Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Defcon Elevated


Do you pay attention to the hair on the back of your neck?

I do.

There's an abandoned car by the road. We live in the middle of nowhere along a highway. The last couple of times there was a car by the road or near our house, we were robbed. So you can see why my hair goes up when a car is stopped near here.

Oh, people have gotten stuck in the ditch. People have run out of gas. One guy even got a flat in front of our house and did a 360 when he braked to get off the road. These people hang around for a bit. They knock on the door. They ask for help. They talk until the adrenaline wears off a bit and they go on their way. Most people who have stopped along our section of the highway are decent people with a bit of trouble.

The night we moved into this house twenty-five years ago, we heard a loud dull thud at about midnight. Then, the doorbell rang. That night, Mike and I took up our new roles. I answered the door and Mike stood at the bottom of the stairs, out of his sight, with a gun in his hands. The kid at our door was white as a sheet.

This was before most people had cell phones.

"Can I use your phone?" he panted.

"Um. Are you okay?" I said calmly. I held tightly to the door. I wasn't about to let a total stranger into my house without an explanation.

"I ran into a ditch. There was a dog. Maybe it was a coyote. I ran into the ditch. My car is ... I didn't want to hit him. I went off the road. Oh man, my dad is going to be so mad." He rambled. He started to sweat, but he began to breathe too, gasping for air as if he'd been held under water for too long. It's a little freaky when there's someone with very white skin at your door who doesn't appear to be breathing. Gasping was a good sign. Then I signaled Mike an okay and brought the poor boy inside and sat him on our couch with the phone. He called his dad and told the whole story again to him, breathing a little more evenly by the time he was done. The boy's dad showed up to get him. Nice people, really. They both thanked us profusely.

The next day, the police showed up and asked if we thought this kid had been drinking. I told him that he hadn't been. I hadn't smelled alcohol. I had liked this kid. I had believed he was telling the truth. I had already heard coyotes howling in the night.

There are a lot of decisions to make when you open your door to a stranger. Is it safe to open the door in the first place? Except for once, I have always opted to open my door when people rang the doorbell or knocked. That once, a woman banged on my door and screamed for someone to let her in. I silently looked at her from the upstairs window and was totally freaked when she suddenly stopped screaming, turned around, and looked straight into my eyes through the window. That time, I got 9 and 1 dialed on my phone, and just waited for her next move with my thumb over the last 1. I stared down at her. She stared up at me. Then, she slowly turned her head back to the door, turned around and walked away. I never knew what that woman wanted. I didn't want to know.

Another time, Nick and his friend said there were a couple of guys in a truck by the mailboxes. One of them came to the door, but I'd been in the shower and I hadn't been able to get to the door in time. I made the boys stay in the house and lock the door. I told them to look out the window at me and call 9-1-1 if they were worried about what was happening. Two guys were sitting in a truck. I pretended to get the mail. I screwed up my courage, walked in their direction, and yelled to them.

"Do you need any help?"

A tattooed guy rolled down the passenger side window. I'm not fond of the idea of a tattooed guy getting out of his truck near my house.

"We ran out of gas."

Right. That's a classic story. I didn't walk any closer to them. I peered into the windshield to see the driver. He was fiddling with his cell phone. He rolled down his window and leaned his head out.

"Somebody from the office is going to come with gas. They might take a while, but they can come."

It's in a person's tone. I listen for any tightness of tone. I look at how their eyes meet mine, or don't. I want to hear them talk. Are they cautious? I want to see how they breathe. Even in an emergency, people breathe differently than they do when they're up to something. I don't want to see any shifting or calculations. This guy had an open face. He was frustrated, but not dangerous looking.

"I can get you some gas but it's up at my garage." I actually turned my back on these two to walk back to my garage to get the tank for the mower. They got out and followed me. I wished I had some excuse to make them walk ahead of me. Thankfully, they didn't follow me into the narrow place where I unlock the door to the garage. I hoped they wouldn't look too closely at the expensive tools in the garage.

"Do you want me to leave my license with you?" the driver said. They stood back from the garage door as it opened. Oh these guys are okay.

"Naw. There isn't much gas in here, enough to get you down the road. Bring back the can or don't. It doesn't matter that much. This thing is old and beat up and my husband could use a new one." I tried not to emphasize the 'down the road' part of my message. They might be decent guys, but my motivation was to get them moving along.

Those guys filled the tank at the gas station and brought it back to a spot next to the garage door. I didn't even hear them come. I actually like when I can help people who are stuck.

What I don't like is when I smell that someone has been in my yard. Yes, I said smell.

Have you ever stood too close to a homeless person and smelled a sick, chemical smell?

That's what I smelled today when I went out to the car to take Teddy for a walk, a sick, sweaty, chemical smell. I got into the car and sat there for a moment. The hairs on the back of my neck rose. That smell was not a part of the normal flora and fauna of the area. The air in my driveway usually smells like balsam. Occasionally, when the landscaping company down the road gets delivery, the smell of manure floats around for a day or two. This was not manure. I grew up in the Midwest. I know the smell of manure.

Finally, I got back out of my car and let Teddy out too. It's good to have a big dog loose near you sometimes.

"I SMELL YOU!" I yelled toward the abandoned car. I amped it up a bit, but I was careful not to go too far into a threatening tone. "I SMELL YOU AND I KNOW YOU'RE THERE. IT'S TIME FOR YOU TO MOVE ALONG," I yelled trying to sound authoritative but not quite ready to scream into the air that I would kill it.

I heard some dull thuds, as if someone fell against a wall. I turned toward the sound


I tried to look calm and serious as I turned and opened the door for Teddy and got back into my car. I sat for a moment before I put on my seat belt. Teddy hadn't left my side. He hadn't danced around or picked up a stick or wandered around sniffing anything. The hair was still up on the back of my neck.

I backed my car up and aimed down the driveway. I didn't see anything. If I left, would someone see that as an opportunity to break into my house?

I pulled out onto the highway and fumbled with my headset. Mike. Mike would know what to do, if I should go back, if I should call the police. I left a long message for him and nearly arrived at the park to meet my friend when Mike called back.

We decided that I should go back home, check out the abandoned car, and call the police. I quickly called and canceled the walk with my friend. When I got home, I put Teddy on leash and walked with him  to the road to look into the abandoned car. It was full of junk, had a flat tire, and I noticed a small generator like the one we owned on top of all the junk. It was work to keep Teddy on the ditch side of me while I walked and looked. I didn't smell anything.

I walked back past the mail boxes and looked into all the buildings on the lower part of the neighbor's property, the pump house, the tank house for our community well. I clicked on lights and looked for anything that might be disturbed. Our neighbors were neat people. The buildings were well organized inside. Their shed was locked and looked secure. Then I walked back to our property. Our shed was locked tight. I popped the clicker to the garage door. It looked the way it should. Teddy walked with me casually. The hair on the back of my neck was comfortable and flat. I even walked down to the old dog run that we've never used for Teddy and leaned over to see into the old dog house. Nothing. I didn't notice any footprints around this area. I looked all the way around our house and still saw nothing.

When I went inside our house, I looked in every room. Nothing. I rehearsed what I was going to say to the police. I was not going to tell them I smelled a man who was probably on drugs. Maybe I should have, but it just sounded too crazy.

'I'm sorry to bother you, but I smelled someone at my house today.' I could imagine the look on the face the dispatch officer after saying that. I told her the license plate number, the make and model of the car. I told her that the last two times a car had been left here, we'd been robbed. It was true. I told her that I was just not feeling right about the situation, that I didn't feel safe. And then I got off the phone.

Then I stewed and stalked back and forth looking out the front window. The damned car was still there. Mike texted me, saying I should have told them I smelled a dead body, that they'd be out in a flash if I said that. I texted him to say that the smell was gone. I was beginning to imagine there was nothing to worry about.

I stewed a little longer, made myself some lunch, and looked out the window while I noodled around on the computer. When it was time for the bus, I donned my rain coat and went outside to wait. Not even a fifteen year old would get off the bus by himself today.

Everything looked fine. Nothing was disturbed. The well house was still empty. When the kids got off the bus, the neighbor kid said he'd seen the truck stop by the side of the road and turn off his lights. He'd said the driver got out of the truck and ducked down out of sight. The neighbor kids was kind of freaked out and nodded his head when I said I'd smelled a person in my driveway. I told him that if he were uncomfortable, he could call and we could be there in two minutes. I said he could hang out with us if he wanted. Then, I sent Nick up to his house with him to do a walk through before leaving the boy at home alone.

When Nick came back down the driveway, he grinned and gave me the thumbs up. I was glad I'd sent the two of them on their own. Walking back to the house, Nick told me how he'd protect us. Karate, marksmanship. I think he would.

Then, on the uphill side of our driveway, much too far from the highway to have been tossed, we found an empty water bottle and a single fresh footprint in the dirt.

Defcon elevated. Patrols required. I'll let you know if I start carrying my gun.

Thank you for listening, jules

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