It’s true what they say – that when a person goes blind their other senses heighten in order to compensate. Knowing that, and thinking back on everything that happened to me, I still can’t come to a rational conclusion of how these events unfolded around me without my knowledge. Granted, I couldn’t actually see any of it happening, but I never suspected anything of this magnitude when judging solely on the minor oddities that I had experienced.
Sure, every once in a while I would hear noises, but my house was old and seemed to have a mind of its own. All of its pops and creaks had become just as familiar to me as navigating its interior without the benefit of sight. Even when things began to turn more bizarre, I always found a way to rationalize them away. Looking back, I ask myself, “How could I have been so…well, for lack of a better word, blind?”
My mother had tried to convince me not to move into the house alone. “Sarah, a young blind woman shouldn’t be living all by herself,” she’d said. But I wanted to – needed to. I needed to prove to myself that I was strong enough to do it. Besides that, as a twenty four year old, I didn’t want to live with my parents forever. And I sure didn’t want to wait around for a nice man to marry and move in with. That may never happen.
Having lost my sight at an early age due to a freak accident with industrial strength cleaning chemicals, I knew all too well the nuances of learning to create a mental map of my surroundings.
When I first moved into the old house I used my cane exclusively. I waved it back and forth in front of me with every step I took. I knew roughly where all of the furniture was since I was the one that directed the movers on where to put everything. I employed the cane for nearly a week, using its tip to develop a mental image of the layout. The learning process was slow and clumsy at first, but I eventually got to the point that I was able to shed my cane after several days and began walking cautiously with my arms extended. I progressed further and became familiar enough with the territory that by the end of the first month I was able to walk freely without the use of my cane, or arms or any other aid.
I became quite adept at moving throughout the house freely. Not only that, but the house was located in a somewhat urban area which made it convenient to walk to any place I had the need. The grocery was only three blocks away. There was a department store across the street from that, and a bank and coffee shop just a bit further on. I got used to listening to the flow of traffic and timing the lights in my head so I would know when the “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” signals were lit. Occasionally a kind stranger would offer to take my hand and lead me across. I would thank them and we would part ways once we were safely on the next sidewalk.
In those days I was working from home making phone calls to patients that had recently been discharged from the hospital. In essence, I was being paid by the hospital to administer surveys that were then used to improve their services. The hospital was kind enough to provide me with a laptop computer that contained several different voice-command software applications. I spent my days transcribing the recorded phone calls by speaking the customers’ answers into a microphone, and having the data fields automatically populate accordingly in the program.
The first odd event that I remember was on one particular day when I got up from my work desk for a lunch break. As I was headed into the kitchen, I kicked an object in the middle of the living room floor. I heard it slide a short distance on the carpet. I knew that I hadn’t left anything in the way of my path as I had just been through there not even an hour ago, and there was nothing on the floor.
I knelt down and patted around until I located the object. A book. By feeling its Braille title I recognized it as a book on national parks that I kept on my coffee table, some five feet away. I didn’t remember knocking the book off of the table. I stood there perplexed. The longer I thought about it though, the less frightening it became to me. I convinced myself that I must have simply forgotten about knocking the book to the floor, and I must have stepped over it or next to it during my other passes through the room. I returned the book to its place on the table and went about making my lunch.
That night, while lying in bed, I heard a sound that came from the kitchen. It was almost entirely masked by the usual sounds of the pops and creaks from the house settling, but I definitely heard it – faint as it was. It was a very light humming noise. So light, in fact, that an average person without enhanced hearing may not have heard it at all from this distance. I slowly got out of bed, listening intently, the sound increasing as I made my way down the hallway and through the living room.
As soon as I passed through the threshold into the kitchen I knew what the sound was. It was the compressor motor on the refrigerator, and it was substantially louder than usual. I approached the appliance and found that its door was standing wide open. I eased it shut and the hum returned to a normal volume.
“What on earth? Did I leave this open?” I questioned myself in a whisper. Maybe it didn’t close all the way the last time I swung it shut, I thought. I returned to bed, but had trouble finding sleep. My mind wandered and questioned how I could have overlooked the fallen book and the open fridge door when they’d first happened.
The next morning, I decided to go have breakfast at Espresso Express, the little coffee shop up the road. They served excellent coffee, and you could also get a ham & cheese croissant melt that was to die for. That alone was worth the effort of showering, dressing, and leaving the safety of the house to be plunged into a buzz of whizzing traffic, honking horns, and people clamoring on the sidewalks.
On that morning a gentle stranger helped guide me across the intersection just ahead of the coffee shop. I said, “Thank you!” as they released my arm, but there was no response. He or she was lost in the shuffle of people on cell phones, their conversations momentarily audible to me as they passed in front of and behind me. The tinny sound of a bicycle bell alarmed me, and I felt the breeze left behind when the rider whipped past. I entered the coffee shop to a much more serene environment and enjoyed my favorite breakfast at a seat near the plate glass window, bathed in the sunlight that washed in on me.
That afternoon I took a break from making phone calls to use the bathroom. As I was seated on the toilet, I heard something next to me. It was as if something had brushed against the sink – an ever so subtle sound. My heart rate rose and my brow furrowed as I strained to listen closer. All I could hear was my pulse throbbing in my ears. Suddenly a wall clock in the living room chimed four ‘o clock, startling me to the point that I jumped slightly while still seated there. I regained my composure, washed up and returned to the computer to transcribe the data from my phone surveys.
I closed the laptop and went to make dinner at 6:30. Over the years, I had learned to be extra careful when dealing with the hot oven and burners. Once I had accidentally set a plastic plate directly onto a burner that was still hot, resulting in a cloud of noxious fumes that lasted for days – long after I’d finished cleaning up the mess. I was lucky that it had burned itself out and the damage wasn’t any worse. After that close call, I bought a small fire extinguisher to keep on the countertop next to the oven.
On this particular night, I made my dinner without any risk of fire. However, the undertaking wasn’t completely without incident. As I proceeded to make dinner I discovered that the canned goods I needed for the recipe were missing from the cupboard. I have always kept my canned goods in very specific places on the shelves so that I would always know what was what without the benefit of being able to see the labels. I don’t remember using up the items I needed that night, but apparently I already had. So, I opted to make a casserole instead.
I sat at the dinner table enjoying the simple meal I had made. The television was playing in the background, filling me in on all of the day’s news headlines. I finished the first portion on my plate and reached to dip into the casserole dish once more. I scraped the inside of the dish, the sounds of metal on ceramic echoing throughout the kitchen. It was empty.
“I can’t believe it! I couldn’t have already eaten it all!” I said incredulously. I had thought for sure that I’d prepared a bigger portion than that, and I didn’t remember emptying the dish fully onto my plate. Thoughts ran through my head in an attempt to reason out the matter: Had it baked up to be less than I’d anticipated? Had I spilled some on the table while dishing it onto my plate?
In search of the missing food, I placed the palm of my hand on the tabletop and moved it steadily over the area within my reach. As I was doing so there was a distinct movement in front of me. I gasped and my heart rate immediately quickened. I felt the blood pulsing through my neck. This sound was not as subtle as the others I’d been hearing. It was obvious – a sudden motion of something moving across from me. I continued listening, but all I could hear was the much-too-chipper weather man on TV giving the forecast.
Suddenly I was overwhelmed with a feeling that I was no longer alone at the kitchen table. “Is someone there?” I called out, hoping there was no reply.
I felt a shift in the air pressure as if something moved behind me followed by the creak of a floorboard. I froze. Something brushed against the back of my hair, gentle as a feather. I recoiled and let out a squeal.
I shot up out of my chair, made my way to the corner of the kitchen and turned to face the interior of the room. “Who’s there?” I demanded. No answer. By this time I was breathing heavily, practically hyperventilating. My chest and throat radiated heat as my heart raced inside, giving me the sensation of acute indigestion. I thought I might vomit.
I slowly made my way to the doorway leading into the living room. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity listening for something, anything that would explain the circumstance. Eventually I moved on and worked my way into the hallway bathroom. I locked the door behind me.
It took over an hour and a half for me to calm down. While in the locked bathroom, I wrestled with my thoughts. I reasoned with myself. I didn’t want to admit that my mother was right, but maybe I shouldn’t be living alone. It appeared to be taking its toll on me. On the other hand, all of these things could be logically explained, I told myself. If I wasn’t blind, I’d have seen whatever it was that caused the noises and it would be so obvious. I’d laugh about how ridiculous it was to be scared of it, I’m sure. At least that’s what I tried to convince myself.
What finally brought me out of the bathroom was the ringing of the telephone. I admit it startled me at first, but only because it had been so quiet for the last two hours. I cautiously opened the door and entered the hallway. My phone was in the living room. I approached it quickly and answered.
“Hey Sarah, it’s Jill.”
Thank God, it was just my friend Jill. “Hi Jill, how’s it going?”
“Oh, I’m doing good. I saw you at Espresso Express today,” she said in a playful tone, which I didn’t understand initially.
“Mmm hmm. I saw you in the window when I walked by on the sidewalk.” Still in a playful tone.
“Well, why didn’t you come in and say, ‘hi’?” I asked.
“I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“Disturb me? Why would you be disturbing me?”
“Because, silly, I assumed you were on a date. Who’s the lucky guy that was sitting with you?”
My mouth slacked open. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t form words.
“Sarah?” Jill asked, “Are you okay?”
I dropped the phone. I could still hear Jill’s muffled voice even though the speaker was face down on the carpet. I frantically made my way around the house, arms flailing in front of me.
“Who are you?” I yelled into the house. “What do you want?”
I was terrified, but also angry. I felt violated. I didn’t necessarily want to encounter whatever it was, but I couldn’t go on hiding in my own house any longer. I spent hours searching every square inch of the property and found nothing. I finally went to bed after I was able to calm down, but I did not fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning.
A light rustling sound woke me not long after I fell asleep, still in the dark hours of early morning. I wasn’t sure at first if it was real or if I had dreamed the noise. As I was about to get up, I noticed that the sheets next to me were pulled back. I stretched out my right arm into the empty space beside me. It felt warm as if someone had been lying there with me. The events of the previous day flooded back into my memory. My sightless eyes welled up with tears as I began to question my own sanity. Frustrated, I bolted up and out of the bed. I threw on some old clothes and headed toward the front door with the intention of fleeing the house, unsure exactly where I was going to go – maybe Jill’s place. She lived fairly close.
I wanted to take my cane with me as I always did whenever I went outdoors. I searched the house frantically, unable to remember where I’d left it. I almost always left it propped against the wall by the front door, but it wasn’t there. I made my way along all of the perimeter walls, feeling desperately for the cane.
When I neared the kitchen I still had not found my walking aid, but I made a discovery of a much more startling nature – a barely detectable vertical crevice in the wall I had not known about previously. I used all my fingers to follow the crease up the wall, across the top, and down the other side. It was a doorway designed to fit perfectly flush within the wall. I leaned my weight inward against the panel and felt a slight give on its right side. I worked my fingers into the crevice on that side the best I could, eventually prying the panel free. It swung open to the left. I gasped in shock and my pulse quickened. A hidden room right in the center of my house.
How I wish that I would have had sight at that moment. I faced a completely unexplored territory inside my own house with the possibility that someone else was in there with me.
I entered slowly, arms extended. “Is someone in here?” I whispered, afraid to ask the question. There was no response. I stepped forward. To my right I discovered a flat surface – a tabletop. I ran my hands along its surface. On top of the table I was able to make out several unopened cans of food. No doubt these were the missing canned goods I’d been looking for. The table also contained silverware and a can opener that disappeared weeks ago.
My heart rate increased even more and my palms began to sweat. I worked my way forward until I came to a wall that I knew bordered the living room. I found a hole the size of a quarter at eye level. Sweat began to form on my brow as well. I found another similar hole on the next adjacent wall. This wall bordered the bathroom. Tears started to well up in my eyes. I was able to find two more holes on the two remaining walls bordering the kitchen and the bedroom.
I dropped to my knees in absolute horror and disbelief. How long had this person been watching me? How could I have not known? My hands were on the floor in front of me and I felt something soft. I investigated further with my fingertips. It was some sort of comforter or sleeping bag. At one end was a fluffy pillow.
At this point not only was I terrified beyond description, I was also furious. How dare someone spy on me covertly from within my own walls! I knew I had to run out of the house and get to safety immediately, with or without my cane. I decided I would go to Jill’s house and we’d call the police from there.
I made my way to where I remembered the hidden door to be, my arms sweeping the area ahead of me in a panic. Instead of the open door, my hands found the warm torso of a human, a male, standing silently in the doorway. He grabbed both my arms and pulled me out of the hidden room and into the house.
We struggled in the kitchen. I kicked at him and screamed as loud as I could into his ears. I was able to get one arm free and I used it to grasp for the fire extinguisher that I knew would be by the oven. He attempted to pull me away, but my fingers reached its nozzle. I swung it at him, feeling the metal cylinder connect with the back of his skull. He released my other arm and I pulled the trigger in his direction, enveloping him in a cloud of white foam.
I ran into the utility room off of the kitchen where I knew my only advantage existed – the fuse box. I found the box and tripped every lever I could find, eliminating all power from the house. If this perverted psycho wanted to kill me, he’d have to do it on an equal playing field – in the dark.
The intruder had not followed me into the utility room. The fire extinguisher must have dazed him. I remembered the toolbox I kept in that room, and I quickly retrieved the longest screwdriver I could find. I stood in the corner and listened carefully. If he was still conscious, he would not be able to move around in the pitch darkness without creating a noise. I would surely detect his movements.
I held the screwdriver against my chest, gripping its handle tightly with both hands. I felt my wildly beating heart against the side of my fist. After an eternity, I moved forward a bit. I may have knocked him out, or even killed him. I had to make sure.
I left the utility room and entered the kitchen. There was still no sound from anywhere in the house. I passed into the living room and headed toward the front door. Halfway through the room I could feel his presence. Something in the air around me had shifted. Without warning there was breath on the back of my neck followed by a deep whisper directly in my ear, “The showers were my favorite.”
I screamed and swung around, stabbing the screwdriver into empty air. I ran for the door. It was merely a few feet away, but I couldn’t reach it due to the resistance I met when the voyeuristic brute’s arms wrapped around my waist. He wrestled me to the floor and straddled me. I tightened my grip on the tool and plunged it as hard as I could into his side.
I shudder to think about it when I recount the feeling of the steel shaft separating two of his ribs. It was horrid, and I was only able to stomach it knowing that if I hadn’t acted, my life would have ended then.
The man winced in pain and let out a deep, growling grunt. He fell backward and rolled off of me. I turned over onto my chest and pushed up off of the floor, then crawled over to the couch and used it to get back onto my feet. I still held the screwdriver, a warm trickle of blood seeping onto my knuckle.
I could tell that the intruder was writhing around on the floor near the doorway. I would have to exit through the back door. From the opposite end of the living room, I entered the sun room where the door was located. I wasn’t as familiar with this entry point, causing me to fumble around with the deadbolt and screen door locks for longer than I would have liked.
I knew there were concrete stairs there leading to a flat patio. How many steps? Four? Five? I couldn’t remember. I proceeded slowly. The last thing I needed was to fall and twist my ankle. After navigating the steps, I came to the end of the patio, which emptied into a narrow alleyway between the shotgun-style houses behind mine.
My steps were slow and cautious. My hands told me there was a brick wall to my right, and a brick wall about five feet to my left. The sides of the two houses. I was entering unfamiliar territory without the benefit of my cane. My breathing was frantic and the tears continued to fill my useless eyes. I kicked something and nearly fell over. It felt plastic – a child’s toy maybe. I was moving much too fast compared to my level of comfort with the surroundings. But I had no choice as footsteps were approaching behind me.
I picked up the pace, waving the screwdriver out in front to buffer my impending collision with any obstacles. Ten more feet of forward progress and the screwdriver alerted me, with metallic clanging, to the presence of a chain link fence connecting the two houses.
I stopped and cried out, my voice breaking up through my tears, “No.” I turned around, my back to the fence. I began swinging the screwdriver violently.
“Leave me alone!” I screamed.
The man approached slowly, and then stopped just a few feet away from me. I got the feeling he could see what he was doing. Either there was an electric light in this alley or the dawn had already crested enough that ample ambient light was available. I didn’t know which one was the case because I had no idea what time it was.
Knowing I was about to die, I just wanted answers. “How long?” I managed to ask. “How long have you been in there?” My voice was angrier than I’d expected.
“Since before you lived there,” he replied calmly, his voice deep. “I got lucky with you – a blind girl. With the others I couldn’t come out in the open when they were home. I couldn’t sit and eat their dinner with them. I couldn’t stand over them while they worked at their computers. I couldn’t go to the coffee shop with them.” There was a pause as he moved even closer. “I couldn’t stand next to them in the bathroom.”
I cried uncontrollably in a whirlwind of emotions. I had never before felt so violated, so angry, and so terrified all at the same time. There was sudden movement again in front of me.
“Don’t touch me!” I demanded as I held up the screwdriver. I don’t know exactly how it happened. I don’t know if he didn’t see the tool or just didn’t care, knowing that he was caught. But as he lunged forward, he managed to impale himself on the screwdriver and pin me up against the fence. My hands were still gripping the handle, but it was so deep inside him that his shirt was touching my fist.
His breathing became gurgled, and his last words to me were, “I couldn’t snuggle next to them in bed either.”
We collapsed together as one unit. The fence tore at my back as we slid down onto the ground. His dead weight nearly crushed me, but I managed to push him off and crawl away. I crawled all the way back to my house, in through the back door and into the living room to my phone. I sobbed hysterically as I keyed in the digits 9-1-1 and fell to the floor.