When I was seven a burglar broke into our house. I remember coming home that day, after my mom picked me up from primary school. She unlocked the door and I ran upstairs to go to the bathroom.
The whole upper floor was a mess. Every drawer was emptied on the floor, out clothes were ripped out of the wardrobes, even suitcases and mattresses were cut open. But the worst for me was seeing the open window in my sister’s room – the way it stood open, innocently and perfectly still, with the trees silently moving behind the open frame. I stood there for what felt like ages, until I finally managed to scream and my mom rushed upstairs.
I don’t remember much of the rest of the day. My parents stored me with the neighbors while the police searched the house and took the report. Mrs. Vateva gave me cookies and milk, I remember that. And she told me stories and read books with me and smiled and laughed. But I don’t think I relaxed – the whole time all I could think about was that window with its square white frame.
In the evening my parents picked me up again and my older sister was back at home too. Ekaterina and I refused to leave because we were scared that the burglar would come back and steal us. Ekaterina was thirteen back then and I remember feeling sorry for her. I told my parents that she would be the first one that would be stolen because the burglar had come through her room.
I think we all spent a few nights together in my parents’ bedroom, and at some point we again went back to our old rooms. My sister slept with her door open, but my open door terrified me. The house was old and there were always noises downstairs during the night – noises like creaking floorboards and stairs, and the wind was strong and rattling on the windows. I couldn’t sleep like that and I thought my window was safe; there was nothing to step on outside of it.
A few weeks later I overheard my mother on the phone. I don’t know who she was talking to, but she was very upset and talked about the burglar. She said that he only took some money that they had hidden in a mattress, and else only an old watch that my grandfather somehow got in World War II. I don’t remember the watch, but my mom said it was precious, invaluable even, and in my country it was sure worth a lot of money. Still it was strange that he only took the watch, not any of the other watches or my mom’s jewelry.
Nothing else happened, but since that day I was scared of my sister’s room. Even when other people were inside the room with me I felt uncomfortable, as if someone was watching me. And nightmares started hunting me; I dreamt I was in my room, or sometimes in my sister’s room, and there was a man standing at the window, staring at me. He never did anything, I think. He only stared.
I must have been around nine when the nightmares changed. They had become rarer, I only had them about twice a month at that time, but from one night on they changed. From then on I had the impression that there was someone in my room with me. I never saw him, but I felt a silent body standing in a corner of the room, and sometimes he walked around. Once or twice he even touched my bed. I felt this tiny, faint movement, as if someone was pushing against the mattress.
I’m not sure whether I was lying in bed and feeling all that, or whether I was dreaming. It was confusing, I felt stiff and cold, and it felt as if I couldn’t run. I never screamed and I never opened my eyes, not just because I was scared, but also because it was impossible. It was as if some intangible force was keeping my eyes and mouth shut. But it wasn’t like my nightmares before. I didn’t wake up bathed in sweat. I was just lying in my bed, unable to move or look or scream, and felt him standing quietly in a corner, or slowly pacing through the room.
I told my father about the man, but my father only played it off as nightmares and said I should grow up and not be scared anymore. My mother was more understanding and she promised to check on me. I don’t know if she did, I never heard her open the door, but the man didn’t come for a while, and from then on he only returned a few times per year, maybe every two or three months. But still I couldn’t move when he was there. I couldn’t fight it. And I never told my parents again because I didn’t want to make my father angry.
I was eleven when my sister went to university. My father wanted to transform my room into an office and so I had to move into my sister’s room. I didn’t like that but my father made clear I had no choice.
The first night in that room my nightmares returned fully. At first I couldn’t fall asleep; all I could think of was the big, square window at the other end of the room. I stared at it for hours, and at some point I drifted off into a shallow sleep.
The nightmares were exactly like those when I was seven. I was lying in my bed, my eyes closed, but somehow I knew there was somebody outside the window. With my eyes closed I saw his blurry face smiling and I knew that he was touching the window.
Three nights went like that – I stared, terrified, at the window, until sleep took me away. Only that sleep didn’t take the window away. Instead it threw the window right in front of me and placed this man behind it, with his black hair and blurry face. And still I couldn’t move. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t even open my eyes. All I knew was that he was there, watching me.
It might have been the fifth night, but I think it was the fourth; the fourth night in my new room. I stared at the window again. But the previous nights had exhausted me. I must have fallen asleep fairly quickly, not even ten minutes after I went to bed. And I had some solid sleep, at first.
It must have been in the early morning hours when I woke up again. Or maybe I dreamt that I woke up, I’m not sure. Either way, I was lying in my bed and felt incredibly cold. I felt a draft in my room. And I heard him again, the slow, steady footsteps, pacing at the end of my bed.
I was frozen in fear. I remember I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t move any of my muscles, not even open my eyes.
He paced at the foot of my bed for a few minutes, and I was still lying, silently, pretending to be asleep and at the same time trying to move just any part of my body. Then the footsteps came closer. They moved along the side of my bed, deliberate and with even less noise. I heard a deep, slow breath above me, close to my face.
My heart was racing and my whole body tense, but still I was pretending to be asleep. I heard clothes rustling and then, just for a second, a warm hand brushed over my cheek. I was holding back tears and I could barely breathe. I think my heart even stopped beating for that second.
The footsteps quickly moved to the other side of the room, there was more rustling and I heard the window fall shut and being locked. But the footsteps were still inside, they moved towards the door, the door opened, the footsteps moved outside, the door closed and then I didn’t hear anything.
I just stayed in my bed. I was too scared that he was still inside; I didn’t dare to move for a long time. At some point I finally opened my eyes and jumped out of bed – but the room was empty. The moonlight was bright; I nearly saw every corner – and nobody was inside.
For the rest of the night I had my light on and read a book. I tried to convince myself that it was my mother; that she had checked on me and aired the room while she was inside.
I never got to ask her about it. In the morning I just didn’t find the right moment to ask. She was busy making breakfast and I was sitting at the table, scared and wondering what I could say. I didn’t want her to think I had another nightmare because she told me she would bring me to therapy if they continued.
At some point my mother left the room. Then I heard her running upstairs and when she came back down she rushed me to finish breakfast and told me that we had to leave. It was earlier than usual, but she said she would drive me to school that day and I definitely didn’t want to refuse that offer.
At school everything was normal, except that I was exhausted and nearly fell asleep during my lessons. But the return home was strange. My mother picked me up, like she always did when she got off work early. She told me that I couldn’t sleep in my room again because my father had spilled some paint and the fumes were too unhealthy so I couldn’t sleep in there.
I thought it was strange, but I didn’t question her. I didn’t want to sleep in that room anymore, but my parents didn’t let me sleep in my old room either. I slept with my mother in my parents’ bed and my father slept on a mattress near our feet.
Two days later we moved most of our stuff to my grandparents. My father said that he found asbestos in the house and that we would have to sell it.
And so we did. After a bit more than two months with my grandparents – my parents still drove me to my old school – we moved into a new house in a different neighborhood.
I’m 23 now and just finished university. Last weekend I went home for a visit. Ekaterina was there with her husband and we drank wine and had a nice meal with my parents.
Somehow we got to talk about our old house and I asked my parents whether the new owners knew about the asbestos.
My father shook his head and, after another glad of wine, said that I was old enough to know it now, that there had been no asbestos and that they had only lied to me to protect me.
That morning, when my mother left the kitchen, she saw a ladder leaning against our house. A ladder, my father said, that led straight to the square window in my room.
This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.