Do you like spooky stories that send a chill up your spine?
Me too, except this really isn't one of those stories. This is the story of the Phantom Who Cleaned My Garage.
Many moons ago, I lived in a small New Hampshire town with my husband and two preschool children. I was chronically sleep-deprived and suffered bouts of loneliness, but we had a lovely house and yard in a pretty part of the world. The houses in our neighborhood were well spaced, and weekdays were extremely quiet, when most were at work or school and few cars drove by. Our house was atop a small hill, a decent hike up from the street below and offering excellent wintertime sledding for the neighborhood kids.
It was late fall in New England and our property was studded with oak trees. Oak trees lose their leaves late in the season, often dropping after the ground is coated with snow. Well past the time when your yard should be cleaned up, you're still dealing with crispy oak leaves.
Our garage was beneath the house and the two garage doors were often left open during the day if it wasn't too cold. If the wind blew from the north, the garage would be awash with leaves, as it was that early November.
My husband left on a business trip that Sunday night, to be gone for most of the work week. He'd mentioned that he would clean up the garage the following weekend, sweeping out the leaves before they rotted over the winter. He told me not to bother carrying the recycling bins down the driveway that week, since they were heavy with newspapers and paper bags. I would save them until he returned.
The next day, Monday, I drove my 4-year-old son to morning preschool and headed home with my 3-year-old daughter. It was to be an easy day for me; my son was invited to a classmate's home to play in the afternoon, so I only had one toddler home for the day. I even had the luxury of an afternoon nap.
Mid-afternoon, I carried my daughter out to the car so we could go and collect my son. I realized I had left the garage door open for hours while the two of us were alone, even while I slept, and was shocked at my carelessness. I was sure I had pressed the button to close the garage door that morning, but something must have been in the way and it opened back up again. I vowed to be more careful in the future.
It wasn't until the following morning, heading back to preschool once again, that I realized that the garage was clean. All the oak leaves were cleaned up and deposited in a row of brown paper grocery bags, lined up next to the trash cans. My husband must have taken care of it before he left on Sunday, although the paper bags bit surprised me. He didn't usually do that.
When he returned on Thursday night, I mentioned it to him and asked him when he did the clean-up job. I think I already knew the answer - he didn't do it. Sometime on Monday, when the garage door was open and the neighborhood was quiet, someone had cleaned up all of the leaves in my garage. Even though the interior door (to our basement) was unlocked, there was no evidence of entry and nothing missing.
Who cleaned the garage, and why would anyone do it? It would have taken at least an hour, but I never heard anything. The houses in our neighborhood were far apart and we rarely (if ever) saw strangers on foot. No one came to our door that day, and no one ever dropped by to ask us to pay them for the chore, as I half-expected someone would (a drifter? a child who skipped school?)
We never came up with even a plausible thesis for who might have done it and never found out anything to give us a clue. If someone had entered my garage and vandalized it, I would have called the police, but there is no Felonious Garage Cleaning in the statutes. I was creeped out by the audacity of someone taking possession of my garage for an hour or two, and wondered what would have happened had I interrupted them.
I never found out, and it never happened again.