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A Stranger in the House

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Author's note: I would like to give special thanks to Vngel W and ChristianWallis for their help in the writer's workshop.

Introductions/Setting the Stage

I’m not crazy. I know it makes me sound crazy to open up my first journal entry with a line like that, but it’s true. I’m not crazy, although my therapist, Dr. Brodsky, might beg to differ. I guess this really isn’t going to win you over in convincing you that I’m not toys in the attic, bats in the belfry crazy, but I still need to say it. I’m not crazy, it’s just a little reaffirmation to make myself feel a bit better. I think maybe explaining why I came to need a psychiatrist who would propose an idea like writing out my thoughts would make the most sense here.

Everything started with a break-in. Luckily no one was home. It was our family tradition to catch a movie every Saturday afternoon. To be honest, I have a hard time recalling what the movie was about given what would follow. It was some animated film about a boy with magical powers fighting against the Moon Emperor. The kids saw it as a kiddie film, but slowly changed their minds mid-way through once the action picked up. The Missus always tells me that I should stop treating them like children, but I’m not ready to do that just yet given my childhood. Anyways, we got home from the AMC to find the front door kicked in.

I had my family stay in the car and get on the phone with the police while I investigated. I opened that garage and took the closest thing I could find to a weapon, which happened to be a Mondo bat. I silently cursed the fact that we didn’t have any actual bats after the tee-ball incident a few years ago. (A few years ago Jason tried to get Tommy to hold a ball in his palm for him to tee off with. One trip to the emergency room to get his, luckily unbroken hand iced, and real bats were taken off the toy list.) I hefted the plastic toy and prayed silently that the fact we painted it black to give the appearance of an actual bat would be enough to discourage any intruder as I searched the house.

The kitchen looked like a tornado had rolled through. They had swept items off the shelves and onto the floor. A bag of flour had burst and they tracked it all over the kitchen. I followed the white-powdered boot marks up the stairs towards our bedroom. My fingers were so tightly wrapped around the bat now that my knuckles were white. The door to our room was wide open. I stepped inside and saw that all our clothes had been pulled out of the dresser and littered the floor. My billfold was still resting on top of the dresser. I peeked in the closet, half expecting to see the intruder in the shadows and covered in flour with a sinister smirk across his face. There was no one there. I cleared the room and continued to follow the flour trail.

The tracks were fading now as most of the powder was coming off in their boot prints, but I could still see the direction they were heading in. They were leading towards the kids’ room. By now my heart was pounding like crazy and I was sweating bullets. My mind imagined the worst case scenario as I slowly approached their room. I imagined opening the door to find an old, white man wearing my wife’s panties touching himself while looking at photos of my boys. I shoved the door open, almost driven to a blind-rage by this dark thought and charged into the room. Once inside, I was confronted with nothing. Toys and magazines littered the floor, but I couldn’t tell if that was the work of the home invader or the byproduct of having a ten and an eleven year old living in close proximity.

It was about this time that I heard the police arrive. I dropped the painted plastic bat and went out to greet them. They chided me for searching the house on my own, but quickly segued into a run-down of the situation. I told them everything I had observed and let them search through my house while I tried to comfort my wife and kids.

The police investigated the crime scene for about fifteen minutes, but they weren’t much help. They theorized that it was a simple smash and grab due to the boot-print on the front door and how everything looked hastily searched through. They questioned the neighbors but of course the Home Owners Association had insisted on privacy hedges between all houses so no one really saw anything. They took down our information and left about an hour later when it was obvious that the culprit had fled. They told us that they had collected evidence, taken photographs as well as statements and they promised to get back in touch when more evidence was uncovered, but we didn’t hear anything back from them. I would have written everything off if not for a few things.

The main problem was that I couldn’t find anything missing. I even noticed that I had left a billfold with money in it on the dresser that was untouched. We also checked our medicine cabinet and found nothing missing. Jewelry was left where it was and other than peace of mind, it seemed like they had taken nothing. After a week of waiting, I called the police and asked them about the progress of my case, they reasoned that the person was probably a first time offender and was in a hurry. They explained that he probably saw that no one was home and made the split-second decision to break in. He probably frantically searched the house, but was so anxious about getting caught that he fled as soon as he saw that there was nothing of value out in the open that he could easily get away with. Their explanation worked for a little while, but eventually the inconsistencies started to bleed through.

There were some things that just didn’t make sense to me. Why would someone go for the pantry first? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no burglar, but targeting the pantry and stealing food just doesn’t seem like a very profitable plan. If it was a simple smash and grab, why didn’t he take the billfold? There must have been a hundred or so bucks in it. Why would they wreck the place and take nothing? What was this person doing? I think this in combination with the stress at work and home was enough to push me over the edge.

It started with a few sleepless nights. Anna, Jason, and Tommy spent the first night at a motel to try and help the kids come to terms with what was happening while I opted to clean up the house in preparation for their return. Given that the police had collected all the evidence and taken pictures, I felt justified in trying to restore the disheveled house some. I put everything that was salvageable back on the shelves and in the drawers, vacuumed the floors, and called maintenance in regards to replacing the door and changing the locks. While I was doing all of this, I took a few photos of my own just in case home owner’s insurance would balk at the idea of actually refunding us. I got very little sleep that night as I was busy cleaning up the mess and trying to remove any trace of the burglar’s existence for my kids.

I reasoned that the previous few nights I was unable to really sleep were due to the stress of managing a locksmith, a repairman, and a cleaning service for any things I might have missed. Anna and the kids went to an amusement park that Sunday while I juggled all of these things. Jason and Tommy were seemingly unfazed by the event and went to bed without an issue. I on the other hand couldn’t sleep. I was tired, but still on edge. Every creak and groan of the house settling set off alarm bells. Anna managed to fall asleep, but my constant getting up and checking everything probably woke her a few times.

It wasn’t until the third sleepless night that Anna suggested I go see someone. At first I tried to explain that I was doing fine, but she persisted. It wasn’t until she showed me my baggy eyes, tired face, and sullen expression in a mirror that I relented. I didn’t want to worry my kids anymore than I had. This is how I first came to meet with Dr. Brodsky and have a few sessions. It’s also why I’m writing all of these thoughts down now.

We talked about what was going on with me and she advised putting everything into words. At our first session she said I have a tendency to compartmentalize these things and that I need some sort of outlet. I guess that’s why you’re holding this in your hands now. I always enjoyed writing and found it to be a relaxing way to deal with everything. I’ll probably spend a little time writing out some of my thoughts while I have some time off work. After hearing about my ordeal with the break-in, my boss even gave me a few days off to get my act together and repair the house. With that lengthy setting of the stage, I think I’m ready to try and come to terms with everything and record my progress.

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Went back to work today. Besides some initial awkwardness where people tried to get the full story about my absence, I was able to take my mind off of everything for a bit. While I could never make a career out of my writing, I did the next best thing. I found working at an advertising agency pushes me to be creative and use my brain. I slept a little better today. I’m still not getting a full night’s sleep but I did manage to drift off a few times.

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a week since the break-in. The second session with Dr. Brodsky went well. I told her that I had taken to keeping a journal as per her suggestion and she seemed to encourage the idea. I asked her if she wanted to read any of it and she told me that it was best to keep it personal so I wouldn’t feel pressured to put on a strong front. I mentioned to her that I sometimes still think about the incident and she said that that was normal. She said it’s a normal coping method to remember and try to come to terms with a trauma. I asked her to write me a note saying that I was normal for my wife to read and we had a bit of a laugh.

Life at home is back to normal. The kids are running around and Anna is busy cooking up some spaghetti and meatballs right now while I write this. We didn’t get to go to the movies on account of my therapy sessions, but there really isn’t much playing right now that would be suitable for kids anyway.

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Work was a bit of a pain today. We have an upcoming project that needs to be cleared by Friday and everyone’s running around trying to make ends meet. It’s my job to get the ad properly formatted and set up. I must have spent an hour trying to make everything look perfect before I accidentally closed out of the program and lost all my hard work. I swore up a storm and had to stay a bit over while I re-did all my work so we could meet the deadline.

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

I didn’t sleep too well last night, that being said, I’m in a good mood. Want to know why? The sessions ended today. Dr. Brodsky told me I was good to go. I was a little worried about my fitful night last night, but she explained it away by saying something along the lines of: “You're becoming healthy, that's all. You'll be healthier still this time tomorrow. I think you’re on the right course here and while I’d love to keep charging you for a low stress chat, I don’t want to add more stress on your bank account. You’re going to be fine, just keep on the road to recovery.” I left the office feeling better than I had since this craziness first started.

I’ve decided to keep writing for a bit to chronicle my progress. I want to look back on this in a few weeks and reflect on how far I’ve come. Since it was the last day of my sessions, I couldn’t get to the movies again today. Anna had some quality bonding time with the boys. I asked them what they saw, but they just shared a look and said it was a secret. I can't wait to get back into our weekly movie tradition and return to some form of normalcy with my family. To be honest, that little side glance and knowing smile they shared made me feel like I was being left out.

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

I’m willing to bet money that they saw a horror movie. Tommy was up all last night with nightmares. Of course, Anna slept right through it and I had to sit by his bed while he asked questions. I brought it up today and she had this guilty look on her face. Anna’s always on me saying that I can be a bit over-bearing and I understand, I just don’t want them to have the relationship that I had with my dad. I want them to look back on their childhood and remember the time we spent together as fond memories. Hopefully that’s the end of late nights.

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

Work continues to be a bitch. Compound that with Tommy’s frequent nightmares and you have a recipe for a bad time. I woke up Anna to deal with it the first time, but I had to go the second time when he started calling for me. Anne had forgotten to close the closet door as usual. Tommy never could sleep with it open after watching an old episode of Goosebumps where a kid who visiting his grandparents found that they had imprisoned a monster in one of their closets. The nightlight helped a little, but the closet always had to be closed if he was to get to sleep. As I was tucking him back in, he asked me an odd question, “Why would someone break into our house?” I was taken a bit back as he hadn’t really brought it up since the initial excitement wore off, but I tried to answer it as best as I could.

I explained that he was probably looking for money and when he saw that we didn’t have any he left. Tommy asked if he was gone for good and I said that he was. I also promised him that if he did return, that I would spank his butt and send him running home. That got a bit of a smile out of him and I managed to get him back in bed by about four A.M. I got back in bed shortly after, but I wasn’t able to drift off again.

Of course that got me thinking about the break-in again and as I wasn’t getting back to sleep that night, I decided to scroll through the photos I took. Staring at the photos, I noticed something new that I hadn’t seen the first night. In the photo I took with the flour, there was something odd. It looked like the person had intentionally knocked over the bag and then deliberately stepped in the one foot wide spill with both feet. If he was in such a hurry, why would he do that? It didn’t make much sense and got me thinking.

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016 (Three weeks since the smash and grab)

Had another rough night last night. On the plus side, Tommy’s nightmares seem to have passed. On the downside I’m dealing with a bit of a head cold (in September if you can believe it) and couldn’t get to sleep. I opted to stay in while Anne took the kids to another movie, this time I insisted that it had to be PG.

I know it isn’t healthy to dwell on it this much, but the more I think about it, the more inconsistencies I’m noticing. The burglar had to have known that we would be out for our family movie night. I didn’t recall seeing anyone outside the house when we left that day so that means that he had likely known that we were going to be out at a certain time. How did he know our pattern? How long did he watch our house? Maybe if I dig into it a little more I can make sense of everything.

Sunday, September 4th, 2016 (Twenty-two days since the break in)

Still having trouble sleeping. I told Anne that it’s just stress from work and I think she believes me. She knows how frustrating the work can be sometimes. A company could start up an ad project and turn it down after weeks of work and make everyone start over again. I decided to walk around rather than keep her up with my tossing and turning. I carefully walked around the house while flipping through my phone. It was while I was downstairs in the kitchen that I noticed something was wrong. The pantry door was open. Anne always closed it before bed as we have had issues with rats in the past. I’ll make a note here and bring it up with her in the morning.

Monday, September 5th, 2016 (Twenty-three days since the home invasion)

I don’t think he left.

I know that sounds crazy, but just hear me out. Anne said that she remembered closing the pantry door before bed and this morning one of my cereal boxes was almost empty. I poured out Fruit Loop dust into my bowl and asked if anyone had had any recently. No one copped to it. I told myself that it was my mind playing tricks on me, but tonight another piece was added to the growing evidence pile.

I was walking around the house as part of my daily routine now when I decided to check on the kids. I cracked the door open and looked into the room. The first thing I noticed was that the room was cold. It was like ten degrees colder than the rest of the house. I opened the door and spotted the issue right away. Their window was wide open. On top of that, the closet door was fully ajar. I know I shouldn’t have, but I had to know. I woke Tommy and Jason up and asked them if they left the window open.

Through groggy eyes they told me that neither of them had done that. I pressed the issue more and said that I wouldn’t be mad if one of them had, but they both said they hadn’t done that. I grilled Jason and Tommy for a few minutes before I realized I was scaring them. I told them to go to bed and to forget this. They looked at me weird, but decided to follow my directions. I took a peek into the closet before I left and saw nothing but darkness. I closed it and the window before leaving their room. I didn’t sleep at all. It feels like I haven’t slept for so long.

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016 (Twenty-four days since the home invasion)

Now that I look closer, all the signs are there. I was an idiot to overlook them. The missing food just brought everything to my attention. The person broke in and tried to stage it to look like a smash and grab, but the truth is, they never left. They’re somewhere in the house, I see that now. Now I’m noticing things have been moved around. It’s all small stuff; like a chair pulled out at the table or kitchen utensils put in the wrong drawer. They’re small things you wouldn’t really register until you thought about them. The more I look at the photos I took, the more signs of them that I see. They likely walked through the flour so we would be able to track their movements and search the whole house. They had hidden so cleverly that we couldn't find them and since we and the police fully searched the house, they assumed we would feel safe that they had left.

I checked the crawlspace and the attic under the pretense of getting ready for Halloween. I didn’t see any sign of him, but I expected as much. This person is clever and cautious. He wouldn’t slip up. I can’t let the wife or my boys know that someone may be in the house with us. I have to protect them from this. Who’s to say this person doesn’t have some way of listening in on us? If he knows I’m going to the police, what’s to stop him from snapping and murdering us all? He may decide that he’s tired of sneaking around and kill us all to evade capture. I have to be cautious here. I have to outthink him. I need to catch him in the act or find some way to drive him from the house. Anna caught me looking at the photos again, but I told her that I was trying to figure out how to delete them. She offered to show me and I jerked the phone away from her. I think she assumed it was me trying to protect my pride and that's a better excuse than anything I could have thought up.

Don’t you think I know how absurd this all sounds, but it’s possible. Someone managed to evade detection for a year while living in a Japanese man’s apartment, and you can’t forget the one in North Carolina where a guy sweet talked his way into the house and lived there for five days while sexually assaulting the girl who invited him in. It makes me sick knowing that this fucker could be living somewhere and coming out when no one’s home or awake to eat and do God knows what else.

Friday, September 9th, 2016 (Twenty-four days since the invasion began)

Had a bit of a blow up at work. I took the past two days off to keep an eye on things at home and when I called in to work today I was told rather harshly that I either needed to come in or turn in my resignation. I set up my webcam to try and keep an eye on things while I was out and went into work. My boss stopped by my office shortly after I arrived to tell me that I needed to be taking things more seriously as we had just been commissioned for another project and he needed my ‘head in the game’.

I couldn’t help it, I snapped at him and told him to mind his own business, I told him that it was hard to stay focused when I had my own problems at home. He looked shocked for a few seconds before turning around and walking away. He didn’t make eye contact with me for the rest of the day. I drove home in silence, wondering if I was going to get a phone call over the weekend telling me that I was being terminated. As soon as I got home, I checked the crawl space and the attic again. I stared into the darkness for a few minutes, terrified that my eyes would adjust to the darkness and reveal someone looking at me from their hiding spot. I saw nothing. Anne asked me what I was doing and I just told her I was looking around. She didn't press the issue, but I can tell that she's getting worried. I have to take care of this quickly before I alienate my family anymore.

Sunday, September 11th, 2016 (Twenty-six days spent with this stranger in my house)

Still no call from my boss, but I have bigger fish to fry at the moment. I think the intruder is onto me. It’s like I can feel him watching me everywhere I go. I don’t know if he’s looking at me from the closets, vents, or behind the sofa or chair, or whatever but I can feel his eyes on me. Maybe he’s turned my webcam against me and is using it to remotely monitor me. That would explain why I didn’t see any signs of the intruder. Maybe he’s erasing the videos or copy/pasting old videos to make it seem like there’s no one there, but I know that can’t be right. He’s somehow discovered my suspicions and is keeping an eye on me. Anything is possible. All I know is that he’s focused on me. All this weekend I’ve had his eyes burning into me, constantly making me look over my shoulder.

As I showered on Saturday, it was like he was standing right outside the curtain. Anne, Jason, and Tommy went to the movies without me that day. I think they know something is wrong. They caught me wandering the house randomly opening doors, the pantry, and closets. They didn't even ask me if I wanted to go to the movies with them, they just left. They stayed out late and had dinner, which allowed me to search the house thoroughly. I have to catch this bastard in the act and get rid of him before he can get rid of us. I woke up this morning feeling his eyes on me from the closet. I sprung out of bed and wrenched open the door. There was nothing there of course. He must have some means of slipping out that leaves no detectable mark on the wall. Anne was so startled that she started to cry. She keeps saying things about how I need to get help, how I need to sleep, and how I need to start acting like myself again for her sake and the kids’. I can’t listen to her now that I’m so close to getting him. He’s going to slip up soon enough and I’m going to cave the bastard’s head in for all the trauma he’s put my family through.

Tuesday, September 12th, 2016 (Twenty-seven days since with this stranger in my house)

I got sent home from work today. I guess sitting at my desk and thumbing through photos of the house for hours wasn't the best choice. A security guard had to walk me out of the building and to my car. He watched me drive off while shaking his head at me all the while. It doesn’t matter. It feels like I haven’t slept in over a week. I look, feel, and smell like shit. It doesn’t matter. I heard my wife crying on the phone today with her mom. She was speaking in hushed words, but I heard her. She wants to take the kids to their house after school on Friday to get out of this house. It doesn’t matter. I can feel his eyes on me no matter where I am in the house. I proved it by stalking around the house and feeling those eyes burning into me. The entire time, I could feel Anna, Jason, and Tommy watching me warily. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is finding this sadistic monster and ending his life. No police, no prison; there are too many opportunities for him to get out, for him to continue to watch me, for him to worm his way back into our lives. As long as I keep moving and check spots as randomly as possible, I’m sure I’ll catch him off guard. I won't sleep until I find this bastard.

Thursday, September 15th, 2016 (Thirty days with this stranger in my house)

HE’S IN THE WALLS! I don’t know how he’s fucking doing it, but that’s the only reasonable explanation for why I can’t find him. There must be enough space to squeeze through and traverse the house using closets as entrances and exits. I could have sworn I heard him laughing at me behind one of the walls as I passed by it. I’m ending this now. I’ll tear down this entire goddamn house if I have to! No one threatens me or my family.

Saturday, September 17th, 2016 (Thirty-two days)

Two days of Valium and Thorazine later and I realize that maybe taking a hammer to all the walls in my house and screaming like a maniac was probably not the best idea. The police were called and responded fairly quickly. Unfortunately they were a bit too late to stop me from scaring the hell out of my wife and traumatizing our kids. I think for as long as I live, I’ll hear Anna screaming at Tommy and Jason to hide in their room. She of course tried to stop me from entering their room with the hammer, but it was too late for me to listen to reason. I had to make sure he wasn’t hiding behind their walls. In the haze of my delirium, I remember shoving her out of the way and seeing my kids shrieking and running from me. I think that memory is going to stick with me until the end of my life.

Paranoid schizophrenia or bipolar disorder that was latent but triggered by stress, that’s their current prognosis. They say they need a few more sessions to provide proper evaluation. They have all the time in the world as I don’t think I’ll be leaving here anytime soon. I asked if I could keep writing down my thoughts and they tell me that I should be sharing those feelings with them rather than hiding them away in a journal. I think the only reason they’re letting me write this last entry is so they can look through it themselves and try to figure out what the hell went wrong. The psychiatrist says that with a steady medical regimen, healthy diet, and a relatively low stress environment, I may be able to lead a normal life. I ask if she thinks I can convince my family to return home with me. She says that it’s possible as long as I am serious about my rehabilitation and treatment. She’s lying.

I don’t feel much like writing anymore. I just had my last scheduled dosage of Valium for the day and it makes me tired. There was a stranger in my house. I can’t deny that, I just didn’t realize who the stranger was. I drove my own family away. I single-handedly managed to alienate my wife and thoroughly traumatize my kids in the space of a month with my insanity. I tried to protect my kids from everything and then exposed them to the worst danger imaginable, an unhinged father. In the end, I guess I was worse than my father. He only ended up being a deadbeat, I became something much more frightening to them. We should have been at the movies today as per our tradition, watching something, anything; laughing and talking about the movie on the way back to the car. Instead I am here and they are gone, likely for good.

In the few days of clarity/haze that my treatment has given me, I’ve come to these conclusions. The intruder stepping in the flour with both feet was likely due to them trying to sidestep the open pantry door which put them right on top of the small spill. The open pantry that night was likely from one of the kids grabbing a midnight snack of Fruit Loops and forgetting to close the door afterwards. The cracked open window in the kid’s room was probably one of them airing out the room and not wanting to cop to it when their half-crazed father woke them up in the middle of the night demanding to know who had done it. The closet being open was a boy finally overcoming his fears. My family’s fear wasn’t them sensing what I was feeling, it was them realizing that I was going off the deep end. They were scared of me and what I was doing, wandering around the house at all hours of the day, endlessly staring at photos, and frantically searching every corner of the house. All of these things can be so easily explained but yet….

A part of me knows that I’m crazy. It’s the part of me that can clearly see my children’s horrified faces as I took a hammer to our walls to expose an intruder who never existed. That’s the part of me I try to listen to. It’s also the part of me I have the hardest time agreeing with in the dark of the night. It’s because I can vividly recall the scene of being led away by the police after being tazered and zip-tied. I was a ranting and raving mess at that time, screaming and shrieking about the walls and what was lurking behind them. It wasn’t until I was put in the car that I saw it. It was in the second story window. I only saw it for a second but I know it was there. That face watching me through the window with a wide grin. It was right in the lower pane as if they were crouched down and observing the scene with some form of sick satisfaction. It had to be there, didn’t it?



Written by EmpyrealInvective
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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