It was one of those hot, August nights when all you can do is open a window and do your best to get some sleep. That’s what I was trying to do that night; I even had the curtains pulled back as far as they would go in case some random breeze happened by. Open windows at night were a requirement during the hot summer months; we had no air conditioning and the house was cooled by an evaporative fan, or “water cooler” as we called it.
Sometime in the wee hours of the night I was jarred awake by the ringing of our phone. A phone call at this time of night could only mean bad news, so I listened intently as Mama answered. I could tell she was talking to my grandmother who lived just down the street from us, and sure enough, something was wrong. “Is he trying to get into your house now?” I heard Mama ask, clearly alarmed. Instinctively she flipped on our porch light; Daddy was already hurriedly getting ready to go down there. I listened as the conversation continued. “Don’t let him in, even if he keeps banging on your door. We’ll be there in just a minute.” Mama continued to talk to my grandmother, trying to keep her calm until Daddy could get there. At some point in the conversation, Mama happened to pull the curtains back from the little window on our front door and glance out on the porch. “Oh,” I heard her say, a distinct note of alarm in her voice. “He’s on our porch now.”
Daddy, normally a laid-back and quiet man, threw open the door and stepped on to the porch to confront the stranger. “What do you want?” he demanded. “What are you doing, going around knocking on people’s doors in the middle of the night?”
By this time, I had gotten up and was peering out the door. Before me, I saw a scraggly young man with long hair, calmly sitting on our porch steps. “I’m just trying to find my mother’s house,” he told Daddy. “Does your mother live around here?” Daddy asked. “She lives in Fort Smith,” was the reply. Daddy and the stranger continued to talk, and finally Daddy told him how to get to the highway three blocks away. The stranger left, heading in the direction that Daddy had sent him. Once back in the house, Daddy called the police. “You’ll find him walking along 8th street, heading toward the highway.” After another phone call to make sure my grandmother was ok, we all went back to bed.
But that much excitement in the middle of a hot summer night made sleep an unlikely prospect. I lay in bed, listening to the night sounds, hoping for a soft breeze from the window that my bed was pushed up against. I heard a car drive by very slowly. The police, I figured. The car drove down “the lane,” the little side street that formed one corner of our lot, and turned onto Pine Street, heading toward 8th. “They’ll get him now,” I assured myself. I began to drift off to sleep, the night sounds serenading me.
I heard dogs barking up on the other end of the lane. Thinking that was a bit unusual for that time of night, I listened to see if I could hear anything else. The barking subsided, but was replaced by a steady “click, click” sound that I couldn’t quite make out. As the “click, click” grew louder, I realized that it was the sound of footsteps. Footsteps that were growing louder. Footsteps that meant that, on this hot August night, at what had to be about 2:00 in the morning, someone was walking down the lane. Someone who, perhaps, was angry because they had seen a police car go by. Someone who had the foresight to hide in the bushes. Someone who, maybe, was coming back to settle the score!
“No, get ahold of yourself,” I thought. “He just couldn’t find the highway and is probably lost.” The footsteps were still growing louder, and I was fighting the urge to panic. “Pretty soon, the footsteps are going to start sounding quieter, he’s going to be walking away from the house, and then I can go back to sleep,” I told myself. I listened intently to the sound of the footsteps, still growing louder. And then they stopped.
I listened with all my might. “He’s just cutting through our yard to make the corner to Pine Street. They’ll start up again any second,” I tried to reassure myself. But they didn’t. Just silence. Now, a moment of true fear arrived. Why did they stop? What is he doing? And why in the heck did I have to sleep with my window wide open and the curtains pulled back?
The open window was only inches away from me. I could reach it, take out the stick that was propping it open, and let it down, but to do that I would have to look at it, and I was afraid of what I might see. But I knew I was a sitting duck if I didn’t do something. Petrified with fear, I forced myself to slowly turn my head and look out my window.
Nothing. No deranged hippy, knife in hand, waiting to slash me. Just the darkness. Quickly, I took out the prop and let my window down, and pulled my curtains shut.
To this day, I don’t know why the footsteps stopped like they did. But the next time a hippy comes to my front porch in the middle of the night, I’m closing my windows.