Pareidolia

Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and
random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant.
Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds,
the man in the moon, and hearing hidden messages on records played in
reverse.

Excerpt from Tamper:

I stared at the squiggly pattern in the old Formica countertop, looking for the face. I had played this game ever since I was a child. In the muted red, green, and black squiggles, there happened to be what looked like a little cartoon profile of a face. It had a round black dot for an eye, a long flute-like nose, and a mouth opened in surprise or fear. This was simply a chance likeness to a face, a random coincidence. The face was smaller than my thumbnail, and even after all these years, it usually took me a minute or two to find it again, especially if I hadn’t looked for a while. Sometimes I thought I had found the little face, but it wasn’t quite right, not as precise as I remembered it. I would think, is that all it was? I could have sworn it looked more fully formed. But then – Aha! The real face leaped into focus, so familiar and true that it was like a missing puzzle piece, something you had almost written off as a faulty memory until you found it again. I smiled and basked in the familiar little cartoon face. A wider section of the squiggly countertop morphed into the haunted grounds of Burton Agnes Hall and one of the legendary screaming skulls.

Another excerpt from Tamper:

“Well,” I said. “I have this memory of lying in my crib in my bedroom, my mom later confirmed she gave me paregoric on this occasion. I was looking up at these cartoon pictures on my wall. Eight pictures – two on each wall, spaced evenly. They were Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. You know, Happy, Sleepy, Doc…”

“Yes, I’m familiar with the dwarfs,” said the shrink, a bit impatiently, I thought. “But you were very young. You actually remember this from your crib?”

“Maybe it was a small bed with a railing. “

“But . . .

Over his interruption, I continued, “So I’m laying there, and I look at the picture of Grumpy, and he seems to be scowling at me. It was scary. His hairy eyebrows arched and bristled and he blinked his eyes. I looked at Happy and watched his grin stretch out sideways until it was wider than his face. His red nose stretched and curved up. Dopey wagged his stupid tongue at me like a tentacle. Doc projected green light beams from his eyeglasses. It all scared me so much I closed my eyes and laid my head sideways, my ear pressed into the pillow. That’s when I heard those quiet, far-away noises I told you about before.”

“The miners?”

“I’m not saying they were miners, but that’s what it reminded me of. Muffled clanging, faint rumbling, almost like vibrations more than sound. Once in a while, I thought I heard a voice.”

“What did it say?”

“I don’t know. It was usually just deep, indistinct syllables. My mother later told me how, when I was a baby, teething and crying, she rubbed paregoric on my gums. After that, she said, I stopped crying and just looked up at Snow White and the Dwarfs with the most peculiar look on my face until I fell asleep. Weeks went by when I didn’t hear anything. Maybe months.”

“That’s a long time for a kid.”

“I would almost forget about it, but then for some reason, just playing around, I would press my ear against the walls, or my bed, or the floor, and I could something, I thought maybe electric wiring in the walls, humming. But sometimes the hum got more distinct without getting louder, a muffled clinking, thumping, clanking like pick axes and wheels rolling metal tracks. When I was in the fourth grade, the noise woke me up in the middle of the night. I saw a dark shape of somebody, hunched over in the hallway, just outside my bedroom door.”

“What did you do?”

“I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep. Even when I felt something touch me, I never opened my eyes.”

“Where did something touch you?”

“In my room.”

“No, smart-ass, where on your body?”

“My foot, but the blanket kept it from really touching me. Then my forehead, but that’s when I looked, a second later and somebody was going out into the hallway and shut the door behind them. “

“Wait. . . “

“I heard the metal grate rattle in the hallway, where the furnace used to be. Under the grate was a door to the basement. The next day my father and Uncle sealed the hall grate off from the basement with a sheet of plywood. “

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