Iistood in the woods behind my house, looking for something I knew that I would never find. My wife had long before given up trying to talk me out of my daily search. So many questions remained unanswered and, if there were any answers, the questions would be too incredible to ask but, I’m starting at the probable end of the story. I should begin at the beginning.

It was a perfectly normal autumn evening at my house: all of my family was sitting around the TV watching ‘Sixteen Candles’ for the twelfth time. My wife was in her customary fetal position on the couch wearing her infamous fat clothes. You know the ones I mean: the size 22 sweat-pants surrounding her size seven frame.

She tells me that wearing big clothes makes her feel smaller than she really is, so that she can eat more to get bigger. I gave up long ago trying to understand her rationale and since I’m already in a size 36 pants, I have a tendency to keep my mouth shut. My daughter was half watching the TV and creating her never-ending supply of color-filled pictures. I was in my favorite rocker contemplating whether or not to make myself the second scotch of the evening.

I had the movie memorized five showings ago but still sat there, hoping I might see a new twist of plot, or maybe even find a plot. Who would have thought that an irrational sound from a simple machine would change all of our lives.Life in York Beach, Maine, was said to be everyone’s dream. Living just a stone’s throw from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world was described as living in a little piece of heaven. The serenity of the ten months of the year that were considered the off-season had to calm you down. Even the insanity, of the remaining two months of summer, was looked forward to, for both its coming and going. I never had to worry about my daughter walking herself to the bus stop. I even got into the habit of forgetting to lock my car and house. You didn’t have to tell me that I was one lucky guy.

Most urbanites looked down upon this type of lifestyle because it wasn’t exciting enough. I figured it was because they were afraid to slow down, in horror that it was analogous with growing old.A favorite time of year was upon us. The time just after all the summer people went home and gave the beach back to those of us who dared to live through the off-season. The time marked the end of the excitement of summer and began the preparation for the holidays and the cold of winter. It is a remarkably quiet time of year, especially on the beaches. The hustle and bustle of summer vacations are still very clear in our minds. Yet normality is not the only idea that comes back to us. Serenity also creeps its wonderful head back into our lives.

After years of working in three different summer businesses, my wife decided to play rural housewife. She would meet her girl friends at least once a week. They would go to either Sheldon’s Café or to Rick’s All Seasons Restaurant, to talk about subjects girl friends talk about. They loved to laugh at the natives. Needless to say she didn’t realize that after twenty-six years living up in God’s country, she was evolving into her own form of native. Not a true native of course: a true native is defined as a person who was born and died in this town.

Once I read an obituary in the York Independent, which read, ”so and so passed away at the age of 95 who was a native of Framingham, Massachusetts”. Even though he lived in York Beach all but one year of his life he was still described as being a native of Massachusetts. You could never be considered a native, by a native, unless you were born here. My wife would also meet in one of her friend’s basement, to build up a sweat, doing aerobics. This form of exercise is great for your heart and muscle-tone but, it is destructive to your shins, legs, and neck. She always said that she would be the cripple with the best body in the chiropractic ward at York Hospital.

My daughter knows York as her only home. We moved into our house when she was only two months old. Of course, this means that she is not a native of York. She is a remarkably bright kid with a sense of right that will be her distinction for life. The best way to describe myself is that I am an unemployed schoolteacher working my way through a Master’s Program at The University of New Hampshire. The reason for my present unemployment is that I am more concerned with the education of my students, than I am with the politics of present day school administrations. At least that is what I say. They say I am a troublemaker. Now believe me when I say that I take no offense by this description. I have just got to learn to get better at it.

My wife’s and my free time created the capacity to bring my family closer together. In fact, we did everything together, from going to museums to hitting every fast-food restaurant in the New England area. We even went shopping together: from food to clothes and toys to appliances. Which brings me to the time we went to Sears looking for a new telephone and maybe even an answering machine.

The telephone was the toughest item to pick out, because ever since the telephone company broke up into different companies, the number of different types of telephones increased many folds. After convincing my daughter that we couldn’t possibly use a phone shaped like Garfield the Cat, we bought a conventional brown, wall telephone that jingled a tune instead of just ringing. Even though, like Pavlov’s dog, I know I will miss the sound of a conventional telephone, a family man must remember and practice the art of compromise.

The answering machine was a lot easier to pick out because the selection was more limited. Both my wife and daughter thought the whole idea was boring. I tried to explain that the machine was necessary because I was always waiting for telephone calls concerning possible employment. I told them that the machine also gives you the choice of not answering and allows one to hear who is calling. I knew privately that the machine was a necessary tool for me because this was a great way of stalling off my many creditors.

A specific machine caught my fancy because it was on sale and was the simplest to use. After I decided to purchase it, the clerk told me that their stock was depleted and the only machine of this type was the one I was looking at. They had plenty of more expensive ones in the back storage room but, I was set on buying this specific one. After convincing my wife that a box was not a necessary part of how the machine operated, the clerk bagged it and immediately sought out another customer.

Arriving home is always a five minute experience in chaos. My daughter can fling, pick up, and re-fling in a matter of microseconds before her mother can scream her way back into normality. I, on the other hand, was completely enthralled in the technology of my new toys. I was immediately engrossed in the installation of the telephone. Because that entailed the plugging in of a wire, the installation made me feel brilliant. The answering machine was not much more complicated but it did require the task of creating an outgoing message.

Sitcoms should be so amusing. It took at least twenty-plus attempts to complete a close-to-coherent tape. The only way to succeed in this quest was to force everyone out of the room. I also had to think back to my most depressed memories, so my message didn’t sound like I was a crazed madman. I finally succeeded, thus making the machine ready to take its appointed place next to the adding machine and my computer.
The next evening was like most other evenings with the exception of the awkward messages left on my newest of toys. Our friends left their thought-to-be amusing messages and the frustrated bill-collectors left their pleas for a possible callback. Answering machines gave birth to a favorite excuse for delaying payment of bills, second only to the check is in the mail.

We were all watching the lost, confused, adolescent girl become sophisticated because she met a guy who looked at least 20 years older than she, when the answering machine started to click: not your normal, soft snaps but full-fledged loud cracks. The sound was like branches breaking during a sub-zero winter storm. The sound surprised us all. Looking over to my wife I could see that, “I told you so,” expression on her face. My daughter just wanted it to stop, so that she could continue to memorize her favorite movie.

Not having any concept of what might be wrong, I got up and checked the wires leading into and out of the machine. Waiting a moment, in the knowledge that I really didn’t do anything, the clicking sound stopped. “No problem,” I bragged in my pride that I might just have succeeded in what I was trying to do. My wife just sat and refused to give me credit because she knew that time would prove her correct – again. She was right! A half an hour later the machine decided to fall back into it’s crackling mode and almost succeeded in driving us out of the room. My wife then told me to disconnect the thing. I told her that I would check the wires again and I was sure the problem could be corrected. She didn’t know that I wanted to keep the machine in service because one of my larger creditors was sure to call. By some twist of luck I was right, in that the machine stayed quiet through the rest of the evening. My hapless creditor also called.

After the movie ended, I tucked my daughter into her bed and checked the house to make sure everything was off and locked. My wife had just completed taking her contacts out, or in her terminology, she took her eyes out, when both of us thought we heard some strange sound coming from the TV room. It wasn’t the cracking sound of earlier but rather a low almost inaudible hum. Because the sound lasted only a few seconds we decided to ignore it and finally get some sleep. I clearly remember how I prayed that the sound wasn’t our refrigerator’s last dying gasp.

Later that evening we were awakened by a loud, almost screaming sound coming from the other room. My daughter immediately ran into our bedroom, crying in fear of something she didn’t understand. My wife and I stared at each other in disbelief, when we came to the realization that the noise must be coming from the now-becoming-annoying answering machine. I jumped out of bed and immediately knew that the sound must be coming from the TV room. Because I wasn’t sure that is was emanating from the now-dreaded machine, I decided to investigate the noise, carrying some sort of weapon.

Not having, or wanting to have a gun or any other kind of firearm, I grabbed the only evil-looking item available: my wife’s hair-dryer. Passing the kitchen I noticed that is was exactly 1:00 am. I prayed that no one was there because I must have looked as though I was carrying a 357 magnum. If an intruder was there and saw me, they would shoot first and ask questions later. If the now-imagined terrorist ever missed, I could only return his fire by drying his hair.

Seeing that there was no one in the house, I knew that the noise must have been coming from the machine. I had few choices. I could throw the machine out of the house and admit to my wife that she was right, or I could try and fix the thing again, still demonstrating that she was right. I decided to do the most obvious. I unplugged the now-hated machine and went back to my bedroom with the promise that first thing the next morning I would either permanently fix or return it.

We allowed our daughter to sleep with us that night because it was obvious that she was still afraid. I actually let her stay with us for two reasons. The first being that she was shaken up because of the shocking way she was awakened. Secondly, and more importantly I didn’t want my wife to be able to lecture me on how I never listen and how she is always correct. We all fell asleep quickly because we felt secure in the knowledge that the dreaded machine, lacking its energy, could not bother us again.

Later on in the evening, or I should say early in the morning, the machine screamed a sound that I could never hope to describe and I pray that someday I will forget. It was a continuous whine that did not lose any strength or consistency. All three of us awoke together and for a few seconds were afraid to make any moves or sounds. My daughter was the first to break the silence by crying and grasping for her mother. My wife, knowing that any sound she made would only further terrorize her daughter, used her eyes to display her own terror to me.

After a few seconds, which felt like hours, I leaped out of bed and approached the now infamous TV room. I knew I was sweating because my tee-shirt was attached to my back. Again I looked at the clock and saw that it was exactly 3:00am. The sound that was coming from the machine never lost any of its magnitude as I ventured to approach it. The sound didn’t frighten me, as much as the idea that I had no idea of what to do. When I reached for the machine, all I could do was stare at it, in disbelief. How could it be making any noise since it was unplugged?

Then to my total amazement the whining sound stopped and changed to a clear low human-like sound which I thought told me to stay home. At first I thought I must be imagining what I had just heard. I looked around and saw that both my wife and daughter were peeking into the room behind me. I was about to tell them what I thought the machine had said when for the second time the disconnected black box spoke out and said, “stay home.” I then worked on instinct. I ran into the kitchen, opened the back door and threw the machine deep into the woods behind the house. I threw it so hard and far that none of us heard it land. None of us cared because all we wanted to do was close the door, lock it, and hide back in our bedroom.

The next morning didn’t have to arrive because it was already here. My wife made us some coffee with my daughter acting out the part of her mother’s shadow, because she was shaking from the night before. On normal mornings she would have been getting ready for school but because of what happened, we decided it would be best to keep her home. Later on, in the morning, my wife’s sister called. Immediately I knew that something was wrong because of the blank look on my wife’s face. Her sister called to give her the news that their grandfather had gone into a coma, at about 1:00 am. He passed away at approximately 3:00 am that same morning. My wife’s mother found him on their couch holding onto the telephone. Even though my wife’s grandfather was ill for a long time, it was hard for her to accept his inevitable death.

I thought to myself, why was he holding onto the phone? None of us put the two happenings of the night before together, until the second phone call of the morning. The York Police Department was calling all the parents who had children, riding bus number seven, to the York Middle School. It seems that the bus driver had a massive heart attack, ran off the road, and flipped the school bus over into a deep ditch. Many children were either killed or injured. They called because they had to find out exactly who was on the bus that morning.

Even though years have passed since that day, I always walk through the woods behind my house looking for that answering machine. To this day, I still can’t find it!
The End

Copyrights reserved by J.G.Fabiano.