We all have corners of our lives that go unexplained. Something happens, we can't label it or file it or do anything much but place it in a big mental box labeled I DON'T KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS SAVE FOR LATER USE and go on with our lives. I've had a few such experiences, some scary some simply weird. Here is one of those tales:


I was skipping school almost every day in fourth grade, but no one really had noticed yet. I was just bored with it all, it wasn't challenging for me and I didn't really see the point of going. So, I'd pretend like I was walking to school and instead I'd go play in a field for awhile, then, when I was sure mom had gone for the day, I'd return home and read books. One of my favorite places to do this was in the living room in the front of the house. We had a big picture window, which allowed me to see out into the driveway. If mom came home unexpectedly for lunch or anything like that, I could quickly dash into my bedroom and hide in my closet until she left again.

My one companion throughout my early experiences with truancy was my dog, a long haired dachshund named Maggie. Maggie was my protector, my guardian, my best friend from the time I was an infant. When asleep in my crib, Maggie would lay herself across the threshold of the doorway leading into my room and challenge any potential visitors with a growl. She was nearly always by my side during my youth, though by the time '74 had rolled around, she was elderly and slept most of the time. Recently she'd taken to sleeping under the oleander bush that grew on the far side of the driveway. She'd go out there in the morning, make a little nest for herself, stir herself long enough to see me off to school (I always wondered if she understood how unhappy I was ... I think she did) and go back to her own little dreamworld there under the oleander. Sometimes, when I returned home (far earlier than I was supposed to) she'd come inside with me, and sleep at my feet while I read in the living room. As time wore on, though, the amount of time she spent with me grew less and less. I knew she wasn't long for this Earth, but I never really thought about it that much. One day, she would die. That was all I really told myself.

The day Maggie died, however, was one of the most frightening days of my life. I was, as usual, curled up on the couch, reading the latest Madeleine L'Engle book or perhaps some Tolkien. The picture window was happily letting sunshine into the living room, drowning the room in warm, buttery light.

It was thus very surprising, and very frightening, when the window simply ... disintegrated with a huge crash and I heard footsteps no more than 8 feet in front of me. Something invisible had walked in, and through, the living room window. I could sense its presence. It wasn't human, nor was it fully animal. But I could hear it breathing, a sort of chuffing sound. I was frozen in terror, not sure what to do next, whether I should scream or cry or run. My brain had locked itself, poised perfectly on the edge of fight or flight. The chuffing sound that horrible animal CHUFFING wouldn't go away. And I couldn't move myself, I knew something ... some presence, some spirit, some ghost ... was in the room with me, and I was completely and utterly transfixed by its power.

Then I heard a voice, deep, raspy, and canine. It said, simply, horribly, "MAGGIE" ...

...and then it was gone. It had served its purpose, delivered its message, its warning, its fear ... it had given all of that to me, and left as easily as it had come.

My knees and legs finally unlocked and I ran out to the oleander bush, to find Maggie there, seemingly asleep. I placed my hand on the scruff of her neck, to wake her gently as I had come to do in her old age. But she was dead, and stiffening, and ants had begun to eat her.

I buried Maggie myself that afternoon, getting sweaty and hot and dirty, but I buried her deep under that oleander bush, which had given her so much pleasure in the final days of her life.

When my mom came home that evening from work, I told her everything. I told her that I'd been skipping school, I told her about the window and about something that walked into the room and which spoke just a name to me before leaving.

My mom wasn't angry ... she could see how frightening the experience was to me to really doubt what I was telling her was truth. She even went so far as to suggest that what came crashing through the window was perhaps my own personal guardian spirit which was living in Maggie's body, only to be released upon her death.

"You're on your own now, kiddo," she told me. No longer could I expect to be protected by that particular entity. That meant, she said, that I'd have to trust her, and tell her when I was unhappy with my life, be more communicative with her rather than running away to a world of books.

The next day, Mom found and enrolled me into a school for "gifted" children. My school career took a dramatic turn for the better after that. A better gift Maggie could not have given me, even though she (or something) had to scare me half to death in order to get my feet on that path.

Thank you, Maggie.

August 16th 1987 was my first Sunday as a California resident. I'd just moved my young family from New Jersey across the continent to enable me to take a senior manager's job at Intel working on the CAD software for the i486 project.

We were still reeling from our goodbye at Newark Airport two days prior. We'd left both our families in tears as we boarded. We were from the same town in New Jersey, from small families, and had just destroyed the nuclear family unit by not only moving 3000 miles west, but taking away one of the grandchildren as well.

The wife and I did a good job of not taking out our frustration on each other, though we were both homesick. Compared to New Jersey, California was bizarre and unfathomable. Front lawns were landscaped with palm trees and you had to make an appointment to take the driver's test at the DMV.

The only way for us to cope was to stay remarkably busy. Look for a home. Handle the address change issues. Set up the bank accounts. Do anything to keep the mind occupied - because when we lapsed into boredom, depression set in.

It was during one of these depressing times immediately after an early dinner that my wife picked up the car keys and her purse and announced she was going grocery shopping, even though we had just gone earlier that morning. We'd forgotten a few things, she said, and wanted to pick up some items for our daughter for dinner for the coming week - and I agreed. She went out leaving me and my 2-year old daughter alone.

I managed to get my daughter settled and playing quietly while I figured I might finally have a few spare moments to catch some preseason football action -- when the apartment literally shook with the deafening sound of airplane engines. It was as if a plane had suddenly decended to an altitude just above our roof and was passing overhead on its way to land.

It was so loud it frightened my daughter who ran to me. I picked her up and not so silently cursed the Intel HR department who had picked this location for us to live while we did our house hunting.

We must be in the landing path for San Jose airport, I presumed. Until then I hadn't heard a single airplane except as a distant ignorable rumble. The wind must have switched - I thought, and so now they were landing the passenger jets right over our place. We'd never be able hear ourselves think, much less sleep if the planes were going to be this loud. It would be impossible to carry on a conversation in the din.

Then the sound stopped with ludicrous abruptness. It cut off as if someone turned off the recording of nearby aircraft engines played at 100 decibels. It seemed the plane had lost its engines and was gliding in for a landing. I expected to hear a crash. I went to the window and saw nothing. I waited for a couple minutes, and still I saw and heard nothing unusual.

Later that evening the TV news reported that Northwest Airlines flight 255, bound for Phoenix from Detroit, had crashed on take off at 8:45 Eastern time, 5:45 Pacific time, the same time my wife had gone out for groceries. About twenty employees of Intel's Chandler, Arizona office had been killed. They had been at a conference in Detroit.

I started work at Intel the next day. For the remaining three months we lived in that apartment I never heard another airplane except as a low rumble in the distance.

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