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TRIGGER WARNING: ANIMAL DEATH
Everything seemed normal. We were in the parking garage underneath our building; Shaun and I had just arrived home after our friends' bachelor/bachelorette BBQ. I don't even remember what we were talking about, but we were interrupted when we noticed two of our neighbors running into the garage, one of them holding a distressed looking bulldog.
I suddenly felt sick. Clearly something was wrong; this dog did not look well. His tongue was hanging out and he was slumped into the woman's arms.
Shaun and I sat there for a minute, horrified. We wondered what we should do. As we got out of the car, I could hear the couple talking in terror-stricken voices a few parking spots over from where we were standing. The whispered hysteria reminded me of when I was 12 years old and my sister's birth father passed away from a heart attack in the middle of the night. That feeling when you don't know exactly what's happening, but you know that something is dreadfully WRONG.
We looked back to see the the couple standing next to their car, crying and gasping for breath. The dog was presumably inside the vehicle.
Shaun asked if they were OK and if there was anything we could do to help. They couldn't form sentences or even words. They were too distraught. My voice cracked from crying. I could only offer a weak, "I'm so sorry."
The four of us stood there, essentially paralyzed... by shock, grief, confusion, and most of all, fear.
I started hyperventilating. I didn't think about it; it just happened. I couldn't breathe; my chest hurt. It felt like my throat was constricting. Shaun and I walked towards the elevator lobby, my entire face covered in the tears that were pouring out of my eyes.
We didn't speak. We took the elevator up to our apartment. I still couldn't breathe properly and I couldn't stop crying. It was like there was no air, like time was just stuck. Over and over I kept picturing the dog and the expressions on the faces of the man and woman, like a repeated video on Instagram. It felt so unspeakably awful, like it was going to cycle from start to finish forever.
I tried to imagine why I felt such panic about two people that I didn't know and a dog I had never seen before. It was just a little over a year ago that Shaun and I had to euthanize our own dog, Wilhelmina, who at age 15 had multiple health problems and eventually stopped eating. But that didn't feel like a proper explanation. With Willi we at least had the grim luxury of deciding when her end would be. It wasn't late at night in a parking garage.
There was nothing to be said; nothing to be done. Shaun and I walked upstairs to our apartment, unlocked the door, and greeted our own dog, Dora, who we'd brought home before Willi got sick and who was there with us when she died.
Never had the void loomed so large or looked so dark and ugly.
The telltale sign that you’re close to a dead body, according to the movies and TV, is the razor sharp hum of a fly buzzing just out of view. I’ve never seen a fresh corpse in my life, so I can’t attest to this phenomenon of insectine pathetic fallacy, but I can say that flies are deeply connected to my idea of death. They feast on our dead flesh, lay eggs on us and rear children in the pools that were once functioning tear ducts - they thrive on our expiry as a reflex. We die and a thoughtless process begins, birthing countless black dots with wings.
In the wake of my Oma’s passing, her four daughters converged on her remote house in the Lanark Highlands - a region of Ontario characterized by dynamite blasted roads and moths the size of Halloween masks. It was summer time, I was twenty-four, and my brother and I had joined my mother on one of these heirloom allocation expeditions. By the end of the day, I would come away with three items of various importance: a toolbox filled with my Opa’s wrenches and screwdrivers, an ornamental boomerang that I never got to work, and a Ouija Board from my mother’s childhood made before she was born.
Ouija is a lot like the boomerang I took from my Oma’s mantle. The designs printed on it are attractive, its status as a cultural symbol overshadows any practical use, and I can’t claim to have gotten either object to work in my favour. I stood on the lawn that day, surrounded by the rocky outcroppings that give Lanark such a unique atmosphere, and chucked that boomerang for what felt like hours, never getting it to curve through the air and return to me. It felt like using a piece of plastic and particle board to talk to the dead - something I can perfectly visualize in my minds eye, but can’t possibly achieve in real life.
For all the similarities, there is a key difference between the boomerang and the Ouija board. The hidden knowledge that can turn a curved stick into a boomerang is (I hear) learnable, but spirit boards run on things your mind will never share. The going theory on Oujia, as I touched on a couple of weeks ago when I wrote on the topic of evil board games, is that it exploits ideomotor response, which is essentially a reflex triggered by outside stimulus. Ouija conjures the illusion of conversation by allowing you to bypass your conscious mind. Wikipedia gives the example of a knee jerking when hit with a hammer (which is another item I had in my Opa’s tool box).
Having failed to discover the occult knowledge of the boomerang, I entered the house where my grandmother had died. Silver cutlery carpeted the floors, perfectly arranged by my aunts, and the many pendulum clocks the I had grown used to as part of the house’s architecture had, for the first time ever, become separate objects. When I would stay in my Oma’s home, I would sleep on the upper floor, with a door that opened up into the attic crawlspace that had always remained closed for reasons of scariness.
To access the stairs that lead to that room for visitors, I had to pass the room where my Oma had died. Prior to that moment, the chair room as I’d come to call it, was defined by two aspects. First, it was the room with the TV, so when we’d visit, my brother and I would hook up our Playstation in there. Second, it was the room with the sliding door that motivated my Oma to invest in a home security system.
She told my brother and I, at the same time that she told our mother (I think it was breakfast around the year 2000), that she had awoken in the middle of the night to the sound of loud banging. Exiting her bedroom, she followed the noise to the chair room, where a man stood in near complete darkness, opening and closing her sliding door. It's one of those heavy ones that makes a sucking noise when you open it.
That used to be the scary thing that happened in the chair room. Then my mother sat with my Oma as she died, exiting without using the historied sliding door or setting off an alarm.
I ascended the stairs with those ideas on my mind. My brother and mom were in the guest room looking through boxes with the door to the attic crawl space wide open. A single incandescent light was on, and it smelled like wood and maybe mothballs. I entered to see if I could find anything worth grabbing for myself that would rival the Jacques Cousteau Society sticker books by brother had found.
The main area was filled with old linens and clothes, but as I turned to exit I noticed a dark area that extended beyond the threshold of the door to its right, with a ball-chain indicating another light bulb. I pulled the chain and the dim light illuminated a familiar sight: a board with the words “yes” and “no” framing the letters of the alphabet and numbers zero through nine, underlined by a foreboding “goodbye”.
My moment of discovery was cut short with a hum coming from the light above my head. Looking up I saw it was covered with a swarm of large flies, all crawling and buzzing their wings; none were flying. I retrieved the spirit board and took it to show my brother and mom.
Things seemed darker. The light felt muted. My mother was excited to see her old game and I elected to keep it as part of my haul. The darkness felt tangible though, dampening my spirits, and I wondered if all my exploratory boomeranging had actually given me heat stroke, or maybe the grief of looting a dead woman’s house had tuckered me out. I returned to the main floor to grab a glass of water, intending to make my way to the kitchen via the chair room.
Turning right at the bottom of the stairs and entering the chair room - Playstation room, the crazy man room, the room where she had died - I saw the source of the darkness. The humming had followed me from that once closed door, now open. Countless fat flies blacked out the panel windows, buzzing and crawling, but never flying.