I was living with my girlfriend Karyn and her Mom in a 1930s stucco in Martinez, California.
It was going to be Karyn's and my first night home alone together in over three months, and we were understandably excited. Our school and work schedules and the nature of living with her mother had prevented us from having too many intimate nights at home alone.
Karyn's Mom had taken off for an entire week to help Karyn's sister Debbie settle into her new Humboldt State dorm room. And Karyn's other sister, Wendy, had moved out of the house's converted basement less than a week previously. The whole house was finally ours!
After work, we went to the store and bought everything we'd need to cook an amazing dinner. Then we picked up a nice bottle of wine and some decadent ice cream, before heading to the nearby video store to rent "Willy Wonka", our favorite movie.
When we got back to the house, we put on some music and turned it up as loud as we wanted. We went through the swinging restaurant door between the living room and the kitchen and got to work.
We ate and drank and talked together at the small kitchen table. Dreamed about our future together, when we'd have a house of our own, all to ourselves, all the time.
After dinner was finished and we had washed the dishes, we scooped up the ice cream, heading back through the swinging door to put on the movie and enjoy our quiet evening alone together on the old leather couch.
As I went to sit down, my girlfriend, who was already curled up with her bowl of ice cream sheepishly asked, "Honey? Would you bring me a glass of water?"
I smiled, put my bowl of ice cream down on the coffee table, and happily pushed back through the swinging door.
As soon as I entered the kitchen, I stopped dead. Every single cabinet, drawer and door was open, but only halfway. I hadn't been out of the kitchen for more than thirty seconds--nowhere near enough time for a person to open EVERY one of the eight to ten drawers and five or six cabinets. Even the oven doors and the refrigerator were open and both taps in the sink were running. The door to the laundry room and the door to the adjoining bedroom, which I had closed while we were cooking dinner, were now both halfway open as well.
Every hair on my body stood up as I backed up and pushed open the swinging door, calling Karyn to join me in the kitchen. I didn't want to leave the room, for fear that when we came back everything would be closed again and the water turned off.
Karyn paused the movie previews with a playfully annoyed, "Ho-o-o-oney!", then hopped up and jogged over to the doorway.
"What the hell is THIS??" I asked, with more than a little fear in my voice.
"Oh, shit..." she whispered.
She stood for a moment in the doorway, a blank look on her face. "Must have been the cat," she blurted, then turned quickly to go back into the living room.
"Wait a minute," I said, grabbing her arm and pulling her toward me. "Seriously, Karyn, what IS this?" I put my arm around her waist and looked into her eyes. "This didn't just happen by itself. And there is no way the cat did this."
Her shoulders fell and her face crumpled as she began crying uncontrollably. I pulled her to me and kissed the top of her head, stroking her hair.
As she buried her face in my chest, she cried, "He just won't... He just... won't... leave me alone."
There was a loud crash downstairs before I could ask who or what she was talking about. She lifted her head and we looked into each other's faces, fear matching fear.
I turned off the faucets and we closed the refrigerator and oven doors in silence before heading through the laundry room to the door to the basement and the converted garage/workshop. We flipped the switch to the one bare bulb over the basement stairs and unlocked and opened the door, listening intently for any sign of human or animal.
"HELLO?!" I shouted down the painted wooden stairs. "Who's down there?"
Nothing. No response. No sound.
Karyn squeezed my arm with both hands, her nails digging into my skin as we took our first tentative steps down the stairs. Still no sound. The old wood of the stairs moaned and creaked with each step, making Karyn squeeze my arm even harder.
We reached the bottom of the stairs and the bay of light switches, which would illuminate the entire garage and basement bedroom and bathroom areas, quickly flipping every switch. Light flooded the downstairs, which was always colder than the upstairs, despite finished and insulated walls and double-pane windows throughout.
The contents of only the middle section of the topmost shelf over the washer and dryer had been knocked onto the cement floor. Several glass Mason jars filled with screws and washers and other odds and ends lay reduced to shards in the middle of the garage. Nothing on any of the other shelves was moved or touched, not even the layer of dust covering them. Nothing on either side of this one center section of the top shelf was disturbed. None of the broken glass or small hardware pieces were on the horizontal tops of either the washer or dryer, which sat directly beneath the shelves. Just in the middle of the floor, as if thrown from the near-ceiling-height top shelf.
For the second time that night, I was covered in chills and every hair was standing on end.
We decided that we'd leave the mess where it was on the garage floor and come down and deal with it in the morning when the basement wasn't quite so creepy and dark.
Then we quickly made the rounds of each room in the basement. All the doors and windows were closed and locked, every closet and cupboard and cabinet was as it should be: closed tight with nothing and no one inside. We checked every small drawer and cubbyhole too, just in case a mouse or a rat or some other small animal had somehow gotten trapped. Nothing.
We did all this as quickly as we could, feeling horribly nervous and completely freaked out. We flipped all the switches, once again bathing the downstairs in pitch darkness, and ran back up to the kitchen.
Thankfully, all the drawers, and all the cupboards, and the refrigerator and oven, and the two spigots were still closed and off.
We were shaken, but were also finally beginning to calm down and feel ever-so-slightly better. We held hands and smiled nervously at each other.
As we came through the swinging door from the kitchen back into the living room, the master bedroom door slammed so hard that the floor shook and a picture fell from the living room wall, glass shattering on the floor and the frame breaking into pieces.
"Let's get the fuck out of here," I said to Karyn.
She stood next to me, weeping silently, her whole body shaking, her eyes nearly closed.
"Honey? Karyn? Cummon, we're going right now," I said taking her hand again and pulling her toward the front door. We stepped over the broken picture frame and pieces of glass.
"I need a fucking cigarette..." she said, tears streaming down her cheeks, as she stood woodenly on the front porch. I locked the door and we headed down the front stairs toward my car, and then toward the nearest, cheapest motel.