It was sometime after midnight, and everyone had gone to bed already. I awoke and laid there in the dark, drifting a little between sleep and not-sleep, but definitely awake.
Back in that apartment, my family occupied the third and fourth floors. The fourth floor had the bedrooms: my mother and stepfather, my brother and my two stepbrothers. The third floor had the kitchen, the living room, and my bedroom, which was a converted dining room. When you walked into the apartment (up a flight of stairs from the second floor landing) the first door you reached was the door to my bedroom.
And so, lying there in bed, thinking, I heard a noise from outside. My antennae went up.
The second floor apartment was occupied by the landlady. Her apartment didn’t adjoin to ours, as they both had separate entrances from the second floor landing. The first floor, which we called the basement, had the garage, an unfinished storage room, and the laundry, and that floor had a staircase that went up into our entrance area.
What I heard was, I thought at first, from the second floor landing, either our house or the one next door. (Brooklyn row houses, attached on both sides.)
Except that about thirty seconds later, I heard a footstep on the stairs.
At this point, I was fully awake, loaded with adrenaline. I laid in bed, unmoving, listening. Silence. Total silence.
Another deep creak on the stairs.
The heat: must be the heater creaking the steps as they expand. Other than the fact that the heat wasn’t on, of course.
Nearly a minute passed, and then, another deep creak, closer.
I lay frozen. In retrospect, I probably should have run from my room upstairs, but I didn’t know who was in the stairwell or how close the person was. If I ran from my room and an attacker was there, I could get raped or killed.
But the other part of me that was on high alert said whatever was in the hallway wasn’t human, wasn’t alive. I was thinking, demon. I don’t know why because demons don’t use staircases (well, except to creak them and scare the crud out of seventeen year olds obsessed with the end of the world). And so I stayed frozen like a juvenile rabbit trying to hide from a predator.
Another deep creak, this one from very, very close. My heart was racing, and I didn’t know what to do…
…until I remembered a story from my the-world-is-ending friend. Back when he was in Viet Nam, he’d seen something he realized at the time was an illusion. In the dark like this, something that wanted him scared, possibly wanted him dead, in disguise as an enemy soldier. And in my panic, I did what he did.
In my head, I deepened my “voice” and commanded, “Enemy, disappear!”
After half an hour and no more footsteps, I eventually got back to sleep.
In the morning, there was no evidence of forced entry, through either the basement or the front door. Nothing had been stolen. No one in the family had been awake. I never decided whether that was a thief, a ghost, or a demon. Only that it was the enemy, and it disappeared.