Scary Nights (IP)
“There's somebody on the porch,” whispered my sister Judy, in great alarm. We were alone in the house, our parents having gone on a trip to San Francisco. It was 11.30 and pitch dark outside.
“Is the door locked?” I asked, too scared to get up to check.
“I latched it, but not the back door,” she said and rushed through the kitchen down the back three steps, slamming the door shut and turning the key. Just seconds later we heard someone try to open the back door.
In those days nobody in Bismarck locked their doors during the day. We made a token gesture at night, putting a hook into its accompanying hole on the front screen door but we never locked
the back door any time of the year, as the milkman would put our bottles inside to keep them from freezing in the winter and from getting too hot in the summer.
We went then down into the basement, where we could talk a bit freer. “What should we do?” I
asked my sister who was a year older than me. “I think we'll have to call the police,” she said.
“But the phone is upstairs. And if whoever it was wanted to get in, all he'd have had to do was undo the catch on the screen windows, lift them out onto the porch, and climb through the open window." In choosing to go for the back door, we forgot that we hadn't really solved the problem at all.
We didn't know where he was, but also knew that hiding out in the basement wasn't going to be a long term option.
“I've got to go to work soon,” I said. I worked as a nurses' aide at the local hospital – only two blocks away, but I had to walk there, and even though there would be street lights to guide me, I knew that it would seem like a mile on that night. We crept slowly back up the stairs and towards the front door. We couldn't see anyone on the porch now. “Lock the door as soon as I'm out, and then call the
police,” I instructed her.
“Make sure you call me as soon as you get to work,” she said.
I turned on the porch light – nobody was there. “Make sure you close and lock these windows,” I
instructed her. "He might well come back.” I opened the door, hearing her lock it securely with the key behind me, and then I ran down the steps, and as quickly as I could made the trip to my
hospital unit, which was the maternity department. I worked the 12-8 shift in the nursery. Still puffing from my run, I said Hi to my colleagues. But before I went in for the briefing, I asked to use the
“I'm here safely, and didn't see anybody by the house,” I told Judy when she answered the phone.
“I've called the police and they said they would cruise around the neighbourhood,” she replied, so we both knew that we were as safe as we could be under the circumstances.
I returned home after my shift, and Judy reported that she had heard the potential burglar again, but he hadn't managed to get in, and she had slept in the basement. But we both decided that as whoever it was might try it again another night, we would see if we could sleep at our neighbour's house that night, and the rest of the time until our parents returned. I gave Judy a lift to work, and then tried to get some sleep myself.
Our neighbours were a lovely old German couple – Matt and Minnie, and they welcomed us, very pleased to be able to offer us a bed and some security. Judy said the police had volunteered to continue to comb the area, but they hadn't seen anyone or anything suspicious after our call the night before.
Not wanting to keep our neighbours up beyond their usual bedtime, we left our house, locked it as secure as we could at about 9 p.m. and were soon settled down in our new beds. Even though I was used to working at night, I never had any trouble sleeping on my days off – and I was exhausted, not having had much of a sleep during the day – as our weather had been typical of August – in the high 90's – much too hot to sleep.
But I woke up with a start in the night – probably about 2 a.m. I had heard a loud bang. and it had come from our house next door. I shook Judy to wake her up. “Did you hear that?”
“What are you talking about?”
“A bang – loud – from our house. Maybe it was a gunshot.”
“Don't be so stupid.”
“Maybe the burglar came back and blew the lock off with a gun.”
“No, don't even think like that.”
“Well, something happened,” I whispered to her, not wanting to wake our neighbours. Then I had a guilty thought. “Maybe the hot water heater exploded.”
“What do you mean?”
“I forgot to turn off the gas, so maybe the pilot light blew out and the gas accumulated in the basement.”
“Are you sure you forgot?”
“Yeah. I think with all our worries about the burglar and then coming here earlier than we normally would have gone to bed, I just forgot.”
So we decided we would both creep out and go into our house – which luckily we could see wasn't on fire – to see if we could fix my error.
Judy led the way, and having unlocked the back door, we crept downstairs – through a door into the furnace room. The basement was unfinished – there was concrete on the floor, and cement walls, with asbestos lined ducts for hot air but nothing was painted. The hot water heater was next to the huge gas furnace, which provided hot air central heating, which was turned off for the summer, but we still needed to heat hot water, so there was a small auxillary heater for that purpose. We turned on the light and looked around the room. There was no smell of gas – but sure enough, the gas tap was on, and there was no flame on the pilot light.
I quickly turned the lever to stop the gas flow. “I expect the explosion used up all the accumulated gas and that's why we can't smell it.” Knowing that things could have been a lot worse, we were very relieved. Reassured that we had done all we could to fix the situation, we crept back upstairs, relocked the door, and returned to our neighbours' beds of safety.
Who would have thought that we would have to contend with two such horrific problems on two nights running, but after that we managed to cope without any more and were very relieved when
our parents returned to take over their responsibilities.
Just a footnote. The police caught our probable potential burglar a few days later, when he was attempting to go into another neighbour girl's house. He was Ronnie – one of Judy's old boyfriends who lived on the next block. Shortly after that he joined the army.