The Light in the Bathroom Doesn’t Always Blink

The Light in the Bathroom Doesn’t Always Blink

The day I wrote this, I was struggling to find inspiration for these shorts. I wondered if I should stop, if I was wasting my time. I don’t honestly know how many people read these. But I also think they’re good little practice exercises and that I shouldn’t base everything I write off of how popular it will prove to be.

I had just finished folding the laundry and turned off the light. We have weird LED bulbs in there that flash when they’re about to die. My husband about went nuts thinking it was faulty wiring, but we tested the bulb in other light fixtures and it’s just a weird quirk of the design. I noticed that, this time, nothing happened. The light in the bathroom doesn’t always blink when you turn it off, I thought. And then I thought it would make a cool opening line for a story. So I wrote this. And two other installments. Sometimes you find inspiration in the most mundane of activities.

Also just a quick heads up (there have been a lot of these lately, I know), I’m going to be offline for most of the next two weeks. Some friends of ours are emergency moving and their house isn’t quite going to be ready in time, so we’re emergency hosting them – no friend of mine is staying in a hotel while they wait for their house! I’ll be back September 3rd with my regular shenanigans, and my schedule should be somewhat normal for awhile after that.
. . .

The light in the bathroom doesn’t always blink when you turn it off. But every time it does, it sends a shiver down my spine.

For the most part, I try to ignore it. It’s not a bathroom we use very often with two of us in the house and three bathrooms to choose from. I really only have to go in there to do the laundry. Toss the dirty stuff in the washer. Switch between machines, and then flee with everything up the stairs when it comes time for folding. I never go in there after nightfall. It’s just one of those things, one of the unspoken rules of the house established by long routine sometime after you move in.

Because the light didn’t start blinking until after we lived here for a year. The first flutter was hardly worth paying attention to, just a steady flicker while I tossed the laundry in the machines. Nothing to write home about. The bulb was probably just dying; we haven’t changed many of them since we bought the place. And besides, the light switch was in the on position.

It wasn’t until the first time I turned it off and it flickered like a firefly caught in a jar that I paused to think about it.

Just a dying bulb. That’s what I told myself. Just the last gasp of life from some worn out object still trying to do its job. I mentioned it to my husband, hoping he’d swap it out for a new one.

“I noticed that it does that,” he replied, as if it wasn’t odd to find electricity flowing to a place there should be none. “I changed the bulb last week.”

That’s when the alarm bells started ringing; for me, anyway. My husband is so chill, you might expect him to be carved from ice. I asked him if he was concerned, but he only shrugged. That’s when I put on my determined face, the face of a wife on the warpath, the face of a woman who is going to find out what the hell is going on in her beloved house or else.

I made him try that bulb in every other light fixture in the house. It produced a steady glow, and never an out of place blip when the lights were turned off, except when it occupied the center space of the downstairs bathroom’s light figure. I made him test every bulb in the house in that spot. He grumbled a bit, but he did it. Because he knows me, knows how I am, knows it’s sometimes just faster and easier to do the thing than to make a fuss about it.

And every bulb that worked just fine elsewhere, flickered and fluttered whenever we turned off that switch.

At this point, the answer seems simple, obvious. Faulty wiring. That was what my husband thought. It was the one time throughout this whole mess that he actually expressed emotion. I couldn’t be down here doing laundry and be electrocuted by stray electricity lighting up some area of the wall. What if the house caught fire? That bathroom is right beside the door!

So we called the electrician. His tools indicated everything was fine. But we had him tear out the light fixture just to be safe. We had him check every inch of wiring in the bathroom, he even gave the breaker a good test. I tried not to pull my hair out over the holes we had to tear into the walls to make sure all was well. It was only drywall, only an extra coat of paint to make sure everything looked smooth when he was done.

But he never found anything amiss, and it seemed pointless to keep paying for a witch hunt that was never going to bear results.

That’s when we established the rules. When we stopped using that room outside of necessity. The flicker is noticeable during the day, sure, but the sunlight is bound to protect me. That’s how it works, right?

When the time comes to sell this house, when they ask me if I’ve ever experienced anything abnormal, I should be able to say no, right? It isn’t like lights never flicker. And we lived here for a year before it started. What supernatural thing could have crept into the house while we weren’t looking? It couldn’t always have been there… unless it was hiding. But what would make a supernatural thing hide?

Some contract with the previous owner not to mess up the sale of the house?

Sounds crazy, right? I’ve always had an overactive imagination.

But one day, just to be sure, I propped my laundry basket against the sink while I flipped off the light. Then I stared straight at that middle bulb and said, “If there’s something in here, blink twice for yes and once for no.”

It made sense right? It would be harder to mistake two solid blinks for a random chance.

So imagine the near heart attack I experienced when that damn light bulb blinked twice. Not a flicker, not a flutter, but two solid blinks, almost as if the light had flicked back on for half a second each time.

I might have screamed. I don’t remember. My husband wasn’t home at the time, so there was at least no one to notice my indignity. Which was good, since I spent the next half hour questioning the rest of the house’s light fixtures, flicking them on and off. But all of them behaved exactly as expected.

At this point, you’d think I would have packed my bags, started throwing things in boxes, ready to put this house far behind me. But I love this house. My husband loves this house. We spent weeks talking about how lucky we were to find it, how perfect it was for our lifestyle. The perfect amount of space. The perfect layout. The perfect number of low-key, long-term projects that we could ignore until we were good and ready to dig our fingers in.

No goddamn blinking light bulb is driving me out of this house.

And besides, it was just a fluke. Just a coincidence that the light blinked that way that one time right after I spoke to it. I’ve seen it blink and flicker a dozen different ways since this whole ordeal started. All I had to do was repeat the test. If I couldn’t get a positive response at least three out of five times, who would even believe me?

I crept down the stairs, slunk to the end of the hallway and cautiously approached the half open door. It creaked slightly as I slid it open. I stared at the offending light bulb, glowered at it, really, daring it to try fucking with me again.

“Listen,” I said, trying to sound reasonable and not angry, “we all know how science works. You need repeat results before you can claim something happened for real. So I’m going to ask you again; if there’s something in here, blink the light twice for yes and once for no.”

I waited.

Seconds passed.

Nothing.

I felt vindicated. I felt secure.

But what if it was only because there wasn’t enough electricity left in the light bulb for anything to make it blink? What if this ghost thing needed to play by its own set of rules? Steal a little bit of energy while the light is on and then use it when the light is off?

Why am I applying science to the supernatural? I don’t know, that’s just kind of where this went.

I turned on the light. I forgot not to stare at it and spent the next several seconds blinking against the sudden light blindness. I waited until I could see again to flip the switch. I didn’t want retinal echoes accounting for unscientific results.

The light did not blink when I turned it off. I could almost pretend it was normal. I cast my eyes into every shaded corner of the room, I blinked at the mirror as if I expected to see something incorporeal lurking behind me, but there was nothing in the bathroom that could account for the hair on the back of my neck standing on end.

I sighed and stared at the light. “You know the drill. Once for no twice for yes. If… you know, you’re around.”

Two blinks. Steady, measured blinks.

This time, I did not run for the hills. I said. “You need me to turn the light on again before you can answer?” But even as I was reaching for the switch, the light blinked three times.

Three. I hadn’t specified a three. Was this a maybe? A sometimes?

I flipped the light on, left it a couple of seconds, then flipped it off again.

“How many blinks can you get before you need me to turn it back on?”

Six, but the last one stuttered and faded less gracefully than the others. There was a hint of a seventh flash, but it was to dim for me to be sure I hadn’t imagined it.

Why I didn’t think I had imagined the whole thing is beyond me.

So six flashes. Two questions, and then I needed to give it more juice.

I took a deep breath, turned on the light, turned it back off as I exhaled. “Have you been here a long time?”

Two flashes.

“Are you… I mean… do you want us to leave? Is this like your place or something and you want us out?”

Lucky for me, whatever force I was dealing with was willing to wait until I finished rambling. And then the light blinked once.

I have never breathed such a sigh of relief.

“So you’re not going to like, kill us in our sleep or something?”

Two flashes, the last one sort of flickering. That was probably my fault; I turned the light on for another few seconds.

“Are you stuck down here in the laundry room?”

Two flashes.

It should have made me feel better. If we boarded up this room and never came back into it, we’d have nothing to worry about. The rest of the house was perfectly normal. Sure, we’d have to get used to wearing sweaty clothing, or using a laundry mat or hand washing our stuff, but we’d be safe from the ghost thing and that was what really mattered.

Except those two little flickers of light filled me with such sadness, I don’t think I can put it into words. It was as if I had just found an abandoned child and knew I couldn’t return them to their parents. Because their parents didn’t want them. The world didn’t want them. And there was only me to offer the coldest of comforts.

Voice soft, almost cracking, I asked, “Are you lonely?”

Two flashes. Two little knife stabs to my heart.

I wanted to ask who are you and how did you get here? But those aren’t yes or no questions and I haven’t figured out yet how to translate a blink code into a full alphabet in a way that won’t take hours to answer a single question. Especially when I’ve only got one light bulb and six pips to work with.

I steeled myself. My husband says I sometimes do enough talking for two people. He’ll let me ramble on and on and laugh when I realize he stopped contributing ten minutes ago. I can entertain this sucker, whatever it is. Bring it on.

“Can you play with the light while it’s on?” I asked as I flicked the switch.

There were two distinct dimmings of the middle light bulb. Harder to notice, not as clear and concise, but we could make it work.

“Cool,” I said. “Do you like Iron Maiden?”

Two distinct dimmings.

I can work with this. I just hope I haven’t started something.

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