I outgrew the fear of being alone when I was about thirteen. In fact, I quite liked being alone. It brought my heart a weird sense of joy to hear my parents say they’d be out for the afternoon. When I was alone, I felt free. I could eat as much junk as I wanted or watch television for three hours straight or dance around my living room – because no one would be watching.
Until the night of my fifteenth birthday rolled around. That’s when things began to change.
I was never one for parties or celebrating; instead I spent this special night in my bedroom writing stories for my online readers. To be honest, I spent most of my time like this. Those readers made me feel like I would be the next great novelist and I loved the attention.
So there I was, typing away a cheesy story about a young musician falling for one of his fans. These were my reader’s favorite kinds of stories and I was more than happy to oblige – even if it was a bit cliché.
I’d been writing for about half an hour when my dad popped his head into my bedroom to tell me he was going to pick up some pizza for dinner. I simply nodded and kept typing, trying to contain the small smile that was growing on my lips. I knew it would take him at least 45 minutes to pick up dinner and my mom wouldn’t be home for another hour and a half. I would have plenty of time to let the silence engulf me as I worked.
I heard the engine of my dad’s old truck struggle to turn on; finally coming to life on the 3rd try. I quickly hopped out of my chair and headed toward the kitchen to grab a soda and some chips.
As I was walking back to my bedroom, I could hear my computer beeping continuously. It was that really low beep, signaling a new email in my inbox.
I dropped into my seat and switched computer tabs; the new email was right at the top of the list. I noticed that it was from an address I didn’t recognize and it didn’t have a subject. To this day I wish I had just deleted the email, but curiosity got the best of me.
It was short, but not exactly sweet.
All it said was, “I enjoy watching you.”
I read the sentence over and over again before letting a few curse words hit the air. I went to close the browser, but I couldn’t. I heard something. It wasn’t much – just a small noise, but it wasn’t going away. It almost sounded like tapping, but it was so faint.
I didn’t want to look. My God, I didn’t want to look towards the window, but I couldn’t help it. It took about three seconds for me to notice the long, grungy hair and brown eyes peeking through my window.
You’d think he’d look away, but he didn’t. We locked eyes and I swear his eyes squinted just enough for him to be smiling. I pushed myself from my desk chair and screamed, but he continued to stare. I prayed I was being loud enough for a neighbor to hear because I was too afraid to walk away, too afraid to break eye contact, too afraid to do anything.
The man finally pulled his head away from the window and ran. Someone knocked on the front door and I yelped. I walked with light feet and peered through the peep hole, breathing a sigh of relief when I saw it was just my neighbor. I quickly flung the door open and began sobbing.
Long story short, the police never found anything. They said they couldn’t track the email, which I didn’t fully understand, but then again, nothing about that situation made any sense. They decided it was probably some older kid’s version of a prank. After all, it was Halloween.
The days after the event were long. I stuck close to my parents and never wanted to be anywhere alone. I had trouble sleeping most nights. My dreams were horrific – his eyes constantly watching me. It wasn’t long before my parents stuck me in therapy sessions. However, the doctors were more interested in pumping me with a bunch of pills rather than giving any real advice.
My life felt vulnerable in every aspect. Perhaps this was what the man wanted.
The night of my sixteenth birthday came around and I hadn’t realized it had already been a year. I felt a bit sensitive about the day, but my parents still decided to attend a work party. I cried and begged for them to stay home, but it was no use. I knew they wouldn’t be pouring themselves back into the house until late – of course, I was terrified. Wouldn’t you be?
A few minutes after their departure, I decided it was time to start writing my feelings out. It felt like I hadn’t written in ages and maybe I hadn’t. I couldn’t remember. I opened up a blank document and my feelings ran wild. I wrote page after page on only God knows what. All I knew was I wanted to keep going.
Then it happened. The beeping sound started, signaling a new email. I switched tabs and saw the same email address as before; still no subject.
It read, “I still enjoy watching you.”
Once again, the police found nothing. My intelligence was undermined as they explained that if a prank works once, it typically will keep happening.
On my seventeenth birthday, I received the same email.
This time, I didn’t even call. It was always going to be a Halloween prank.
When my eighteenth birthday came around, no email. I like to think it’s because I moved hours away and the creep didn’t want to follow. During the four years I was in college, I never once received an email from this man. After a while, my fear subsided and I enjoyed the comforts of being alone again.
When I moved home after school, I accepted a temporary job working with my dad. He ran his own business and hired me on as a receptionist. It was great way to start out my post-grad life. No one ever came to visit and if they did, he was in charge of letting everyone in. Other than that, he was particular about keeping the doors locked – especially if he was gone.
I spent most of my days alone and without many calls, which was fine with me. It gave me a lot of time to start working on my first novel. From 9 to 3, I’d write and edit then write and edit some more. The amount of creativity that flowed through me during those days boosted my confidence immensely.
On my 22nd birthday, I had plans to meet my family for an early dinner after work. By the time the clock hit 3, I bolted from my office. I switched off the air, set the alarm, and locked all the doors. As I walked to my car, I heard that small sound again. That small tapping. I looked back towards my office to the three panel window that my desk faced.
He was standing there in my office and I could finally see him clearly. He was much taller than I expected and extremely lanky – almost sick looking. Despite his height, he stood hunched over, rocking back and forth slightly. His hair was greasy and brown, falling in curls over his shoulders. He was smiling so wide I could see each one of those large teeth. He slowly raised his hand and wagged his fingers in a wave.
Chills shot through my spin as I fought the urge to scream. All I could think of was the notification I just heard from my phone. I didn’t need to look. I knew it said, “I enjoy watching you.”
I fumbled with my car keys for a few seconds before successfully unlocking the door. I sped out of the parking lot, but as I looked back, the man hadn’t moved. He was just standing there with that smile plastered to his face.
It was nearly 10 pm when the cops finally showed up to my apartment with any information. I wasn’t sure what was worse in this case: knowing or not knowing.
When the police arrived at my office, the man was sitting on the ground as if he had been waiting for their arrival. He didn’t put up a fight; instead he went quietly – almost happily. Before they handcuffed him, he handed them a slip of paper with an address scribbled on it. Apparently it was something “she’ll want to see for herself.”
After the reaction the officers had when I asked about the location, I’m choosing to believe the opposite. One officer went pale and shook his head while his partner pulled out a large envelope. He motioned for me to take a seat before setting it on the table.
It was filled to the brim with pictures of my father and I throughout my life.
Only it wasn’t my father. The man had cut and pasted his face onto my father’s in each photo – like some sort of sick and twisted scrapbook. There were photos from birthday parties, camping trips, and graduations.
I quickly noticed that each of these photos was taken from a side angle and we were never facing the camera. The man had been there, off to the side during every one of these event, taking these.
My stomach dropped. If I was sufficiently creeped out at this point, the last photo left me terrified.
It was an untouched photo of the man and someone who looked very similar to my mother looking extremely happy with a prom banner in the background. In red marker, right at the bottom, the words “I could have been a good father” were written.