I awoke to the sound of my cell phone ringing. I opened bleary eyes to see it was still very dark outside. What time was it?
After about 5 or 6 rings, the caller gave up. I was tired, but sleep would not come again. Annoyed, I decided I might as well see who it was that was bothering people at this time of night. The number was not one I recognized. I sent a simple text message asking “Who are you?”
Almost immediately, I got a reply. But it was not my original caller. It was the automatic mailer daemon telling me that my message was undeliverable. The reason was because the number I tried to send it to wasn’t a real phone number. What did that mean? I was about to try actually calling, when my phone rang again, shocking me and making me jump. The identity of the caller was the same as the one my phone just told me didn’t exist. It rang once, twice, and then fell silent.
Though the thought crossed my mind, I knew better than to believe I might be getting a phone call from the beyond or some silly nonsense like that. The world has enough real dangers without the need to invent imaginary ones. That said, I recalled reading about a new technique robbers used when they planned to burglarize a house. They would call ahead to see if anyone was home. If someone answered the phone, they would hang up and move on. This mysterious person had called me twice. I hadn’t answered either time..
I live in the guest house behind my parent’s home. I have a metal screen door, but it never closes. The doorknob always stuck for some reason, and it was a pain to force it each time. Eventually I unscrewed it off. Now my only working door was the wooden one. It was summer and even at night it was hot, so my wooden door was slightly ajar, secured only by a chain lock I had installed on it a few months before. The chain was long though. If pressed, a hand could easily fit through. If it was skinny enough, an entire arm could wrap around the door frame and undo the chain. I had done so myself before.
I ran through the options quickly in my mind. Call the police? What would I say? That I’d gotten a call from an invalid phone number so they should send a patrol to scout my area? They’d hang up on me. Should I wake my parents? They’d likely say I was being paranoid and get angry that I’d awoken them for such a ridiculous reason. They’d all be right, of course. I was being silly. What were the chances that the scenario in my head was happening in reality?
I told myself this over and over, but I didn’t go back to sleep. I grabbed the small can of mace I keep near my bed in case of emergencies, but it was a negligible comfort. The can was past it’s expiration date, so who knew if it would even do anything? Or what if the thief wore a mask? What if he brought a gun? Any of these events would render my mace useless. I have no idea how long I continued to sit in darkness and stare at the door gap, clutching my mace tightly, waiting for the fingertips of an intruding hand to slip their way inside.
I heard it before I saw it. My door began to creak open. I stopped breathing and my mind raced. I could rush the door, crushing the robber’s fingers, and scream for my parents to call the police. But what if he was a muscled freak and my resistance only angered him? He could kick my door in, ripping the chain off the wall, and crush me beneath it. What if he were on some sort of drugs that made him immune to pain? What if he wasn’t a robber at all and was a crazy person that had taken bath salts like that man in Miami, and he was here to chew off my face? What if…
Instead of fingers at the latch, my attention was tugged lower. A tail swished across the gap of light. A small animal had just entered my room.
We’d seen a few possums crawling along our fence at night. Dad told me that if one got his teeth into you, it never let go, not even if you cut off its head. Once, a feral dog had jumped our fence and we’d found him burying a bone in our backyard. Our local city paper had reported coyote sightings less than a month ago. There were plenty of animals out there driven by disease or hunger to loot our garbage cans, attack our domestic pets, drag off unattended toddlers… I reached out my hand and turned on the light.
“Kitty!” I cried out in relief. I scooped up my beloved cat and began stroking his back, kissing his head, and burying my face in his fur. “You scared me.”
I calmed down immediately. It wasn’t that I thought my cat could protect me. Likely he’d run and hide, leaving me to my gruesome fate. But when I thought of the robbers hurting him, as a few sick and twisted people on the news reports sometimes do, my protective instincts gave me courage.
I awoke to the rays of sunlight filtering through the glass panel at the top of my wooden door, not even realizing I’d fallen asleep. I got up and went to see my parents bustling about in the kitchen. I told them about my night. My mother suggested we call the person back now, putting them on speakerphone. I did.
It turned out it was just a random guy who’d met a girl at the bar and she’d, falsely, given this as her home number. The reason my text hadn’t gone through was because he’d called using his land-line.
I went to bed that night feeling a little better knowing that it had all been a misunderstanding. I put my cell phone on silent this time. The rational part of me said we lived in a relatively good neighborhood where nothing bad ever happened. But the part of me that couldn’t look away from the door gap told me… we’re due.