I Wake Up to Find a Man Standing in My Living Room
Severe weather always wakes me up.
There’s no rhyme or reason to my irregularity. It doesn’t matter if it’s two in the morning, three in the morning, or four. As soon as I hear that crack of thunder, buckets of rain, or harsh wind against my door; I shoot from bed like a rocket, and run for the bathroom’s cold tiled floor. I never understood it. To this day, I still do it. The simplest explanation is that some people are just light sleepers. Some people can even be distracted if the streetlights are too bright. It is a curse I have lived through most of my life.
But on the evening of August 24th, 2011, the Summer storm and it’s circumstances had little to do with keeping me up all night.
The routine certainly started the same. Lightning cracked and shattered to illuminate shadows outside that flooded my sleep deprived mind. The dripping rain forced me out of bed and towards the bathroom. I rose and stumbled for the toilet, rubbing the sleep out of my crusted eyes, and tripping all over dirty clothes along the way.
But I paused outside the entryway. A flash of white caught my attention. It looked as though someone could be standing in my living room.
I live alone.
And I never let people close enough into my life to come in and wake me up in the middle of the Goddamn night.
I launched myself into the bathroom, locked the door, and got dressed. Quickly, quietly, and to my best ability. In my panic, I decided it unwise to face an intruder unclothed. I know that sounds weird. But it’s the truth. Some people don’t react perfectly in these situations.
I threw on some sweatpants and a tee leftover as remnants from the previous night’s shower. In a stroke of luck, I found my cell still in the pocket. I excited the bathroom with my thumb pressed right next to the emergency number.
A voice greeted me from the den immediately.
“Good evening, Mr. Marks.”
He was a teenager. The boy could not have been more than eighteen years old. Once my eyes adjusted, they found him wearing a red checkered flannel, with a pair of faded blue jeans ripped and torn around the edges. He had on a black tee underneath. His mop of blonde hair was tied together with an old red bandanna. The whole ensemble looked like one of those retro outfits kids wear these days.
He spoke in a voice teeming with pain and anger.
“Where is she? Where are you keeping her? WHERE THE FUCK IS OLIVIA?”
I stared at the stranger stupidly.
“What are you doing in my living room?” I asked.
He moved so quickly. Before I could even understand what happened, the boy pressed a cold Cold 45 to my head and gestured me towards the couch.
“Sit down, old man.”
He could not be much younger than me. The ‘old man’ insult made about as much sense as the rest of it.
“Where is Olivia?”
As soon as the gun came out, my finger slammed the 911 button in my pocket. I cursed myself for not doing it sooner. I slammed speaker phone and turned down the volume deftly so my attacker could not hear dispatch. He grabbed me by the shirt collar soon after and removed use of that arm.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. There is no Olivia or Mr. Marks here. You broke into my home in the middle of the Goddamn night to ask me about people I don’t know? I need you to leave. I need you to leave right fucking now.”
The cool metal of the pistol hit my face so hard I saw stars.
“Stop lying,” the man hissed. “Do you think I won’t do it?”
The man cocked his gun and dug the barrel deeper into my forehead. I thought about dying. I thought about never being able to say goodbye to my mom, or my dad, or my brother. I closed my eyes and waited expectantly for the madman to end it all.
But he didn’t.
“Where is Olivia?” he repeated. “I know she’s here.”
My mind ran circles around itself. I did not know any Olivias – and I knew absolutely no one with the name Marks. In fact, the last person I met named Olivia was in my 4th grade class. And she lived in Tampa, now. I was pretty sure we were not talking about the same one.
“We love each other, sir. You can’t fucking stop that. Why would you want to stop that? I am going to make her the happiest girl in the world. That is all I want in life. Don’t you get it? There is nothing in this life more important to me than Olivia. There is nothing I would not do.”
He pulled the gun away from me.
“So, I need you to bring her out here, right fucking now.”
Suddenly a rush of footsteps filled my apartment. That was soon followed by the pounding of fists against the spare room door. It was impossible. There was nobody inside when I went to bed. I lived on the thirteenth floor.
I felt my shirt get slick with sweat.
After a few more solid smacks, a beautiful blonde crashed down my spare bedroom and pushed past me. When she saw my intruder, she shouted out –
And rushed into his outstretched arms.
I looked ahead at them kissing in dumbfounded stupidity.
I wondered whether I lost my mind. I wondered whether this could still be a dream. I pinched myself just to make sure. It wasn’t.
“You lied to me,” James said to me in a voice that seemed void of sympathy. “I knew it. I knew the cops were wrong about you. You’re just a little fucking freak who gets off on this, aren’t ya, Mr. Marks?”
They moved closer. I felt sweat bubble on my forehead. I felt my muscles tighten and contract involuntarily. It had to be a mistake. Or a prank. Somebody put the girl in my bedroom to fuck with me. Maybe these two were friends with my friends. This could all still just be a prank.
I believed that right up until James pushed the Colt to my forehead one final time.
“If the police won’t kill you, Mr. Marks, you are going to keep stealing girls. You just can’t help it, can you? It’s in your nature. It’s embedded, like an instinct. You’re just one of those filthy little carrion maggots. You feed off of anything that makes people happy. Well, if the police won’t kill you, maybe I should. Maybe I should just fucking do it. It would be doing us all a favor, right?”
James lifted the gun over his head and aimed it at my chest. He spread his feet perfectly. I closed my eyes and again waited to die at the hands of a raving lunatic who did not even know my name. I had to tell him. Maybe, if he heard my name, he would understand the mistake…
“Please,” I whispered. “My name is…”
But the gunfire encroached my final words. I fell to the floor like a sack of bricks.
And then all the lights went out.
I woke up to a different man standing in my living room.
He had a bag of ammonia, or something, in his hands. The stench filled my nostrils so suddenly, I turned to the right and vomited on sight. The man chortled so much his big belly shook slightly.
“Back with us, eh?” he asked.
I nodded and looked down at my chest. I expected to see a giant hole, or blood leaking down in waves, but my plain grey football tee stared back at me as innocently as the day I bought it. I quickly patted my body all over. I was looking for the bullet, of course, but the EMT did not know that. He turned and whispered into his radio in a thick New York accent that lacked the ability to stay discrete.
“We are going to need to get psych down here,”
I stood myself up and looked around the apartment. My EMT friend was not the only one inside. A woman with gloves and a camera perused the contents of my spare room. A detective opened and closed the shattered front door.
I approached the latter and asked what the fuck was going on.
The name-tag on the man’s shirt read Diaz. He was middle aged. Probably close to retirement. His gray hair come in patches that started to recede towards the top.
Detective Diaz looked like he just saw a ghost.
“Son, we came as soon as we heard the gunshot on your cell…”
“Where is he?” I shouted. “Where the fuck is James? That sick fuck could have killed me. He was right in front of me, Officer, right there. I don’t know how the bullet missed.”
Diaz stared awkwardly. He looked confused. He looked like he wanted to give me a better answer than the one he had. But he couldn’t.
“Look, son, there is no bullet here.”
He looked me over carefully, hoping for a response. When he got none, he continued in a quieter tone.
“There is no bullet. There is no James. There is no Olivia. We heard your call, but none of that is here. This entire place looks completely ordinary, save for these two broken doors, which you could have done yourself; technically.”
I moved to protest. But Detective Diaz raised his hand.
“I’m not saying you did.“
“In a minute, I am going to sound crazier than you, kid. You see… I have been to this apartment before.”
I started to think back on my landlord. Nobody told me that.
“Okay… when?” I asked.
He continued in an even voice that sounded tough to keep still.
Diaz looked nervously at his colleagues and pulled me into a corner of my kitchen where he thought no one could here. His dark eyes seemed timid, serious, and scared.
“We were chasing this… this serial abductor. Killer too. Rapist, sadist, pretty much whatever ist you can come up with. A real sick fuck, to say the least.“
“But we did not have enough on him. You know son, sometimes, police need a mountain of evidence if they are going to drag somebody down to the station and actually charge them. We only get one shot at a trial. And we can’t fuck it up.”
The realization started to dawn on me.
“What happened to them?”
Tears started to fill his eyes.
“We… we told the victim’s families that we had a suspect. One of my rookies let slip the name. The victim’s husband, naturally, marched to his apartment to confront the guy that night. He didn’t tell anybody he was doing it. He played the whole thing real cool.”
“James,” I whispered back.
Diaz nodded and continued.
“James found Olivia in the apartment. We… we thought, maybe, he tried to sneak her out before it happened. But maybe not. Hard to say for sure, given the bloodbath we found.”
I tried to ask a question. He ignored it.
“Timothy Marks woke up in the middle of the night. Maybe it was the storm. Maybe he heard Olivia pounding on the door. Maybe he heard James come inside. It’s hard to say.“
The detective coughed before he spilled the last part of the story like a confession.
“Timothy kept a shotgun underneath his bed. He exited the bedroom at approximately two in the morning, where he found James and Olivia on their way out. He killed them. Shot them both cold in the entryway to the apartment. They died instantly. Then he picked up James’ gun, a Colt, and turned it on himself.”
He looked back towards the splintered door. Then he looked at the officers photographing the scene, and to my shaking frame right in front of him. He sighed again. He seemed to be doing that a lot. Like he seemed to be reliving the pain he felt so many years ago.
“James and Olivia must have thought you were him,” Diaz shifted uncomfortably. “I guess what I am trying to say, son, is… The two intruders you met tonight… they died in this apartment. Right here. Forty years ago. I know because I investigated it.”
He gestured towards the living room.
“And I would not wait around to meet the third.”