It was the chilly time of year where it was dark when Erin left for work in the morning, and dark when she left work to go home. She was already feeling the effects. Yawning as she got out of her car, she was too distracted by her fatigue and the darkness to notice what was out of place.
After buzzing into her apartment building, she unlocked her apartment door and flipped on the lights. Her dog, Amelia, came crying and whining to her immediately, which was unusual for the senior dog. Erin cooed and comforted her, and put on her leash and harness to go for their after work walk. The street lamps hadn’t come on yet, so Erin had a mini lantern hanging from her belt to make sure they didn’t chance upon any squirrels that might tempt Amelia to run.
When they returned, Amelia was still anxious and would not leave Erin’s side. “What is it, girl?” Erin asked, worried for her dog. She inspected Amelia’s body to make sure that she had no injuries. Amelia found nothing wrong, and texted her dog walker to see if anything happened while she was at work.
Erin gave Amelia her dinner and warmed up some leftovers in the microwave while she waited for the dog walker to text back. She realized that she was still wearing her work clothes, and went to her bedroom to change into her pajamas.
Her lungs felt as if they were plunged into ice as she turned on her bedroom light. The screen to her window had been removed and placed on her bed. Erin backed up slowly to her kitchen, grabbed a skillet, and slowly walked back into her bedroom. She checked behind the door, under her bed, and in her closet. There was no one there. She checked her shower and every place she could think of someone hiding in her apartment, finding no one. The entire time, Amelia whined and followed closely behind.
Erin picked up her phone to call the police, and saw that the dog walker had texted her that Amelia was her usual happy self when she came by to walk her at noon. Erin sighed, and as she checked her city’s website for the non-emergency police number, she noticed that while her window screen was on her bed, that the glass window was closed, with a strange object taped to it.
Holding the skillet again, she slowly approached the window. There was a long, white wax candle taped to the glass. On the windowsill, she saw a brass candleholder with a piece of paper underneath. Erin’s heart was pounding so hard that she could feel her pulse in her ears. Gingerly, she slid the paper out from under the candleholder. It was a note, which read:
“dont worry the dog is fine
if you call the cops ill know
and ill come back
im not a bad person
the demon tells me he wont make me come back
if you light a candle and let it burn down every night
the human part of me provides the first one
dont use a fake one with batteries they dont melt down
then he will know and i will have to come back
ill be watching
the day you forget is the day he returns
i dont want your sweet dog to see her mommys blood all over
give all my best to amelia”
Erin felt herself sweat. Logic told her to call the police, but the note said whoever broke into her apartment would know. “Does that mean this person is a police officer, or a dispatcher?” she wondered. Terrified, she pulled her blinds aside, put the window screen back, and set the candle in the candleholder. She found a lighter and lit the candle.
Whoever it was knew her dog’s name, her schedule, and where she lived. It was entirely possible that it was someone she knew. Maybe it was someone watching her for no particular reason. She wondered what would happen if she didn’t light a candle on her windowsill at night. She considered lighting the candle, packing a bag, taking Amelia, and running away. Except she wasn’t made of money and didn’t really have anywhere she could go. If she didn’t light the candle, she worried that the person was someone she knew, and that somehow, they would follow her.
The only thing she did know is that she didn’t want Amelia to be collateral. If someone was sick enough to break into her apartment and leave a threatening note, then they had the capacity to hurt her dog. She came up with a plan.
After a sleepless night of watching the candle burn out, Erin packed a bag full of Amelia’s food, toys, and bowls. After taking Amelia for their regular morning walk, she dressed in her work clothes, and coaxed Amelia to step into a large duffle bag. Luckily for her, Amelia was a medium-sized dog that was just the right size to fit. Carefully, she brought the bag of Amelia’s supplies, and Amelia herself, to her car.
She drove towards work, and after making sure that no one was following her, she pulled off an exit and called in sick to work. She let Amelia out of the duffle bag, who, while confused, remained calm and only whined a little. Erin drove until she found a gas station, and bought a burner phone. After activating it, she called her mother who lived two hours away, telling her that she needed to drop Amelia off for a couple days. Her excuse was that her apartment was being fumigated, and that she would be staying in a nearby hotel in the meantime. Her mother was surprised, but agreed to watch Amelia for her.
Erin steeled herself on the way to her mother’s house. She kept looking in all of her mirrors to make sure that no one could possibly be following her. She panicked, and realized she forgot about GPS trackers.
She pulled over at the next rest stop, and risked hurting her hands on the hot chassis of her car. She inspected around her tires, inside her gas cap, and everywhere she could think of that somebody could hide a tracker. Finding nothing, she got back in the car and took Amelia to her mother’s house. Erin greeted her mother with a smile and a hug, and Amelia seemed happy to see her. They chit-chatted as if everything was normal, and Erin thought she deserved an Oscar for her performance. Her mother didn’t seem to have any idea that something was wrong. She asked a few sly questions to see if anything strange happened to her mother or her house, but everything truly seemed to be okay in her town.
Erin hugged and kissed her mother and Amelia goodbye, saying that she had to go back to work. It was a lie. She drove a little while longer until she found a dollar store, and purchased more long white candles and a few lighters. She drove back to her city, but didn’t go home right away. She parked downtown, afraid to be alone, but also afraid to call her friends. She had no idea if her phone was bugged, and she had no idea if whoever threatened her was someone she knew.
The sun started to go down, and it was around the time that she would leave work to go home. She got back into her car, and fighting a panic attack, drove back to her apartment. When she parked, she looked up to where her bedroom window was visible. The screen was still in the window, and nothing seemed out of place. She put the candles and lighters from the dollar store into her purse, and ripped up the receipt in case it gave away her earlier destination. There was no mail in the mailbox, and Erin, starting to feel her pulse quicken, snuck the torn up pieces of her receipt in every trash can she passed by until she made it up to her apartment door.
She unlocked the door, and left the keys in her hands. She stuck the keys out between her fingers as if they were sharp brass knuckles. She turned on the light as she slowly walked in. She checked behind every door, looked in every closet, and found nothing out of place. Holding her breath, she stepped into her bedroom and turned on the light.
A message was left for her on her bed. “WHERE DID YOU GO?” it said. It was spelled out in drips of blood. She checked her window, and everything seemed fine. She couldn’t find any signs of a break-in. Fighting tears of fear, she took one of the candles out of her purse and placed it in the candleholder. She lit it and walked into her hallway, where there were no windows. She leaned against the wall, and slid down it, finally letting herself weep. She thought about every ex, friend, co-worker, and person she could think of that could possibly have a motive for doing this. Erin came up empty. She wasn’t a saint, but she couldn’t think of anything she could have done to warrant such a response. She also couldn’t think of anyone she knew that was unhinged enough to do something like this.
Again, she couldn’t sleep. She didn’t want to go back to her bedroom, but she watched the light of the candle flickering through her doorway. Erin went through bouts of fear, anger, confusion, and self-hatred. She really, really wanted to call the police, and felt like a coward for not doing so.
It was time for work, and since she hadn’t slept or changed out of her clothes from the day before, she grabbed her things and got into the car.
Her hands were shaking, yet she was exhausted. She found it difficult to keep her eyes from crossing. She realized she hadn’t slept in over two days. She couldn’t fight it anymore, and closed her eyes.
Erin opened her eyes, confused by the brightness of where she was. She heard beeping and whirring. Slowly coming to, she realized that she was in a hospital bed.
Her eyes flew open and she jolted up in her bed in panic. She could hear her heart monitor start beeping more frequently, and she looked around her room. She was alone. One of her arms was in a cast, and she noticed a splint on one of her legs. Various tubes and wires were connected to her body, and she saw many bruises everywhere she looked.
While she inspected her arms and read her hospital bracelet, she noticed a bouquet of flowers by her bed. There was a note in it. She held her breath and slowly removed the envelope from the bouquet and read the note.
he and i will visit soon”
Erin started to cry just a nurse entered the room. Erin panicked and backed away from the nurse in her bed as the nurse moved towards her.
“It’s okay, sweetheart, I’m here because of your heart monitor. You were in a car crash, dear,” the nurse explained, “It’s good that you woke up, it’s actually time for your next dose of morphine.” The nurse administered more medicine into her IV, and gently patted her hand. “Get some rest,” she said as she left the room.
Erin felt herself calming down a little bit as the morphine started to wash over her. She felt an irresistible tiredness push her eyelids down. Unable to fight it, she felt her body giving into sleep.
The moment before she passed out, she saw a person in the hallway walking towards her room, with a candle in one hand, and a knife in the other.