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Someone was in the house.
How the h*ll had someone gotten into the house?
And I was alone.
I clenched my hands into fists, tangled messes of my sheets held within them. My heart started thumping in my ears as I tried to get ahold of myself.
What were they looking for? What did they want?
I had to get up.
Slowly, painfully, I lifted the sheets off of my body. I picked myself up with one arm and carefully shifted my legs out over the side of my bed. I gripped feebly at the wooden frame until I was able to stand.
I didn’t dare turn on the lights. I only felt for the wall and then pressed myself up against it. I shut my eyes tight and tried to convince myself I was only being paranoid. It was the cat. The d*mn cat probably knocked something over.
“Sprinkles?” I offered meekly, opening my door a crack to search the hallway. The kitten offered no response.
Someone was stomping up the basement stairs.
“Oh please,” I muttered, pulling away from the door and clenching my eyes shut again. “Please let it be dad.” I pressed my sweaty palms tighter against the wall to keep them from shaking. My ears strained to catch any details that could tell me what might be happening.
Someone was in the kitchen, kicking in all the wooden cabinets. It sounded like a drawer was thrown off its hinges, and then I heard the silverware shatter on the floor as if it were made of glass.
I let out a whimper. My throat grew hot and my hands began to shake uncontrollably as I realized that whoever was in the house should not be in the house.
All of a sudden I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t want to breathe.
“What the h*ll are you doing?” a deep voice asked irritably.
“I can’t effing see! Where are the stairs?”
I stood frozen as the men hammered around downstairs. They were coming up to search the bedrooms. They were coming up. To search. The bedrooms.
“There they are,” the second man said. I grabbed helplessly for my throat, for my deteriorating chance of coming out of this alive.
“Alright, I’ll check the bedrooms, you keep watch down here.”
“Ah come on man, they’re not coming back until twelve.”
How the h*ll did he know that? Was he stalking my family? Did he watch them leave? Where was the limit? How long had he been watching us? I felt completely exposed.
“We have to be fast and get out. Don’t argue, just keep watch,” the older man said. There was a muffled response, but my heart was pounding too loud for me to hear it.
The older man began plodding up the stairs. No, not plodding. Running. He was running up the stairs. And I was right at the top of them, hidden only by a thin plaster wall. So bare, so unprotected. So defenseless.
“Somebody please,” I whimpered. “Somebody save me.”
The man kicked down my parent’s door and started rummaging through their drawers. I imagined all of my mother’s jewelry displayed on her dresser, so viable. He probably had his hands all over it. And my father’s safe. What would he do with my father’s safe?
There was a loud crash and a series of cuss words following it. “D*mn cat,” the man said from my parent’s bedroom. A loud meow was given in return and then a valiant hiss. The man ignored Sprinkles and continued raiding my parent’s room. When another hiss followed, the man cussed once more and a loud noise vibrated through the house. Then Sprinkle’s broken wail sounded, and after that there was silence.
“No!” I screamed, forgetting to keep quiet. I sobbed, nearly delusional, until I heard the man enter the hallway.
The light from downstairs snaked behind the man and cast his silhouette against my brother’s door. I watched it as the man stood frozen, his hands open and grasping. Would he close them around my neck when he found me in my room? Would he choke me until I stopped breathing? Until I dropped dead on the floor?
“God, Oh God,” I whispered quietly. I began to back away from the wall as the man stalked forward. Whose room would he go in first?
My foot landed on something sharp and I let out a scream. Then I slapped a hand over my mouth and whimpered helplessly. My stomach revolted, forcing me to peel my hand away and suck down a breath of air. It felt like sandpaper ripping down my throat.
The man’s shadow grew bigger and bigger against the hallway wall. I continued backing up until I reached the opposite side of my room. Then I slid down until my face was almost hidden by my knees and the air vent was pressed tightly against my back. I kept my hand over my mouth and clenched my eyes shut. My whole body began to shake with rigid fear. I only had seconds left. Seconds.
“What the h*ll?” the man asked. He was in my room.
“Please don’t hurt me,” I babbled, not daring to open my eyes. “Please, please, I won’t tell anyone—“
“Shut up!” the man ordered. He stood for a long time, just watching me. Every second felt like it was an hour. Sweat and tears were dripping down my face, and somewhere I was bleeding. The salty mixture dripped off my chin and seeped into my lap, but I hardly noticed. I was whispering my last goodbyes.
The man moved. He took a deep shaking breath and I heard something click open. Hoping it was a cell phone, I opened my eyes.
It was a knife.
“No!” I screamed, loud enough for all the neighbors to hear. “Help me! Somebody help me! Somebody hel—“
The man put his thick hand over my mouth. It was dirty and callused, and tasted like sweat. I bit down on it fiercely but the man didn’t budge. He forced my head up against the wall and held the knife out above me. He was breathing fast. Too fast. And I wasn’t breathing at all.
Then, quietly, so quietly I almost didn’t hear, he said, “I’m sorry.”
And swung the knife forward.
I sat up fast in bed, panting. There was sweat dripping down my face and tears in the corners of my eyes. I let out a wail and my father came running to my bed. He held my head securely in his arms and told me everything was okay, that it was only a dream and that I’d be better in the morning.
All I could do was hold my chest tightly, where the knife wound still stood out raw against my skin, and think how lucky I was that my parents had left their dinner early. How lucky I was that the neighbors had called the cops.
How lucky I was that the knife missed my heart, and that I’m alive to tell you about it.