Instead of ordering pizza over the phone, I use an app. Instead of getting rung up by cashiers, I use the self-checkout. Instead of making small talk with strangers on the train, I thrust my head in a book.
I’m an introvert. I’m anxious. And I’m highly, unhealthily paranoid. I avoid talking to people at all costs in order to protect myself, emotionally and physically. I’ve read too many stories online about murderers and rapists. I take as many precautions as possible to avoid becoming a statistic.
My intense fear of strangers is the reason why I splurged on one of those fancy, fifty dollar doorbell cameras. That way, when someone stood on my porch, I could see whether they were a threat to me.
If it was a grown, muscular man in a suit holding a Bible? The door stayed closed because he could overpower me. If it was a fidgety woman holding a handful of flyers with VOTE buttons on her blouse? The door stayed closed because it could be a trap. If it was a pair of Girl Scouts selling cookies? The door might get opened, depending on whether parents were standing behind them.
The doorbell worked like a charm at first. My favorite feature was a button that allowed me to speak to the person standing outside. I told pizza guys to leave the pie on the steps and grab their tip from under the mat. I told door-to-door religious nuts I’d already found Jesus so they would leave me alone.
I was excited about keeping a physical wall between me and the rest of the world. I felt safer than ever before. Until something weird happened.
In the middle of the night, a noise woke me. Screeching tires. I instinctively reached for my phone and opened up my app to see whether anyone was outside, but the screen was buffering. It was stuck on an empty view of my pollen infested porch.
Feeling uneasy, I crept across the house and peeked through my blinds. A car had parked directly in front of my driveway. There was a soft thump amongst the crickets, like a door shutting, but I couldn’t see anyone get out of the vehicle. Of course, I was too far away to make out much without my contacts. I hadn’t put them in yet.
I opened up my app again for a closer look at what was happening, but the video continued to buffer. A blue circle spiraled around the screen. It crawled and crawled and crawled.
When the screen finally loaded, it was like a jump cut. One second, nothing was in frame. The next second, someone in a mask was a foot away from the camera, holding a screwdriver up to the lens.
I pressed the button on instinct. “Get the fuck off my property.”
His head tilted. I could see a corner of his own mouth inside the slit mouth of the plastic mask. It looked like he was smiling.
“This doorbell camera is recording you right now,” I said, my voice shaking as violently as my body. “If you do anything to me, the police are going to watch this and figure out who you are. I won’t call them if you leave right now, right this second. No one will look for you if you leave.”
He must have jammed his screwdriver into a piece of the doorbell. All I could see was the stem, wiggling back and forth, back and forth.
Then I couldn’t see anything because the video screen went dark.
“Okay. Fine,” I screamed through the walls. “I’m calling the cops right now. They’ll be here soon.”
I dialed 911. As I was waiting for someone to answer and ask about my emergency, my phone went dark.
Somehow, the man outside was able to disconnect my phone by using my doorbell. The two were connected through Bluetooth, but he would have needed a password for that. He would have needed to know my private information.
The only person who knew my security code, other than me, was the man who mounted my doorbell for me. He did the work for free, claiming the installation came with my purchase.
My heart dropped into my stomach. I remembered reading about how the notorious serial killer, BTK, installed security alarms in houses. His customers were trying to protect themselves from him, but they ended up inviting him inside on accident.
I didn’t have a home phone in the house, only a cell phone, so there wasn’t any other way for me to contact the police. I scrambled out my backdoor, hopped a wire fence, and ran down the block until finding someplace with lights still on.
I pounded on a complete stranger’s door, begging them to open up, begging them to save me.
No one opened the door for me. Instead, a nervous voice came through their doorbell, which was the same model as mine. It said, “Get the fuck off my property.”