When I moved into my first rental house, I remember the feeling of being terrified at every strange noise that found its way to my ears. The ice maker in the freezer, the A/C kicking on, the house settling – it all made me nervous the first night I slept there. I was expecting it the second night, so it wasn’t as bad, and by the third night, it was all commonplace. I spent another 362 days in that house sleeping soundly without a worry in the world.
Then my lease ended, and my landlord decided to let his deadbeat brother live in the house for free, so I had to find another place to rent, since I had planned on keeping my lease for three years before buying my own house.
I ended up looking across town from where my first rental house was located. Both areas were good as far as safety and proximity to grocery stores and restaurants, but I’d gotten a new job, and across town would be closer to my new office, even if not by much. The houses I could find for rent were mostly around the same price I had been paying at my old place, until I came across one that was two thirds the price of anything else in the vicinity. The listing was simple, had plenty of pictures, and seemed very honest about the house’s shortcomings: a burner on the stove didn’t work and would likely not be repaired, the water in the guest bathroom didn’t get any warmer than room temperature, and the lighting in the hallway did not work due to some sort of electrical issue that was beyond a simple light bulb or light fixture change. The listing cited these things as the reason for the low rent, but other than that, the house seemed perfect for me. I called about it, got the owner to give me a tour, and I was sold. I signed the lease the following Monday.
My first night in the house was almost exactly what I expected. There were strange noises – some of which I identified pretty easily, and others that threw me for a loop. I continued unpacking the next day, and as I was doing so, I came across the source of one of the noises I couldn’t recognize. It was an egg timer of some sort that appeared to be partially broken and had been going off – no bells, only a slight vibration – for God-only-knows how long. It seemed rather odd, but I’d seen much odder things that had been left behind in apartments and dorm rooms back when I was in college, so I turned it off, tossed it in the garbage, and continued unpacking, resigning myself to think nothing more of it.
That night, I gave up unpacking and decided to go to bed early. I’d acquired a lot more junk than I’d realized, and sorting through it all was more of a hassle than it had been the last time I moved. The important things were out of boxes, and that was what mattered the most.
The first night I was there, I didn’t have my bed moved yet, so I slept on the sofa in the living room, but by the second night, I had my bedroom furniture in my new bedroom.
The issues with the house had yet to bother me. I’d likely never have to deal with the lack of hot water in the guest bathroom, and I never cooked enough things at the same time to use every range on the stove, but that night, I absentmindedly went to turn the hall light on while walking to my bedroom, and of course, nothing happened. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I’d probably need to get a lamp so I didn’t stub my toe or trip and fall in the middle of the night when I got up to use the bathroom or get water or whatever.
I know the hallway was empty when I went to bed. I hadn’t put any boxes there or unpacked anything there because, well, it was a hallway, and that’s not normally where I kept any of my things.
That’s why it was so weird when I woke up and found a roll of toilet paper on the floor in the hallway. I reasoned it out in my head and eventually came to the conclusion that it had fallen out of a box and rolled down the hall when I’d gone to bed. It was a pretty logical conclusion, except for the fact that I knew I’d put all of the toilet paper in the bathroom, and I knew the hall was empty when I’d shut the bedroom door the night before. But I had been tired, and I’d misplaced things before or forgotten that I moved things around, so I was willing to accept what was most logical and continue about my business.
Again on the third night, I flipped the switch in the hallway only to immediately remember that it was a pointless action. I shrugged without flipping the switch back and went to bed.
I began hearing strange noises at some point after midnight. I’d randomly woken up, or perhaps been woken up by the noises, and it was all I could concentrate on. I could pick out the sounds of the appliances, but the most prominent one was a bizzarre whirring noise that sounded almost familiar, but was too muffled to be completely discerned by my ears. I sat up in bed, aware that perhaps I was hearing something from outside, but I was too curious to not investigate.
Upon opening my bedroom door, I halfway expected to find something else lying on the floor, but it was as I had left it – empty. I tiptoed down the hall and followed the sound of the whirring, but as I rounded the corner into the living room, the noise ceased. I looked around anyway, but found nothing worth noting. Feeling slightly defeated, I turned around and headed back to my bedroom, but stopped cold as I reached the hallway.
Right on the floor where the toilet paper had been the morning before was my electric razor.
It instantly clicked in my head that the whirring I had heard was coming from this razor, but how? How had it gotten here? And how had it been turned on? Furthermore, it wasn’t even plugged in.
My mind raced. Logical scenario after logical scenario played out, but the only logical thing that made sense was that I was going crazy or that someone was in my house messing with me. I was pretty sure it wasn’t the former, and before I started to think that my house was haunted or something ridiculous like that, I was going to entertain the idea that maybe I wasn’t alone.
I knew the living room was empty since I’d just come from there, so I went back to the living room and dug through one of the only few boxes left that I’d yet to unpack. I knew I had a hammer in there somewhere. It didn’t have much reach, but it was better than nothing and would hurt like hell to be hit with.
My eyes finally rested on the wooden handle of the tool, and I pulled it up out of the box. Clutching it tightly with one hand, I held it up and beside my head, prepared to strike anyone or anything that might be in the house. I went back to the hall, ignoring the razor on the floor. My bedroom was the door at the end, but there was a closet to the left and a guest bedroom to the right. I briefly considered the terrifying possibility that someone could have been hiding in one of those places, but it didn’t make sense. I always locked my doors. The windows were all locked. The only way someone could’ve gotten in is if they had a key, which, the more I thought about, the more I realized was entirely possible. Who knows if the locks had been changed after the last tenants had moved out, or if they’d been changed ever.
My stomach did a flip.
I realized my grip on the hammer had become sweaty, but ignored it. The closet would be the easiest to check, so I approached it without making a sound, gently reached out for the knob with my free hand, and quickly opened the door. The vacuum I’d put in there yesterday was the only thing to be found.
I nervously turned around to the guest bedroom. The door was already slightly ajar, but I had left it like that. I pushed it back a little with my foot, saw nothing in the room, and pushed a little more until the entire room came into view. There was nothing in the room at all, just as I’d left it, but I entered anyway, making sure to keep an eye on the hall. The closet in the room was open already, so I just quickly scanned it, and then went back in the hall.
Frustration began setting in as I realized I would never be getting any sleep if this went on. I was still a bit frightened, but for just a second, I almost hoped that I when I opened my bedroom door that there was an intruder there so I could beat the shit out of him, call the police, and then get some sleep.
But when I opened my bedroom door, there was no one there. My sheets and bedspread were pulled back from when I’d gotten out of bed, my slippers were untouched on the floor, and my closet door – though I did open it and look inside – was closed.
Nothing about this added up. If there was no one in the rooms down the hall, then for someone to have been in the house and leave the razor in the hall, they would’ve had to pass by me in the living room. I wasn’t the most observant person in the world, but there was no way that I wouldn’t notice a person sneaking around the same room that I was in.
At that point, though, I was willing to accept that maybe I was wrong; that maybe someone could’ve snuck past me. So, keeping an eye on where I’d come from to ensure that no one could sneak past me to a place I’d already checked, I began canvassing the rest of the house. Yet, room after room, closet after closet, even cabinet after cabinet, there was no one there. I traded the hammer for my old baseball bat, checked the doors and windows, and rechecked the entire house along the way. Still nothing.
I didn’t know what to do. I could lock my bedroom door and slide the dresser in front of it, then hope to get some sleep. But I doubted that would happen. I was spiked with adrenaline; my body was ready to fend off an attacker to protect my property, not rest.
What else can I do, though? I thought. There wasn’t an inch of the house I hadn’t checked, and I was going to be exhausted at work in the morning if I didn’t get some more sleep. Rather than expending energy walking around the house looking for something that isn’t there, I might as well lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.
And that’s when it hit me. The ceiling. Did the house have an attic? I hadn’t even noticed. I clutched the bat and began jogging through the kitchen and the living room looking up for an attic entrance on the ceiling. Finally, I found it, right where I should’ve expected it.
It was in the hallway.
The rope to pull the door down was missing, but it looked like someone had attached a handle to pull down on. I was pretty tall, but still not tall enough to reach it, and, at eight feet in the air, I didn’t see how anyone – short of a professional basketball player – would’ve been able to reach it without stepping on something.
I went back in the living room and grabbed the hammer I had been using for self-defense earlier. It had a claw on the end to grab the handle on the attic door and gave me an extra foot of reach. It would do the trick perfectly.
Wait, I thought. If I really think someone is up in the attic, I need to call the police. I thought it over for a few minutes. What would I tell the police? I’d found a razor and a roll of toilet paper in my hall, so I’d logically come to the conclusion that there was an intruder in my house? I could go into detail, and they’d probably come out to look either way, but…
No, I would look in the attic first. The police had better things to do than investigate why my bathroom supplies had seemingly sprouted legs.
I put the claw of the hammer up in the air and grabbed the handle with it. Then, letting it dangle there, I switched to my non-dominant hand, grabbed the hammer with it, and got a tight grip on the bat with my dominant hand.
I was probably crazy, but I wanted the whole ordeal to be over with, so out of tiredness or sheer stupidity, I pulled the hammer. The attic door swung down, and I was halfway prepared for a person to fall on me, but there was nothing there but the ladder folded on top of the door. I realized that, compared to my last rental house, the spring mechanism that let the door down and up was much quieter, but it still made considerable noise. I should’ve been able to hear it if someone had pulled it down or let it up, but I was not ready to discount the idea at all.
I put the hammer down on the floor next to the razor, then reached up and pulled the ladder down. My heart was pounding harder and harder. I wished for a moment that the light in the hallway worked, but all that would do is illuminate me, not the attic. There was a flashlight back in one of the boxes in the living room, but I also knew that the batteries were almost dead in it. My smart phone had a light on it, but it wasn’t the most ideal thing to carry up in the attic, nor was it a very powerful light.
To make matters worse, if there was someone in the attic, they knew I was coming because I’d let the door and the ladder down, and they also knew exactly where I’d be coming from since there was probably only one way in the attic, but I had no idea what I was going into. There could’ve been nine guys up there throwing a very quiet party, or there could’ve been no one.
I reconsidered calling the police. It was daunting, and, despite my pride as a man, I was scared. There was no denying that, and there was also no shame in it. Or at least, that was the logic running through my head. I put a hand on one of the rungs and was about to begin my climb, but a chill ran down my spine and I just couldn’t do it. I grabbed the ladder, lifted at the bottom, folded it back onto the door, and let the door rise back to the ceiling.
I wasn’t crazy. Things in my house were moving, and there was a strong possibility that whoever was doing it was in my attic. No way I was going up there.
Keeping my eye on the attic door, I went back to the living room and started dragging stuff to the hallway: a couple of cube-shaped ottomans, a bar stool, and an end table. I carefully began arranging them under the attic door. First, the end table, then the bar stool on top of it, then the ottomans one on top of the other on top of the chair. I stacked a few thick books on top of that until they were firmly pressing up against the attic door. If someone was up there and tried to push the door down, it would be pretty damn hard. It wasn’t fool-proof, but it would do until the police got there.
I called them, explained the situation and how silly I felt, and the dispatcher told me I would be better safe than sorry, and she sent a patrol car out to the house. I thought it would’ve felt like hours, but the knock came at my door so fast that it made me jump from the sofa.
The officer came in with my profuse apologies about the whole situation, and I led him over to my homemade attic-blockade. He chuckled a bit at my creation and helped me dismantle it. I watched as he went through the steps of releasing the attic door and producing the ladder. He grabbed a rung with one hand, then pulled out his gun with the other.
I probably could’ve handled the situation if I had one of those, I thought. It was a mental attempt to try to salvage some of my manhood.
The officer continued up the ladder, stopping halfway up to pull a flashlight out of his belt. Relying only on his feet for balance, he climbed up, now with the added guidance of the bright beam of light cast by the tiny flashlight. He climbed up into the attic at the top of the stairs and shone the light around in all directions, stopping as he came to the area of the house that was behind me. I couldn’t see his face at that moment, but when he looked down, I knew something was wrong.
“Holy shit, man,” he said.
“You’ve got to see this.”
“Is it safe?”
“Probably safer up here with me and my gun than it is down there with you and your baseball bat.”
He had a fair point. I climbed the stairs, much less fearful now to not only have the protection of a firearm, but also just the simple security of not being alone.
At the top of the stairs, the officer extended his hand and helped me up. I stood next to him and turned to face what he’d been looking at.
Timers. Kitchen timers. There had to be dozens of them. Plates, utensils, some plastic cups, a few articles of clothing – all neatly placed right there in front of us.
“What the hell…” I trailed off. The timers were just like the one I’d found in my kitchen. Upon further inspection, I also noticed a box of tissues and a bar of soap that I could easily identify as the ones that I thought were currently in my bathroom. Someone had obviously brought them up there, and it wasn’t me. But whoever it was, well, they were nowhere to be found. The officer and I scanned the entire attic, then went over the house again for good measure.
How those things got moved around, I’ll never know. I know a person did it. I am sure of that. But how they got in the house, how they snuck around while I was sleeping, while I was even in the same room…that frightens me and keeps me awake at night sometimes to this day.
I broke the lease and moved out of that house the next day.