(Re)starting Things Off With a
Bang Back-dated Post
OK, this is kind of cheating, since I originally posted this story on Facebook, lacking (at the time) access to my blog (until my fancy IT husband got me back in). But I figure posting it here is a good way to dip my toes back into this blog . . .
[Cue Wayne’s World Flashback Doodle-oodle-oos]
So a few weeks ago, Auggy and I took a little road trip a deux (given the choice of taking the trip with the entire family, or with just me, he chose a brother-free escape, go figure).
Poor kid had a rough summer: sleepaway camp cancelled, no pool visits (in previous years, he went almost daily), no visit to the Texas cousins (which we try to do every summer), and very few friends (limited as he was by social distancing restrictions), since during the hotter days, nobody really wanted to stay outside for any length of time just to hang out with him. So about a week and a half before the start of school, he and I headed off for a few days of R&R in an Arkansas AirBnB.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, I wasn’t entirely sure I wouldn’t cancel it; and after the trip (which caused my mother to stop speaking to me, because she thought it was a bad decision), we launched into two weeks of post-trip quarantine, and simultaneously into figuring out what preparations to make for the beginning of the Most Bizarre School Year Ever (TM). In the meantime, I told my sister over the phone about the trip, and she told me I should commit the story to writing. This morning, I finally found the time.
Settle in and read away if you’d like. If not, the TLDR version is this: If you’re not accustomed to spending time in a curtainless house surrounded by woods, maybe skip the scary movies.
The three-hour drive down to Northwest Arkansas (apparently commonly abbreviated as NWA, but that just makes me think of Easy E) was:
- uneventful (aside from the SUV we passed somewhere in the Missouri boonies, that had stuff like “No more masks” and “Masks are stupid” written in white shoe polish on all the rear windows)
- quicker than we thought, and
- not actually pretty in the least until about 20 minutes before we reached our destination in the late afternoon.
The house, though, was awesome! Nestled into a twisty-roaded, heavily-wooded neighborhood, it wasn’t TOO remote (there were neighbors), but still seemed very secluded (the folks were far outnumbered by the firs). Lots of light inside (a wall of curtainless windows and sliding glass doors at the back of the house looked out on trees forever) and gorgeous mid-century furniture (which is my jam). Two bedrooms upstairs and, to Auggy’s delight, a small, shotgun-esque basement area (accessible via spiral staircase) with a queen-sized bed, a twin day bed, a couch, a small game table, and a TV.
“I’m sleeping down here!” he declared, and although there was no bathroom down there, and it wasn’t nearly as posh as upstairs (the owners had certainly made an effort, but they were working with a cement floor, cinderblock walls, and only a couple of small windows), I figured that at his age, I’d have probably dug the idea of having my own little “suite,” too. So I shrugged and went back upstairs to call Skip Fitz and tell him we’d arrived.
(There had been some concern about the timing of our trip, as it coincided with the threat of hurricanes/tropical storms affecting parts of Arkansas; we consulted a weather map right before we left, and saw that our destination was outside the path, so we decided to chance it, and just head home if at any point it started to seem like a bad idea. Once we got to the house, and Skip mentioned the possibility of strong winds even in our area, I reasoned that hey, I could always sleep in the basement with Auggy if stuff started whipping around upstairs. But I digress.)
As I talked to Skip, Auggy went about lugging ALLLL of his stuff downstairs (suitcase, pillow, books, and the roughly 5,112 electronic devices he’d brought). When I got off the phone, he called, “Hey, Mom! Come check this out!”
Right next to the queen-sized basement bed, it turned out, was a dead-bolted door. A night stand had been shoved against it, but a curious 12-year-old ain’t gonna be discouraged by no stinkin’ nightstand.
He had, of course, moved the nightstand, and unlocked and opened the door. Behind it was the hugely expansive but not-even-close-to-finished rest of the basement. Even with our phone flashlights, we couldn’t really see where it ended, but didn’t go into it, because it didn’t even have a floor—just a bunch of rubble with tarp over it. Plus there were copious cobwebs, and my elder son does NOT do spiders. Aside from the cobwebs, the only indication of any type of residency in there was a mattress propped against a wall.
For a minute or two, I feigned more interest in the “secret room” than I actually felt—then I walked away, leaving him to close the door and replace the nightstand before coming upstairs to discuss dinner.
Because of COVID, I’d pre-planned (and brought stuff to make) most of our meals for the 4-day trip; I’d planned for our first dinner to be one of two take-out meals, but Auggy decided instead on the chicken salad sandwiches I’d slotted for the next day’s lunch, so I got my mouth and mind all set for an evening in.
But that didn’t end up happening.
You see, I had ALSO pre-planned (and purchased) our snacks, but I did that thing where I decided we were going to be HEALTHY on this trip (hiking every day! healthy food! nature! air! glory!), so all I’d brought for snacks was fruit (*YAWN*) . . . and then once we’d settled down after dinner to watch a thriller movie (as has become our custom these past couple of months), I found myself yearning for more satisfying (read: bad-for-you) snacks than plums and nectarines.
Auggy got up and ran downstairs, reappearing with a small bag of candy he’d brought from home (a little goodie from our friend Rachael, who loves sending us candy and cute gifts; I’d stashed the candy away to hide it from my children, but Auggy found it right before our trip and, because it contained a few pieces of his favorite kind of candy (those little strawberry candies that are hard on the outside and chewy on the inside, with the wrappers that look like strawberries), he begged to bring it with us on our trip), and dumped it out on the coffee table as an offering.
“You can have a strawberry candy,” he offered, in a grand show of generosity. “We have three of them, so that still leaves two for me.”
“Aww, thanks, Babe,” I said, “but that’s OK, I’ll let you have all those—I know they’re your favorites.”
Besides, while I appreciated his generosity, I wasn’t really feeling the strawberry candies, OR the chocolate coins that came with them; rather, I wanted something chippy/dippy/salty/crunchy. Looking outside, I surmised it would be dark soon, and given the twisty, woodsy neighborhood roads and the fact that I didn’t know the area, I figured we’d better jump on it if I was going to find my way back after procuring Pirate’s Booty, so we paused the movie, popped our shoes on, gathered our masks, and headed out to a nearby grocery store.
By the time we arrived back at the house, it WAS dark—and as we fumbled to figure out the electronic lock on the door (having only unlocked it once before), we discovered that we had actually failed to lock it when we left, so the house had been unlocked for about half an hour.
After a quick check to make sure nothing was amiss or missing in the house, we opened a bag of chips and a tub of dip, tossed them onto the coffee table between us, and settled back in to watch Mira Sorvino hunt down an escaped serial killer, who was himself busy hunting down men he’d kidnapped and tortured as boys (who had managed to escape from HIM—so meta), in order to finish the business of killing them.
When the movie was over, Auggy quietly declared that he was no longer sure he wanted to sleep in the basement.
Secretly glad that I wouldn’t have to sleep upstairs alone (remember those curtainless windows? Yeah, they’re great in the daytime when you can see OUT, but ULTRA CREEPY at night, after you’ve watched a scary movie and can’t see who’s possibly out there peeking IN), I offered to help him haul all his stuff back upstairs, AND offered him the master bedroom (since part of the appeal of sleeping downstairs was that he wanted “a big bed”), taking the second bedroom, with two twin beds, for myself.
As we lugged his stuff up the narrow winding staircase from the basement, he continued to justify his decision: “I mean, it’s a little creepier down here at night, and there’s that door into the weird part of the basement . . .”
“Well,” I countered, feeling the need, in Skip’s absence, to appear to be a logical, non-alarmist parent, “that door has a deadbolt on it, so as long as it’s locked . . . ”
“Oh, there’s a key on the other side,” Auggy replied matter-of-factly.
Cue the alarm bells in my psyche (which suddenly ramped up my interest in the secret room): Oh, shit. That is NOT COOL.
On the outside, though, *I* tried to play it cool, and set about the business of relocating my stuff from the master bedroom to the second bedroom, folding up our couch throws, and moving the leftover chips and dip from the coffee table back into the kitchen, etc.. As I headed toward my bedroom to call it a night, Auggy (who’d been getting his stuff all set up in the master bedroom) came back into the living room to say goodnight.
“Oh,” he remarked casually. “You decided to have a strawberry candy after all, huh?”
“No, I didn’t. I told you you could have them all.” I looked at him.
He was looking down at the coffee table, where the candy was still strewn.“Then why are there only two left?” he asked warily. “We had THREE of them, and I haven’t eaten any.”
We stared at one another in silence.
The house left unlocked. The secret room. The mattress. The key in the door. The woods. The windows. The darkness. Serial killers.
By then, the alarm bells were jangling in both of our psyches (like mother, like son . . . ).
Then, of apparently one mind, and with zero words, we both instantly started looking around the coffee table for the missing candy. Eventually, unable to find it, we dropped to our knees, peering and patting under the couch.
Once again, I tried to take a rational approach: I mean, what—the killer who’s now hiding in the basement and giddily anticipating the warm splatter of our blood on his face as he takes a hatchet to us in our sleep has a SWEET TOOTH?
I wasn’t entirely convincing myself, but for the sake of my kid, I put on . . . well not a brave face as much as an apathetic one.
I stood up. “OK, well, we’ll have to find it in the morning,” I declared as casually as possible given my impending murder. “I’m exhausted.”
“Yeah, me too,” Auggy said, apparently feeling obligated to roll with this “whatever” vibe.
“Are you gonna be OK?” I asked, still feigning lack of abject fear, while hoping he felt enough of it to take me up on the offer I was about to make: “I mean, if you want to sleep in my room tonight, that’s totally fine.”
“Nah,” he said, stubbornly holding his own in this (for real) game of chicken. “I think I’ll be fine. But if YOU want to sleep in MY room, you can.”
Both soundly defeated, we retreated to our respective rooms . . .. . . where Yours Truly lay awake ALLLLLLLLLL. NIGHT. LONG.
No joke; when I last looked at the clock before FINALLY drifting off, it was 4:41 a.m.
I woke again around 7:30 and, knowing Auggy to be a relatively early riser, I forced myself out of bed, figuring he’d be up soon, and not wanting to disappoint him by spending the whole day crashed out.
I shuffled to the kitchen to make coffee . . .
. . . and what to my bleary eyes should appear but the previous night’s bag of chips, propped dutifully next to the coffee maker—and adorned with one wrapped strawberry candy, which was stuck to the side of it (and also with about 20,000 ants, swarming both the candy outside the bag, and the chips inside . . . but again, I digress; the point here is—)
OH. MY. GOD.
I crumpled to the floor, cracking the hell up.I couldn’t wait to tell Auggy when he woke up, and in fact left the whole mise en scene exactly as I’d found it, ants and all, to give him the full effect.
More than three hours later, I was still waiting.
I spent most of that time reading (which was a GLORIOUS treat, given that my home life is replete with Interrupting Toddler), but then when he still hadn’t made an appearance by 11:00, I started to think, “What if I’m sitting here happily chilling with my book, while he’s in there floating in a pool of his own blood?”
I went to his bedroom, knocked, then opened the door. He sat up, rubbing his eyes.
“Just checking to make sure you’re OK,” I said. “You’re sleeping really late.”
After inquiring as to the time, he confessed: “I couldn’t sleep all night; I was up until FIVE IN THE MORNING.”
Like mother, like son.
For the remaining days of our trip, we were able to sleep just fine, but without actually discussing it, we mutually agreed not to watch any more thrillers until we got back home, and not to go back into the basement, even during the daytime. And we triple-checked the locks any time we left the house.
Overall, it was a good trip, but because of COVID, I had told Auggy to manage his expectations and bring a lot of books, as there would be no shopping, no restaurants (except take-out), no museums, nothin’. Basically just hiking, eating, sleeping, and reading (with a sprinkling of TV and board games). And for the most part he got it, but he was still pretty bored by the end of it—although once we’d spent a day back home with his brother, he wished aloud that we could have stayed until school started.
And by the way, hurricane-schmurricane; save for about an hour on our third morning, it didn’t even rain.