“You’re taking a journey through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination…”
Thus began Rod Serling’s narration leading in to episodes of the Twilight Zone back in the early 1960’s. I used to watch the show which came on at 10:00 on Friday nights, not the most intelligent thing to do as a 10-year-old boy whose next mandate was, “Go to bed.”
After checking under the bed and in the closet and making sure the closet door was closed to keep anything supernatural from escaping, I would stare into the semi-darkness until overwhelmed by the approach of sleep.
I had an imagination with few boundaries. In high school, I made most of my few grades of A+ in English class when writing stories suitable for Serling’s taste. One story was about a man whose prankster brother removed a corpse from its casket only to be later found dead in the same casket. Another story was about a murderous husband haunted by the red shoes he’d placed on the wife’s feet prior to her burial. A third… well, you get the picture.
I tell you of these stories to let you know – I did have an imagination – and one night… the first Wednesday in August of 1967, something happened that seemed starkly real.
Jefferson’s football team, of which I was a member, was in the midst of two-a-day practices. Earlier that evening we had finished our sixth practice in full pads for the week.
One might think that after six such practices in three days that one would put his head on the pillow and be, within seconds, sound asleep. But bruised and sore, unable to get comfortable in bed, I was wide awake, long after my three sisters, my mother, and my grandmother, whom we lived with at the time, had gone to sleep.
We had lived with my grandmother ever since the death of my father, killed by a dynamite bomb wired to his car two years earlier. We had no air conditioning, so the window was open, a fan humming, sort of like background music to the songs of crickets and katydids.
Wounded from the day’s football wars, I tossed, dreading the next day’s practices, especially if I got too little sleep. Suddenly, I sat up in bed, having caught a whiff of an odor wafting through the open window. I took a deeper breath and recognized an unmistakable stench that I had smelled only one time before. It was the smell of burned hair and flesh, the smell on my father, the taste of my father as I had tried to give mouth-to-nose resuscitation on the morning of his death.
I breathed in the smell again, and then once more, out of bed now. The smell drifted by and seemed to dissipate in the hallway behind me. Disturbed, I walked in to the kitchen and looked at the electric clock above the refrigerator. It was ten minutes after midnight. A new day. And that day was August 7, the second anniversary of that murder.
Trembling, I considered waking up – my mother? No, I wouldn’t do that. What would I tell her? That I smelled – my father? I wanted to wake up somebody. Anybody. But, no, I sat in the kitchen, wondering what it meant for me to smell that smell again on this day?
For a while, I didn’t talk about it. Not much, anyway, because the people I talked to said it was only my imagination, when I knew that it wasn’t. A few others said I’d been visited by a ghost or by a demon impersonating my father.
Another explanation was offered years later when I took a pastoral course on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), something suffered by Vietnam veterans after firefights. When looking at the list of symptoms; sudden anger, nightmares, unwarranted fear, hallucinations, flashbacks, I marked off all the checkpoints of my own experience. I was not a veteran, but I was certainly a candidate for PTSD during those years.
And yet, I am convinced that what I smelled that August night in the bedroom was real. Who knows, on this late October night, how fine a line might exist between any one world – and the next.
I wonder how Rod Serling might have summarized that nocturnal visit. Maybe he would have said something like this – “Dickey Hoard—a young teenaged football player – exhausted by activities of the present – wounded by events of the past — suddenly finds that the past never truly recedes from us – and can make its nocturnal visits to the present without warning, leaving its blurred images so imprinted on the mind that he is left to wonder—is this — The Twilight Zone?”