It happened in the early 1950s. Mary-Ann Lee, a young Kentucky housewife, was bidding farewell to a friend who’d been visiting her house. And all of a sudden…

“My good friend Robert got himself into his motor car and got ahold of the steering wheel, and he looked like he was fixing to leave. But all of a sudden the vehicle was moving and I couldn’t hear any noise – I mean, apart from the noise of the engine. Just this eerie silence – I mean, apart from the engine and the doors he’d just slammed and Robert saying “Bye now, Mary-Ann” out of the window, and the birds singing, and my neighbour mowing his lawn. Apart from that it was a deathly hush. And then, just like that, he was gone. The car sort of moved and he was just gone.”

At first, nobody would believe Mrs Lee’s account of events. She even spent some time detained in the state psychiatric hospital, until tests revealed her to be of sound mind.

Only later was the truth revealed, when secret US government files were released under the Ten-Year Rule.

It turns out that Mrs Lee’s friend had played a monstrous trick on her. As he drove away from her house, he chose not to beep his car horn. This meant that she had no way of sensing his departure from the house, apart from the noise of the engine, his goodbye and the sight of the car moving away. To the uneducated young housewife, it appeared as if some kind of vanishing trick had taken place, perhaps through supernatural or extraterrestrial agency.

For this reason, it is now enshrined in law that any guest leaving a house in a car has to beep their horn as they drive away. Otherwise your host simply has no way of knowing you’re leaving. The neighbours will welcome the heads-up too. Most Highway Codes in the English-speaking world now contain a section like this one:

When you are leaving a friend’s house, it is good practice to beep your fucking car horn as if your very departure was some kind of hazard to which you’re alerting other road users. Making a loud fucking noise in a residential area, especially at night, is strongly advised. (Naturally, this kind of noise made without the aid of a motor vehicle is simply a nuisance and doesn’t benefit anybody.)

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