My father was in the Canadian military. I spent most of my childhood on two bases: CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, and CFB Griesbach in my hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. This long-winded story takes place in the latter. This happened in 1982.
Most of the PMQs (Private Married Quarters; military housing for soldiers with families) in CFB Griesbach had been built in the late 1940s and early 1950s. All the kids in the neighbourhood had stories concerning their respective houses. We used to share stories, and when I think about it now, I'm sure 90 percent of those stories were B.S. or due to overactive imaginations.
But there were a couple of stories that made your blood run cold, at least at that age. My friend Tracy Nicholson swore up and down she saw a man in army boots standing behind the furnace peeking at her one time when her mom sent her down to get something from the deep freeze. In fact, most kids in the neighbourhood had a fear of their basements. Understandable, I guess. Basements are scary when you're that age. I know in my house, I really felt like I was being watched down there. And I could pinpoint where it was coming from: under the stairs and from the northwest corner.
But the main, life-changing thing that happened to me was in 1982, when I was seven. My bedtime was 9 p.m., but I was usually still awake long after my parents went to bed. My mom would check on me at 10 when she and dad were going to bed. I would feign sleep. Afterwards I could hear them snoring in the next room.
This one night I could hear them snoring, probably around 11 p.m. I was lying on my left side facing the bedroom window. The door and closet were behind me. Suddenly I heard the sound of a man, right behind me, breathing very deeply and slowly. Part of me wanted to roll over and look. The bigger part of me froze. It went on for about half a minute, a sound I will never forget to the day I die. It was terrifying. And then it stopped.
The next morning I told my dad about it. He told me it was just the hallway humidifier. Okay... thanks dad, but it wasn't. I could hear the humidifier, and I could hear both my parents sleeping. This was a man breathing, a sound apart from any other sound. And not at all in my head or dreams, as I hadn't fallen asleep yet.
And when I think about it now, my dad's explanation sounds a little forced. I'm nearly 40, and I've long wanted to ask my parents if they ever saw or heard anything in that house. Because I think they might have, but just hid it from me at the time. My mom, especially. Unfortunately, it's not one of those things that comes up in conversation very often, especially among plain-thinking Alberta folk.
I'd like to add one more thing. I slept with the covers over my head until my early 20s. I mean, until then, I could not get to sleep unless the covers were over my head. And I know it was all because of this one stupid, inexplicable experience.