One blue sky day late in fall, Dan started the generator early because temperatures were dropping and he didn’t want to deal with a reluctant motor in the dark. I would turn off the generator once the batteries were fully charged.
Around two o’clock, my daughter decided to give in and take a nap. She was 18 months old at the time, and that October was our first fall living off the grid. I still hadn’t gotten used to the silence, or the way our genni –that’s what we called it – sounded when the motor was running, echoing crash noises through the woods. It also didn’t help that I was reading Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, a creepy tale about a girl pursued by a dark beast in the forest. I don’t know why I happened to be reading that book, but I can say that it really got into my head.
With my daughter asleep I put on my jacket to go out and check on the genni. By my calculations, I thought it near to charged. I opened the door and started up the hill to the woods where the generator shed stood, off by itself in a stand of birch. And then the silence hit. Quiet. The motor was off.
There was no sound at all coming from the generator shed. I stood at the bottom of the hill looking up through the bare trees. Someone –or some thing – had turned off my generator. I took off running back to the house.
I checked on my girl and she was okay, sleeping peacefully. The phone rang. I answered, “Hello?”
An ominous voice said, “Is Genni there?”
“What?” I panicked. There was some nervous laughter and I hung up the phone.
Then I ran out of the house and headed for the woodshop, sprinting through the woods. Every branch an arm, every tree a crouching murderer. I ran down the hill and up the steep slope past the campfire, over the rickety bridge, up and down another hill and past the little woodpile, through the balsam fur grove and around the bend I saw Dan’s generator shed, the one he built for his woodshop. I sped past that, waded through a pile of sawdust and banged on the door. He opened it, wearing ear protectors and covered in dust.
“Hello!” he said, then seeing my face, “what’s wrong?”
“Someone turned off the generator!”
“The motor’s not running,” I was breathless, “And I didn’t turn it off! I think someone is up there. The phone rang, and they asked if Genni was there!”
“Well.” He looked past me out at the property. The sky was blue, the birds were tweeting. “Is the inverter still engaged?”
“Yes, the dial at the base of the engine that engages the charger. Go back and check to see if that’s still on. If it is, we need to get that switched over. It’s not good for the engine.”
I looked back over my shoulder. “Could you do it?”
“It’ll be okay,” he tells me. “Just go check the inverter.”
I run back through the woods up and down hills and around the bend past the woodpile over the rickety bridge then up and down another hill. I stopped at the house to check on my daughter. The phone rang again and I stuffed it in a drawer. Then I ran back outside and faced off with my quiet generator shed.
When I go swimming, I’m the kind of person who has to jump in the water. I can’t stand wading in, suffering wet and cold inch by inch. If I was going to meet my ax murderer, I wanted to get it over with all at once.
I ran screaming like a deranged, electricity depraved lady up the hill to the shed. I just made as much noise as I possibly could, figuring that would scare whoever or whatever was in there. I arrived breathless in the darkened doorway. The motor was still. The engine was off. The inverter was still engaged. I turned the dial to the off position, looked around, got a reading on the batteries. Then I ran back down the hill to the house, checked on the kid and ran back outside, then up the hill and past the campfire and over the rickety bridge and back to the woodshop. Knock knock knock.
“The inverter was still engaged,” I said, my chest heaving. “What does that mean?” Personally, I was thinking that I had somehow scared It out of there. But Dan nodded and said,
“It means it ran out of gas.”
A great pause. The birds chirped. I tasted sawdust in my mouth. “It ran out of gas? Can they do that?”
“Sure they can.”
“What does it mean?”
“It means we have to fill the tank. I’ll do it when I get home.”
“Huh,” I said. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Dan smiled. “Still reading that Stephen King book?”
During the next 2 years, the generator ran out of gas without us noticing maybe 4 more times, and we received at least 3 dozen phone calls for someone named Jenny. She must have had our phone number before us. Next time your mind plays tricks on you, check the gas tank.