The psycho-killer in the attic

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I don’t consider myself paranoid. I guess paranoid people don’t know they’re paranoid—that’s kind of a key element of paranoia—but I stand by my analysis of myself anyway. I will concede I sometimes have an active imagination though.

Not to sound paranoid, but apparently perimenopause can cause a little bit of neurosis in the form of paranoia—just something to be vigilant about. It makes me wonder how the world is not full of middle-aged women bringing decoy sandwiches to work in case some shifty colleague goes about tampering with lunches, indiscriminately dabbing arsenic between pieces of bread. It could happen. And if it did we’d all wonder why we thought it was ever a good idea to share a fridge with a bunch of stressed out people we don’t really know all that well. I bet if you gave it some thought, you could imagine who the potential sandwich poisoner is at your work. If no one comes to mind, it’s probably you.

When I was a kid I used to watch the six o’clock news. As I remember it, the TV news was full of warnings about murderers and kid snatchers. My nerves were given a slight reprieve when weatherman CFTO-TV’s Dave Devall would appear behind a clear piece of acrylic, writing backwards and drawing raindrops with a giant grease pencil. Even a major storm was “happy news” compared to the chaos, death and destruction of the top stories.

I was convinced I would be murdered pretty much every evening as I crawled, reluctantly, into bed. I used to lie there with the covers over my head to create the illusion of a lumpy mattress with no one on it. I could hear what sounded like an army marching toward me and I would wait to be snatched. It took years to realize I was listening to the sound of my own heart pounding.

I’ve outgrown all of that of course—I’m middle-aged, so let’s hope so—and I avoid the triggers that freak me out. I stay away from documentaries about deranged killers who have never been caught, especially the ones with re-enactments where the narrator says things like, “Jessica walked through the dark parking lot after her shift at the café. It was October 17th and the lights in the lot were out; it was discovered later rocks had been thrown at the bulbs. Meanwhile, her boyfriend waited outside her house. He wanted to congratulate her on her upcoming graduation. He sat in his car for an hour and when she didn’t arrive he went home. The next morning, the cafe manager noticed her car was still in the parking lot. The beads from the key chain her sister had made her at summer camp were scattered nearby…”

The problem with these shows, besides the horror, is that I then walk around for days with the narrator’s voice in my head. In that calm, factual tone he describes everything I’m doing.  “Laura went outside to get the empty recycling box on a dark evening in November. Her husband Tony typically took care of that but he was away. She carried the box down the driveway and through the wooden gate into the backyard.” It’s at this point where the narrator’s voice starts describing a grim future: “The following morning a neighbour noticed the compost container was still on the curb and rolled it down the driveway. He noticed the wooden gate was broken, the recycling box was upside down in the garden and the bird feeder had been ripped from the hook. Her cat was in the window yowling. The front door of the house had been left open but Laura was nowhere to be found. Her coat and keys hung near the front door…”

It’s at this juncture in the narrative that my fear escalates to the point where I’m running blindly down the driveway, swinging the recycling box like a weapon, my heart ready to burst through my chest.

The news still gets to me sometimes but I do my best to be both rational and cautious. This is a balance all girls and women attempt throughout their lives. For the most part, I have overwhelming terror under control.

Tony went to a conference recently and I planned my days around the luxury of not having to share a bathroom or a TV. I went out for the afternoon to visit friends for lunch and then returned home near dinnertime. When I walked through the door I noticed one of the bags of Halloween-sized cheese sticks, still in a bowl by the front door, was missing. I may have many failings but I do have strong observational skills. When it comes to how many bags of cheese sticks are left after Halloween I’m like Rain Man.

Exhibit A

I thought it was odd, so I was on high alert after that. Later, I went into the bathroom upstairs and the toilet lid was up! I NEVER LEAVE IT UP. And I’m the only one home.

So now it’s not just a missing bag of cheese sticks. This is a real scenario.

Someone had been in the house or someone was still in the house. There was proof.

But I couldn’t call the police and say, “There’s a bag of cheese sticks missing and the toilet seat lid is up, get over here! Hurry!”

So I tried to ignore the killer and convince myself he wasn’t hiding in the attic. I sat in the living room with the TV on and the volume muted so that I could hear him if he started heading down the stairs.

What I had established about the killer was that he’s sloppy. He doesn’t pay attention to detail or else he would have put the toilet lid down, or maybe he did it on purpose to play with my head. He also has an affection for junk food—none of the kiwis was missing. It appears he forgot to go to the washroom before he left his house, or maybe he’s the nervous-type, maybe this is his first attempt at murder.

My best bet for survival was to outsmart him. The advantage I had was that he didn’t know that I knew that he was in the house. What I didn’t know was whether or not he heard me come in.

There was no way I would be able to go to bed until the murderer issue was resolved. I crept upstairs and stood at the door of the attic and listened. I thought I heard the floor creak but maybe not. Maybe he was listening for me.

The light switch is located on the outside of the door and it was turned off. I knew the minute I turned it on I would lose the element of surprise. I would have to move quickly. My skin felt prickly and my mouth was dry.

I didn’t think to bring a weapon and it was too late to go back downstairs now, I couldn’t risk making a noise and have him ambush me from behind. So I picked up the bag of kitty litter. My cat is diabetic so he pees a lot and it was a big bag of litter. I figured if I hit him hard enough I might knock him out or at least stun him. The bag was open too, so some of the litter would potentially fly out, and if it hit him in the eye the moisture would cause the little grains to clump together and it might seal his eyes shut.

I stood there holding the bag outside the door and psyched myself up before I flicked the light on, threw open the door and raced up the stairs. As I hit the landing I expected to see a hairy man with an evil smirk standing on the top step.

This is Eugene, Sophie’s cactus.

I ran straight up and the attic was perfectly still and peaceful. The only other living thing was Sophie’s cactus.

Turns out Sophie and her friend Anissa had stopped by to pick something up. My enquiries about who took cheese sticks and who used the washroom probably made me sound a little OCD. Which I am not. Except when I get halfway down our street and have to go back to the house to make sure the flat iron is turned off. And then I have to go back again to double check. So, maybe a little.

But I am definitely not paranoid.

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