The cover of darkness is exactly what I needed this late fall evening. The air was cold, chilling me down to my bone. The wind wiggled itself through each and every hole in my old and dirty clothing, making even my soul feel frigid.
Of course, calling myself cold down to the soul was extremely dramatic. Especially with my current activity of checking windows in this residential home in the middle of ‘big city suburbs U.S.A’. Fourth times the charm, right?
Breaking and entering wasn’t one of the most glorious things I’ve done in my 24 years of life. We’ve all been there, staying in the streets due to an inability to get a steady enough income to afford the shittiest slum apartments that the city could offer. One’s that could tolerate someone like myself, a nonexistent credit score, a criminal history. One of the thousand unfortunate souls stuck between morality and survival.
I’ve done this before, obviously. Taking the blade of my knife, I ran it around the painted-over rim of the window to loosen the seal. It required me to stand on my tiptoes to reach the top, the window higher than most, but what could you do? I couldn’t exactly travel with a little step stool attached to my already overfilled pack. Thankfully for me, these windows were old ones, making the entering part of my crime easier.
The window creaked its resistance to my insistent pushing, reluctantly opening just enough for my smaller frame to breakthrough. I couldn’t help the smile that graced itself on my tired, chapped lips.
Finally, I was going to be able to warm up for even just a minute. The growling, painful rumbling of my stomach would be satiated, even for a little bit. I know this is a crime. I know it’s something I could be jailed for. But I always had my rules when it came to this type of crime.
I would only take food that seemed extra, or a single meal, something they wouldn’t horribly miss. The temptation to take electronics or cash laying about always hit me, the back of my mind always whispering in my ear that I wouldn’t have to take so many risks if I just slipped that watch or that ring in my pocket on the way out. If this family lived in excess, how seriously would they miss a dusty gaming console or the extra TV in the kitchen?
But I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t. Only what I needed and they could spare. It’s criminal and risky enough for me, it was just for survival. I wasn’t going to be like them. The people I sometimes shack up with who boast about the wallet they grabbed from an innocent person just trying to navigate their lives through this crummy world, just like us. We don’t know if that was their entire life savings in that wallet, just like I don’t know if that extra television was a gift for or from someone. Could be that that diamond ring was a family heirloom, something they would grieve if misplaced. They could be struggling, just like me- like us, all the ones who lived on the streets.
Or maybe not just like us. Maybe with clean clothes on their back. Maybe more food in their bag. Maybe a less heavy burden on their shoulders.
My bag made its entrance into the quiet home first, landing on the carpeted floor with a safe, dull thud. Always send the bag first, they say. Though it contained about 2/3rds of all of my worldly belongings, replacing them would be easier than a hospital bill if someone snuck into the room while I was preoccupied with the window and shot the first thing inside. It was a test, mostly. I’ve had it before where a dog’s run out at my bag, barking it’s alter before I baby talked it enough to get my bag and leave. If the dog bit me, I wouldn’t be able to go to the hospital.
This wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t spend my childhood thinking that I would end up having to break into someone’s home, just for a chance to eat. In my elementary school homework, I said I wanted to be a doctor. More particularly, a surgeon. I wanted to be just like the lady who saved my mom when her appendix burst.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. They always seemed to blame the victim in cases like mine. Maybe if she didn’t put as much effort into her makeup, maybe if she didn’t wear shorts around the house. Maybe this, maybe that. Maybe if I didn’t catch my stepfather’s eye when I was the mature age of 13. Maybe if he never lusted after a teenager. Maybe if my mother cared for something more than what her friends thought of her. Maybe if she didn’t marry a lawyer, who knew exactly what to say. Maybe that, maybe this. All I knew is that being homeless on the streets makes me happier than ever being under his eye again. There wasn’t even an ounce of remorse in his eyes as they sent me to those troubled teen camps, because my behavior was “appalling” and my grades “disgracing”. Never was it “hey, maybe if you didn’t assault someone who looked at you like a blood parent” that wouldn’t happen.
At least that’s what they would say in group therapy as we circled around and tried to talk about our trauma, while a thin-faced woman with a bun so tight on her head that it sucked back her eyes wrote everything down. “Always blame the victim and tell them to get over it”, seemed to be their motto. “We all have daddy issues, stop sobbing, it makes you look weak!” I wasn’t weak anymore. If only Mrs. Oblong could see me now. Breaking into a home, nothing but “street trash” like she always used to say I’d turn into.
A lot of my anger stems from those camps. The second is the boarding houses for troubled teens, which you would go to straight from the wilderness. The intensive survival camp left us in a constant state of hunger and exhaustion. We would be cold, we would hike for miles, and if we showed them any sass they would literally sit on us. But at least it prepared me for my adulthood. It prepared my body to suck the last nutrients out of every meal, never knowing if it might be my last. It helped create severe insomnia I faced, which also helped when it was too unsafe to sleep. I didn’t need as much sleep anymore.
Shaking the feeling of abandonment from my system, I hoisted myself up and into the window once I knew no vicious dog was coming after my bag. Of course, I checked out the room as best as I could from the outside before picking it as my point of entry. Not only was the house next to it completely dark, but there also was a tree I could use as coverage if I needed to hide behind something quickly. It was dark in the entire home, not even a night light helping me see, making it harder to decipher anything. What I could see was a desk pushed against the window, making me think it was an office. Or a bedroom and I would be immediately face to face with the homeowner. You never 100% know.
Sliding into the window, onto the cold wood of that desk, I heard a sharp shatter as a glass I didn’t see freed itself from its mortal connection to this world and plummeted to the carpet below. The shatter was muffled from the carpet, but still loud enough that I didn’t move, didn’t breathe. My stomach was resting on only what I could imagine was a spiral notebook, as I sat listening to each and every sound of the house. My feet stuck out in the cold air, the holes in my boots trapping in the wind. Besides my heart pulsing in my ears, I didn’t hear a single peep.
Thankfully it seemed I chose right, this was a house of sound sleepers.
I completed slipping the remaining length of my legs into the house, sliding down to the floor, careful of the large pieces of glass now blending in with the tan carpeting. One of the notebooks fell with me, landing with a dull thud next to my body. Everything seemed to be quiet enough that I didn’t feel the need to dash back out the open window. That window will remain open my entire time inside, just in case I needed an escape route. It would be easier than trying to figure out someone’s door if I had a gun pointed at my back.
Standing up and smoothing out my flannel from its wrinkled state, I took a minute to assess the room. Definitely an office, with papers pinned and taped to the wall, all scribbled on in cursive writing. Never being one to understand cursive, so rather this was a writer or someone who was tracking the moon landing was up in the air. Of course, they were missing the red string and the blurry photos of Lance Armstrong if the second one was the case.
Nonetheless, I slung my previously launched bag back over my shoulder and walked carefully to the mostly closed wooden door. This was a typical suburban 60′s home so I could only imagine it would be a hallway for the bedrooms and bathroom, then an opening for the combo kitchen living room on the other side. Not the largest house, but a neighborhood nice enough I hoped they would have a fridge overfilled with food.
I once had broken into a home with nothing more than a water bottle to take with me. It looked promising, another home in the suburbs with no cars parked outside signaling someone might be on vacation, but when I reached the fridge it was empty of all food. Only water bottles and beer-filled it. Realistically, it had to be a single bachelor or a college student. Two people I would feel bad if I stole from them. So water it was, and my stomach rumbled on longer. The beer was tempting, but I knew better than to partake in that. I’ve seen what alcohol and drugs do to people on the street and really take my fear of addiction seriously.
Realistically, every once in a while a glass of wine would be nice. But it wasn’t smart in my situation.
Pushing the door open quietly with the palm of my mostly gloved hand, I took the agonizing minute to just breathe. Listen to the sounds around me, get a feeling for the house. My fingernails were dirty with unwashed, shown through the removed tips of my gloves. One of the nails held proudly to the spot of nail polish from last month when I tried to paint them to feel human.
With the coast clear and the living space sounding empty, I took the risky steps out into the hallway. It was a normal house, with pictures on the wall of a three-person family. Father, mother, and a child who looked no more than nine years old in the photos. I hope they were nice to her, that’s such a delicate age.
My resolve was set and the urge to pocket items squashed, I make my way into the kitchen. There was an island in the middle that would require me to take a few steps to get around it. The floor goes from carpet to laminate wood, causing my boots to make a very soft click on the floor. I had to slow my steps, trying to match the clicking of my heels with the light dripping from the faucet. From the small puddle of water, I saw as I looked in the sink, it was a sound they should be used to now.
The hunger in my stomach seemed to take over as I made the quick turn to the fridge. With every fiber of my being, I hoped that they were a normal middle-class family with a shit ton of food in their fridge. I was crossing my dirty fingers and blued toes for it. Finally pulling open the stainless steel fridge, I nearly cried and fell to my knees praising any gods above for what I saw. Food, and a lot of it. Sandwich meat galore with nearly 3 heads of lettuce sitting crisp and clean in the vegetable drawer.
This was going to be a tasty and long-lasting haul.
The bread sat in a little bread container, safe from infection from the air outside. These little things were so nice, a delightful sign of middle class. I took the loaf out, turning around to place it down on the small island countertop that assisted in the separation from the kitchen to the living space. It didn’t take too long to find a knife, a few paper towels, and some mayonnaise. They also had color-coded sandwich bags, amped and ready to go.
Such a nice, organized family. At least if it was the child’s fault for the quantity of food in here, knowing that sometimes children will fixate on one food and refuse to eat anything else, that any disappearance of food would be blamed on them. I could picture it, the mother calling the child into the kitchen. Indicating the empty package of sandwich meat in the trash with a compassionate and calm expression. Ask if she was hungry after their sit-down dinner yesterday, probably of more sandwiches and untouched broccoli. Why didn’t she just let her know? She wasn’t mad, more concerned about a bit of broken communication. They have a range of healthy snacks, which I did take a few and place into my dirty sack, that she could have picked from. Sure, she would feel a small sense of shame but they would end the entire conflict with a hug and an empowering statement on body image. One that feeding yourself when you were truly hungry rather than bored, or something or another.
It would be just something I could see on TV, a “Matters of Life” type sitcom. Maybe there would even be a soundtrack going ‘awwhh’ in the background, as they embraced. Soft music playing, indicating the very beginning, of the end of their episode.
My mind was humming a made-up closing song when I finally opened the freezer out of pure desperation. Though frozen food didn’t transport well, I like to look. One time, a person had 5 boxes of freezie pops inside. That meant that one missing didn’t hurt them at all. But inside of this fridge wasn’t a crapload of freeze pops, but something that made my mouth water.
There inside sat a full stack of the lean cuisines. Man, I could nearly scream for a hot meal. It’s been a minute since the last free Thanksgiving meal the soup kitchens hand out. That was the last time I really got some hot food. I did have to roll it over in my mind, trying to decide if it was right or not to take one. I managed to convince myself that, they wouldn’t miss one. Sure, these typically were on sale for only a dollar but unless you could beg the store enough to use the microwave, they weren’t reasonable to buy. Sometimes you could thaw them in the summer, but that was hit or miss with the diarrhea or ’food poisoning you could get.
I flipped my knife from my pocket, stabbing a few holes in the film before placing it delicately into their residential microwave as if it personally would scream at me if I went even a tab bit too fast. Closing the door quietly was painful, but not as bad as pushing those buttons. They screamed loudly to life as if they were calling for help as I typed in 3 minutes. Beep, Beep, Beep- demanding attention as the big 3:00 flashed green on the lit-up screen.
There was always the chance it would be a running meal so making it nice and hot would be a delight. As the microwave hummed to life, I continued making the sandwiches and sticking them in my bag. I could only convince myself to take 6 sandwiches, which was one full package of meat. Anything else would feel like excess and actual theft. But that, combined with some granola bars and fruit, I would be set for a week.
My stomach rumbled hungrily at the smell of the cooked frozen food. I set my pack on my back, eyes fixated on the numbers going down. 4, 3, 2, 1- I stopped it before it announces my presence in the loudest way possible. Carefully taking the molten meal out, I closed the door as quietly as I possibly can. My back was turned to the island and hallway, leaning over the countertop as the steam came off of the meal, gloriously lapping my face. It was like a free hot towel.
I kind of hoped this family wasn’t home so I could take a shower, but with the two cars parked on the street, I couldn’t be sure if that was theirs or someone else’s. Plus, the leftover food and the dishes in the drying rack made me a little too scared to even poke my head around and see if there was any life.
Grabbing a fork I dug in, letting the melted cheese on top of what I could assume was supposed to be pasta wrapped around the shining metal. These were always a little sketchy with their ingredients, but I absolutely would not complain. After blowing on the bite for a good minute, I placed the hot food in my cold mouth. It felt like my insides were warming up immediately, the taste of real food (kind of) going down my throat. I immediately felt my body regain some strength and energy. It took a lot of self-control to not just scarf the whole thing down as quickly as possible, but it was too hot and I had gone too long without food.
But I felt like I was in heaven. So much so, I missed the figure as they came through the hallway. I missed the exhale it gave as it saw my figure or the steps as it began its move behind me.
What I didn’t miss, however, was when the figure came up behind me, the shadow suddenly reflecting in my metal fork. It paused as if assessing me, smelling me. I placed the suddenly turned cardboard food into my mouth yet again, acting as if I didn’t notice them, now softly humming that made-up song in my head. My other hand crept smoothly to my pocket where my knife waited patiently. They were near feet behind me, the hair on my neck tingling. I felt like they were about to strike, they had to.
In one fluent move, I turned my entire body and opened the spring-assisted knife all at once, aiming right for the smooth flesh of the stranger’s neck. I pushed their body against the island, the knife blade cutting the tender flesh lightly, showing my absolute willingness to end them.
A gasp escaped my mouth when I locked eyes with them. The look of shock would be obvious in mine, but I couldn’t help it. It could have been from the absolute inhuman color of their eyes, the almost yellow color with a ring of brown pushed to the outer ring in the right and the outer left one showing blue. It was as if the unhuman yellow fought the other colors for control. Their pupils were small, constricted nearly to ovals as they stared tensely at me. What also could have caused my surprise was their mouth, turned up in a cocky smirk, showing off incredibly sharp teeth stained with red.
Whatever this thing was, I wanted nothing to do with it.
They smirked even more as they leaned their body into the blade of my knife, running it to the left to slice their skin even more. First, they groaned, then a musical chuckle escaped their lips, their pale hand reaching up to catch a bead of blood from their wound. They placed the bloodied finger on their tongue. I followed their arm down, noticing that their teeth weren’t the only thing stained red. So were their hands. Their flat chest. Their arms-
They were covered in blood.
I realized in that instant that it didn’t matter that the blade was to their neck. That minor threat of violence was not enough to cause them even to sweat. They were treating it like this was all a game. So, looking down and back up, I took a guess on my only way out.
My knee flew up, reaching the space between their legs with every ounce of power in my system.
“Ooohhh fuck!” They hissed as their bloody hands flew to their crotch, falling down onto their knees in the short space between us. I suppose I guessed right, whoever this blood-covered stranger was, had a dick and balls. That had to hurt.
I didn’t take even a moment granted, turning and running around the island like my life depended on it. It did, actually, because this creature wasn’t going to let me go. I knew for certain that was fact, especially when I turned the corner back into the hallway I previously tip-toed and saw the man of the house, the father, half draped out of the now open door to what I could only guess was his bedroom. Blood covered what remained of his neck, his eyes permanently open as his final resting place stayed against the carpet he probably worked his life away to afford.
Oh fuck, oh fuck. This was bad.
Running was always something I was good at. I managed to get free of the adults in one of the trouble teen camps once, simply by running as fast as I could on bare, bloodied feet. I can push the pain out of the way and focus all of my pumping adrenaline on getting me further. The muscles in my legs were built from running almost non-stop. But when the carpet bunched up under my booted foot, my thoughts shifted from escape to failure. All I could think of was his dead, soulless eyes.
That was going to be me.
When the glass slit into my hands, the blood immediately pricking and leaking from my palm, all I could think of was those blood-covered hands. The source laying not even 20 feet away from me. It was the father from my mental sitcom. Maybe even the mother too. Probably the little girl, all of them taken out before my fantasy could come true.
No, I needed to push on. I could still hear him groaning and gasping out in the hallway. He was loud, not the sneaky creature who feasted on this family while I innocently heated up some food. I took only a second to prop my body up, looking back at the door as my breath caught in my throat. That groan turned into a laugh, causing the blood all the way down to my feet to grow cold.
I needed to get out, now.
My pack flung through the open window first like it didn’t weigh nearly 20 pounds. I managed to flip one foot onto the desk than the other, going feet first out of the window onto the hard, cold ground. It was a four-foot drop that made my bones rattle, but I was still alive. The adrenaline stopped any pain from my hand, any pain from my sore tired muscles.
Of course, dropping palm first onto the ground hurt like hell in that second, pushing the glass deeper into my rough flesh. It went away as the laughs got closer to the window. I had to keep going, had to keep running as far away from here as possible. The backpack wasn’t even fully wrapped around my shoulders before I started sprinting. I pushed my bleeding hand into the flannel inside of my outer leather jacket, leaking my life juice into the dirty fabric.
But nothing mattered. Nothing except running, dashing, hiding. Not even when I didn’t hear footsteps behind me, not when I couldn’t sense the feeling of dread that creature pushed into the very fabric of my being did I stop. I just kept going, using all of the street smarts I had to navigate my way out of this residential hell and into the busted, decrepit apartment buildings I knew. I serpentine ran through the alleyways and streets, hoping if I was followed it wouldn’t be easy for them.
I never was one to be an easy target.
It wasn’t until I turned down a dark alleyway, pushed aside the rat-chewed piece of plywood from the hole that it covered, and crawled through did I think I could breathe. I fell onto the dark, slightly damped ground of the place I have been calling ‘home’ for the past month. A known squatter’s location, separated by shower curtains and blankets to give its inhabitants a little more privacy. Many of us roamed at night so it was nearly empty, and that was just what I needed. If anyone asked me any questions, I probably would have screamed.
I flopped onto my little corner of this broken building, landing on the mattress pad I slept on, and finally cried. The tears escaped my eyes before I could stop them. I was mad, mad that I almost died. Mad that my hand ached and my pulse ran. Mad that I left my only knife there.
Mad that I couldn’t get those strange and beautiful eyes out of my mind.