We thought we were lucky to find this house. It is small for a family of four, but the rent is very low. We moved in about a year ago. There are only two bedrooms upstairs so our nine year old daughter, Sally, had a room on the ground floor, while our son Paul who is eight, has the tiny second bedroom upstairs.
It was working well for a few weeks after we moved in, but then one night about 2pm our daughter came running into our bedroom and shook me and my wife awake. There was someone in the house, she said, walking around downstairs and looking into her room.
Confronting burglars is in the job description for a dad, isn’t it? I had hoped never to have to do it, but I was out of bed and on my way down there before I had time to think about it. Alison, my wife, started to come too, but I told her to stay upstairs and be ready to phone the police.
Putting all the lights on as I went, I searched the whole ground floor, kitchen, sitting room, Sally’s room, even under her bed. It didn’t take long. All the doors and windows were locked and secure and there was no-one down there.
Just a nightmare, we told her, but we let her sleep in our bed because she was so scared.
The next night, same thing. I searched again, not expecting to find anything. I didn’t. I even took her with me and showed her that there was nothing there. She slept with us again.
The third night she refused to sleep in her own room at all. We put her to bed in our room and I told her that I would sleep downstairs to prove that there was nothing to be afraid of.
The bed was way too small for me, but I got to sleep okay.
I don’t know what time it was, but I woke up suddenly, hearing what sounded like footsteps. Just the creaking of an old house, I told myself. Then the bedroom door opened slowly. I couldn’t move. I watched the door open and someone looked into the room. It was an old man, with a very miserable expression on his face. Lying still, I pretended I couldn’t see him, that I was still asleep. The door closed slowly.
I pulled the covers up over my head, but that uncovered my feet, so I curled up into a ball. Then I realised that I was reacting like a nine year-old child, so I forced myself out of bed and out of the room.
The old man was at the far end of the hallway, near the kitchen, looking right at me, but there was something all wrong about him. He started to walk towards me and I panicked and ran upstairs. I was heading for my bedroom, for my wife, running like I was my own child.
‘Just a minute,’ I thought, ‘I’m a grown man, not a little boy.’
I sat down at the top of the stairs to try to get some control over myself. Dragging footsteps sounded in the hall, and then the miserable-looking old man was there at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at me.
‘Who the hell are you?’ I asked. ‘What’re you doing in my house?’
Then — well, then he turned his head right round and on the back of his head there was a different face looking at me. Not the same man at all. This one smiled, but not in a friendly way, and his eyes had a sharp glint in them. There was a smell, too, sweet and rotten.
I lost the ability to breathe.
He stood there looking at me for what must have been only a few seconds, but seemed much longer. Then he began to fade away. The last to go were the eyes. They hung in the air, looking at me, blinked and vanished.
When I could breathe again, I was shaking all over. I went and got in bed with Alison and Sally.
Sally said, ‘Did you see the man, Daddy?’
‘It’s okay,’ I said, ‘it’s okay.’
But it wasn’t, and we both knew it.
Really, why was I so afraid? He did nothing to me. It seems like he can’t even climb the stairs — but I only have to remember his head turning like that, the eyes, then I can’t breathe and I start to shake.
We moved Sally’s bed up into our room. Most of the day, the house is ours, but during the hours of sleep, the ground floor belongs to him. I hear him walking most nights, and when I hear him, I see his first face turning to show me his second. He is a piece of wrongness in the world, and if he was to touch me, I think the wrong might get into me. I might do harm.
It is me he wants. I know it.