cAUGHT ON TAPE; LOST IN TIME
It was in the shadows of a cold, dark Sunday night in the late winter of my eighth grade year, that I found myself blasting my way through a game of Mega Man 2 while listening to Vanilla Ice for what had been the umpteenth time that weekend. The air had steadily grown colder since the sun had set nearly three hours before, but it wasn’t anything that I wasn’t used to. I was dressed in a navy blue sweat suit that I often used when I was just hanging about the house. It wasn’t much, but it kept the chill at bay while I plugged away at the NES.
I had only been home from a weekend, chock full, of Castlevania and horror movies at my sister’s house since somewhere around three-thirty or four o’clock, but had spent the largest part of my evening admiring my latest curiosity- a mini-cassette recorder that was usually used for tasks such as audio notes or interviews. Being young and imaginatively creative, I had taken it everywhere I went, pondering what to add to my “Famous Recordings” as I liked to call them. I had recorded everything from dogs barking, the opening and closing of the wood stove, along with whatever else stoked my interests. Right at that point, I was recording the sounds of Mega Man fighting through one of the many stages of the game. The gate had just closed behind me as I prepared to face the stage boss when my bedroom door let out a loud protest and Pop came in. The house had settled so much over the many years since it had been built that many of the jambs had become offset from the doors, so when anyone forced one of the affected doors open, the raw wood on wood screech would act as an alarm, announcing the entry of anyone using them.
“You need to get the wood in and get your bath, boy,” he said as he came in to my room, “tomorrow’s a school day.”
“Alright,” I replied, dismayed as I got up, turned off the music, my TV and the Nintendo in a single pass. I began gathering my things for a bath and decided on a whim to grab the recorder- after all there was some funny things that you could record in a bathroom that might play into a well placed practical joke later. It took me several minutes to get the wood in, but within moments I was running a hot bath and climbing into the steaming water. I had left the recorder on the shelf that covered what once was a door to the back porch, and figured it would be interesting to record myself getting bathed. I usually like to sing while in the bath, or review my thoughts aloud, a habit that many of my friends had confused with talking to myself. So, I thought- why not what’s the worst that could happen?
The bath didn’t take long, as the tub was one of the old, Victorian cast iron tubs and it had already begun to chill the water. Cold, wet, and ready to be warmed by the fire, I crawled out of the tub some five to ten minutes after I had gotten in. Within moments I had toweled off, dressed, grabbed the mini-cassette recorder and bolted for the warmth of the wood stove in the dining room.
The fire had just been fed a couple of good-sized logs just before I had started my bath, and the roar of the flame could be heard, pulsing behind the sheet-metal walls of the stove. The heat radiated out from the old stove, bathing everything in its vicinity with a comforting sense of warmth. It didn’t take long for me to get warm enough for curiosity to pry me away from the heat and into the colder recesses of my room where I could review the recording of my bath with the intrigue of what I might have caught on tape. I left the door to my room open so that at least some of the warmth of the dining room could filter into my room and add warmth to the otherwise perpetual cold of the winter nights in that old house. Once I had settled in to my bed where I would often read before nodding off, I pressed “Play” on the tape. Getting comfortable, I listened intently as the events of my bath played out in audio before me. The imagery was clear in my mind as the events of mere moments ago replayed themselves out over the speaker of the mini-recorder. As I listened, I heard- the water running as it filled the tub, my voice as I muttered some comment too vague to make out while climbing into the water, along with the various other sounds associated with the bathing process. For the first few moments everything seemed normal- I had even begun humming the tune to “Ice Ice Baby” as I had a tendency to do while bathing, however, somewhere near the middle of the song, my voice was drown out by the sound of an aggressive hiss, like that of a feral cat or similar animal which was about to attack.
Now, growing up we weren’t allowed to have indoor pets as Pop would not allow it, so the chances of a cat making the sound from inside the house were slim at best, yet for it to be inside the bathroom with me was just not possible. Dumbfounded by the discovery, I stopped the tape and rewound it just far enough to hear the odd sound again. Sure enough, just as the sound of my voice reached a certain point of the song, it was silenced by the vile hiss of something that just wasn’t there. I listened to the sample over and over, a chill running down my spine with every time that the venomous sound came over the speaker. I wanted desperately to tell someone, and let them hear the hiss for themselves, but I figured that no one would listen to the rants of my ghost infested youth.
So, the hiss of something very real that was with me in the bathroom faded into little more than a distant memory. Even now I have no idea what became of the mini-cassette that unwittingly captured the sound of one of the many denizens of the old house, but the memory of that cold winter’s night forever lingers in my mind.