Who’s there?

Strange things can happen under the dark night skies of Maine, and just such a thing happened to me this week. I was sound asleep at 3:30 AM when my wife jostled me awake. I opened my eyes to find our bedroom bathed in a bright light, coming in the front windows. The nights here are always deep black. There are no street lights for miles, and our house is surrounded on all sides by woods and fields. No other houses or lights are visible. At 3:30 in the morning, there is no one and nothing. But not this morning.

The light in the room was alarming and strange.It was as though a flying saucer had landed on our front lawn. I ran to the window and looked out. No flying saucer, no G-men with spotlights. Nothing but our van, which was parked out in front of the house where it often is. It was still parked there, but the lights were on. Headlights, taillights and reverse lights. all blaring brightly. Our first thought was that someone was stealing the car. But we didn’t hear a sound. There was no motion, No car door opening or closing. The engine was off. There was nothing but the car, sitting there with its lights all ablaze.

I put my bathrobe and slippers on, grabbed a flashlight and headed downstairs. From inside the front window of the house I shone my light on the car. I figured that whoever was in it would be alarmed to see a light shining in on them, and so might show themselves, or do something. My flashlight beam played on the various windows of the car, but it revealed nothing. I would have to go closer.

I slowly opened the front door and stepped out into the night. The air was sharp and damp. No sound but an owl calling half a mile away. The van sat there, gushing out light in complete stillness. I was nervous about confronting whomever or WHAT ever was responsible for this. I approached the van from behind and thrust my beam into the back window, expecting movement of some kind inside. But the only movement was the searching flashlight beam itself. The seats, the seat belts, the boxes and junk in the back– everything was normal, familiar. Just the way we left it. The way it would be at a familiar time, like 9 in the morning, or going to the supermarket at 4 in the afternoon. I came up the driver’s side like a wary state trooper. I wanted to smash the driver in the face with the full blinding beam of my flashlight, to catch him off guard and startle him. I pushed the flashlight right up against the driver’s window. But no one was there. Just the empty seat, the blind headrest and the empty, shadowy coffee cup holder. I looked at the instrument panel and the headlight switch was in the off position. Nothing had moved, nothing had changed. No explanation, no clues. Just this quiet night and this strange troubled van, hemorrhaging light.

I stood and thought about it for a while, but the cold night air made me shiver and I wanted to be back in my warm safe bed. As I turned to go, the lights went out, plunging me back into blackness. It was as though whatever spirit had visited the van had suddenly flown away again, leaving me there alone with my creepy feeling and the owl in the woods. I made a quick retreat to my bed.

As I started to relax there, I tried to explain what had happened, but I couldn’t. I remembered a conversation I had once had with my brother Mack, who is a scientist. I had remarked on how wonderful it was that the whole universe follows the natural laws so completely, thoroughly and constantly. Every grain of sand responds appropriately to gravity and wind and water pressure, and every leaf, no matter how hidden and deep in the forest, responds faithfully to the breath of the wind, trembling at the right time and the right speed. Everything seems to do exactly what it should be doing at all times. But my brother asked “but do they REALLY? How do we know? Maybe somewhere, something is stepping out of conformity. Breaking the law. Or making up a new one. I like to think that there might be the occasional lawbreaker. Who can say?”

I lay in the bed, just about asleep, but waiting to make sure that nothing else weird was going to happen. I was waiting for the van radio to go on at full blast, playing some thunderous Bach organ music until I went back down again to shut it off. Or maybe the horn would start honking, or the whole thing would start rolling silently down the road. Or I would find it in the living room the next morning. I was afraid we might be in the opening episode of a revival of that old TV chestnut, “My Mother The Car.” Anything was possible. Luckily, nothing else happened.

Or did it?

The Van

The van in question, looking completely nonchalant the next morning, as though nothing in the world had happened.