My name is Amber Donn and I live with my family in Illinois. I work as an animal trainer at the aquarium, and that’s about it. I train mostly penguins and otters, but I also work with the other animals as well. We mostly train the penguins to be calm going to the vet, to be calm in our lap, and calm with other people. We can teach them to spin, follow us, and come to their name. You can train a penguin to do just about anything. I love all of our penguins, but I do have my favorites. I helped hand-raise eleven of them. A penguin chooses you. They choose you to be their person, and then they come to you when a bunch of people are with them; they run up to you and do their little flirty behavior.
I knew I wanted to work with animals ever since I was a small child, and I started working with them eight years ago.
But this story is about something that happened longer ago than that.
21 years ago, I lived in an apartment in Washington. I moved to one of the rainiest places in America to be closer to my brother and sister-in-law. Yeah, I know. Crazy, right? But they’re my best friends, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
It was gorgeous. I could see Mt. Reineer out of the bedroom window of this apartment. Like, right there.
The apartment building was small. It was on the top floor, a one-bedroom with a little dining room and kitchen, and a little balcony on the front. My 20-year-old self fell in love with the place immediately.
The first night I moved in, I was listening to music while unpacking. When I got tired, I turned off the music and got into bed, and then I heard the most horrifying thing I have ever heard in my life. I heard footsteps. In the attic.
They were very clear footsteps, but I wasn’t really sure what I had heard. Whenever you move into a new apartment, you kind of have to get used to all the new sounds that particular space makes, so I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it sounded like footsteps.
There was a little crawlspace leading up to the attic. I think the best phrase to describe it would just be a push-up trapdoor in the ceiling. The flap went upwards (into the ceiling) when it opened, and it was small. It was about 2 ½ by 2 ½ feet. It was in my bedroom ceiling, so I could see it from my bed.
I thought, Okay, those are probably not actual footsteps. You have a very active imagination. Forget about it.
So I did. I went to sleep anyway.
However, the next day I went to the landlord, Lanetta, and when she asked me how the apartment was, I said, “You know what, I actually feel like I heard footsteps in the attic last night. Is there any way that anybody could be up there?”
“No, it’s probably a raccoon or a squirrel or something,” she told me.
Wow, that squirrel’s wearing a pretty big set of boots then.
My friends told me they’ve all had that feeling. That something isn’t quite right.
But I think we’re very good at talking ourselves down, going on with our lives, telling ourselves it was all in our imagination, which it usually is.
I just didn’t know if this was one of those times.
I was very meticulous. Everything was very organized. I knew what was in my cupboards.
Sometimes, I would buy a six-pack of soda. I would drink one, maybe take one to work with me as well, and I would come back and there would be three left.
I would always wonder, Well, did I drink three? That’s odd.
Often, cans of soup would be missing.
Now, don’t attack me. I had a good reason for not freaking out about this.
As I said before, I had moved to be closer to my siblings. My brother was less than three blocks away from me. He had a key to the apartment. I assumed that he was coming into my apartment and eating my food, because that is something he would do (come over, grab a can of soda, and leave). So I thought it was him.
Idiotically, I never spoke to him about it, just never thinking to. I didn’t consider it a big deal. Who cares if he came over for a quick snack? It wasn’t all the time anyway, just every once in awhile.
I worked several jobs: processing papers for an accountant, working at the local drugstore, and waitressing at night.
So when I noticed that little things in my apartment had been moved, I’d second-guess myself, chalk it up to exhaustion.
I was starting to feel at home. I had my two cats, and then I got a puppy.
She was a beautiful German shepherd mix; she was maybe nine or ten weeks old. She was so little, and I loved her to death. She was like my baby. Since she was learning how to potty train, I would come home in between jobs and I would walk her.
I was kenneling her in the bathroom while she was learning her “manners” and such. I kept newspaper on the floor and water and toys.
One night, I was waitressing when I got a call from my landlord saying that my bathroom was flooding. “Your downstairs neighbor is literally getting rained on in her bathroom.”
I came home early to find Lanetta standing outside the door impatiently tapping her foot.
We raced over to the bathroom and I flung open the door to find that my puppy was in the bathroom sink.
“Did you put her in the sink?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“No, we didn’t open the door because we didn’t know how big the dog was, we didn’t know if it was people-friendly, etcetera, so that’s why we had to call you in.”
There was no way she could have gotten into that sink. She was a little puppy. The toilet was far enough away from the sink that she wouldn’t have been able to climb up or anything.
There was water all over the ground. It was a huge mess.
But the puppy was dry, safe in the sink.
She was just...sitting there.
But someone must have put her in the sink. There’s no way she could have done that herself. Someone must have put her in that sink.
I lived in a tiny, safe farming community. Nothing ever went on there, so anytime I got worried, I just reminded myself that my brother was three blocks away, and my sister-in-law was a few miles north.
I’d been living in my apartment for about six months and for the first time since I moved in, I called in sick to all my jobs and didn’t leave my apartment all day.
At around 7:00 at night, I was lounging on my couch, watching TV, when I heard a loud thump. I just dismissed it and kept watching television, because I have animals and they make noise.
Four hours later, the power went out, so I lit a candle and walked up the stairs to the bathroom in my room to draw a bath. After I took my bath, I was about to get out when I glanced up and did a double take.
The crawlspace door was open.
And here I was. Naked. Alone. In the dark.
I must have sat there in that bathtub for ten to fifteen seconds after seeing that crawlspace door open, but it felt like five minutes while I put it all together.
The footsteps the first night. Doors being closed when I had left them open. The missing food. My dog in the sink. There was someone living in my house with me.
I very calmly got out of the tub and put on my robe.
There was only one place they could have been hiding, and that was in the bedroom closet, and I had to walk by the closet in order to get out. The closet had those big mirror doors, and that was really scary to see myself in the dark, knowing that he was on the other side of that door.
I didn’t say anything. If he would’ve opened that door, if I would’ve seen him, I would’ve lost it.
I took a mental deep breath. He’d been living here for six months. If he wanted to hurt me....Let’s just say that he hadn’t. All he wanted clearly was a place to stay. He wasn’t a bad guy. I mean, he put Thea in the sink!
I didn’t want to freak him out by screaming and yelling, because he might have hurt me so that he didn’t get caught.
I very quietly walked past the closet but I didn’t leave the house. I went to my wall telephone and opened up the junk drawer underneath it to get my hammer, claw out. If anyone came near me, they were going to get a face full of hammer claw.
This was before most of us had cell phones, so I had to stay in the apartment and use the landline.
I told my sister-in-law, Gracie, that there was someone in the house. All she said to me was, “Get out of there as fast as you can.”
So I grabbed my puppy and walked out the door in my robe with a hammer in one hand and a puppy in the other.
I got to the bottom of the stairs and looked at the apartment door. Please don’t come out, please don’t come out, please don’t come out. I can’t see him or I’ll lose it. Please don’t come out, please don’t come out, please don’t come out.
Gracie was here within minutes with her two giant German shepherds in the back of her car.
When we got to her house, we immediately called the police.
I didn’t go back to the apartment, but the police told me that he was gone. In the attic, they found a little bit of food, a book, and a sleeping bag.
I’m still not sure how he was getting into the apartment, but I have some guesses. I left the window open for my cats, so maybe he was getting in and out that way. I had a spare key, too. He could have been living there before me and maybe the managers didn’t change the locks. I don’t know. I just don’t know.
I filed a police report, and while I believe it was a man, there’s no way to know, but whoever was living up there was never found.
The police spoke to my brother, Olson, and he still remembers how scared he was for my life, and how relieved he was that I was okay.
It’s been more than 20 years, but I still wish I could find this person and ask them what was going on.
I thought about staying in the apartment, but I realized that was absolutely ridiculous. My grandparents came over the next day and we moved out. We moved all my stuff out. Except the food. We left that. Just in case.