At 4:00 in the morning, I’m jolted from a sound sleep by a long, eerie howl—and by then on high alert with a second one that quickly followed. The ear-splitting cries are coming from the top of the staircase just inside my bedroom door. It was either a deranged human, or a crazed animal.

I’ve wondered what I’d do if an intruder broke into my house. Well, I found out. I turned on the light. I was afraid, but whatever was in my room, I had to know what was coming my way.

But there was nothing there. The howls must have come from the deck off my bedroom. I didn’t open the door to the outside (I’m IMG_7386not stupid), but did lift the blinds. Nothing there either. The morning before, I’d watched a fox sitting on my back fence for fifteen minutes, and I knew bobcats and mountain lions had been spotted in the surrounding neighborhood a few blocks away. It could have been a coyote, a bobcat, or maybe even a mountain lion; whatever it was, it was big, and in my mind, getting bigger. I puzzled how a mountain lion could get on my small second-story deck in the first place, and more to the point, why? My rational mind raced for a rational explanation.

Rattled, I kept the light on, slid back into bed, and calmed down by reading, checking email, and logging onto Facebook. An hour or so later, I was able to go back to sleep.

I’d been working on final editing of the family memoir I finished twelve years ago and chose two short pieces about my mother to read at Random Acts, a monthly open mic event that I co-host. It was the evening after the howls. Sometimes I’m hesitant about reading this stuff aloud. It’s one thing to have others read it when I’m not in the room, it’s another to make eye contact and present my story to an audience. What follows was a portion of a piece that I read.

Betty, Claudia, Carleen

Betty, Claudia, Carleen

Mid 1946 • Sonora, California
Squatting on the front stoop in the low afternoon sun, Betty, all of six, and Claudia, just four, sat wondering what kind of trouble they could get into when their plans were cut short. An eerie howling, like a trapped animal with its foot caught in a snare, floated through the front screen door from the top of the staircase above them.

“What is that?” They whispered, giggling and poking each other. “Owoooooooooooo! Owoooooooooooo!” They imitated the sound as if they were wolves calling to one another in the woods. “Who is that crazy person?” Betty wondered aloud to Claudia.

Carleen, who was twelve, overheard them. “Shut up,” she hissed through the screen door. “It isn’t funny, it’s Mom.”

Something happened to Mom, something snapped. That was the first time my mother tried to kill herself. They took her away for a while to get better, but she never did, not really.

When I got to the part in the story about the eerie howls coming from the top of the stairs, the hair on my arms stood up. I’d picked this piece to read before the howling in my room the night before. I made my way back to my seat, curious about what was too parallel to be mere co-incidence. Synchronistic events often occur when I work on the book or on my family genealogy, and, I know there are no accidents. That doesn’t make them any less unnerving.

This morning I spoke to my niece, Julie. Her response was, “That was no animal. You had an otherworldly experience. Maybe your mother hasn’t passed over yet.”

“My rational mind prefers not to go there,” I told her, “though she’s shown up before, so I’m not surprised she might be here again.” I didn’t mention it could have also been my sister, her mother.

What if it was my mother in my bedroom two nights ago, and if so, what was she trying to tell me? Then again, what are the chances of a wild animal stalking me on my upper deck in the middle of downtown Sonoma? Either of those scenarios are as likely as confronting a maniacal intruder who was not in my room. Any of them are possible, none of them make sense, and all are disconcerting.  However, the two screams were the most disconcerting as I knew I’d not imagined them.

Where am I with all this? Like that red-tailed fox visiting in my backyard last week, I’m on the fence.

This morning I spoke to my neighbor and asked if she’d heard anything at 4:00 a.m. on Friday. You know what she said? “I did! I shot out of bed like a cannon and flew down the stairs thinking that whatever it was, it was after my cat. When I went out back, there was nothing there.”

Then I told her my story and asked, “What do you think?”

She said, “I don’t know. All I know is it was one of the most unearthly howls I’ve ever heard, and it was coming from right between our houses. I’m on the fence with you. I can’t say it was an animal, and I can’t say it wasn’t. But whatever it was, it was loud, it was scary, and it was close by.”



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  1. Call a game warden in your area and ask them to give a guess. They know what critters are around. The fox here make barking sounds. L

    • I saw a video on Facebook of a fox screaming, and I think now that is what it was. Disconcerting at 4:00 in the morning. It must have been on the fence just outside my upper bedroom window.

  2. Laura Dunning says:

    We have foxes around our house, I find them to be adorable rodent killers… they do make some startling noises though. Once I found a site on a google search that played their different sounds, calling their young, being angry, general chatter. It was interesting to listen to the different calls they can make and to have an idea of what they were communicating. Perhaps that site with the recorded fox vocalizations is still out there and available to listen to?

  3. Cindy Craig says:

    Ok. Freaky. Fascinating tale. If it’s your mom, keeping the door locked probably doesn’t make a difference.

  4. Marilyn Kelly says:

    What an adventure, Catherine. Nicely written as I felt I was right there with you. It does sound like a wild animal/owl. My thought is an owl given that it was interested in your neighbor’s cat and may have been on your deck. Whatever it was, be sure to lock your doors or install a video camera. You could then sell whatever images you take to help pay your publishing costs! On second thought, maybe it was your mom! after all! Mothers are known for keeping track of us 24/7!

  5. Sandy Martin says:

    Whooo-eee! Your little story gave me goosebumps, especially if your neighbor heard it. Sure makes for food for thought. Do keep us posted if it happens again. Rationally, it is nice to think it was a wild animal but a part of me thinks it could have been something else. I enjoy reading your posts and nice to know you are writing books. We have discovered how hard that can be since doing family genealogy. (Your mom’s family and my husband’s are related.) But it is so very addictive. Hope that your writing continues to bring you new views of the world and all that goes on in it… along with meeting new friends. Best wishes for peaceful nights sleep from now on.:-)

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