Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:35 AM
At 3:13 on Wednesday morning, I heard Tess coming downstairs and into our bedroom. "Mom," she whispered, "Daniel needs his covers back on."

My kids sleep through the night 98% of the time, but once in a while I have a mission like this handed to me. I followed Tess back upstairs, covered up Daniel, assured him that yes, he could sleep, and went back downstairs.

As I was climbing back into bed, I froze, because I suddenly realized that the dryer was on.

I went from half-asleep, Mom-task-completed status to fight-or-flight/DEFCON 1/Red Alert in a millisecond.

We have a walk-out garage/basement with a door from the driveway to Patrick's office and French doors to the (dungeon) workout/food storage area. When Patrick is out of town, you can bet that I check those locks compulsively, but when he's home, we are less than vigilant about security. We live in a tiny town with a National Crime Index of 8 (out of 100); we've always felt pretty confident of our safety.

The washer and dryer are in the area of the basement directly under our bed, and there's an air conditioning vent right by my side through which I can hear laundry cycles completing themselves. Before we went to bed Tuesday night, I sat for an hour on my bed writing with no TV or music on, so if the dryer had been on then, I definitely would have noticed it. The last time I'd turned the dryer on had been at 5:00 earlier that evening, and the cycle runs about an hour at most.

So why was the dryer on at 3:17 a.m.? Had Christian been sleepwalking (something he hasn't done for years) and gone down and turned it on? Not likely: a) as good a kid as he is, he never does laundry of his own volition; and b) if he'd gone downstairs, it would have awakened me, the way Tess's footsteps on the carpeted stairs woke me up. The basement door is right outside our bedroom.

I couldn't figure out how to explain it away and let myself go back to sleep. I hated to do it, but I had no choice: I woke up Patrick. "Honey, the dryer is on," I whispered. He sprang into action, recognizing that something was very wrong. "Are all the kids still in their beds?"

Is there a DEFCON Negative 23? If so, I attained it in that moment. I knew Tess and Daniel were safe, but what about the others? Patrick went to check; I sat on the bed and tried to come up with a viable hypothesis for the dryer situation. We'd had a spectacular thunderstorm during the night; had a power surge somehow tripped the dryer's electronic brain? But it would have to be a power surge tiny enough not to affect the clocks, which were perfectly normal.

"The kids are fine," Patrick reported, then took his uber-manly self downstairs to scope out the basement. He had our giant flashlight with him, which I'm sure would make a fine bludgeonly weapon, if needed.

I began rueing my many hours spent in the virtual company of Mr. Stephen King, because all the lessons he has ever taught me came flooding back in vivid detail:

1) The scariest stories are always set in peaceful small towns of uncommon natural beauty.

2) Only foolish, peripheral characters who end up dead (or undead) ignore or try to explain away strange phenomena like household appliances starting up of their own accord.

3) The protagonist usually loses a loved one (or six) in the battle against evil.

4) There is no help available: not the folks at the other end of 9-1-1, not neighbors, not faithful household pets. All these potential allies can end up being worse than the perceived threat.

5) Never, ever split up. The one who ventures out/up/down alone, flashlight in hand, is almost always the character who exits the stage first.

"You okay, Honey?" I tried to keep the quaver out of my voice. I heard Patrick open the dryer. "These clothes are still wet," he called up--the clothes I'd put in to dry at 5 o'clock. He started the dryer again, locked all the downstairs doors, and came upstairs.

He checked the front porch, providing us with a Hitchcockian moment of comic relief when he accidentally rang our very loud doorbell in the process. An electronic rendition of the classic Westminster Chimes melody blared through the house. Tragically, we knew we'd now awakened our neighbors across the street; they have the identical wireless doorbell, and any visitor to either house always sets off both devices.

After laughing with shame over the plight of poor, innocent John and Mary, we lay in the dark for at least another half hour trying to figure out what had happened. Then Patrick went downstairs again, only to find out that the laundry hadn't gotten any drier during our obsession session. "I think the heating element is broken," he said. Great, I thought, Not only is it possessed, it's gonna need a $200 repair to boot. Repairman or excorcist: which should I call first?

Now it was after 4:00. Fear had worn me down; adrenaline abandoned me and let me crash on my own. I was too tired to fight. Patrick fell asleep first, and I eventually drifted off myself.

What else could we do?
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On 21/6/07 , Radioactive Jam said...

This would make a fine spooky story if some elements weren't broken.

Okay yes, it does either way.

On 21/6/07 , Anonymous said...

Not to freak you out, but Samuel and I could not come up with a rational explanation for this other than your house is possessed. Sorry to be the one to tell you.

PS Watch out for the clown in your closet! It has very long arms and a lot of Jell-o.

On 21/6/07 , Annette Lyon said...

See, this is exactly why I don't read Mr. King. Although I did have a stint at age 12 when I would sneak downstairs to watch "Hitchcock Presents" by myself--and freak out as I tiptoed back to bed in the dark. Hope you get to sleep tonight and the *vacuum* doesn't start up by itself or something!

On 21/6/07 , Christine said...

I don't know if this will make you feel any better... We did have a somewhat similar experience...ours had to do with the latch on the dryer door. I (or my husband, yes, he OFTEN does laundry!) started a load. It started up fine but evidently the door wasn't latched properly, so at some point during the cycle the door was nudged out enough to stop the dryer. Then hours later, something happened (the house settled, dog walked by...who knows) that nudged it back into place enough that the cycle continued. We could hear this from our seats on the couch. We exchanged wide eyed and questioning stares. We have the 'small house luxury' of being able to see all of our sleeping children from the couch. And knowing there is no direct door to, what was then, the laundry room -no red alert system was required. Our hypothesis of the cause was confirmed later in the month when the same thing happened while I was standing next to the dryer. OUR ghost was exorcised by the shifting of a couple screws.
You still might need a new heating element, but these things do happen... every once in a great while... on a dark and stormy night.

On 22/6/07 , Akelamalu said...

Having blogged about a similar happening with our dishwasher recently, this really made me laugh!
Congratulations on the Rising Blogger Award.

On 22/6/07 , bubandpie said...

See? This is why I never read Stephen King. It would be one thing if it never got dark...

On 22/6/07 , Heather B. Moore said...

Pretty creepy. I'm glad it wasn't as Stephen King-ish as you thought. I don't know why my kids do this, but when they need something in the middle of the night, they just stand there staring at me. It's kind of freaky to wake up with someone staring at you.

There's a reason I don't ready scary stories after dark :)

On 22/6/07 , Brillig said...

Haha! What a crazy story!

And yeah... no scary reads after dark for me either!

On 22/6/07 , Melessa said...


On 23/6/07 , rjlight said...

See--those Stephen King novels have come back to haunt you!

On 23/6/07 , Luisa Perkins said...

Okay, you guys, I'm GLAD I had Mr. King's lessons up my sleeve. Who knows what foolishness I might have attempted had I not learned otherworldly wisdom at his knee? I might have ended up a peripheral character in the story of my own life! ;)

On 23/6/07 , Lucy Stern said...

I think every house has a ghost, ours is in the dining room. The light bulbs will click off and on while we are eating dinner. We just shrug our shoulders and say, "it's the ghost" then go about eating.

On 25/6/07 , Julie Wright said...

i would have had a nervous breakdown in this situation. I had a similar one after reading Jeff Savage's national novel. There's a scene where the character is all alone in the darkl. Her flashlights don't work, the power is out and her dog, who was barking, goes quiet. A week later my husband went out of town and took the kids with him. I was all alone and the dog came racing out of the back bedroom barking like crazy at the front door and then the power killed off. I screamed like a little girl, I'm ashamed to say, and do you think I knew where any of those flashlights were??? I cursed Jeff that whole night!

On 25/6/07 , rjlight said...

Congratulations by the way (for the rising blogger) , you so deserve it! This post was so awesome!

On 25/6/07 , Luisa Perkins said...

Thanks, everyone!

Julie, clearly I need to read Jeff's book next.