If I’ve learned anything about this ridiculous life I’m living, it’s that you can take power away from something by laughing at it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. When a stranger broke into my home and stole my most private possessions, I left a snarky note in response. But that didn’t stop him. Instead, he followed me to my new house and christened it with rotten meat before knocking out the power. The more things happened, the more difficult it became to laugh about the fact there was someone out there who was watching closely enough to torment me on a flexible schedule.
My roommates and I tried not to talk about it too much. We got an alarm system, new locks, and flood lights, but we refused to admit that we were afraid. This was before stalkers became a normal part of my life, and none of us were willing to use that word. Instead, we called him “Gooseberry,” which means “the unwanted third party in a relationship.” This new moniker made him seem rather harmless, yet described him perfectly as an individual who seemed determined to insert himself into my life without permission.
Strange things continued to happen on a fairly regular basis—the patio furniture would be bizarrely rearranged when we woke in the morning, or there’d be a dead animal laid out for us. When we made a big deal out of hanging a bird feeder, we came out to discover it had been stolen in the wee hours of the night, but the perp had gone to the trouble to painstakingly remove the hardware and leave it in a nice orderly pile for us to find in the morning. I responded by stringing a queen-sized bed sheet across the porch and painting “That’s Very Clever” on it.
I couldn’t help responding. When we’d make plans for the night, I would step out to the edge of the street and shout to the neighborhood.
“We’re going to a movie. You’ll have the place to yourself for a while.”
It was infuriating to not be able to fight back, and impossible to figure out how I’d won the honor of becoming Gooseberry’s obsession. I made a t-shirt that said “I’M NOT THAT INTERESTING” across the front, but it didn’t seem to help.
Peeves eventually decided she couldn’t handle it, and moved out after a few months. She’d remained skeptical throughout everything, until one night when she heard the sound of someone trying to open the back door and later realized that the motion light had been disabled.
It was just me and Sars after that.
I did everything I could to catch Gooseberry. I’d sit up late at night, in the dark, just staring out the window. Our guy friends would drive through the neighborhood at all hours of the night, certain they’d eventually spot him. But they didn’t. I tried reverse stalking myself by finding all the best hideouts in the neighborhood, but no matter how many times I tried to surprise him, he was never there.
Tuesday mornings were my day to sleep in. Sars had class, so she’d already be showered and gone by the time I woke up. Usually I slept through the sounds of her blowdrying her hair and making breakfast, but when our panic alarm started screeching and wailing at 7AM, I was immediately awake.
Fear shot through my body—but there was daylight coming through the window, which made everything seem less ominous. I decided to assume Sars had accidentally set it off, and waited for the sound of her punching in the code. But the alarm kept wailling.
The front door slammed shut. Something was wrong. I flew out of bed and across the room, pausing briefly to question whether I should grab a weapon. I erred on the side of lazy and swung the door open.
Sars stood in the hallway, completely frozen.
“The door,” she said.
I rubbed my eyes.
“The door,” she repeated. “It was open. I came out of my room and the front door was wide open.”
She’d already been awake for an hour when she heard the warning beeps from the alarm, telling us we had 10 seconds to put in the code. Thinking it was just her cell phone in the bathroom, she’d stepped into the hall just as the alarm sounded. Light was streaming in from the front door, which had been pushed open only seconds prior. It was weighted so that it would fall back into place, but she’d run over and slammed it shut.
That door had been locked and deadbolted all night. There was no way to set the alarm without the door being completely shut. But here it was, wide open. There was no more pretending things weren’t happening, or chalking it up to coincidence. Someone had walked up to our front porch mid-morning, on a busy street, and done this. They’d pulled back the storm door, unlocked the doorknob and deadbolt, then pushed it open before disappearing.
It was impossible. But it was also proof that I wasn’t insane. Locked doors can’t unlock themselves. Whoever this was, he was bold. He knew we’d installed the alarm, and he’d found a way to use it against us, to make sure we knew he could do whatever he wanted; that we weren’t safe.
This was nine months after the first time I noticed him. I don’t know how long he’d been watching before then, but he’d made his first contact when I was out of town. Then it had been when I was away for the night. He’d eventually progressed towards tampering with the house while we were asleep inside, but this latest move was something completely different. His threats were growing closer. It only made sense that he would try again, and soon.
Do you use humor as a way to cope with life? Have you ever been in denial about how bad a situation was? Has anyone ever taken a creepy interest in you?
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