October 17, 2012

the man in the coat { - FICTION - }

By the time I reached my mid-30s, I had a full head of white hair—getting my first silver strand on my 16th birthday. Nobody else in my family had premature gray hair, but I’m pretty sure mine stems from the home I grew up in.

I was the only child to my parents who were amazing parents, but they were also older and a bit dismissive at times which I didn’t start to notice till I was around 10… around the time I first started seeing someone else in the house with us: a man in a long coat with a fedora. I noticed him when we’d be sitting in the kitchen at the oval table that sat in the center of the yellow room; I’d see someone walk across the dining room which was down the hallway from my seat at the table.

The first time I saw him, I couldn’t stop staring down the hallway and Mom and Pop asked what I was looking at. When I told them someone was in the other room, they looked at each other then back at me before insisting nobody else was home. When I saw him moments later, Pop got up to look in the other room and saw nothing.

“I think you’re watching too much Twilight Zone,” Mom chirped.

I kept seeing the man in the hat and coat walk across the dining room whenever I sat in the kitchen, and because he didn’t do anything more than that and because I didn’t want to stop watching The Twilight Zone, I stopped telling Mom and Pop about him. Maybe I was letting my imagination get the best of me.

Shortly after telling Mom and Pop about the man in the trench coat, someone was leaving the hot water run from the kitchen faucet. To my knowledge this only ever happened when I was alone in the house after school, but never when I was in the kitchen; I’d be in the bedroom or living room and go into the kitchen to see the water—always the hot water—running.
The first time this happened I thought maybe Mom or Pop left it on, or maybe even I left it on; but when it started happening more frequently and only when I was alone, I began to wonder if maybe it was the man in the trench coat trying to tell me something.

Or maybe I was just watching too much Twilight Zone.

The man and the water thing happened sporadically for a couple years and then when I was around 15, the phone calls started.

This was back in the 1970s so we had one of those old rotary dial phones that jutted out from the wall. It was olive green to go with the green accents in the yellow-tiled kitchen. The phone hung on the wall in the hallway that ran from the kitchen to the dining room. The same hallway that I would look down and see the man in the coat and hat walk across that nobody else ever noticed.

The phones back then were loud—both when dialing out and when ringing. I always knew when Pop was calling his Momma because of the swoosh from moving his finger through the number’s hole, followed by the clicks of the number being dialed. And when the phone rang, there was never a question what was ringing; our one and only phone was loud—especially at midnight.

Mom and Pop would go out dancing once a month on Saturday nights and the phone would ring, waking me out of a deep sleep. When it first started to happen, I answered quickly in case Mom or Pop was calling. But after being hung up on over and over again, I started leaving the phone off the hook after the first hang-up.

I tried not worrying about it too much, but after a couple months of the calls, it started to freak me out. I started leaving the phone off the hook the moment they left. I’d turn on lights in parts of the house nobody was in. I’d turn the TV loud and turn the radio on in one of the bedrooms. I’d yell down to my dad in the basement on occasion as I was sure someone was watching me and I was hoping that by pretending someone else was in the house, the watcher would leave.

The worst was the night I saw the man in the coat and fedora standing outside the front window.

He didn’t move. He just stood at the front window peering in.

I pretended Pop was in the basement and called out for him that the baseball game was almost over.

The man didn’t move.

I pretended I didn’t see him but I absolutely did.

I remember looking at the phone as I turned to yell for Pop and seeing it dangle from the box on the wall. I remember thinking that the man couldn’t call so now he was going to murder me after he stalked me through the window. I was going to die. I was certain of it.

And that’s when the phone rang.

The phone with its receiver dangling off its base.

It rang.


I screamed and covered my head and when nothing happened after a minute and I opened my wet eyes again, the man was gone… but the phone was still ringing while the damn receiver dangled from the base on the wall.

Mom and Pop stopped going out dancing Saturday nights after that unless I was spending the weekend with a cousin or something. I went away to college straight out of high school just to get the hell out of that house. Mom and Pop finally sold the house a couple years after I graduated college, got married and had my two babies whom I never question or dismiss if they claim to see or hear something strange.


  1. I always love ghost stories and the like. I do sware that in real life, the ghost in our house turned my unplugged tv on. Scary.

  2. I am fortunate to be in my late 60's and still have golden brown hair. I had chalked it up to genetic,s but apparently, it also has to do with '"LUCK OF THE DRAW" .

    I like how your story takes a sharp turn from the hair col,or issue and comes up with an interesting and thought provoking story.

    Nice work,

  3. I loved the 70s details - the olive green wall rotary. I can just see it. Those were the days! This was spooky. Good thing fedora man didn't follow her to college!

  4. This was so spooky and the way it was written seemed so much like a memory! Was this based on your own experiences at all or is it completely fictionalized?

    I really enjoyed reading this. The voice of the story seemed like someone was sitting in the room telling me about their own experience. Super creepy.

    1. awesome. so glad you felt that voice, that was my intent.

      it's all fiction except for the image in the dining room (my mom and siblings saw it too and were convinced the house had spirits) and the house/phone description.

  5. Whoa, tension-city at the end, there, yowza! I think our kids are missing out on all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff with the death of the landline.

  6. I agree with Flood -- there's something about being tethered to the wall by the phone that our kids will never know. Spooky ghost man -- loved it!

  7. I loved your style in this piece. The matter of fact voice filling in the details so that it seemed like an actual occurence instead of fiction. I could see the picture you painted.

  8. Yowza - loved the details and the scary pacing! I also thought the man would follow her to college and beyond! I love that this poured out of you when you saw the picture. So good! It reads like a memoir rather than fiction - great job!

  9. I am so afraid of phones at night, it's not even funny. To the point where I won't go near our landlines when I'm home alone and it's dark. I am certain they are conduits of evil and the end of this piece really creeped me out because a phone shouldn't ring when it's off the hook but part of me believes that they can.


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