You're supposed to feel safe in your home. It's supposed to be a place where you can retreat and feel separated from the dangers of the world. You form a bond with that place, a trust even, and once it's broken, it's incredibly hard to repair. Sure, you could be afraid of someone breaking in, but what if the danger is closer than that?
What if someone is already living there and you don't know it? They could be in the attic, hiding beneath the home in a crawlspace, or simply in another room watching from the shadows and moving when you do so as not to be seen. Why are they there? Are they harmless, or do they have ill intentions? You don't know, and neither did I.
I used to be a home inspector, ironically, until I realized that the standard checks and balances that earned houses the seal of approval wasn't enough. I inspected my own home from top to bottom before we moved in and I was confident that it was safe and sturdy. My wife Ava and I loved it there at first, but then things started to change between us.
It started with little things like cabinets being left open, which she hated, and I was always blamed for it even though I knew I had closed them. Then she started hearing things at night. Bumps in the attic, tapping on the walls, those kinds of things. She was very spiritual so she immediately assumed it was a ghost or spirit haunting the home.
I of course did not believe in such things, and I had never heard of someone living in another person's home before, so I just assumed it was a pest problem. No matter what I did though, it wouldn't go away, and things started spiraling downward in our marriage. She hated me for not believing her, but I couldn't accept that our house was haunted. Even when she claimed to see someone, a lanky and pale person, walking around our house during the day and at night when I wasn't home, I still didn't believe her.
It became clear at a certain point after nine months or so, that someone was deliberately trying to ruin my marriage. Who and why was beyond me, but I started getting letters in the mail from someone who claimed to be my lover. Ava was furious, she thought I was cheating on her and she wouldn't hear a word otherwise. Eventually it became too much and one night she just left. After years of dating and planning our life together, this one incident, this one thing living in our home drove us irrevocably apart.
That night when she packed her bags and left, it was a year after we had moved into the home. I was sitting in the living room, staring into the fireplace in front of me. The fire within crackled and sparked, burning with a rage I knew all too well. I had been through every scenario, tried every solution. I tore that house apart but I never found anything that proved my theories. If I went to the police now, they would lock me up in a looney bin and throw away the key.
I took another long swig from the bottle of Jack I had opened. Ava wouldn't say a word to me. She just kept packing her things while I yelled and pleaded with her. I told her that it wasn't what it looked like, that someone was messing with us, but she didn't want to hear it. She filled up a suitcase and walked out. I grabbed the bottle of whiskey from the liquor cabinet and collapsed into a chair in front of the fire we had built only hours before. It was cold outside, too cold for someone to hide, which meant that whoever was doing this had to be inside the house.
I drank from the bottle, relishing in the pungent burn of the whiskey as it slid down my throat. I had already finished a quarter of the handle, the buzz was settling in nicely. I knew that whatever had been doing this wasn't a ghost, or a spirit, or even a demon. It was a person, someone who thought it would be fun to ruin my marriage, steal my food, and completely destroy the life I had built. I knew they would be here tonight, to witness their big victory, hiding in a cabinet or in the attic.
I looked over the side of the chair at the axe I had brought in from the shed. I had sharpened it a few days ago for chopping firewood, so it would do the trick. Whoever this was, they took everything from me. I was going to make them suffer. The best part was they had nowhere to run. I torched all of the winter clothes so they couldn't steal any and run away. There were several inches of snow and a whole lot of forest between the house and the nearest city. They would freeze to death before they could make it.
It was just the two of us now, and only one would survive the night. Every time I closed my eyes and took another drink from that bottle, I saw Ava's face, and the rage deepened. There was nothing wrong with us before this house, before this thing that wore the skin of a person. What could possibly drive someone to do something like this? It must be someone who enjoys seeing others suffer.
The bottle was halfway gone now. The warm embrace of the whiskey was coursing through my veins. My courage was mounting, and my inhibitions about what had to be done slowly started melting away. I wasn't a murderer, but I was more than ready to become one.
I finished the bottle while staring into the crackling fire. I heard the groans of the walls around me as the low temperatures contracted the wood. Amidst those noises, I heard the pattering of light footsteps in the attic. He was up there, that thing that ruined everything. I stood up from the chair, the world swam around me as my shadow danced on the walls and ceiling. I threw the bottle into the fire and watched the flames expand as if applauding my decision. I turned and picked up the axe.
"I'm coming for you bastard, you hear me?" I shouted, "I'm going to tear you apart for what you did!"
He didn't bother being quiet about it, I heard him moving in the attic above. I couldn't move very fast, the whiskey had blurred my vision and slowed my footsteps. I walked into the hallway and stopped. I had to brace myself against the wall for a moment while the world fell back into focus.
"Come out of your hiding place! Let's settle this like real men!"
I heard something scratching in the wall to my right. I knocked with a closed fist. It was hollow. I turned, raised the axe above my head, and brought it down into the wall. It broke through, sending dust and wood everywhere. I looked in through the hole and saw a thin walkway between the walls that I never thought to check.
"So this is how you got around, huh? You think you're clever? You think this is a game!"
I raised the axe again and drove it into the wall. The hole was wide enough to step through now. I stuck my whole head inside and looked around. It was too thin for me to navigate the space, but I caught a glimpse of the intruder. He was just like Ava described him: pale, emaciated, ghostly. His eyes were sunk into his skull, he looked like he hadn't been outside in a long time.
"Get over here!" I screamed.