Jennifer worked slowly but methodically at the task of pulling up
grass and weeds to create an area of bare dirt. A hundred square feet
should be enough.
Tall for a woman, with a heavy, muscular build, Jennifer was as
strong as most men. The charts published in fitness magazines told her she
was overweight for her height, but she did not let this concern her. She
led an active life and was in pretty good shape. Her long, dark hair was
pulled carelessly into a ponytail, and she wore a folded bandanna tied
around her head to absorb the sweat produced by working in the still summer
She heard the crunch of gravel in the driveway, and looked up. A
boy on a bicycle, perhaps fifteen or sixteen, still half a head shorter than
Jennifer but sturdily built. Freckles transformed his otherwise
unextraordinary face into an interesting composition of light and darkness.
"You must be the new neighbor." He extended his hand with a degree
of confidence that made Jennifer raise her estimate of his age by a couple
of years. "I'm Dave."
"Jennifer Meyers." She took off one dirt-encrusted gardening glove
and shook his hand. "I just moved in yesterday."
"My folks have the farm just down the road." He indicated the
direction with a jerk of his thumb. "Listen, if you need anything done
around here, I work cheap." He glanced at the pile of discarded weeds,
their roots still clotted with dirt, that had accumulated as Jennifer had
tossed them carelessly to one side. "Putting in a vegetable garden?"
"Well, I'm almost done here." Jennifer pulled her glove back on and
smiled, pleasantly but not too encouragingly. "I'll keep you in mind,
though, Dave. The place with the green barn, right?"
"Yeah, that's it all right." He got back on his bike, taking the
hint cheerfully enough. "Did they tell you this place is supposed to be
Jennifer's smile widened with amusement. The fact that she made her
living as an artist did not mean that she was in the habit of letting her
imagination run wild. She was a practical woman. "No, they neglected to
mention that when they rented it to me."
Dave rode off, with a friendly wave, and Jennifer went back to
She'd decided the first time she saw the old farmhouse that it was
perfect for her. It was surrounded by acres of tall grass and young forest,
which had sprung up when the farm was abandoned. The house was four times
the size of her Chicago apartment, at a third the monthly rent. As for the
peeling paint and overgrown yard, these details made her feel as if she was
coming home after a long absence. Jennifer had left her parents' farm over
twenty years ago, but she'd never really liked living in the city; now that
she had established some financial security and standing in her profession,
she'd decided it was time to move.
She went inside and walked through the house, her footsteps echoing
hollowly in the bare, high-ceilinged rooms. The atmosphere of the place was
like that of a chapel, full of light and air.
Luxuriating in all the space that was now available to her, she
realized how cramped she had been in the tiny two-bedroom apartment. The
farmhouse had a bigger kitchen, a dining room and a breakfast nook, three
large bedrooms, bathrooms upstairs and down, and a front room with leaded
glass windows--not to mention the basement and attic. Her bedroom, on the
second story, had three large windows that gave her a two hundred and
seventy degree view of the woods and prairie that surrounded the house.
She went into the front room and sat down in her comfortable old
recliner. Piles of boxes, containing nearly everything she owned, towered
over her; she'd had the movers leave them for her to distribute throughout
the house. She didn't like to put them to the trouble, and besides, she
hadn't decided where she wanted everything yet.
At that moment, the job of unpacking seemed overwhelming. The piles
of boxes loomed impossibly high. Where had she gotten all that junk, and
why had she bothered bringing it with her? And now that she was sitting
quietly, the place had an intimidating stillness about it, an emptiness that
seemed to resent her presence.
Nonsense. She stood up and rubbed her hands together briskly. The
only problem was that she had not yet begun to make the place hers, and she
could begin to rectify that immediately. She would unpack her clothing
first, then set up her studio in the basement, where the movers had already
deposited her larger pieces of equipment--the drill press and band saw, the
arc welder, the oxyacetylene cutting torch with its twin bottles of
compressed gas. And then she could begin setting up her kitchen, and hang
the old but utterly respectable curtains her mother had sewn.
But that night as she lay in bed, the sense of unease returned.
There were noises, and although as a recent dweller in a large and cheaply
constructed apartment building she was not accustomed to silence, these
noises were different. She told herself she ought to have expected this;
she was. after all, out in the country. She had grown unaccustomed to
animal sounds. And old houses were notorious for settling. She silently
mocked herself for being so suggestible; the neighbor boy had made a chance
remark about the place being haunted, and now she trembled in her bed every
time a board creaked.
But there, that was no animal. It sounded like someone moving one
of her still-unpacked boxes around. She grew first angry, then frightened.
She crept to the dresser and removed her automatic, and clicked off the
safety. She ought to go and investigate, she told herself. In a more
familiar environment, she might have done so. Instead, she pushed a chair
against the door and went back to her bed--or more accurately, to her
mattress, which was still lying on the bare floor. She laid the automatic
carefully beside it, within easy reach, without resetting the safety. She
figured she could wake and reach it by the time an intruder could manage to
dislodge the heavy chair and open the door. She turned off the light and
closed her eyes, listening.
Scrape. Click. Well, fine. She had nothing down there that was
worth risking her life over. If anything was missing come morning, she
would call the police. And if whoever was down there came upstairs, too bad
Early the next morning she descended the stairs, clutching the
automatic. She looked around, but saw nothing missing, and no sign that
anyone had been down there the night before.
In the eerie rural quiet, she surveyed her things. hadn't she left
that box in the other room? She couldn't be sure. But in any case, it was
taped shut, and the tape had not been disturbed. No, surely it was where
she had left it. Nerves.
She exhaled loudly and replaced the safety. She started to set the
automatic down, then thought better of it and put the gun in the pocket of
her floral-patterned housecoat, another legacy from her mother.
Later that afternoon, the uncharacteristic nervousness returned.
She was working in her basement studio, cutting a piece of sheet metal with
the oxyacetylene torch, which left an aesthetic discoloration along the
edges of the brass and thus served a double purpose.
Her work area was lighted by powerful fluorescent lamps, but it had
a dim, underwater quality when viewed through her darkened protective
goggles. And there were places, behind the furnace and underneath the
stairs, where the sterile bluish light did not reach. She found herself
glancing nervously over her shoulder and, as a result, ruined one of her
brass leaves by holding the torch over the same spot for too long.
What did she expect, she asked herself angrily--to be seized from
behind by some clammy ghost? But she couldn't rid herself of the feeling
that she was not alone in the house.
She shut off the fuel supply to the torch and slid the goggles up
onto her forehead. It would be different if she were working on something
she were actually interested in, but she was forcing herself to spend the
day making the same boring old tree-branch wall decorations. She'd done
hundreds of these and was beginning to hate them, but she knew they were a
sure bet commercially. The move had left her with a feeling of financial
insecurity; she was farther now from her regular contacts and connections,
and it would be harder to make new ones. But she'd wanted to get away from
the city for as long as she could remember. . . although she was discovering
now that she'd grown more accustomed to it that she had ever realized.
The silence was beginning to grate on her nerves. She turned the
torch back on, flicking flint against steel to ignite it. Since she had not
yet lowered her safety glasses, she held it well away from her face as she
made a circuit of the basement, pulling the wheeled cart that contained her
fuel bottles. She found nothing but a few filthy rags sitting in a bucket
between the furnace and the hot water heater.
She turned back to the task at hand, somewhat disgusted with herself.
So jumpy. It wasn't like her.
Perhaps she ought to go outside and work. She had cleared that spot
beside the house, near the concrete stairs that led directly from the
basement to the yard, specifically so that she could do some of her work
out-of-doors without danger of fire. She had gone to all the trouble of
moving in order to enjoy the fresh country air; she should take advantage of
it. A few hours in the sunshine might be just the thing to calm her nerves.
But she didn't like the idea of moving outside just because of some
nameless anxiety. Also, it would take quite a bit of her valuable work time
to move her tools and materials out there. She'd have to set up some kind
of a table, her work bench being too heavy to move, and the cart with the
oxygen and acetylene bottles weighed better than seventy pounds; it would
be a pain to drag it up the stairs, and across the rough terrain outdoors.
And in the back of her mind were other, less rational objections, which she
would not quite admit to herself: the same disquieting feeling might
prevail out-of-doors, in the half-wild yard, with the edge of the woods only
a hundred feet away. Perhaps the rural environment, which she had enjoyed
as a child but had been away from for so long, had become alien to her.
Altogether, the idea was impractical. She would have to do quite a
bit of her work down in the cellar, so she had better learn to feel
comfortable there. And if anyone bothered her now, she was not defenseless,
although she had left the gun upstairs. The torch ought to discourage any
potential assailant, human or ectoplasmic.
That night, the noises returned. And the night after that, and
every night for a week. They grew louder and harder to explain, but since
Jennifer couldn't explain them, she was determined to ignore them. Finally,
she decided they were rats, and set out traps and poison. These items,
however, never showed any signs of having been touched. She continued
sleeping with the chair pushed against the door and her gun nearby. She
resigned herself to living with the noises, and began to get used to them.
Then one night she awoke to the the sound of heavy footsteps on the
stairway. it sounded, in fact, as though someone were deliberately stamping
their feet with the idea of making as much noise as possible.
Her heart pounding to rival the noise on the stairs, she grabbed her
gun. She heard the doorknob turn. With numb fingers, she turned on the
"Who's there?" she shouted. Silence. The doorknob was still.
Had she imagined the sounds? Perhaps. Perhaps it had all been a
dream which, upon awakening, she had imagined to be real.
She shouted something obscene in the language of her Germanic
foremothers and turned out the light. Without replacing the safety, she
set the gun beside her pillow; then, deciding this presented a real and
physical hazard, she moved the automatic to her bedside table. Her fingers
strayed to it to make sure she could locate it in the dark.
It was not the next morning, but the morning after that, that she
found her housecoat pinned to the kitchen door with one of her fine Swedish
paring knives. The discovery of this vandalism left her feeling furious,
but vindicated. This was proof. The slash in the collar of her housecoat
was no dream; the matching hole the knife had left in the door was not
nerves or imagination.
She collected her knives, and found none missing. Then she bundled
them up in a dishtowel and hid them underneath the sink. No sense leaving
potential weapons lying around for the convenience of some lunatic, since it
appeared that one had the run of her house.
The next thing she did was to repair the collar of her housecoat.
After that, she drove to a hardware store in Wixton, the nearest town, five
miles distant. There she was able to buy a number of items that she
believed would prove useful.
Back at the house, she changed the locks on both doors. Anyone
might have the keys to the old ones, for all she knew. She would provide
the owner with copies of the new ones. . . when she moved out. In the
meantime, she saw no reason why he would need them. She also put chains on
She checked all the windows, upstairs and down, locking those where
the latches seemed secure and nailing shut the others. Once she was done,
she sat in the living room (or at any rate the room where she'd put her
ratty old couch and recliner) and relaxed. The thought that someone had
gotten into the house actually reassured her. It explained the noises and
helped dispel the uneasy feeling she'd had since moving there. No doubt it
was some eccentric with a strange sense of humor that was responsible, or
even a gang of school children. Whoever it was, they hadn't actually stolen
anything, and the damage they'd done had been minor. They were probably
harmless, although Jennifer was not about to take any chances. And at any
rate, they would not have such an easy time getting into her house in the
The next morning, there was a dead squirrel in the kitchen sink.
There was no question of it having died naturally or from her rat poison;
the animal had been torn into several bloody pieces. Jennifer looked at it,
feeling sick, then glanced around the room nervously. This was more than a
prank; this showed signs of a violent mentality. She went upstairs to get
her gun, walking quietly. When she reached the bedroom, she sighed with
relief as she slipped the weapon into the pocket of her repaired housecoat.
She then proceeded to clean up the dead animal, handling it gingerly
with the gloves she used for dishwashing. At least it had not been ripped
apart in her kitchen; she took some consolation in that. She had butchered
small animals on her parents' farm, and knew that there would have been
quite a bit more blood in and around the sink if the squirrel had been
killed there. Perhaps it had been found by the roadside. Perhaps her
housebreaker was relatively harmless after all.
But how had he, or they, gotten into the house? She went from room
to room, trying to discover what method of entry had been used. The windows
were still all latched or nailed from the inside, and the chains on the
doors were fastened. She didn't see how anyone could have gotten in, or for
that matter, how they could have left. . . .
A chilling possibility began to grow in her mind. She took the gun
out of her pocket and began to search more carefully, checking closets,
bedrooms, the upstairs bath that she never used because it was not as nice
as the one on the first floor. Then she ascended the narrow attic stairs.
She took a flashlight, because she knew the attic had no electric
lights. As she climbed the stairs, she shone the light between them; like
the ones leading to the basement, they were only horizontal slats, similar
to a stepladder but of sturdier materials. She could see a space underneath
the stairway, inaccessible because it was only as wide as the stairs
themselves. She bent to look between two of the steps and shone the light
around. There was a door there, she realized; barely visible because it was
at an oblique angle to her, being on one of the long sides of the narrow
area of dead space, and because it was constructed of the same wood as the
She trained her flashlight on the door. She had a good mental
picture of the layout of the house, and it seemed to her at first that the
door was set into an outside wall, a dozen feet above ground level.
Exceedingly strange. Then she remembered the sun porch in front of the
house; of course, the door must lead to a crawl space beneath its roof.
She shook her head at the quirk of design that had provided such a
door but made it impossible to use it without removing half the attic
stairs. She shook each of the steps to be sure they were solid.
It seemed unlikely that anyone was hiding in there. She continued
up the stairs to the attic itself. It was big and unfinished, and empty
except for a few boxes stacked against one wall. They were too small to
have hidden even a child, but she searched them anyway. Nothing but some
old clothing that looked and smelled as if it had not been touched in
decades. She descended the stairs and headed for the basement.
Damp and dirt-floored, festooned with sooty cobwebs, and the only
conceivable hiding place would have been inside the furnace or the
hot-water heater. She looked inside the furnace and, not much to her
surprise, found no one in there. She was willing to discount the hot-water
heater as a possibility, since there was an ample supply of hot water in the
house. The door that led to the outside stairwell was secured from the
inside with a heavy padlock.
She tapped the walls, searching for a hidden door, although it was
difficult to believe that the solid concrete could hide such a thing.
Nonetheless, when she went upstairs, she slid shut the bolt that secured the
Then she went upstairs and put on her nightgown. She wasn't
particularly tired and it was getting too hot to sleep comfortably, but she
planned to stay up late that night. She made herself stay in bed until
suppertime, although she slept only fitfully; then she got up, went
downstairs, and fixed herself some canned soup. She spent the rest of the
evening unenthusiastically dusting and vacuuming.
At about the time she would normally have gone to bed, she went
upstairs, and a few minutes later turned out the light. Then she crept
downstairs in the dark, a blanket wrapped around her, carrying a pillow in
one hand and her automatic in the other.
She slid back the bolt to the basement stairs and then settled
herself on her pillow in one corner of the kitchen. She'd chosen that room
because that was where her uninvited visitor had left his calling-cards.
She positioned herself so that she could see all three entrances to the
room, cradling the automatic between her knees.
The position was not a comfortable one. She had to shift her weight
periodically, which she did as quietly as she could manage. Listening for
noises that might indicate someone moving about, she heard a board creak and
raised the gun a few inches, but the noise was not repeated. It had not
sounded much like a footfall anyway, more like a board that she'd stepped on
returning to its original position. The only other sounds she heard were
insect buzzes and chirps.
Jennifer had always been prone to lapsing into long reveries. For
once this was to her advantage, as she was able to stave off boredom by
mentally diagramming various sculpting projects. She would have been quite
content if only her legs hadn't been so uncomfortable.
She stretched out her feet and heard a slick rustling as they
brushed against a garbage bag. The one that contained the dead squirrel.
She had meant to carry it outside, but had forgotten. She moved her feet
away from the bag.
She began brooding about the dismembered squirrel, with the morbid
obsessiveness that often takes hold when one is awake and alone in the dark
hours before morning. She imagined that she might begin to hear something
scratching at the plastic from inside the bag.
Eventually, she noticed that things in the kitchen were becoming
more visible, and after while it registered with her that it was distinctly
lighter outside than it had been throughout the night.
She stood, joints complaining stridently. Looking out the window at
the greyish horizon, she felt very old and tired. All the nervous tension
had left her.
Walking with exaggerated care, she carried the bag containing the
squirrel outside. She looked at the edge of the woods and shivered. It was
not a large forest, and in full daylight it seemed tame and idyllic. But in
the grey predawn, she felt that the tameness was only superficial, and that
the woods held dark secrets.
The house, although constructed by human hands, also seemed faintly
menacing. She felt no sense of relief or safety as she closed and locked
the kitchen door; the house did not in any sense belong to her, nor would it
while an unseen intruder had the run of the place.
The kitchen seemed gloomy after a few moments under the open sky.
She switched on the light and then, without her usual regard for the
conservation of electricity, went from room to room turning on every light
in the house. Leaving them on, she went upstairs and to bed.
She woke around noon, feeling parched and lethargic. She went
downstairs and began turning off the lights, which seemed to her in her
somewhat fogged mental state to illuminate a profound, insubstantial
blackness. She went into the kitchen, half expecting to find some new token
of affection, and realized she had a pounding headache. It was not that she
had acquired it at that moment; she realized she'd had it ever since she
woke up. How, she wondered, could she have not noticed the painful
throbbing in her temples?
She took some aspirin, then put some coffee in the electric
coffee-grinder. Then she put the fresh-ground beans into the percolator and
poured in some water. She turned it on and the ancient machine began
making its familiar noises. Listening to it, she wished she had thought to
buy some instant coffee on her last trip into town.
While the percolator was working, she went out and sat on the porch.
The afternoon was hot and still. She was reminded of the farm where she'd
grown up, and the magic she had felt in the woods and those sun-lit fields.
It was the smells that brought it back to her most of all, more than what
she could see or here. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply through
her nose. She could almost believe that when she opened them she would be
back there, a skinny girl-child always looking for something new to explore.
She opened her eyes and sighed. She was older now than her mother
had been in those days. She had not thought about the farm, really
remembered what it had been like, in years. Now, however, the memories
were as vivid as the bright sunlight. She felt as though her parents and
adored older brother were close by, that if she called out to them they
would answer. She shivered at the thought, for all three of the others who
had lived on the farm in those long-ago days were dead now.
She gazed up at the sky, remembering all the hours she had watched
it as a girl. Why was she thinking about her childhood now, and about
death? Those were thoughts for an old woman.
Looking up, she recalled that directly over her head was the
crawl space, the one part of the house that she had been unable to search.
Of course there was nothing up there but dust and spiderwebs. But maybe,
just to be sure, she should check the upstairs rooms that faced the front of
the house. Just to be sure there was no other way to get into it.
Her coffee ought to be ready by now. She went inside and discovered
that it was. After drinking a couple of cups, she felt restored. Forget
about that instant stuff; she was convinced it could never have had the same
She felt a sudden need to work, to tackle something she could
understand and accomplish. She carried her tools outside and began to cut
and solder, pausing occasionally to sip from a pitcher of lemonade she'd
brought out with her or to wipe the sweat from her brow with a large
handkerchief. She emptied the pitcher and went inside to use the bathroom
and to fill it again--with water this time, for the lemonade was making her
feel sticky and a little ill. She stopped working when she realized it was
getting too dark to see.
She shut off her torch and looked around the yard, amazed. The
ground near where she'd been working was littered with pieces, useful and
discarded, completed and in progress; despite sleeping until noon, she'd put
in at least a full day's work.
Although not lazy, Jennifer was not a compulsive worker, especially
not when doing all these repetitious birds and leaves and flowers. Usually,
when doing this sort of work, she had to keep a sharp eye on her own
tendency to take numerous, lengthy breaks. Or to get caught up in welding
together bits of scrap in interesting configurations. Today, although she
had exercised no particular self-discipline, there had been none of that.
She began carrying her tools and supplies back into the basement.
It took her several trips to do this, and she began to wish there were an
outside light. It was getting quite dark.
Once she'd gotten everything indoors, she got her gun and went
through the house, turning on all the lights and letting them blaze forth
into the night, doublechecking all the locks. She felt as if she were
drunk, although she'd touched no alcohol all day. Nothing but coffee and
It occurred to her that she'd had nothing to eat, either. She fixed
herself dinner, then looked speculatively at the bottle of whisky at the
back of one of her cupboards. Perhaps that would not be such a bad
idea. . . but no, God only knew what was going to happen during the night.
She had better keep alert.
But she slept undisturbed that night. Whether this was because
there were no noises, or because she had worked herself to the point of
exhaustion, she could not have said. Over the next several days, she threw
herself into her work with a desperate frenzy. She rarely rested, except
when she was actually sleeping, and she was not aware of any odd noises
during the night.
Her dreams, however, were troubled. Often she would dream of being
chased, or of pursuing some person who could not be found. A couple of
times, she dreamt that the sculpture she was working on began to resemble a
dead body, and that she could do nothing to change this resemblance. She
also dreamt of the door under the attic stairs. She did not see anyone
come out of the door in her dreams, only its stark and suggestive presence.
There were no more signs of an uninvited visitor in the house, but
Jennifer did not find this reassuring. She was certain, without knowing why
she felt that way, that the mysterious occurrences had ceased only to set
the stage for something worse. She was determined that this something,
whatever it might be, would not catch her unawares. She carried her gun
with her at all times and aimed it into dark corners and at the doors of
unused rooms. The door to the attic stairs seemed particularly likely to
burst open unexpectedly. She began to dread passing it on her way
downstairs in the morning, and even more so at night when she went to bed.
After a few days she moved her bed and dresser and clothing to a
downstairs room. The room had not originally been intended as a bedroom and
had no closet, and although this was inconvenient, Jennifer found it
comforting. But now that she was on the ground floor, she began to suffer
from the conviction that something was looking in her window at night.
The one evening as she was on her way to bed, she saw something move
as she passed the kitchen. The kitchen light was not on, so she could see
only an indistinct white shape, apparently hovering in midair.
She jerked the gun up and fired, then reached cautiously into the
kitchen and turned the light switch. One of the cupboards, which had a
tendency to swing open if not properly latched, now had a neat hole in the
"Good shot. Nailed the damn thing." She began to laugh, and
continued to do so for several minutes, leaning helplessly against the
The next day, she decided to make a trip back to the city. She had
enough completed work to nearly fill the back of her truck, and she needed
to buy materials that could not be found it the small town where she bought
her food and household supplies. It would not have been absolutely
necessary for her to go into the city for another week or so, but she had to
get out of the house for awhile. She needed to be with other people.
She spent two days at the home of a friend in the city. Another
friend, who owned a gallery, had good news; one of her larger abstract
pieces had sold for over a thousand dollars. Her mood was ebullient for the
rest of the day, which she spent prowling junkyards for odd items that might
be capable of firing her imagination--bits of bulky machinery that she
sometimes could not even identify, but which would serve splendidly as the
starting point for new projects.
She drove home with the bed of her truck as full as it had been
when she'd left, fantasizing about exclusive showings and her name on the
covers of certain magazines. And never again having to make another spray
of leaves to hang on the wall of any of the gift shops that now provided the
bulk of her income.
When she pulled into the driveway, however, she was subjected to a
rude awakening. All of her belongings were stacked on and around the front
porch. Her things had not been arranged with any great care, but nothing
seemed damaged. But she was acutely aware of how easy it would have been
for some of her valuable equipment to have been stolen, or ruined by rain.
Not to mention her personal belongings.
She unlocked the door, only to find that the chain was fastened.
Furious, she went back to the truck and got out the tire iron. She held the
door open with her foot and struck the chain as hard as she could. Two
blows were sufficient to rip it from its mounting on the frame of the door.
"A lot of protection that would have been," she muttered.
Still carrying the tire iron, she once again searched the house from
top to bottom. The only thing of any interest that she found was the
package of knives she had hidden underneath the sink. It pleased her that
they were still there. At least her antagonist wasn't infallible.
She spent the rest of the day bringing her belongings back inside.
It had been a long drive home, and she was tired, but the sky looked as if
it might let loose with a thunderstorm at any minute. A couple of things
were so large and bulky that she had to go down the road and hire Dave to
help her carry them inside. Naturally, he was curious to know what had
happened, but she did not feel like discussing the matter. She met his
questions with glowering silence, then made it up to him by paying more than
they'd agreed on. He seemed to take her odd behavior in stride.
The situation was becoming intolerable. She had done everything she
could think of, and none of it had worked. She could call the police, but
what would she tell them? They'd think she was insane.
She decided to think about it in the morning. A good night's rest
would make her a lot more capable of dealing with the whole mess. Her mind
had a way of coming up with inventive solutions to almost any problem if she
gave it time, and didn't think about it too much on a conscious level.
Sleeping on it had also been known to generate an answer.
It seemed to her that she had no sooner gotten to sleep than she was
awakened by a low rumbling noise, almost like a dog growling. It sounded as
if it were coming from inside the room.
She reached for her gun. Once it was firmly in her grasp, she
turned on the bedside lamp.
A pale, unhealthy-looking individual was standing at the far end of
the room, near the door to the hall. Her first impression of the intruder
was that he strongly resembled the sort of juvenile punk that hung around
on street corners back in the city, looking for someone to intimidate.
Then he snarled at her. His face had such a look of inhuman
savagery that it did not even register on her at first that his eyeteeth
were considerably longer and sharper than those of any normal person.
He took a step toward her, teeth bared and a low, almost subsonic
growl reverberating from his throat. Jennifer fired the gun almost
reflexively. The bullet hit her intended target, stitching a small dimple
into his oversized sweatshirt, but he did not appear to notice. Jennifer
fired again. The stranger, apparently unaffected by the two bullets that
had struck him in the chest, picked up the chair Jennifer had pushed against
the door and hurled it at the window. He missed, and it hit the wall with a
Then he vanished. It did not happen all at once; first her grew
translucent, and the growling became fainter, before he disappeared
altogether from sight and sound.
Jennifer sat pointing her gun at the closed door, her hands shaking
uncontrollably. She would not have thought that her mind was capable of
functioning at all, but by sunrise she had come up with a theory that might
explain what she had seen. It was not an idea she would have taken
seriously even as recently as twelve hours earlier, but what she'd seen had
shaken her modern, unsuperstitious world-view to the core.
When the sun was fully up, she got her crowbar and pried three steps
from their places on the narrow attic stairway. It took considerable
courage for her to crawl through the gap she had created, into the space
beneath the stairs. She sat there with the beam of her flashlight
illuminating the waist-high door, terrified to open it. There was something
in there. She could feel it.
She looked at the door for what seemed like a long time, half-
expecting it to open. She felt dizzy with fear, heart and lungs laboring as
if she were running at top speed. But at last, she reached for the door
and pushed it open.
The space inside was long and narrow. The roof, highest along the
wall that contained the door, slanted downwards until it met the floor at an
oblique angle along the other long side of the crawl space. Once she'd
crawled inside Jennifer found that the roof was too low, even at its highest
point, for her to rise to her feet.
She could detect a peculiar odor, one she was sure she had never
encountered before. There were dozens of mildewed draperies and curtains
stuffed under the low part of the roof, like the nest-lining of some giant
rodent. The rest of the floor was cluttered with an odd assortment of
things; faded letters, silverware, a clock, a broken porcelain chamberpot,
Jennifer found that she could not really see the half of the
crawl space that lay to her left without closing the door. Once she had
done so, she felt trapped and claustrophobic. The air seemed to hold a
damp electric charge. She jerked the flashlight around the room, feeling
as if something were watching her from the shadows.
Then she froze, training the beam of light on the far end of the
crawl space. There was a body there, curled loosely into a sleeping
position. She recognized it as her uninvited visitor from the night before.
He showed no signs of life. After watching his chest for a few minutes
Jennifer concluded that he was not breathing.
The vampire, for that was what Jennifer had decided she was dealing
with, did not look particularly intimidating at the moment. She was at
somewhat of a loss as to what she ought to do next. The traditional method
of dealing with a vampire, she knew, was to kill it by driving a wooden
stake through its heart. But she didn't think she could do it. The vampire
looked like a sleeping child. He didn't even have any shoes on; in fact, he
was wearing a pair of pajamas.
No, that was out of the question. But she did not mean to let the
vampire continue disturbing her sleep and her possessions. She had the
upper hand now, and she intended to use it.
She slept most of the day, but made sure to set her alarm clock for
well before sundown. When it rang, she had some dinner and a shower. She
was not looking forward to going back up there. It would still be light
for an hour or so, but what if the vampire woke up a little early? He might
not take kindly to having his secret room invaded.
She lit her acetylene torch, which she'd dragged up two flights of
stairs, before opening the door under the attic stairway. She had left the
gun behind, since it had already proved ineffective.
The vampire did not appear to have moved since she'd found him some
hours earlier. She sat with her back against the door, torch in one hand
and her flashlight clamped clumsily between her knees and pointed in the
vampire's general direction. With her other hand, she reached into her
shirt and pulled out her mother's silver crucifix. She had felt rather
silly putting it on; she'd suspected the vampire would see it and laugh.
Now that she was in the tiny room with him, though, being laughed at was low
on her list of concerns.
It happened very suddenly. The vampire's eyes opened and he sat up,
and it seemed to Jennifer that he had done this in less time than it would
have taken her to blink.
Her hand flew to the fuel valve and the flame coming from the torch
surged out, becoming longer and brighter. The vampire started back and hit
the wall behind him with a thud and a low snarl. To Jennifer, the room
seemed as hot as an oven, although she had not noticed the temperature
The vampire, who had covered his face with his hands, peered out
from between his fingers. "Turn that thing off before you set the place on
Jennifer, a little startled at being addressed in this peremptory
tone, responded by saying the first thing that came to mind. "You have
caused me a great deal of trouble. I am tired of having my things moved
around and finding disgusting messes in the sink. I want you to stop doing
There was a long moment of silence. "You have no right to be here
in the first place," the vampire said indignantly, "much less to tell me how
I ought to behave in my own house."
"I have a lease." She wondered if she ought to show it to him.
"That means nothing to me, madam. This is my home, I have been
living here since before you were born, and no sheet of paper is going to
convince me you have any legitimate claim. Now turn that damn thing off."
Jennifer redirected the flashlight so that it spotlighted the
vampire's face. "You have no call to be rude. I don't--"
"If you don't get out of this house," he said sweetly, "I will rip
your throat out. How is that for rude?"
"Don't you threaten me! I've got half a mind to set you on fire,
and your precious house with you!"
The vampire, his face buried in his arms, blindly threw a sock at
her. She jerked the torch to one side a few inches to avoid igniting it.
He groped around for something more substantial to throw, and said, "Turn
off that light, it hurts my eyes."
"If you knock the torch out of my hand, all this junk in here will
His tone became more reasonable. "At least point the flashlight
somewhere else. You're hurting my eyes just terribly. And be careful, the
wood in here is very dry."
Jennifer lowered the flashlight, and the vampire raised his head.
Then he moved. Before she could react, he had vanished through the wall.
She glanced around, feeling trapped and helpless. For all she knew,
he could reappear through any wall he chose, or possibly even the floor or
There was a brisk series of knocks, coming from the attic stairs
from the sound of it. Not footsteps, but knuckles on wood, as if to catch
her attention. With some trepidation, she backed away from the door so that
she could open it, and turned awkwardly around.
The vampire was leaning on the stairs, smirking at her. "Perhaps I
should just nail these steps back into place and leave you here."
Fear gave way to a flare of temper. He sounded like some spoiled
little boy. "I'm sure I'd manage to get out."
The vampire sighed. "Yes, I suppose you would. What am I going to
do with you?"
"Why don't you just leave me alone? I've done nothing to you, yet
you have been harassing me since I moved in here."
"I did not invite you to come here. You are not welcome, and I
suggest that you pack your things and go."
"I told you, I have a lease. If I moved out, I wouldn't get my
money back. But I think the house is big enough for both of us. I'm mostly
up during the day, anyway."
The vampire gave her a look of disbelief. "I do not especially
enjoy the idea of sharing my house with a complete stranger. And now that
you know about my hiding place, how do I know you won't murder me in my
sleep? Why should I trust you?"
"If I had wanted to do that, I would have done it this morning, when
I first found you."
The vampire sat down on the steps and regarded her thoughtfully.
"The idea does have a certain merit, I suppose. . . having you here
would discourage other squatters from moving in. I've had quite a bit of
trouble with that, over the years. And you are less offensive than some of
the others I've had to deal with. At least you do not have children.
"You might even prove useful. I have quite a bit of mending that
needs to be done. Do you sew?"
"No, I don't."
"Ah, well. Still, I suppose it would be more trouble than it's
really worth to get rid of you. You may remain, under certain conditions.
The first among these is that you are never again to come up here while I am
sleeping. Is that clear?"
"Fine by me. Listen, you stay the hell out of my bedroom too, you
hear me?" He was being relatively civil now, but she vividly recalled his
bared teeth, the savagery in his expression.
The vampire looked at her disdainfully. "Not to worry."
"Can I get out of here now?"
"By all means. But shut that damnable thing off before you set
Jennifer did so--it would have been difficult to move the cart while
the torch was burning, anyway--and climbed through the aperture in the
stairs. She lifted the cart out behind her, and to do so she had to turn
her back on the vampire, not an easy thing to do. She supposed that trust
would have to begin somewhere, if they were really going to coexist in the
"I trust you will repair the steps. You can do that, can't you?"
"Yes." Her stomach filled with ice as she walked past the vampire,
who was leaning indolently against the wall. She remembered his casual
comment about ripping her throat out, and also how quickly he had moved.
But the vampire merely said, "Well, at least you are good for
something. Perhaps you can do other minor repairs around the place. For
instance, some of the trim has fallen off the front of the house, in case
you hadn't noticed. And once it has been replaced, it will need to be
"Call the landlord about it." Now that she was out in the hall,
Jennifer's courage was returning. She turned back to face the vampire.
"I'm Jennifer Meyers, by the way. What should I call you?"
The vampire, whose mother had named him Theophile, said "Call me
anything you like."
"Don't you have a name?"
He began examining his fingernails. She noticed that they were long
and rather sharp-looking. She waited, but he remained obstinately silent.
"If you won't tell me, I think I'll call you Roger. That seems like
a good name for you. I used to have a neighbor with a son named Roger, and
you remind me of him. He used to stay out all night and--"
"I don't wish to hear about it." The vampire, Roger, slammed the
door to the attic stairs between them.
"Rude," Jennifer muttered. She went downstairs to get a hammer and