Uncle Cold Feet
My wife likes to check the house before bed.
It’s sort of an obsessive habit. Maybe even a bit compulsive. We live in a sketchy part of town, now, by the beach; so it’s only intensified since.
First, she checks the sliding door in the kitchen. Three clicks of the bolt, back and forth, just to make sure the damn thing still works. Then it’s the basement. Same thing; lock up, lock down, lock up, lock down. Then the front door. Then the side door. And finally, the baby’s door.
Always in that order. Always before bed.
Then she usually makes me get up and check them again.
I don’t mind it, truthfully. It’s like a little tango that we have played throughout our five years of marriage. That dance has survived three homes and apartments, one healthy baby boy, and countless late night horror flicks which probably kept us paranoid and up late in the first place. It’s as common as the weekly sushi runs, or trips to my brother’s baseball games, or pizza night with the neighbors. I have come to welcome the lock checking habit as of the many quirky eccentricities that make our marriage unique. I respect and expect it. I even feel out of tune without it. You get the point…
Before the events of ‘that night’, I considered my house to be the suburban Fort Knox.
Therefore, I knew enough to know that my infant son’s bedroom door should not be open at two in the morning.
That door has an odd creak to it that screams of rusted hinges. I had been meaning to fix it for ages. Sure enough, that sound woke me up, sometime after two. I didn’t hear anything that came before it. Only that one familiar crack. It was subtle, soft, crick of the frame, that sounded as subtle as a breeze passing through.
But I knew enough to know that, even if your living on the beach, breezes do not generally blow indoors.
My wife did not seem to notice. I shoved her on the shoulder a bit and whispered for her attention. But Emma just rolled over lazily and sniffled. Sometimes she slept so soundly she might as well be dead. I thought about shouting her awake, but, I heard footsteps.
That sounds a lot more absurd in words. But I swear; a steady dripping followed each movement. One drop for each foot forward.
I held my breath to listen.
The door to Sam’s bedroom flew openly wildly. The metal handle smashed against our white walls and recoiled recklessly.
Light feet scampered across our wooden floors and into his door. Water continued to drip and began to puddle in place.
The door closed behind them.
Then the house house fell silent.
I sat awake, listening to all of this, in slightly ashamed fear. My hand reached down under the bed to find the comforting leather grip of my baseball bat.
I told myself I was being quiet. I told myself that was the smart thing to do. You know, to not alert the intruder, and let him know I knew.
But I think I was just being a coward.
The TV in Sam’s room turned on.
The monotonous drone of a State Farm commercial drifted its way through the halls. A familiar jingle flooded the room on high volume as a dull blue light entered the hallway.
Then the damn thing turned to static.
My wife stirred in bed again. The heat kicked back on after hours of inactivity. Even still, the blood underneath my skin felt like it was turning to ice.
I knew enough to know my two-month old son could not turn on the TV on his own.
I lifted the bat forwards. I swung my feet around to the cold floor, quietly, and listened. I could not hear the water dripping anymore. But the blue light still made its way into the hallway between our rooms.
Then the baby monitor started to act up.
It sounded like a radio station trying to find it’s signal. Bits and pieces of a male voice blended awkwardly with a female who shouted shrilly in the background. I clipped the monitor to my shirt and got up just as one clear phrase vibrated through the tiny little device.
“I just wanted to see him.”
“It’s so COLD, Franklin.”
“The water… the water’s coming.”
“*Cold feet can you save him, Cold Feet?”
I tried to avoid the growing cacophony of voices filling the house. First from the baby monitor, then the television in Sam’s room. Emma seemed to have no such difficulties. Why did I? I tried to tell myself to stay forward. Focus on your son, stupid. Somebody could be in his room. It could be a kidnapper. Or a murderer. Maybe the noises were meant to distract me.There is always a logical explanation for the illogical. And every form of logic pointed to a bad fucking situation in Sam’s room.
I needed to get there. I rushed out into the hallway, where the voices became clearer.
“I JUST WANT TO SEE HIM.”
A fifties-esque female voice chimed in from the television for the first time.
“You’ll never see this side of the Atlantic again, sailor.”
“I JUST WANT TO SEE HIM.”
“You’ll never touch this side of the Atlantic again, sailor.”
The audacity of the situation called for a little dramatics. I tried the handle to Sam’s door and found it jammed. We never used a lock. I tried to kick it down, but, the door didn’t budge.
I kicked the damn thing over and again. Emma appeared at my side, in a panic of questions and tears. I told her to stand back.
Once I made a hole big enough to look through, I stopped, got to my knees, and took a peek. The sight of the creature on the other side still sends a shiver down my spine.
It wore an ordinary white naval uniform. I saw stripes and pins and badges clear enough to suggest that somebody had seriously broken into my house. But then I noticed it’s skin.
It was rotted. Even that is an understatement. Every inch of the creature’s sponge-like skin seemed to suggest decades of decay. Bits of skin dripped lazil, like boogers, with the water that pooled on the floor. It’s feet bore an odd blue color. Like a piece of meat left in the freezer too long.
I hit the door one more time with the bat.
As soon as we entered the room, Emma took one look at the creature and fainted. I thought about joining her. My infant son wailed horribly in the background as I proceeded nervously towards the creature in the corner. The voices continued to echo. But they came from the corners of the sailor’s rotted mouth.
I closed my eyes and hurled the bat recklessly in its direction.
I heard a splash. Like… a child thrashing around in the pool.
When I opened my eyes again, we were alone. The only sound beside my son’s constant wails was the growing tide of icy cold water. It flooded the room in waves from behind the walls.
An excavation of my home the next morning revealed nothing more than a cracked pipe behind the walls. In a proper New Jersey winter, that is always a possibility, if you don’t run the water every now and then.
The insurance agent claimed we were lucky to have caught it. The water could have been high enough to reach Sam. He told us to “thank our lucky stars”, but he didn’t know the half of it.
I have told this story a few times since it happened. Nobody really believed me. I get that. Most people are skeptics. I’m a skeptic. At least, I used to be.
But there is only other detail that makes me quite uncomfortable in this house.
I told family member of mine is very interested in Ancestry. Maybe obsessive is a better word. She has traced our family back six generations, and is always looking for more. Anway, she found an obituary recently, belonging to our Great Uncle… and the closeness of the description was enough for her to send it over to me.
Here it is, transcribed.
Arthur B. ‘Cold Feet’ Hayes. Born 2/12/1927. Assumed Deceased 1/24/1952
Arthur Beauford Hayes, of Brooklyn, died at sea. He was born in St. Louis Missouri and was employed by the United States Navy for five years. On the night he died, Cold Feet saved six men from drowning, after a collapsed hull sent them overboard. He was never found in the morning.
Arthur enjoyed nothing more than placing his feet in the waves and soaking up the sun. He earned the nickname ‘Cold Feet’ from his mother, Evelyn, as a teenager, and it stuck all the way through his time in the service.
Arthur is survived by a brother, Melvin, and two sisters; Jacqueline and Amy Hayes Callister (my grandmother). He has four nephews and many more grand nieces and nephews whom he loved and spoiled greatly.
Funeral Services will be held on January 30th at Coastline Temple. The family has asked that all gifts be given as donations to a charity of their choosing.
I haven’t shared this last bit with anyone else. My wife will freak out, and my friends… they never really believed it to begin with. But as sure as I am sitting here, I know the truth, and it feels good to type it all out.
Uncle Cold Feet saved my son’s life that night.
Is it wrong to hope he doesn’t come back?