I was 13, and for some reason the members of my family seemed foreign to me when these events took place.
We had hurriedly finished a pleasant meal in the Winston’s large and brightly lit dining room when Mrs. Winston herded us up a narrow stairway to their lofty attic. The only light came from the fading twilight through east and west windows.
“I’ve already put cots out for each of you,” Mrs. Winston said. “Sorry they’re not altogether in one place. They’re spread out over the room. Some of these stacks of boxes are just too large to move.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” Dad said. “We’ll make do. We’re just grateful to be here for now.”
“Well, if you need anything,” said Mrs. Winston, “Just put a note on the top stair step. I’ll be checking it every few hours.”
Mrs. Winston started to retreat down the stairs, but stopped herself. “Just so you know, that north wall door doesn’t work. It goes to an old fire escape they used when this place was a small boarding school, but the last people who owned this old building sealed it shut. I think it’s quite secure now. I think everybody has forgotten about it, like I almost did just now.”
Mom and Dad both thanked her. “We’re so grateful to you Lydia.” Mom gave her a hug, and then she was gone, leaving us in the darkening crowded room.
There wasn’t much to do but get ready for bed. Mom had to keep telling the girls to be quiet. The deadness that surrounded us seemed to amplify the usual noises of conversation.
Finally we all settled down. I tossed and turned under the thin blankets. I could hear my two sisters rustling in their cots off to my right. I must have gone to sleep for a while. I was awakened by a rhythmic noise that grew louder.
I was disoriented when I sat up and couldn’t figure out where I was. The noise wasn’t coming from the partially obstructed east window. It wasn’t coming from the stairway we had come up with Mrs. Winston. I turned around to look out the west window behind me, but couldn’t make out anything. For some reason there weren’t any street lights on. All was dark. The noise was coming from the north wall to my left.
“Mommy, what is it?” whispered Sandy.
“It sounds like people marching,” Annette whispered.
“Hush girls,” Mom softly scolded.
“Soldiers,” Dad whispered. “They’re coming up the old fire escape. I bet they try to break through the wall. The old door is probably the weakest point.”
I buried my head under the blankets, but wondered if it would do any good. It was the only thing I could think to do.
Clomp…clomp…clomp…The robotic sound grew still louder, then stopped. Soon there was a rumbling boom at the old sealed door. As terrified as I was, I popped my head out to look. One more crash like that and the door would probably give way.
Before the soldiers could break the door down, something changed. I was in my own bed in my own home. The ticking of the clock on the wall had been the marching soldiers in this grown man’s nightmare. I was relieved, but puzzled. Where had it come from? Was it some kind of premonition?