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Letter From America: The Uninvited

...Forgetfulness is as normal to ageing as horns are to a goat. That is the most probable reason why it took so long for the penny to drop...

But 83-year-old Stacy Ferrance could never have imagined why things were going missing in her house, as Ronnie Bray reveals in this astonishing tale.

For more of Ronnie's invigorating columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/letter_from_america/

Worse than forgetting that your guests will be arriving for dinner is the experience of having someone come that was not invited, especially you do not know they have. It sounds improbable, and so it ought to be, but that does not prevent it from happening.

Forgetfulness is as normal to ageing as horns are to a goat. That is the most probable reason why it took so long for the penny to drop.

"Perhaps I took my clothes to the cleaners," thought Stacy Ferrance? No," she reasoned, "if I had, then I would have still the stubs." But she had no stubs. She looked into her wardrobe again but her garments still were not there.

"Where on earth could they have got to?"

"Perhaps I drank all the milk at suppertime forgetting that it would leave me without any for breakfast?"

She couldnít remember doing so but the empty bottle was in the fridge. She was struck by the thought that if she had emptied the bottle, then she would have put it in the bin, not stuck it back in the fridge.

There were other things besides clothing and milk that shuffled her well on the road to believing that she was turning into her grandmother Ė a Grande Dame who couldnít remember anything about anything when she was 83 other than she was the mother of Geronimo and expected President Buchanan to call for her any minute and take her off to Acapulco for the weekend.

Stacey uncovered more evidence that she really was going mad, but she could still count the change in her purse, although sometimes it shrank overnight? She mislaid her iPod and her laptop computer, and several items of food, but not at the same time.

She put her forgetfulness down to the bump on her head, sustained when she got in her car too swiftly but with too little accuracy, banging her hard on the temple that left her with a lump, intense pain, and funny black squiggles in her eyes.

Her neighbour told her that people with head injuries did all kinds of daft stuff without remembering any of it. Prompted further, her local expert cum confidante plied her with a litany of dreadful embarrassing events that followed Ďbangs on the bean,í as he put it.

That did nothing to help her recover her grip on reality, and even less to comfort her, and so she left him recounting his catalogue of evidence to a half-pruned laurel bush that looked as if it had heard them all before.

Her doctor prescribed anti-anxiety tablets, her daughter, who lived with her, told her she needed a rest, the postman advised a Kenyan Safari, her garage man said he had seen her condition before, and that it had only been cured after the poor woman had a complete nervous breakdown. "If thatís the case," she told the mechanic, "then Iím nearly cured, because Iím almost mad!"

It was the noises that made her curious. At first she thought it was her grandchildren. They were Olympic standard ruckus makers that couldnít move across a room in their stocking feet over thick carpeting without making as much noise as a herd of elephants.

One day when the children were out with their mother, she imagined she could hear them clumping about upstairs. But was she?

The next time she heard noises when alone in the house, she called the police and told them about the strange happenings. They sent an officer to see what the problem was. She thought that she ought to have called a priest to exorcise whatever was poltergeisting without let or hindrance.

The officer came and was admitted into the hallway.

"Have you seen something, Missus?" he asked, noting that she seemed reluctant to speak. "Are you being bothered?"

"It sounds proper daft, but since you are here Iíll ask you anyway."

"Go on," he prompted.

"Well, I thought I was going off my head Ė and Iím still not sure I arenít Ė but things seem to be going missing."

"What kind of things?"

"Well, thereís clothes, shirts, jackets, trousers, socks, shoes, and stuff, besides the milk keeps disappearing from the fridge, and the pantry stock goes down and down without me eating anything."

"What!" His interest awoke from its slumber.

"Yes, and money goes missing from my purse almost daily."

He stroked his chin the way serious people do when approaching a problem of this magnitude. His first thought was that she was a little unstable, but he knew he had better make sure before making up his mind.

"Do you mind if I take a look around and see if I can see anything?"

"Oh! Would you? That would be lovely."

She followed him as he quietly searched the house. He looked in cupboards, under beds, inside plant pots, shook her best and second-best teapots, poked around in corners, under the stairs, in the rubbish bin, behind curtains, under the sink, on top of wardrobes, and in places where she did not know there were places.

He sat down on a bedroom chair and asked her if she could remember when all this began, and give him details of the emanations, however unimportant she might think they were. She racked her brains and was cheered to learn that her memory wasnít as bad as she had been convinced.

The officer listened attentively, nodding as he listened to her. When she was done, he rose.

"Well, Missus, Iíd say that someone was helping themselves to your stuff. Besides that there looks to be a pattern in it as if someone had a regular cycle of visiting you and stealing from you. Have you any idea who it might be?"

"I canít think of anyone. The streetís neighbourly, if they are a bit on the nosy side, but not the kind of people to break in and steal."

"Break in, you say. Have you found where entry has been made?"

"No, but they must be getting in somewhere, because I know Iím not letting anybody in!"

"Letís have a look outside and see if we can find the entry point."

Nothing suggesting an intruder was found. Disappointed, the pair went back inside the house, and the police officer apologised for not making any progress. He said goodbye and turned to leave, turning back at the doorway, asking,

"Have you heard any strange noises lately?"

"Funny you should ask that. I have heard noises. At first I thought it was the Grandchildren, but then Ö "

"What? What changed your mind?"

"I know this sounds silly, but this morning I thought I saw footprints on the floor of my wardrobe closet. Nobody here has feet that big, and so I called you. I hope you donít Ö "

"Thatís fine, Maíam," said the officer, "You should always call if things donít seem right to you. Letís take a look in your wardrobe."

Looking at the ceiling inside the walk-in wardrobe the deputy noticed that the access door into the roof space wasnít properly seated.

"How often do you use that door?"

"Oh, that hasnít been used for about ten years."

"Is it usually not fully closed?"

"No. How could that have happened?"

"I have my suspicions. You mentioned footprints. Where were they?"

"Right here," she answered pointing to the floor.

"And the noises?"

"They came from upstairs when I was downstairs."

"Ah!" He pursed his lips. "Letís go back downstairs, maíam."

Once in the sitting room, he told her that he thought the intruder had taken up residence in her loft and was helping himself to whatever he could find.

"Oh, dear. What can I do about that?"

"You sit tight here and Iíll call the station and get a dog here. The dog will tell us everything we need to know."

He made the call, and the K9 unit arrived at the house in less than ten minutes. A young man got out of the patrol car, followed by a mild mannered police dog. The first man explained what had been reported, and what his suspicions were.

"OK, Mickey," the handler said, "Letís go and take care of business."

The pair ascended the stairs, and entered the wardrobe. The handler gave an order, "Mickey, speak!" Mickey spoke and frantic noises could be heard above them.

"Right! You up there - come down now or Iíll send the dog up!"

At this threat the trapdoor was raised enough to make a pair of frightened eyes visible in the gap.

"Keep your dog under control, please sir," said the overhead voice, "And Iíll come down."

"Come on then, but no sudden moves or else Mickey will bite you to the bone." Mickey gave a low growl to register his agreement.

The door was raised all the way and a young man dropped down. His appearance was surprising. Mickey took an interest in him, and that was sufficient to keep the young man disposed mildly.

As they took him downstairs, Mrs Ferrance could contain her curiosity no longer. She arrived at the foot of the stairs as the officers, dog, and felon did. The householder shrieked at him, "Why are you wearing my daughter's pants and my sweat shirt and sneakers? What do you think you are doing?"

"Leave him to us, maíam," said the first officer. Weíll get the story out of him and then fill you in on the details.

Stacey was thankful and settled when they had driven off with her thieving interloper. Whatever his story was, she was confidant that she had not lost her marbles.

When the policeman returned the next day to take her statement and a list of missing items, she was told how the situation had come about.

The felon, a young man of twenty-one named Stanley Carter, had been staying with friends next door to the Ferrance house, but had worn out his welcome and was told to leave. He left abruptly when no one was at home without informing them where he was going. They then became worried for his safety and made out a missing person report.

It is true that Mr Carter had gone, but he had not gone far. Hoisting himself into the attic and finding no dividing wall between his friendsí loft and Staceyís, he walked through the open space, wrapped himself in blankets and insulating material, and settled down to live without working, and coped by stealing food and clothing when Stacey and her daughter and family were not at home.

Stanley was arraigned on several counts of burglary, theft, receiving stolen property, and criminal trespass. Surprisingly, he listed everything he had stolen. Police found a note on which was written, 'Stanley's Christmas List' containing all the items he had filched from the family and then gifted to himself."

Another for whom "The Uninvited" is an appropriate appellation, is the unnamed burglar who forced his way into a Funeral Home under cover of darkness, and tried to deceive the police by feigning death.

Neighbours called the police after hearing the Ďdeadí man burst through the door in the middle of the night. Police officers arrived, accompanied by the business owner, and searched the premises for the criminal, but found no sign of anyone that ought not to be there.

The only thing suspicious was the supine corpse inside a glass case used for viewing departed family members and friends when holding wakes. Two things were outstanding. The first is that no one is buried in their dirty, rumpled clothing. They are always dressed in their Sunday best. The second sign would have given the game away if the first had not attracted their attention. He was breathing! QED!

His reason for breaking in remains a mystery, because nothing of value is kept in the funeral parlour overnight.

The uninvited that come upon us surreptitiously, silently, and selfishly, are unlikely to be clothed in robes of honour, feasted with fatted calves, wept over, or welcomed.

There are notable occasions when the uninvited are warmly and enthusiastically welcomed. Such as when an old friend turns up on your doorstep half a lifetime after losing touch, and when an estranged child resolves to make peace with the past, the best of the present, and hope for the future.

Copyright © 2009 Ė Ronnie Bray
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