This is the story of the Questioneer.
The Questioneer was an occasional visitor during my childhood. His visits always involved my brother, three years my elder who delighted in nothing more than scaring me from my dreams. David was notorious for reading terrifying passages from his many horror books into the intercom that we shared in our haunted corner of the house. Or holding glow-in-the-dark toys over me until I’d wake and scream.
The Questioneer was a softer form of teasing. He came only on those nights when, due to a guest lodging in my room or perhaps because I had been scared by some other source, I would be sleeping in the second twin bed in David’s room. We would we chatter a bit, my brother and I, often hushed by my parents (or my grandparents if they were the guests next door) until the peace and the silence would settle. In the faint half-doze of those midnight hours, a hollow disembodied voice would gently sing its welcome. “Keith,” it would intone. “This is the Questioneer.”
The voice would ask questions, of course – a light quiz which would range on everything from Ancient Egypt to current comic books. It thrilled when I got the answer right and coaxed when I was stumped until the correct answer would come. And then, with barely a whisper or a farewell it would be gone, and my brother would sit up in his bed and ask, “Did you hear something?”
I lived in a house that was always a knowledge test. At dinner, my father was constantly playing “Who Was…?” My brother would test me during waking hours to make sure I had read the latest book he had recommended or researched the latest topic. Somehow, of all these interrogations, the Questioneer’s were the most gentle and welcome. Although his questions were always tough he never seemed condescending or even challenging, as if he were only soothing my busy young mind with the balm of knowledge.
I have no evidence that the Questioneer was my brother at all. Heaven knows, we had enough ghosts in that old house that we certainly might have harbored a quizzer. At times, I would try my best to watch my brother ad see if I could see any sign that it was he who was voicing the questions. But the darkness was always so deep, and he was always so still, even when the voice was present, that I still to this day am uncertain.
It has been years since the Questioneer has asked me a question. Sometimes, though, when I am lying in the stillness of the deep night too tired to sleep, I can just make out the high, reedy voice in the inky silence around me – a sweet silken voice with an interrogatory tone. Then I can almost hear my brother calling out, “Keith, do you hear something?”
I think that I can, David. I hope that I can.