Having buckets o’ fun in the midnight hour

Mysteries – don’t ya just love ’em?

If you look carefully, you’ll find that the everyday world contains enough mystery to keep you puzzled for days on end, the kind of eerie occurrences that make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and cause the first eight notes of the old “Twilight Zone” theme to dance through your head.

There are just some things out there that defy a simple, rational explanation. The Vacaville City Council, for example. Or the source of Elmira’s annual Mardi Gras parade.

If you’ve ever lived in an apartment complex, you’ve undoubtedly discovered plenty of mysteries, from the puce-and-turquoise hot dog wagon you keep finding in your parking place to the guy upstairs who periodically howls like a wolf (and who probably owns the aforementioned hot dog wagon…).

Or perhaps you’re wondering why the “wet paint” signs your manager posted in 1998 are still up today.

Although my apartment complex has been remarkably free of mysteries over the years, everything changed last summer when something came rattling out of the darkness on a balmy August evening.

The mystery arrived outside with a resounding “Kla-plank, pla-plunk, ka-plank!” and vanished into the night before I could so much as fall out of bed and trip over a chair (although I managed to accomplish both shortly thereafter).

What, I wondered, was that?

Outside, everything grew quiet. My neighbors’ windows were dark and nothing disturbed the tranquility of the courtyard.

Being a rather simple fellow, I decided that the mysterious midnight sounds had probably come from a pair of buckets banging together. Sure, that made sense…

And that probably would have been the end of the mystery if the phantom bucketeer hadn’t returned about 11:30 p.m. the following night, disappearing while I tried to disentangle my face from the bedroom window blinds.

The mystery grew nightly as the buckets came ka-blunking back through my apartment complex just loud enough to wake me and just fast enough to escape before I could catch a glimpse of them.

Why? I wondered feverishly. Was I dealing with a late night angler from Alamo Creek, the last milkmaid in the Vaca Valley or, perhaps, a volunteer firefighter preparing for the summer’s colorful array of bucket brigade competitions?

Sleep even eluded me when the buckets didn’t make their raucous run through the courtyard. Those were the nights when I began tossing and turning and wondering if our noisy visitor might be rather more sinister than a good-natured firefighter or jolly milkmaid.

Might the bucketmeister instead be a pop-eyed terrorist skipping through Vacaville with glowing buckets of deadly plutonium, or an industrious serial killer transporting the remnants of his hapless victims?

I suppose I’ll never know. The bucket brigade made its final visit in late November and, to this day, the midnight melee remains an official Unsolved Apartment Complex Mystery.

If the buckets have gone clanking out of my apartment complex, though, it stands to reason that they’re headed for yours – maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow night. Maybe they’re already there, in the beefy hands of a sweating, homicidal milkmaid.

Sweet dreams, amigos…

Originally published December 24, 2000