Horace Bulgroin slept with his feet uncovered.
He was lying in his bed, nearly asleep, when he felt it–a warm hand on his foot. Horace tensed, but managed to control his breathing to maintain the illusion of sleep. The forced deep breaths seemed to take more oxygen than they brought in with each inflation of his lungs. The room practically buzzed with silence.
He waited silently for any sign or sound from the person who was in his room. Horace thought to put himself in a positional advantage with the intruder being unaware that the room’s tenant was awake. He waited for a noise and none came. Horace’s body tightened with each passing moment, like a trampoline under heavy feet. His muscles cramped and his joints ached and still no sound. The silence became louder and louder as Horace strung himself tighter and tighter in an effort not to shatter it. He could feel the presence of a person in his room. He was being watched.
The room grew light and eventually Horace could stand it no longer. He tore himself from his bed and tripped over his numb left leg. In the whirl of darkness that accompanied his quick ascent Horace lost the intruder and when he looked around there was no one there.
Horace checked the doors, windows, and every room of his small home. He found nothing out of place, and so questioned his own senses, as they are fickle things, easily persuaded and hoodwinked. Surely he had imagined it? He promised himself no more fried ice cream and went to work.
Horace took extra care in locking the house up, but was largely unconcerned–chalking his terror up to an overactive imagination. He turned off the light and was grateful for sleep when it rolled over him. But the cover of semi-consciousness only lasted a moment before he awoke dreading what was impossible: someone was in his room again.
Horace berated himself and scoffed at his own foolishness, no one was in his room. He was imagining things again. Horace laughed at his fright and rolled over, settling in again. The brush of the hand against his foot was unmistakable; he jumped from his bed, frantically flinging every switch he could find until his small home reverberated and shone with sound and light.
Horace was exhausted when he came home from work. The police had found no sign of a break-in and he had come off looking the fool. Horace had skimmed along the surface of consciousness all day and was finally ready to take the plunge into the deep waters of sleep and leave the world behind him. Horace undressed, brushed his teeth meticulously, and then tumbled into bed making sure to cover his feet. He was a sleep almost instantly.
Horace awoke disoriented but calm enough to remain still. The presence was back, there was someone here again. He began to tremble but thought that perhaps he was imagining it again as the police had found no evidence of intrusion. Perhaps his imagination was running wild in a waking dream. Most people experienced such incidents in the weird state between sleep and consciousness. It could be sleep paralysis–he had a friend at work who often woke paralyzed and shared strange stories of things he had imagined. Anciently people thought there was a demon sitting on their chest preventing them from getting up but modern science had concluded that–Horace unintentionally relieved himself as the sheets were lifted from his feet and a warm hand grabbed his foot. He knew he felt it this time. Skin on skin.
He panicked, someone was messing with him; some sicko who would eventually drive him mad and murder him or drive him mad enough to off himself. Horace Bulgroin was not insane.
Horace bided his time on his urine soaked mattress so as to not give away any element of surprise, though perhaps, he thought, the man already knew that he knew. It was a game of cat and mouse, and Horace was determined to be the feline. So he waited patiently, attempting to pinpoint where the person was standing in his room. He considered escape, confrontation, and ignoring the man—he felt sure it was a man’s hand.
The room began to grow light again and Horace sat up like a cobra, a fat cobra in striped pajamas, but with freshly brushed fangs bared to the growing morning light. The man was gone.
Horace called in sick and set the trap. Anyone paying him a visit tonight would be in for a treat.
When Horace felt the hand touch his foot again the following night he was not surprised and he was not asleep–though, to the unobservant outsider it would seem that he was. Horace stifled giggles that bubbled from his gut on account of his own cleverness. His tormentor would never see it coming.
Horace Bulgroin’s neighbors, the Peters, called the police at 3:04 am saying they had heard the sound of gunfire.
When the police arrived on the scene, Mr. Bulgroin was running about his house in his periwinkle pajamas with a shotgun in one hand and a broom in the other shouting himself ragged, “Just missed Godamnit! The periwinkle, the periwinkle, the damn periwinkle bungled the whole thing!”
The police committed him to a mental institution later that day as the only family they could contact was his sister in Florida, who “didn’t have the time to take care of a mad brother as well as three children of her own.” Horace’s coworkers were surprised. He had never exhibited signs of madness previous to this incident.
“I guess anyone of us can go off the deep end at any time, scary really,” said one coworker.
“I knew he was strange since the day I saw him take his coffee. No cream, can you imagine such a thing?” said Lourdes, who shared his cubicle.
Horace himself, however, was grateful. He knew that this was a shrink but he couldn’t bring himself to care. The man wouldn’t be able to get in here. Horace cooperated with the doctor and was praised diminutively. They prescribed some medicines and Horace took them, complying with their every command. These doctors, this institution would prove that he wasn’t crazy. He began to relax and the drugs helped. The meals were nice and so was his room. Plain and secure, no windows, one door. He was safe here.
Horace readied himself for bed and was almost asleep with the sheets pulled up to his neck when the ward came by and called “lights out.” Horace’s feet poked from beneath the sheet. He wiggled them, burrowing into the bed and drew a deep breath. The door was locked, he was the only one here, no one could get in or out. Horace began to drift pleasantly into unconsciousness.
When he felt the warm hand on his foot, he sat up wide-eyed and waited. Then he laughed. His laugh swelled and swayed growing from a quaking “hmmha” to the windy cackle that was still shaking his frame when the doctor’s entered his room the next morning.