The Intruder

David was in the shower when he thought he heard a noise downstairs. He turned the water off and stood still, trying to listen. It took several, long seconds for the shower to stop trickling and make way for silence, then David heard the noise again, and this time he was certain—a door had closed. Someone was in the house.

His pulse quickened. As quietly as he could, he slid the shower curtain along its plastic rail and stepped out of the bathtub, onto the cold chequered tiles. He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist, and as he picked up his trousers from the floor, the metal buckle of his belt clanged against the white porcelain sink. He froze, waiting for something, a reaction from downstairs, but nothing happened, just the faint, ongoing sounds of someone shuffling about. He searched through his crumpled trousers and fished out the pocket knife he carried with him at all times.

He opened the bathroom door and crept out onto the darkened landing. His feet sunk into the thick carpet, leaving wet prints in their wake. David paused with each step, trying to make sense of the muffled movements in the kitchen directly below. He couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like whoever it was down there wasn’t aware of his presence. Stay calm, he told himself, breathe, focus.

As he reached the top of the stairs, the noises stopped, and David stopped, too. The silence went on for so long that he started to doubt whether he’d heard anything to begin with. Maybe it was all in his head. Then a floorboard creaked under someone’s weight, and David opened the blade of his knife before proceeding down the wooden staircase, shifting his own weight as evenly as possible, one foot at a time. He’d only been living in the house for two weeks and wasn’t yet familiar with its quirks — where the loose boards were, which ones tended to complain if treaded on… Right now each step was fraught with risk, but what worried him most was the sickening feeling of déjà vu which grew within him, as if he’d been in this situation before, maybe even more than once, yet every time he came close to pinning down a memory, it faded and slipped away.

Downstairs, the hallway was dark, as he’d left it, but the kitchen door was ajar and framed with light. His heart racing, David approached the door and placed one hand against it while the other tightened its grip around the knife’s handle. A rush of adrenalin coursed through his body, shooting up the length of his spine and into his skull where it became a noise so loud and deafening he could feel nothing but the urge to make it stop.

He pushed the door, and it swung open on soundless hinges.

A woman was standing in the middle of the kitchen, her head stooped, a suitcase at her feet. She looked up from her phone and saw the intruder in the doorway, half-naked and dripping wet, clutching a blade which caught the light as it passed from one hand to the other. Her eyes filled with panic and she found she couldn’t move, and all she managed to say was ‘What are you doing in my house?’