Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"You unlock this door..."

... with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both style and substance of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone." (R. Serling)

Doo doo, doo doo. Doo doo, doo doo... The Twilight Zone: I've been there, you know. And here's the story I promised you way back when I started this blog. I hope I can do it justice...

In 1981, I was still living with my parents on Stoney Creek Road at Kingsgrove, and had started doing local casual teaching work, awaiting a study trip to Ireland (a Montessori course I never got around to doing, mainly 'cos I'd have been staying with Irish nuns in Dublin - and the IRA had taken to bombing Irish nuns at the time). Frustratingly, although we lived directly opposite Kingsgrove Infants School, I was only ever offered one day's work there.

One morning, I was heading off down nearby Kingsgrove Road, either on my way to a day's work at Kingsgrove Primary School, or perhaps I was catching a train at Kingsgrove Station. As I passed the bus stop opposite Kingsgrove High School, I noticed an old fashioned Globite suitcase, secured by leather straps, apparently abandoned on the nature strip.

About a block further along, a dusty little elderly man suddenly popped up, seemingly out of nowhere - he must have been in his late 80s, maybe early 90s - and he asked me, "How do I get to Kingsgrove High School?"

It took me a moment to comprehend what he was asking. The school in question was almost within spitting distance, and the man had such an intense expression. He wore horn-rimmed glasses with lenses like Coke bottles - literally as thick as the bottom of a Coke bottle - and coated with a thick layer of dust. I was amazed he could see anything out of them. He was also wearing a very old-fashioned black suit, and carried a wooden walking stick. I tried to point out the school, but he wanted to know if he could catch a bus there. Again, I tried to point out the nearby location of the school, but I was feeling rather flummoxed. (It didn't help that he looked rather like an extremely elderly version of Burgess Meredith in the ironic "Twilight Zone" episode, "Time Enough at Last", in which a book fanatic is the last man left in civilization, trapped in a library, but then breaks his glasses.

Did the man mean that he wanted to try to catch a bus to the school, in which case that wouldn't be necessary, or did he have to catch a bus from the bus stop at the school?

"I live at the school..." I thought he said. (He lives at the school - or did he say near the school?)

Now running late, I regrettably had to fob him off with more hand gestures towards the school and the bus stop. And I was on my way, feeling a little guilty at abandoning him, but also more than a little glad to be out of his eerie presence.

That night, my spine still felt rather chilled by my strange encounter. Over dinner, I tried to describe my chance meeting with the dusty-little-old-man-with-dusty-Coke-bottle-glasses. Neither my parents nor my brothers seemed to understand just how creepy the scene had been. In fact, I got the distinct feeling that they almost didn't believe me.

Everyone had gone to bed by 10.00 pm, or thereabouts, but I was fiddling with some project or other - as per usual (and not too different to 2007) - and it got to be about 11.45pm, when I heard the weirdest twanging noise out in the front yard.

"Twang, twang, twang, twang, twang, twang..."

I'd just convinced myself I was hearing things when the noise started up again.

"Twang, twang, twang, twang, twang, twang..."

Finally, I opened the front door and stepped out onto the front balcony and peered into the darkness. And there he was... (doo doo, doo doo...)

... the little-old-man-with-dusty-Coke-bottle-glasses was banging on the metal balcony railing with his walking stick. He was holding a battered old Globite suitcase tied up with leather straps.

He asked me, "How can I get to the high school? Do I need to catch a bus to get there?"

Deja vu? Again, it took me a moment or more to comprehend exactly what he was asking me. Once again, Kingsgrove High School was almost within spitting distance, but in the opposite direction than it was from the location of our prior conversation. (Had this eerie little man been following me all day? How come he didn't pop up again until everyone else - my witnesses - had gone to bed? Would anyone believe me? Did people actually get out of "The Twilight Zone" alive?)

So did the little old man mean that he wanted to try to catch a bus to the school - in which case, once again, that wouldn't be necessary - or did he have to catch his bus from the bus stop outside the school? At 11.45pm?

"I live at the school..." I thought he said again, or did he say near the school.

It's hard to recall what happened next. I think I pointed in the direction of the high school and ran inside. And went to bed. And tried to sleep.

Needless to say, noone believed me the next morning, although I was glad the little stranger had vanished without a trace. (If that Globite suitcase had been sitting on the verandah, I may have screamed.)

Looking back on the two encounters over the next few days, I eventually worked out that, wherever the man had been going that morning (Rockdale was the end of the route), he must have been returning from there to the same bus stop, but the driver had mistakenly let him off too early: at the Infants School (ie. opposite our house), instead of at the High School a block further down Stoney Creek Road.

Afterword: Several years later, my Dad happened to mention a bizarre little anecdote he'd heard about the eccentric, very elderly father of a golfing mate... who'd lived alone, opposite Kingsgrove High School, until he was well into his 90s - and I realised I'd finally solved at least enough of the mystery to know that Rod Serling wasn't going to pop up some day and drag me off to the Twilight Zone.

Doo doo, doo doo. Doo doo, doo doo...


nash said...

I can just picture this odd little man... How strange that you were the only one in your family to clap eyes on him. I'm surprised you never saw him again. Hmmm, there's a short film here I think...

Therin of Andor said...

Especially since I walked past that house where he lived (near the school bus stop) almost every day for seven years...

You know, children's author Paul Jennings wrote a creepy/whimsical book called "The Gizmo" in 1994, and there's a illustration of a dusty little man with thick glasses who gives the boy a magical device that grants wishes. The man wears thick lenses, behind which it is constantly raining! I got chills reading this book to kids and seeing that picture.