by Lynn Manyfires (based on a true story)
Melinda was busy unloading Costco goodies from her friend’s car while Barbara was talking at warp speed. She idly wondered to herself if people in their late 60’s did this often. She shook her head in worry, wondering if she would do the same thing. Non-stop sharing. No periods. No commas. No pauses. Just one long stream of various issues spoken, rapid fire, as if in training for a game show.
“You know, right?” Barbara was saying, shaking Melinda out of her reverie.
Melinda, blinked a few times, while her ‘inner hamster’ scrambled to get back on the right wheel in her brain. All she could managed in response was the witty and sophisticated reply: “Huh?”
Melinda, laboring to picking up a case of healthy dog food on the back seat, suddenly ‘heard’ her friend’s last words…”Jan in the back”? Why didn’t those words sound familiar? Why was her brain courageously struggling to access every logical path in her brain but still coming up with zip?
“Uh, Barbara…what was that you were saying about “Jan in the back?” Melinda asked. “Is that a book or an article…or what??”
“No, silly,” Barbara airily responded. “You know? Jan in the back” and disappeared once again around the back of the car.
“No, I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. Who is Jan? And what is she in back of?”, Melinda asked frustrated, her posture that of someone who wasn’t moving one inch further until she got her answer.
Barbara peered around the trunk with a puzzled look and said, “Oh, I’m sure I told you about her…right?? (Melinda emphatically shook her head) No??? Okay, well here’s the story.”
Melinda shot a worried glance at the cold items in the back of the hot car but reassured herself that if her friend took too long with this story…she would gently but firmly stop her.
“Well, it all started when I let this sweet, homeless girl sleep in the back on my property. I told you about her, right?” Barbara asked for what seemed the millionth time.
“No, Barbara,” Melinda wanted to scream, “you have never EVER mentioned anyone named Jan or that you had someone living on your property in the back. What happened? Is she still there?“
Barbara, slowing to load the double gallons of milk onto her little red wagon, squinted her eyes as she tried to remember the whole story from beginning to end.
“Well, I can’t remember rightly just how it came to be that Jan came here to my house in the first place. I don’t remember if she was a friend of a friend or if she just came by one day, asking for help and I offered her the place in the back. I did tell you about the place in the back, right?”
Barbara seemed clueless to Melinda’s mounting anger.
“Anyway, Jan was just the sweetest girl, so vulnerable but yet eager to help. She was such a joy to have around. So light-hearted and innocent. Everything was working just beautifully until one day, I saw her with a visitor…a man I had never seen before. Slowly but surely over a period of a month, he was spending more and more time at Jan’s until eventually he just never left. It bothered me but I thought it might be a relative of hers and that I was being insensitive to the human need to have family around.”
“Another month passed and he was still there. I was seeing less and less of her and more and more of strange going-ons. Mysterious lights highlighting the trees in fluorescent greens and reds and purples. Small campfires would suddenly pop up on the back property and when I went to investigate, would just as suddenly disappear. Sometimes I would hear what sounded like party music, so light and airy that I wondered if I was just hearing things. Indeed the whole feel of the back property changed. It felt heavy and thick, like after a lightning storm. And then there was this smell…a cross between the heavy smell of a Star Gazer lily and the deep earthy smell of rotting vegetation.”
And with that, Barbara suddenly whipped around and headed into the house with her groceries. Melinda, caught up in the story, hurriedly grabbed the frozen meats and followed closely behind her friend, not willing to miss even one word of this suddenly fascinating tale.
The words wafted back on the winds following behind Barbara as she said, “It was about that time, that Jan came to me. She told me that the man had only been an acquaintance and that she had been unable to make him leave. That he simply ignored her when she asked him to go. Even though my intuition was jangling off the hook, I told her that she would just have to put her foot down and demand that he leave! She looked at me with the most hopeless look, cast her eyes down, nodded her head once and left slowly. She came back a few days later, dark circles under her eyes and a scratch on her face. She avoided my gaze as she told me that she HAD to leave until he was gone. That she didn’t feel safe there anymore…not after she found out about…”
And that’s when Jan abruptly stopped mid-way in her sentence. She looked frantically around her, as if she was expecting to see something.
“I started to tell her that she couldn’t leave me…this was HER problem. But I could see that she wasn’t hearing my words. She was scared! And that made me feel scared! And I hate to feel scared! Mumbling something about how sorry she was, Jan told me she simply had to leave. And then, without a word, she turned and practically ran down the walkway to her car. I watched her running away and felt a certain sinking sensation in my stomach. Something felt very wrong about this whole situation and I wasn’t sure I could do anything about it.”
“So, what happened? What did you decide to do?” Melinda asked.
“Well,” Barbara mused, “I did what I always do and charged right down there to tell him that he had to leave. But Melinda, I had this feeling of premonition that this wasn’t such a good idea. But did I listen to me? Well, of course not!!
Anyway, I ended up using that feeling of dread to build up my courage to go back there. I rapped hard on the door and demanded that he open up. When he came to the door, I was surprised. He seemed so mild mannered to be a ‘symbol of darkness’. He was just a frightened little man. When I demanded that he leave immediately, he kept giving me excuses as to why he couldn’t. Most felt vague and pitifully made up…except one. There was one excuse that he repeated over and over. And Melinda, it just had this feeling of truth to it. Know what I mean? He just kept saying that he COULDN’T…MUSTN’T leave! That sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach grew bigger and stronger and after one last ‘loud’ demand that he be gone by the next day, I turned and stomped away…feeling uneasy about turning my back to him. But nothing happened…until later that night.”
By this time in Barbara’s story, Melinda had been so taken with the tale that she hadn’t even noticed that she had put away all of Barbara’s food. And that Barbara was now sitting at the kitchen table, staring out the back glass door with a fretful worried look, chewing on her lip. Melinda reached out and placed her hand on her friend’s shoulder in compassion. Barbara looked up at her with real worry in her face.
Melinda, afraid to break the spell of the story, asked softly, “So what happened later that night? Did he try to break in? Did he threaten you? Did he leave?”
Sighing, Barbara just shook her head, looked out the back door at the approaching twilight and her mouth opened to speak but nothing came out. Melinda saw a mixture of awe, confusion and fear wash across her friend’s face and she sat down gently next to her. Barbara cleared her throat and began to speak…faintly at first but stronger with each word.
“Well, when night fell that night, I heard the music first…mostly flutes and fiddles. It had this distant quality to it, as if it were coming from far away. I felt a bit nervous at first but after awhile, the music just kind of made me feel better…light-hearted, happy. I caught myself humming the music as I made my dinner. I generously figured he was playing some music as he packed up his belongings and that made me feel doubly happy.
After awhile, I started to hear voices…like a party. Faint…but they were there. I got angry…and fast! ‘He’s having a party??!!’ I turned off the stove and looked out the window towards the direction I intended to take. And there, gliding across the back trees were gentle glows of blues and greens…swirling and twirling in the night. Combined with the music, I felt this sense of being ‘gently pulled’ towards something. I shook it off and determinedly charged out into yard…and into the night.
The minute I stepped out into the back yard, I noticed the ‘feel’ of the property immediately! It had this feeling of Spring to it…everything felt, and smelled, so alive and green. And I felt this rush of vibrant and dynamic energy swirl about my feet and I felt like dancing. And again, I felt as if I were being ‘pulled’ towards those Lights and the music. I couldn’t resist.
As I headed into the clearing where I thought the party might be taking place, I heard the man crashing through woods off to my left. He was breathing heavily as he went, crashing into things. I heard him muttering to himself. Mostly things I couldn’t understand but a few he spoke clearly, “Give me a chance”…”I have a family”. And then I heard a laugh…so small as to not be there. It spoke again and the words (if they were words) sounded like tinkling chimes and increased in cadence and tone…as if being spoken quickly, and with authority. The sound of the man crashing thru the trees stopped abruptly and he yelled out, “I’m not going one step further until you give me a chance to explain!!
Again the “wind chimes” spoke and the man responded. “I told you before I didn’t know…it was an accident. I had no idea you were there. At least I came back like I said I would. Doesn’t that show that I have a sense of honor?” This time there were several soft sounds of laughter. By now, I could see the man’s vague outline in the trees but nothing else and it looked as if his hands were bound together. There was a sound of ‘ooof’ and he lurched forward, all the while bemoaning how he had done nothing wrong and that this was just crazy.
I just stood there, Melinda…watching the whole exchange, holding my breath and carefully considering what I should do next. I tried to peer thru the brush to see what was going on. The whole situation just felt too bizarre to be real…and yet, it was happening…here on my property. I was rooted to the spot…unable to move towards the clearing…unable to demand why this man and his party were here?
Then suddenly…the man started running…fast! He was trying to circle around the clearing and head back towards the front gate. I marveled that he could run so fast in the dark and I found myself rooting for him to make it. I saw his shadow charge thru the darkness…and then I saw something else. Something I’ve never told anyone before. Running right behind the outline of the man were 3 other shapes. They were about a foot and a half high and there was this reddish-glow about them. I couldn’t see what they looked like but they were running fast too. So fast, that they were just about to catch up with him. And just as they were about to reach him, I inexplicably found myself shouting out “HEY!” at the top of my lungs.
At that, the 3 shapes simply disappeared! I don’t mean they hid, Melinda. I mean they simply ‘winked out’ of existence. The man took a quick look behind him but kept running…and ran right out the gate.
As if some great wall had gone up, the music and the lights stopped immediately. There wasn’t one sound, except the distant running of feet down the driveway. The smell disappeared more slowly but soon it was gone too. And I felt tired…as if I had been up all night. All I wanted to do was sleep. And that’s exactly what I did. I turned slowly around, keeping an ear open for other sounds of laughter, and made my way quietly back up to the house, up the stairs and dropped almost unthinkingly into my bed and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
I awoke the next morning feeling rested and calm. When I finally remembered about the night before, it was mid-morning. I frowned at the thought of the previous night’s activities. Had it really happened? Had I eaten some bad mushrooms? For some reason, I seemed unable to hold any thoughts about what I had seen the night before.
And I didn’t think of it again until, Jan showed up a day later. There she was…her usual sweet, smiling self. Her eyes twinkling as she told me that she had missed me and was glad to be home from visiting a relative. I smiled and gave her a big hug, telling her it was such a pleasure to have her back home again.
And then, as I watched her walk back towards her place, the craziest question crept stealthily into my consciousness…just exactly who was Jan and why was she in my back yard?”