It's 8:53 on a chilly Saturday night in November.
My friends had asked me to go out with them for a night on the town, but I decided to stay in and catch up on chores.
I live alone with my cat in an apartment complex on the outskirts of downtown. My apartment is located on the fourth floor where I have a balcony area I have yet to decorate with furniture.
I walked over to my balcony to close the blinds before my shower when I noticed a shape close to the tree outside. I wrote it off as a deer as they tend to walk the field between my building and the next. I shut the blinds and turned off the TV.
It was 9:23 p.m. when I got in the shower, but I quickly ended it after hearing a loud bang on my balcony door. When I opened the blinds, I found leaves scattered on my balcony.
I went back to the bathroom to finish my nightly routine of putting avocado extract in my curly hair, moisturized my face, and put on the robe my parents got me for Christmas last year. I shut the light off in the bathroom and head over to my room where my cat is sleeping peacefully on the edge of my bed. I shut the light off in my room leaving only the looming light of my TV. 'I thought I turned that off' I said to myself.
When I got in the shower, I could've sworn I locked my front door, but I guess I forgot. I promptly locked my door and headed to bed with my cat.
The last time I checked my phone, it was 9:48 p.m..
My cat jumped awake due to a noise that seemed to come from within my apartment a couple hours later. I grabbed my phone to turn on the flashlight, but my phone was dead because my charger wasn't plugged in. I pet my cat to show him nothing was wrong, but he was still startled. All the hair on his back was standing up. He crawled under my bed for protection.
When I went to rest my head back on my pillow, I heard another noise. "What was that?" I asked myself. With my heart pounding in my ears, I got out of bed to turn on my bedroom light, then the hallway light, and finally my dining room light. I was met with emptiness. "Nothing is there, I'm just hearing the neighbors," I thought. I laughed and shut off the lights on the way back to bed. Before I was able to get back into bed, I heard the noise again.
Someone was jiggling my front door handle.
Since the doorknob itself doesn't lock, that left a deadbolt between me and whoever was on the other side of my door
"Hello? Is someone there?" I called out to the void too afraid to turn on the lights because I didn't want to see what was out there.
I walked in the dark to my front door to peer out the peephole.
Panicking, I grab a knife from the kitchen. "If someone is there, I have a knife, and I will hurt you!" my voice shakily yelled out.
Again, nothing answered.
I went back to my bed, plugged in my phone and waited to hear the noise again. I tried to coax my cat out from underneath my bed, but he wouldn't dare come back to cuddle with me. He was too frightened.
After a couple hours, I checked the time at 12:13 a.m. before I nodded back to sleep.
I woke up to my cat hissing at 1:01 a.m.; my cat never hisses. I open my tired eyes just wide enough to see a figure move in my hallway. Quickly, I turned on the flashlight on my phone, but I found the shirt I had hanging on the door had fallen into the hallway.
I let out a sigh of relief and locked my phone to go back to sleep. It was 1:09 a.m..
Most nights, I wake up due to nightmares that feel like they are real. I can wake up from a nightmare and feel where I was hurt in my dream, so when I jolt awake I have tears streaming down my face. But, that night was different.
I wasn't scared awake because of a bad dream. I woke up because my gut told me I had to.
The air was stale. My room felt like it was smoldering, but all the hair on my body stood up like there had been a cold breeze.
I turned to check the time — 4:47 a.m..
The light from my phone illuminated the rest of my room. When I turned over to the other side of my bed, I was met by a man standing in the doorway watching me.
Unable to conjure up words and frozen in fear, "wake up! You're dreaming! Wake up, wake up, wake up! This isn't real! This can't be," I screamed to myself.
I clenched my eyes shut and tried to wake myself up, but reality set in this man was really here when I heard him walk closer to my bedside.
"What do you want?" I yelled. "If it's money, there's some in my purse, just take it! Take anything you want, but you're not welcome here! You need to leave!"
I could hear the man breathing loudly as he took another step closer to my bed.
"Please, leave me alone" I begged with tears streaming down my face.
He stopped at the foot of my bed. I was unable to make out any distinguishing features of his face or body, because he was dressed in all black, baggy clothes with a mask and hoodie that covered his head. He wore black gloves as if he was about to commit a heinous crime and didn't want to leave his fingerprints behind.
"What do you want?" I asked again, but I knew I didn't want him to answer. "If I scream, my neighbors will hear, and they will call the cops."
He moved his head a little to the right before quickly moving it back. He stood there staring at me and breathing calmly like he had done this before.
"Please, you don't have to do this!" I pleaded with this stranger, again.
He pulled something out of his pocket and make it noticeable in the moonlight peering in through the curtains.
I pulled the blanket over my head and began crying hysterically. "This isn't how I want to die," I sobbed.
I felt my bed move violently as if this man had lunged at me. Out of terror, I let out a ghastly shriek.
I pulled the blanket further over my body in an attempt to protect myself, but I felt nothing weighing the blanket down like I thought I would. I crawled out from underneath my blanket and the shadowy figure of a man was no longer at the foot of my bed.
I sprung out of bed to turn on every light in my apartment trying to find this man whose cologne I could still smell. "He has to still be in this apartment! The doors are locked, there's no way he could've gotten out," I reasoned.
One neighbor asked through the door if everything was alright, "I heard you scream from next door, are you alright in there? Do you need me to call the cops?" he asked politely. I apologized for waking him and assured him I didn't need to bother the police. I felt it was strange he was immediately at my door given it was probably about a minute or two since I screamed.
I went back to my bed to grab my phone. It was 6:02 a.m., so I decided to go grab some coffee at a place down the road just to get out of my apartment.
I tried to chalk the night up to sleep paralysis and told myself no one was actually in my apartment. It was all just my imagination because I watch too many scary movies and my discomfort living in a new place.
When I stepped out of my apartment, I noticed a key on the ground outside. I checked to see if it fit my lock.
The key was a match.
At 8:30 a.m., I called my leasing office to find out the name of the person who was living next to me. "Ma'am, that apartment hasn't had a tenant in several months," the lady said.
"Are you sure?" I asked, "I see the lights on and sometimes I hear him talking when I pass his apartment to get to mine."
"We're certain no one is living there, but we'll send a maintenance guy to check it out. We'll give you a call later once we check the premises, if that will make you feel more comfortable," she said almost mockingly.
I asked her to make it priority to check the apartment because I didn't feel safe coming back home. At 10:11 a.m., she called back, "we didn't find anyone living there, but we did change the locks so if someone was squatting there, they can no longer get into that apartment."
Since then, I haven't been able to sleep the same. I am constantly checking my closets and locks before going to bed. I have also reinforced my doors. But every now and again, I'll peek out from my balcony blinds and see a man by the tree looking back at me.
Was it really sleep paralysis, or did my "neighbor" have a spare key and was the one at the foot of my bed?