by Joel M. Traylor

The creep broke in on Tuesday close to midnight. I heard the doorknob jiggle and made my way to the living room, silent steps across the hardwoods in the dark of the apartment. Scratching and fumbling, and then the lock yielded with a hard click. I fell back into the shadows as the door opened without a creak, and the man stepped inside.

CreeperHe had been watching her for days. Many men watched her because of her beauty, but this man was persistent. I had seen him meandering up and down the block, and sometimes he loitered at the bus stop across the street. He never looked directly at our building, just quick and careful glances. But he stared at her when she walked, when she stepped into the café for a to-go tea, when she hailed a cab, when she breathed.

The man tucked his tools into his pocket, stepped inside and gently closed the door. He was impressive in his plainness, his charcoal gray button-down shirt tucked into blue jeans. He kept his brown hair trimmed and parted on the side. Glasses with round frames rested on his completely average nose. He might have been in his late thirties, not that anyone would remember him.

He inhaled slowly, no doubt tasting the scent of her that permeated the cozy space. He looked to the hallway and paused, listening. There was no sound besides passing traffic and a distant car alarm. One foot after another, he slipped down the hall without a sound until he stood in the doorway.

Over his shoulder, I could see her sleeping. She still hugged the left edge of the queen bed, the other side now empty. Her brown hair played across her cheek, her lips parted slightly. She seemed entirely at peace.

The man produced a pair of long zip-ties and stepped slowly into the room. I could not bear to watch. I would have to reveal myself soon, before it was too late. I had to protect her. She still needed me. I had to take care of this. I had to take care of her.

She moved in a blur, and something hard connected with the man’s head. He dropped to the floor. She stood over him, a wooden baseball bat in her hand.

I sighed relief, and she stared at me for the first time for months, directly at me.

“John?” she asked, her eyes wide, pleading, tears forming at the edges. “Is that you?”

The room darkened as I began to lessen. My work here was done. She would be okay. I could finally see that she could take care of herself now.