Uncle Louie.

The lights flicker back on.

Only now they’re controlled by a collective dimmer.

A collective dimmer entrusted to a 2-year-old Ritalin junkie, forced to quit elevator buttons cold turkey.

Brighter.

Now dimmer.

Now shuddering on and off.

Cough! Sputter! BACKFIRE!

Now brighter again.

The Sophomore emits little bleats of despair with every change.

Having fled to the 15 by 12 foot bedroom (assigned to my entire family) for some quiet Me Time (necessary to preserve my carefully honed effervescent façade), I now need to flee again. It isn’t the bleating. It’s the relentless generator, muttering and sputtering about being overworked and underpaid, just fifteen feet from the window – and my head. It jack-hammers into my skull, seizes my paltry brain stem and begins beating it to and fro like a punching bag.

TICKETA-TOCKETA-TICKETA-TOCKETA.

I flee downstairs with my book. One group is gossiping in front of the kitchen TV, loudly tuned to Sharknado 2’s tornadic-chainsaw-death screams. Fifteen feet away, another group is gyrating to the Wii Just Dance version of Call Me Maybe. The rival groups take turns throwing looks at each other before cranking their TV’s volume:

Someone’s arm gets ripped off by a hammerhead.

Grumpy look.

Carly Rae Jepsen can now be heard in the Dominican Republic.

Grumpy look.

Ian Ziering’s shark-dicing chain saw is now louder than the generator. It’s not clear which is actually vibrating the house more.

I opt for the concrete veranda, whose vaulted ceiling offers the subtle acoustics of a cathedral hosting the National Convention of Pipe Organ Professionals. A third group is seated there, shouting over a Rummy game involving three full decks of cards and an equivalent number of empty wine bottles. 

Welcome to the Enchanted Island.

The only remaining option being the mosquito- and tropical storm-infested pool patio, I plop into a worn, leather recliner on the enclosed veranda, farthest from the generator.

Forgetting, of course, that when any dad plops anywhere comfortable, it triggers an instinctual reaction in all children within 50 feet. They must immediately fling themselves upon him.

And I was in a home occupied by 11 children under 18.

Anna, 1, is the first to toddle over and flop across me. “Hi!” she cries.

“Hi!” I say back. I stubbornly look back down at my book.

She reflops. “Hi!” she shouts louder.

I effervescently smile at her. “Hi!” I say firmly. Back to the book.

“HI!” she screams.

Jealous of the quality time Anna’s getting, her brother Nathan, 2, scales my legs, pulls my book down and actually roars like a lion.

Still reading.

Anna wanders off, intent on knocking more picture frames off tables. But Josh, 3, now arrives with a handful of miniature monster figurines he found in his dad’s old bedroom. Nathan trots out another roar. Two small plastic monsters begin a loud, threatening conversation inches from my ear.

Monster 1: “I’m going to eat Uncle Chris!”

Monster 2: “NOOOO! I’m going to eat Uncle Chris!”

Nathan: “ROOAAAARRR!”

I still ignore them. Because it worked with Anna.

And because my grandmother insisted that if you simply ignore people who are bothering you, they’ll go away.

The monsters start dancing on my cheek.

Because ignoring boys stopped working sometime around World War II.

I foolishly go on ignoring.

One monster is now dancing a merengue on my forehead. The other has jammed itself into my right eye under my eyeglasses.

“I’m going to wipe poop on you!” Josh suddenly cries. He holds his finger out threateningly. Nathan eyes him.

Half blind, I can’t really see if there really is poop on his finger. Given how many diaper changes I’ve witnessed over the last three days, it’s a distinct possibility. So I trot out the big guns. “If you wipe poop on me, I’m gonna take a big one out of my pocket and stick it in your ear.”

Josh screams and dashes away. Nathan screams and follows him.

Having only had daughters that would have avoided me for a week after such a threat, I thought I was actually free to read.

Boys, however, are different. If you threaten to stick poop into the ear of a 3-year-old boy, that 3-year-old boy will fully commit himself to determining just how far he must go before said poop winds up in said ear.

The finger returns.

WWE SmackDown it is.

I drop the book and give chase. Josh screams and runs. Both TVs edge louder. I dash into the kitchen, study the possibilities, and quickly dip a cookie into the Nutella jar.

Josh dashes in, finger extended. I whirl around. He spots the gloppy poop. A horrified look splays across his face. He pitches a scream that could peel paint off a wall.

His mother rushes in from the Rummy game. “What are you doing?!” she cries at him.

He points. “He’s gonna put poop in my ear!”

She looks at me.

I shrug and pop the poop in my mouth.

“It’s time for bed!” she says.

Which sounds like a wonderful idea.

So I climb the stairs. Ten minutes later, I flop into bed and lay my head against the vibrating wall.

TICKETA-TOCKETA-TICKETA-TOCKETA.

And let out a happy sigh.

By Chris Barrett, WOW Pooplisher

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