It was night, and there was someone outside.
Drew reached out and fumbled against the wall until he found the bank of light switches. He counted three from the wall and flipped it.
The flood lamp above the door flashed on, bathing the entire yard and some of the street with searing white light.
The lawn was empty.
“Drew?” Nancy called from the top of the stairs. “What are you doing?”
“Funniest thing,” Drew said, not finding it funny at all. “I thought I saw someone standing in the middle of the front lawn.”
A pause as his wife thought about it.
“Maybe it was the neighbors dog,” she said. “Or a coyote. Meredith down the street said she saw one the other day on her morning jog.”
Drew made a variety of noises indicating she was probably right.
But it didn’t feel right. Drew had been certain the dark shape in the middle of his lawn had been a man. About his height, maybe a little taller, skinny, casting a thin shadow from the street lamp fifty yards down the way. He always looked out the front window as he locked the door, more out of bored curiosity than anything. Tonight, he’d seen the shadow, and his gut instinct hadn’t been that it was an animal. He’d shrunk back, taken a couple of steps away from the window even. And then stared at the shadow, daring it to move, the entire time he’d fumbled for the lights.
It hadn’t been an animal. It had been a person.
“Well? Are you coming up?”
Drew gave the lawn and the street and the neighbors lawns a final glance. Then, with some hesitation, he flicked off the flood lamp.
The shadow did not return.
“Yeah, I’m coming.”
The memory of someone outside flaked off in little bits as he brushed his teeth, and by the time Drew was in bed, back to back with his wife, he’d forgotten all about it.
One of the stupid little things Drew was proud of in his life was his hydration. When his kids had been born he’d wanted to model good habits and had started drinking water regularly. Now he never need moisturizer or lip balm except for the dead of winter and his piss was so pale you could swim in it. The downside, of course, was that he usually had to get up in the middle of the night.
Right around one or two in the morning, without fail. He’d gotten good at navigating the bathroom without ever having to turn on a light. Nancy slept heavily on her side of the bed. She wasn’t snoring. That was good. Trying to go back to sleep while Nancy was snoring was like trying to have a conversation at a blender festival.
He stood at the toilet, staring at the landscape painting he’d put up on the wall and not really seeing it. Finished. Fix his boxers. Flushed the toilet and, out of habit, glanced out the little window to the back yard.
Someone was outside.
Standing in the middle of his back yard.
A person in complete shadow.
But Drew knew.
Someone was looking at him.
Drew stared back, unwilling to move. What if he moved, and the person saw? What if he moved, and the person moved, too? Toward the house?
Is the kitchen door locked?
They had remembered to lock the kitchen door every night for seven years. But what if tonight was the night they forgot? What if the deadbolt was flipped back, sitting comfortably in the door and not in the door frame?
What if Holly hadn’t closed it all the way when she came in from walking Bully? What if the back kitchen door was slightly ajar, totally unlocked, and a mysterious figure was standing in the middle of his back yard? Waiting for Drew to leave to dart across the yard, throw open the door, be in the house…and…and…
The someone in the middle of his yard hadn’t moved an inch.
Drew took a large, steadying breath.
He ran out of the room, banging the bathroom door open.
Ran out into the hall. Down the stairs, around the foyer, into the kitchen. Expected to find the someone standing there, the door behind them wide open.
The kitchen was empty.
The door was closed.
The lock was thrown.
The someone was standing outside the window.
The light came on.
He backed up, staring at his reflection in the window, fumbling behind him for the light switches while Nancy looked at him with wide eyes.
He found the switch and smacked it hard.
The lights went off.
The window was empty.
Racing across the room, Drew kicked a chair and stubbed his toe as he crossed to turn on the lights outside.
Nothing but the back deck, the table and chairs, and the grill.
Beyond, the yard was devoid of someones, too.
“Drew,” Nancy said, her voice level. “What the fuck is the matter with you?”
“I saw someone,” he said, panting. “Someone outside.”
“No, Nancy, again. I saw someone out back.”
“It’s probably the same dog. Or coyote.”
Drew finally turned from the window. Reluctantly.
“It’s not a damned dog,” he said. “Whoever this person is, they’re taller than me.”
“Well, how can you even tell? They’re outside, you’re inside. And it’s dark. Maybe it just seems like they’re taller than you. Maybe it’s the neighbors greyhound. That thing comes up past my belly button.”
It wasn’t a damned greyhound and Drew knew it. But how to explain to Nancy? She hadn’t seen. Any more attempts to explain would make him seem crazy.
And it would be easier if it was a dog.
Drew rubbed his face, rough hairs rasping under his palms.
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess.”
Nancy saw the look on his face when he turned, and her own face softened. “If you really think someone is skulking around there we should call the police.”
“No! No, I’m…I’m letting my mind play tricks on me, I guess. Come on. We’ve got to have the kids up in four hours.”
With the dawn, fear fades.
With the day, fears feel silly.
With dusk, those fears come back.
Drew washed the dishes with his head down, afraid of what he’d see glancing out the window.
When Holly took Bully out back he flipped on all the lights and told her to stay where he could see her.
He drew the blinds in the den, telling his kids he only wanted privacy even though none of the neighbors had a view inside.
And when it was time for bed, he checked the back door. And the garage doors. And the door from the kitchen to the garage. And finally the front door.
He kept his eyes down, refusing to look.
Halfway up the stairs, he paused.
This is ridiculous. I’m being ridiculous.
Drew forced himself back down the stairs. Across the foyer, to the window. And with great strength, he made himself look.
The yard was empty. The street was empty. Everything was as it should be.
Despite himself, relief spread across his brain like menthol. He allowed himself a giggle.
“What is it?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. I-”
That was not Nancy standing at the top of the stairs.
Someone stood there. The hall lights were on, but they were in shadow.
The someone stared at him.
Drew stared back.
He opened his mouth to scream.
And got no further.