He’s in my house again.
I tell myself I’m alone, but I’m not.
I hear the creak of his movements. I tell myself it’s the house settling but that doesn’t make it true.
My thumb twists the lock on my bedroom door. My other hand reaches for the light switch so I’m flooded in something other than darkness.
It’s got to be midnight. The moon barely filters through the shades on the window. My eyes are burning with fatigue and my muscles ache to lay down.
The intruder has been here before. Several times. I always hear him, no matter how soft his movements. I pretend that I don’t. His identity is as secret as his intent but at this point I don’t care what he is doing. I want him to go away so I can rest.
My clock tells me I am wrong.It’s just past ten o’clock but it feels like I have been cowering on my bed forever. He’s been pacing out there for an hour. Maybe the nights are running together, each one looping to the next to make a seamless chain of torture. I cannot sleep, I can barely breathe.
I don’t want to die. But if I don’t sleep I’ll be anxious all day tomorrow.
The intruder is in my kitchen now- I can hear his steps more clearly. He is less cautious in there because he thinks I cannot hear him from this far. I can. He walks around my house and surveys my things but does not touch them. He does not snoop on my computer or rifle through my mail. He paces the floor, coming close but never entering my room.
I wonder if he’s waiting. Is this some kind of test? Do I have to come to him? Some day I might. This may drive me crazy enough to confront him myself.
I’ve tried calling the police. They don’t believe me anymore. He must see their car as soon as they pull up because when I let them in, he’s already gone. The officers look at me like I’m losing my mind. They warn me not to call unless it is an emergency.
So I lock my door and hide. I wonder why he’s here.
I lay down on my bed and close my eyes. Just sleep , I tell myself. He’s not going to come in here. Ignore him.
But what if that is what he’s waiting for? Usually I stay up, listening to his movements so I can map out where he is. He’ll stay the whole night, fleeing with the sunrise like a shadow. I’ll sit on my bed and visualize where he goes. I’ll try to find a pattern. Maybe the reason he never comes in, or does anything, is because he knows I’m awake. He could be waiting for that opportunity. The moment my guard is off and my body vulnerable, he may make his move.
How would he know though?
I tell myself he cannot know if I’m awake but sleep still eludes me. I feel the touch of unconsciousness playing with my mind, tempting it yet never giving in. The creaking is faint. It’s loud enough to keep my eyes from staying closed.
The light overhead gives the room the yellow glow of cheap bulbs. I pull myself out of bed and look around. All my possessions look eerie beneath the incandescents and for a moment I’m distracted by it. The trophies lined up on the dresser scowl at me, bats raised in rebellion. The photos hung on the walls feature sneering relatives with jaundiced skin and shadowed eyes. They mock me with approaching death.
The creaking brings me back to my task. The intruder is a few feet from my room, I can hear him hesitate in front of it. I wonder if he’s looking at the door.
I shrink back, as if he can see me. I feel myself gasp but I don’t hear the sound escape my lips. All I hear is the sound of him moving.
He walks away. His steps are deliberate, each one taken after a pause. Sometimes he moves from one room to the next in a matter of moments. Sometimes he stays in one spot for a while. I wonder what he does in those hesitant moments: is he focusing on something, some object? Or is he thinking of what he will do to me when this charade comes to a close?
I need to sleep, I remember. The shock of knowing he is so close is starting to wear off and logic edges in. My clock tells me it’s been another hour; I cannot do this all night.
My books are placed alphabetically by author on a shelf by my door. I grab one, spreading the hard cover and standing it before the door like a tent. The pages press against the carpet.
I grab another, placing it next to the first. It takes five books to make a row in front of my door. Then I start another layer. This one lays flat over the first, suspended by the spines of their brethren. One more layer of literary tents after that and I’m satisfied.
The creaking is moving further away. A breath escapes my lungs and my muscles relax. It’s relief. I hadn’t even realized I was tensing until I let go. I have security now.
I wish he’d just leave. If I think about it too much, I’ll start to cry. Part of me wants to call through the door. I imagine myself asking, screaming, why are you here?
But I don’t. The torture of not knowing pales in comparison to the thought of egging him on. Who knows what he might do when called to action?
Instead I lay down on my bed and pull my blankets tight around me. My lips are caught between my teeth. I close my eyes too tightly. If he comes in I will hear him.
I listen for his steps. He’s walking lighter now, the creaks getting further apart, like popcorn when it’s almost done. Instead of him I hear my breathing. Too fast, I know. I try not to think about it.
I fall asleep during one of his pauses. My body was close to fatigue, it only needed a break to soothe it into oblivion. It was a dreamless sleep, fast and painless.
When I wake up the room is brighter. It’d be white if not for the light I left on. I sit up slowly and listen. The house is still. I hear cars outside the window and kids playing down the street. Inside, everything is as it should be.
The intruder is gone. I can’t know for sure until I go out and check but I know. He never stays once the sun is up.
I leave my room. I slide the tower of books aside with my foot and creep past the rubble. Just in case, I am cautious.
Everything is the same. My desk drawers are closed, my cabinets occupied. My computer and television haven’t been stolen. Why does he come? I wonder. What does he want? I stand in the middle of my house and let the stale breath out of my lungs.
The floorboards creak behind me.
I don’t even look before I run. The closest room is a closet. I close the door behind me and press my back against a wall buried in coats. Tears are burning my eyes and my breath is coming in jagged bursts like a struggling engine. I’m murmuring the word no. It sounds so pathetic but I can’t stop.
It’s day time. He can’t be here. He’s stolen my nights, he can’t have my days too.
Another creak, just outside the door. I sink to the floor, my head burrowing in my knees. The weight of my body tugs a few coats down with me. One of them rattles and I flinch.
The pills, I remember. I left them in the coat because I feel fine.
He passes the closet. I see his shadow eclipse the crack beneath the door and I shudder. This cannot be happening. When will he leave? He must leave.
He stays. He begins his usual trek, around the kitchen island and back into the living room. He can do this for hours. I can’t.
I need my life back. I need to tell him to leave.
But I can’t. Instead I stare at the door knob, praying for the strength to turn it. My arms tighten around my legs. My whole body trembles. I need a way out but there isn’t one.
He reaches the end of the living room. I hear the creak when he turns. Every step now is closer.
I can’t do this.
His shadow passes across the floor. He walks around the kitchen island.
He can do this for hours.