Baker's dream: sounds in the night


Deep and dark as molasses, viscous and velvet, the black night closed at my back. The feeble beam of a handheld flashlight trembled, unsteady in my grasp. The concrete back path cracked, crumbled away in places; more than once I stumbled. Night sounds whirred on either side, ahead, behind, overhead; a cacophony sourced in secret places. The distance between my parked car and the back door seemed equally far. A rush to the safety of the old house. A key turned in the lock. At last, safe, my back hard pressed to the door.

Lacking both funds and common sense we had, in a last minute frenzy, purchased a used cooler, sight unseen. The procurer was, after all, a shirttail relative of a friend of a friend, guaranteed trustworthy and dependable. Too late, expectations fell short; the money, cash only, had already passed hands. 

A good many years past her prime, rammed into a small awkward space formed by the old brick chimney stack and a compulsory hand washing sink, our misguided purchase wheezed and complained incessantly; perhaps resentful of leaving retirement. Chipped paint, rust mottled at the edges, she appeared caught in the grips of a malignant case of leprosy. Cold sweat ran like crocodile tears, patterned the inner side of ill fitting murky glass doors; merging, gathering, pooling on the newly installed floor. She would cough often: a hack, deep and hard, from the very depths of her being. I feared she would, at some point, dislodge the precariously positioned replacement compressor. Occasionally, in the manner of a veiled threat, she would hold her breath as if to scare me. 

Curiously, too little thought and planning had gone into this misguided venture at cooking in the morning's wee hours. If danger emerged, dark corners were everywhere. I was, as I saw it, too deep in, no obvious way of escape. I was abandoned, alone… myself. 

Two pieces of crust set prepped on the counter, layered in with chopped chicken breast, broccoli, Swiss cheese….a smidgeon of minced green onion. Now just to stir up eggs and heavy cream. Apart from the familiar background clamor of the ancient cooler, the surrounding silence was deafening. 

I cautiously cracked one egg against the side of a bowl. Paused midreach for a second, to listen, my eyes searching the source of an uncommon sound. A quiet glance at the red plastic clock placed high on the kitchen wall. 3:47 a.m. Certainly no other early riser was challenging the back door.

The second egg still clutched, poised; cold gelatinous fear oozed, formed to the back crevice of my throat. Not imagination. Not some circumstance sourced, culled from the deep recesses of my mind. Ominous, the sound returned, unnatural, laying firm claim to my expanding fear. Long, slow; harsh, scraping. Hair prickled on the back of my neck. My heart, freed to its own devices, now flailed wildly in my chest. "Nothing," I soothed, a deep taken breath searching for lost sanity and reason. Even so, cold sweat garnered drops in the hollow formed between my shoulders. 

Perhaps the old house was settling in, stretching her legs, shifting a bit. But those would be recognizable sounds, heard before.

My breath, drawn deep and hard, my stomach pulled hard to my spine. Equally light headed and nauseous I stood, my leaded feet firm to the floor. At this moment, I could barely draw even one normal breath, motionless, all the better to appear unseen. 

A short narrow hallway and three steps separated the two kitchens. A narrow open stairway once serviced the back portion of the house, now half removed to provide access to the basement. The newly fashioned door was ugly and ill fitting; the bottom edge needed a shave of at least a good quarter inch. A definite and determined effort, no night breeze, was required to pull it open or push it closed. Yet the door, as I looked, now stood to taunt me, a good three inches ajar.

Long minutes passed, until finally summoning a coward's surface courage, I moved slowly and cautiously to reach far and push the door back into place. To shorten this discourse, which is already far too long, I will mention that I repeated this scenario exactly three times that night. Finally in frustration, on the last closing push, under my breath, a frantic whisper, I muttered …


I believe that in all these years I have not once related that early morning occurrence. The memory stayed, almost forgotten, until a recent event called it back. I would also note this is my fourth attempt at writing this post. Each draft, once completed and saved, for reasons unknown mysteriously and completely disappeared. 

One more footnote. It was rumored that the lower section of the back staircase could be lifted, underneath a place of hiding for those enslaved making the perilous journey from the South to the freedom of Canada. In our defense we only recently became a party to that knowledge. Take what you want from this. Keep in mind not all lines are straight. Not all things are black and white.

Rockton writer Pat Mannino is the owner of Fatt Cat Cafe in Rockton, where she makes cupcakes and hosts special events. To place an order, call her at 815-624-2832 or email

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