Let me set the scene. It's a rainy Sunday morning -- early -- as in before 10:00 AM. I haven't even turned on the TV, so it's very quiet. (And note: I'm getting more than a little deaf, so I'm used to a quiet world). My condo unit is at the back of the building, facing a row of tall and bushy cedars and junipers, which make fine insulation against the sounds from the street on the other side.
I'm alone in the house, except for the four cats, who were last seen still sleeping on top of the bedspread. (Note #2: Being alone in the house does not spook me, ever. I'm used to it now, and most of the time, I actually enjoy it.)
I do not hear phantom noises. Just the other day, my next-door neighbor was complaining that the yard men never trim her shrubbery away from the house. As a result, she hears the branches scratching against her window every night. "Doesn't it bother you?" she asked. "It always sounds to me as if someone is trying to remove the window screen." Then she cocked her head and said, "Oh, you don't even hear it?" She was right. I don't. But even if I did, I don't think I would imagine a prowler at my window screen. We're talking holly bushes here -- those with the stiff and prickly leaves. I wouldn't venture in amongst them for any reason short of a life or death emergency.
And yet, there's a noise. I can't tell where it's coming from. (That's another consequence of going deaf, I've discovered.) It's a crackling noise -- not spaced out at regular intervals, but random -- the kind that make you wait, holding your breath, for the next one to come -- or not. My imagination -- used to coming up with logical explanations for most of the world's phenomena -- plays around the possibilities.
Fire? Possible, but it doesn't really sound like that kind of crackle. Besides, fire implies smoke, and there's nothing wrong with my nose. I'd smell a fire before I heard one.
Electrical sparking from wiring inside the wall? No, the smell argument still applies. There's no mistaking an electrical fire.
An anode tube getting ready to burn out? Oh, that one reveals my age! TVs and computers now run on circuit boards, not tubes. Even the so-called "lightbulbs" in this room are really full of florescent gas, not crackly wires.
A mouse? No way. Not in a house full of cats. I can't even wiggle a toe under the bedclothes without somebody pouncing on it.
At last I look behind the desk, feeling more than a little silly at my nervousness. And lo, there is a cat back there -- a big, orange, 20-pounder -- and he's crouched over something, growling at it. I imagine a rat, a lizard, a snake, a huge palmetto bug, maybe even the chipmunk who lives on our porch.
Very cautiously I nudge the cat away with the toe of my shoe, thinking that if it's a snake, my bare ankle is a goner. And what do I find?