It’s funny how many things you do automatically, without even thinking and how those things can often have large consequences.
What turns my mind towards this observation is what happened because I didn’t think to either lock the door or bring my keys with me when I went out to the trash bins.
Gratefully, I had thought to put on my jacket and shoes, or else, when I came back to the door afterwards and found the door unlocked, I would’ve been in a more immediate danger than what I eventually faced. I looked down at the knob as if it had betrayed me, tried again and then, lacking any other thought, I knocked on the door.
When the other side knocked back, I was so badly staggered that I almost ended up falling into the snow on the walkway. I looked around, at a total loss as to what to do, and advanced towards the door. Hesitating for a moment, I decided to put my ear up to it and listened as best as I could to any sign of life inside.
I knew I could hear something, but I couldn’t quite make out what it was. It took me a moment, but I realized it was breathing. Heavy breathing, like an especially large, hungry dog. More scared than I could remember being in my life, I cast around to my neighbors. Seeing their light on in the living room window, I advanced towards their door and knocked on it.
After a minute or so, their door creaked open and I felt like a creep because I couldn’t remember his name. I had interacted with him once when the landlord held an impromptu neighborhood party, but that was it. “Hey, man. Um, I think someone snuck into my apartment while I was throwing out the trash. Now the door’s locked from the inside, and I don’t have my phone or my keys.”
He looked at me expectantly, concerned, but waiting to see how he fit in.
“Can I borrow your phone to call the police?”
After a brief conversation, dispatch had a car coming my way. In the meantime, I needed to watch the windows. This was an easy task as there were three right in my line of sight, and the fourth was situated above a twenty foot drop onto solid concrete. Just the same, I found myself pacing and rubbing my hands and arms to try to preserve my warmth while I waited for the police to arrive.
Before long, they pulled into the parking lot, and an officer came up to me almost right away. Feeling more foolish by the minute, I explained the situation, but left out the breathing sounds. I was tense and anxious, but I’m sure he understood. He went to the door, listened for a moment, then knocked on it. He call out into the doorway, but there was no response. Feeling at a loss, he looked over at me, then did the only thing he could think to do before calling it in to the station, he tried the doorknob.
When it pushed open, I was filled with a relief that was overshadowed by my concern about whether I’d be spending the night in the station. The cop looked at me incredulously, but then figured that he might as well make sure that the place was empty for the probable crank caller. He entered into it, found the light switch and I found myself taking him on a short tour through my cheap, but comfortable apartment. When we didn’t find anything amiss, I offered my apologies, but he played it professionally and told me to have a good night. I guess in a college town, having a break from pulling over drunk drivers is something to be grateful for.
The uneasiness that I felt seemed to invade every thought as he left the place. I didn’t know what to expect. I double-checked every nook and cranny, making sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was alone. When my curiosity was solved, but not my uneasiness, I got ready for a night full of tossing and turning.
I slept that way for days, wandering through working day after working day as if I were in a haze. My productivity suffered so much that my manager called me in. What ensued was a conversation so uncomfortable, about my emotional state and whether or not my family life was okay, that I’d really rather just…move on and forget about it.
The following week is when it first happened. Tired and bleary eyed, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror to brush my teeth. Keeping my eye on the mirror like usual, something seemed vaguely off. I watched my reflection carefully, and that’s when I caught it. It was like my reflection was slightly out of sink with me. When I caught it blinking, that’s when I knew something was off. Toothbrush in hand, I almost reached towards the mirror, but backed off at the last moment.
I spat out my toothpaste, then looked back up at my mirror. My reflection was back to normal, but the image lingered with me. No matter how many times I told myself that it was just due to being as tired as I’ve been, it just didn’t quite sink in. The whole day was filled with such a feeling of dread and misery that I ended up not doing much of anything at work. I sat in the parking lot for nearly an hour, trying to figure out anything else that I could do other than go back to the apartment that I, up until a week ago, really liked. Finally, too cold to do much of anything else, I turned myself in that direction.
Resolving to not turn the light on in the bathroom, the rest of my night went as many others had in the past. Quiet, without incident or cause for concern. I draped a towel over the mirror, then brushed my teeth and got into bed. Still with that image in my head, my reflection out of sync with me, I found myself in an all too familiar predicament: being unable to sleep.
What’s been taking me an hour to accomplish, at least recently, was dragging on longer and longer, setting towards an hour. It wasn’t the mirror specifically, it was everything that was mounting up to this moment, and my lack of any idea as to what to do next. I looked over at my clock radio, saw that it was midnight, and I closed my eyes one more time. Inevitably, I opened them again, looked over and with despair in my heart, looked at the display. It took me a couple of minutes to sink in, and then double-check with my phone: it was now eleven.
Heart thudding in my chest, I sat up and turned towards the edge of the bed, for lack of any other idea as to what to do. When the bed started shaking violently, I jumped out of it and watched as it bucked and rolled like a living thing. Deciding that, if there was a bigger indication that I needed to get out, I might not be able to recover from it, I grabbed my pants, jacket, keys and phone. I started to slip on my shoes when I noticed that the wall the door is supposed to be on was blank. I turned on the light, spun around and saw that my first glance was right: it was as if the door had been erased from the wall, entirely.
Now in a frenzy, my heart racing and my adrenaline pumping, I walked towards the living room window, only to find it fading from view as I neared it, finally disappearing entirely when I stood in front of it. I ran my hand along it, then turned and ran for the study window, to discover that it was gone, too.
“So, that’s how it’s going to be.” I muttered to myself as I looked at my bedroom window. The bed had settled down again, and didn’t so much as budge when I stood next to it. I opened the window up and looked out into the cold January night. I looked back into the apartment and saw that everything outside of my bedroom was pitch black. Not a single light to be seen. It was only when the breathing that I heard on the first night returned that I leaped out of the window, aiming for a mound of snow, hoping that it would at least cushion the fall.
When I came to, I was being revived by paramedics. I looked up at him as he checked me over and told me how lucky I was to have just sprained my ankle. His next question is one that I’ve gotten increasingly better at avoiding and deflecting, but at the moment, “Why did you jump out of your window?” left me unable to produce an answer. I was taken in for observation and, what I’m thinking is going to be a psychological profile.
All I can think of is finally getting a good night’s rest.