I should have just let it be. People get robbed; it happens. But no, I had to go and install security cameras in my apartment. It's easier than people realize now, since modern technology has made it cheap and simple. I even have an app that notifies me if the motion detectors are tripped, and I can watch the live stream right there on my phone. The first moment it beeped and told me someone had entered my place, I should have just ignored it.
That day, I was in the hospital for accidentally letting my blood sugar get off kilter. It was nothing too serious, and had happened once or twice before, but this was the first time I'd had my phone with me. I was sitting in bed watching the television in the upper right corner of the room when the table next to me vibrated loudly. I grabbed my phone, frowned at the camera alert, and tapped it to bring up the live feed. At first, I didn't understand exactly why the motion detectors had tripped. There was my apartment in washed-out color and lit obliquely by the late afternoon sun; there was my couch, and my television, and a blob of unfamiliar color in the bottom left corner—
It was a man.
A man was in my apartment.
As his head turned and he nearly looked my way, I jerked back instinctively and almost toppled my IV stand. The long tubes pulled weirdly on my bandaged arm, and I shuddered. They were pumping fluids into my blood stream, and the thought of the needle inside my vein made me nauseous.
Ok, calm down, I told myself. You got the bastard. He's literally on camera and at your apartment at this very moment. What to do? Right. I tapped over to the dialer on my phone, momentarily minimizing the camera feed.
Almost immediately, a kind female voice asked, "9-1-1, what is your emergency?"
After swallowing down apprehension, I said weakly, "There's someone in my apartment."
Her tone dropped from small-town professional to surprised concern. "Are you in danger?!"
"I'm not there right now," I told her. "I'm in the hospital watching my home security video."
She sounded relieved, but a little annoyed. "This line is for emergencies only."
"It's an active crime in progress!" I complained. "He's in there right now!"
"But I thought you said you're watching a video of it?" She seemed confused. "Here, I'm going to transfer you to the direct police line, okay honey? Either way, they can handle this. You just stay put and tell the officer everything, alright?"
"Alright." My town wasn't exactly the top of the totem pole in our state, so I wasn't sure where her professionalism ranked, but at least she'd been helpful. While I heard her clack a few keys on the other end, I opened the live feed up again and kept the call on speakerphone. The episode of Teen Titans Go on my television began getting louder; I looked for the remote, but couldn't find it. When the transfer call began to ring, I abandoned the search and looked at my phone again.
The man in my apartment was in my room lifting my laptop from my bed, the bastard.
The ringing stopped, and a calm male voice answered, "Clark County police, what can I help you with?"
"Um, hi," I said by way of nervous greeting. "Well, I—"
On my video feed, the man in my bedroom put down my laptop and lifted a cellphone to his ear.
That was weird.
Was there a time delay on this feed? Realistically, there had to be a delay, but wait—what? The man in my apartment couldn't be—
I saw his mouth move on the feed, as if to say Clark County police, what can I help you with?
"Hello?" the officer asked. "Son, are you there?"
My heart raced with sudden adrenaline. I tapped over to the dialer app and hung up.
Oh God. Had that officer on the phone been the man in my apartment? Had the person robbing me just answered my phone call? In fact, there'd been a string of robberies in our small town recently, and nobody had been able to figure out who'd done it or how the perpetrator had known when people would be solidly out of the house. Had he—no, that was downright evil to think. But—
Was it possible he had access to municipal information and had seen my name and looked up my address to rob me while I was in the hospital?
I was so nervous I nearly dropped my phone. Dialing again, I heard the same female voice. She recognized my number. "9-1-1 here again, is everything alright hun?"
"The officer you transferred me to is in my apartment," I told her hurriedly.
"Well that's great. Real great response time."
"No, he's the one robbing me!"
"I'm sorry, what's that now?"
"Which officer did you transfer me to? He's the one in my apartment! I watched him answer the phone!"
"Is this a prank call?" she said with annoyance. "You're not going to get anyone in trouble with nonsense like this. Besides, it's a department line, there's no particular officer assigned to that number. It's just whoever answers."
I felt woozy from the blood rushing in my head and the rapid hammering in my chest. "It's not a prank call!"
"Sir, I'm transferring you to the police again so you can make a formal report if you wish. If I were you, I'd hang up before you go too far with this prank."
I heard her clack her keyboard again, and then the call began to switch over. I waited, silent, while it rang twice. It was the same voice: "Clark County police, how can I help you?"
I didn't say a word. I simply watched and waited. Several heartbeats went by as I stared. If it was him, he'd—
The man in the video feed raised his cellphone again.
The voice demanded, "Who is this?"
I hung up in terror and lost my grip on my phone. It slid down across my blanket and fell off the side of the bed, making a loud clatter on the hard hospital floor. It really had been him! The person robbing everyone had been one of the very cops supposed to prevent that sort of thing! Full of anxiety and nearing panic, I reached down over the edge of the bed, trying to reach my phone without pulling the IVs out of my arm.
I couldn't reach it. My fingertips grazed it at times, but I couldn't get a grip on it.
Was there a nurse call button? I searched for one with my eyes, but if this small country hospital had such, they hadn't told me what device to look for since I was in for something mundane. However, I did find the television remote under my pillow.
So, I was gonna get robbed. No bones about it. I couldn't call the police, because it just went to that guy. What I had to do now was avoid giving him any clue about who I was. I'd been a transfer call from 9-1-1 both times, so I was pretty sure he didn't have my number, and if he really was the robber there was no way he'd call them and ask about me. That would be a dead giveaway.
All I had to do was sit tight and say nothing to anyone. Whenever a nurse naturally came around, I'd just take my videos and get out of here. Probably drive to the city and find someone high up rather than risking talking to the local cops. Yeah, that was all I had to do. I was fine.
A few minutes into that ill-fated plan, I heard voices in the hallway. From what I could discern, a man was asking about a patient, and a nurse was directing him.
Like a bolt of lightning, the idea struck me: he knew I'd be out of the house, so he knew I was in the hospital. He'd driven here to find me and see if I was the one who'd called. What would he do if he was certain?
Panicking, I turned over and closed my eyes to pretend that I was asleep.
Opening my eyes and quickly reaching down, I grazed the top of my cellphone with my fingernails as the nurse's voice approached in the hallway. I had no choice but to reach further; wincing against the horrible feeling of the needle moving inside my arm, I pushed hard and fast and grabbed my phone. Weird nausea-inducing pain erupted from my arm and blood began to drip down, but I quickly stuffed my phone under me and lay on my side as if asleep.
Oh God, did my arm hurt. It felt as if I'd jabbed the needle into muscle somehow, but all I could do was endure the weird invasive feeling and hide my bleeding arm under my blanket.
"This him?" the male voice from the phone said as my door opened.
"Yip," the nurse replied. "Looks like he's asleep, but he's not in any sort of critical condition. You can wake him up for your questions."
"Thanks kindly," he said with an audible smile. I could practically hear the bastard tip his cap to her as she left.
My pulse was racing so hard, I was scared he would see the veins in my neck throbbing. He softly closed the door and stepped closer; the only noise in the room for several seconds was the television blaring fast-paced and cheery Cartoon Network commercials.
He was leaning over me. I could feel his presence like a leering demon behind me. I heard him breathe out through his nose, and even felt that movement of air on the back of my neck.
Come on, I prayed. Just buy it. Buy that I'm asleep and go away. It wasn't me. I didn't call you.
He straightened, and then I heard him reach into his pocket. What was he doing? Whatever it was, it wasn't making any noise. I waited, terrified and trying to keep my closed eyes from wincing whenever he moved.
I heard distant soft beeps, and I realized that he was typing in a phone number. For a moment, my mind reeled with the idea that he had seen my number after all—but no! I'd already be dead if so. No, no no no no no no, he'd asked for it at the front counter of the hospital, or maybe looked up my name on the way over.
He was calling my phone. Mother of God, he was calling my phone!
Ever so slowly, so as to not look like I was moving through my blanket, I moved my bleeding and needle-impaled arm to tap my own phone under me. I knew the sequence by heart; the only hurdle was the vomit-pushing invasive pain that threatened to make me reveal myself.
He finished dialing my number, and I heard him shift his stance as he put his phone up to his ear.
Tap the button on the right, 1, 9, 2, 7, come on come on, down—
His phone played the first ring as his call began to go through.
Down, down, down, single vibration—silent!
A particularly loud giggling of children from the television commercial had covered up that precursor to the first ring on my end. The delay in the cell network had just saved my life.
Behind me, I heard him listen to the call ring several more times.
My blood chilled as I realized that the voicemail would play my voice. How much had he heard when I'd spoken to him? Would he know? There was nothing I could do except desperately pray.
The ringing stopped, and an automated voice said: The voice mailbox for this number is full.
I felt absolutely nothing in that moment. No relieved humor at my own laziness with my voicemail inbox, no terror at what might come next, just total stillness. My entire awareness was the single word please.
He listened for another few moments and then hung up. Behind me, I heard a soft disappointed, "Damn."
Was he satisfied? Would he leave?
He did take a step, but I wasn't sure which direction. It felt as if he was leaning closer, but why would he be doing that, except to—
Firm wetness touch my jawline, and I lay absolutely still as he drew his tongue up my cheek.
Everything in me screamed disgust and horror at this sick monster touching me like that—but I didn't move a muscle. My soul trembled instead of my body.
Finally, he seemed to believe I was asleep, and he stood up and walked toward the door.
I'd done it.
As he turned the handle and opened the door, the commercials ended, and Teen Titans Go returned in full frenzy. In the tense darkness of my own closed eyes, I had a sudden flash of understanding: the only thing he'd heard on my mostly silent calls had been cartoon-character voices.
Leave, I prayed.
He wasn't coming back my way, but he wasn't going out through the door, either. From the lack of boot noises on the hard floor, I knew he was just standing there. What was he doing? Did he know? Or was he just suspicious and trying to figure out what had raised his hackles?
Come on, just leave!
Which characters had been talking on the show while I'd made those calls? Which characters were talking now? Come on, just leave!
The door clicked closed.
I nearly breathed deep with relief until it occurred to me that I couldn't be sure if he was still in the room. He could still be standing there just inside the door, looking at me as I pretended to sleep. He could even be moving quietly toward me at a very slow pace. What was I supposed to do? The tension in my chest began to reach a breaking point. I wanted to scream.
Instead, I used all of my willpower to continue pretending. I lay there listening to the television in the dark dome of my own head while my ears scrutinized every other frequency for noises of breathing or movement; anything that would tell me if he was still in the room. The sound from the television dipped oddly once, but that was the only anomaly.
For many long minutes, I sat in a mental pool of terror and kept myself frozen.
I couldn't take it anymore. When that show ended and Adventure Time began, I dared to pretend to roll over in my sleep. As I did so, I cracked my eyes open a very tiny bit, and I saw the space between my bed and the door.
It was empty.
What relief! He'd been gone for quite some time. I relaxed and turned back over to see to my bleeding arm.
He hadn't left the room, actually. He'd moved behind me and leaned down.
When I turned back over, his face was an inch from mine. For the first time, I saw him full on and recognized him as an officer I'd seen around town. His hair was short and brown, his cheeks were gaunt, and his face as a whole was unforgiving. All he said was, "Got you."
I'd never truly understood death before that moment. Death was the thing that was in that man's eyes as he looked at me. His irises were extremely wide, nearly all black in a very disconcerting manner, and thus showed the full reflection of the Reaper. I saw it soaring toward me with a scythe raised high. He was going to choke me with my own IV tubes and then throw me out the window, claiming that I'd panicked and jumped of my own accord. I could see that somehow, in his mind, man to man, human to human, connected by something primal. I could see it as it reached out to touch me; as Death curled its bone fingers around my forearm and raised his scythe high with his other hand.
But the door opened then, and the friendly nurse that had let him in said, "Done with your questioning? I need to check on his IV."
The officer immediately stood up and gave a smile. "Sure thing. All done here."
The nurse smiled back and nodded at him as he passed. She came over and began adjusting my IV stand; when he was finally out of the room, she dropped the act and whispered, "You're safe now. There are three officers at the end of the hallway waiting to take him in."
I'm not too proud to admit I began to shake and cry. It was over. All I could ask between sobs was, "What happened?"
"Doris over at 9-1-1 gave us a call with some concerns," she replied softly. "I thought for sure it'd be too late. What was he doing up here all this time?"
I just shook my head. Summoning Death was no easy or simple thing, not even for a monster—and once brought forth, the Reaper would not go without a prize. I did hear the concerned orders, and then the angry shouts, but somehow I didn't hear the gunshots. They shot him dead as he tried to fight back, not three rooms down, and somehow my numb ears never heard the shots.
I was in shock, yes, but the chill left in me was something else. When the nurse lifted my arm from under my blanket to take out the IV needle and tube, she revealed my injury—in the shape of a gaunt hand. Four bony fingers and a bony thumb had somehow been imprinted in a bruise on my forearm.