This is a little more creepy/disturbing than scary, but it’s something that still gives me chills when I think about it (and I try not to think about it very often). Note: All names have been changed.

From about 5th to 9th grade, my best friend Natalie and I were pretty much inseparable. We lived only a few streets away from each other in an idyllic little town in the midwest. The kind of place that feels like a living time capsule of the 1950’s: Charming houses with beautifully kept gardens… Huge old maple and oak trees lining every street… Neighbors who actually stop and greet each other as they walk their dogs or mow their lawns… Summer blocks parties, kids playing in the street until dinnertime… That sort of thing.

Natalie and I used to walk to and from school together every day, and I often stayed over at her house for an hour or two after school while my parents were still at work. I loved hanging out at her place because her mom was the sweetest person ever — she’d serve us delicious snacks, we’d tell her all about the latest middle school drama, and she’d even let us watch a tv show or play a computer game before we started our homework.

Natalie’s dad worked a lot and wasn’t around often, but whenever I did interact with him, something about him seemed… off. On a superficial level, he was perfectly nice and friendly — even funny. He had a great sense of humor and was always joking around with Natalie, me, and the rest of our friends on the few occasions that he was around. But even though I didn’t sense a single bit of discomfort from any of my close friends, I couldn’t help feeling uneasy in his presence.

For one thing, he was a bit too touchy feely. It was subtle, but I was always noticing it in little ways that made me slightly uncomfortable. Quick example: One weekend, he took me and Natalie and two of our friends to a cider mill. We picked apples, drank cider, and went on a hay ride. When the ride was over, Natalie’s dad was helping each of us off the side of the wagon, and I was last in line. Something about the way he grabbed my friends by the waist and let his hands linger just a touch too long once they were safely on the ground started to weird me out. When it was my turn, I quickly jumped off the wagon before he could touch me. He looked a little bewildered, but didn’t say anything.

Fast forward to Natalie’s 12th birthday party. She had a sleepover with about 10 girls, and we arranged our sleeping bags on the floor of her living room since it was the biggest room in the house. The living room wasn’t really closed off by any doors; It had a big opening that connected it seamlessly with the foyer/front hallway of the house. I was sleeping near that hallway, which I wasn’t pleased about as I preferred to sleep surrounded by people whenever I went to sleepovers (I’ve always been super afraid of the dark and liked having that “protection”, as silly as it sounds).

In the middle of the night, I’m awoken by a hand pressing on my arm. I didn’t jolt awake or anything, but I opened my eyes and turned my head to survey my fellow partygoers. They were all dead asleep, some even lightly snoring. Suddenly I heard quiet giggling behind me. Still lying down and now officially frightened, I quickly turned my body to face the foyer. The opening in the wall that connected the living room and foyer was a big, sweeping arch. On the right side of the arch, I could just barely see the top of a man’s head peeking out from behind the wall, only about three feet from the ground. Then I noticed his fingertips splayed out on the wooden floor. He was crouching. It was Natalie’s dad.

I froze. I honestly had no idea what to do. Was he just kidding around? Didn’t it occur to him how creepy this was? Do I say something or just awkwardly ignore it and try to fall back asleep? Being my timid, non-confrontational pre-teen self, I decided to go the latter route. I turned back on my other side, scooted in as close as I could to my friend sleeping next to me, and somehow managed to fall back asleep, despite being obviously and understandably petrified.

I’m not sure how long it was before I was woken up again, this time by a firm tapping on my temple. Knowing who it was this time around, I tried my best not to indicate that I was awake, struggling to keep my eyes closed and my breathing slow and deep. Again I heard that same stifled giggling. The sound was particularly disturbing because it was almost manic — like he thought this whole routine was absolutely hilarious and could barely contain himself. Even though it was coming from a grown man, it had all the giddiness of a 5 year old playing hide-and-go-seek with his older siblings.

Yet again, I had no idea what to do. I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to acknowledge him, or what. I turned to face the foyer again, and just barely caught a glimpse of his head and fingers disappearing behind the wall in that same crouched position. More giggling. I quickly turned back and scooted even closer into my sleeping friend, partially waking her and causing her to shift around a bit. I hoped she would wake up completely, but she just turned over and quickly drifted back off. As I pulled my sleeping bag tighter over my shoulders, I heard what sounded like someone shuffling on all fours down the hallway.

I don’t remember how I got back to sleep that night, but somehow I did, and morning finally, mercifully arrived. Natalie’s parents made us all pancakes, and her dad was acting completely normal. He didn’t pay any particular attention to me, but didn’t make a point to ignore me either. Just interacted with me like he did with everyone else — Always smiley and jokey and friendly.

A couple months later, Natalie had another sleepover. This time I made sure to secure a sleeping spot in the exact center of everyone, far from the front hallway. But later that night, I abruptly woke up in the middle of a deep sleep for seemingly no reason. I had been sleeping on my back, and just suddenly opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling, wide awake. Almost instantly, I was overcome with the most intense feeling of dread that I have ever experienced. I felt like I couldn’t move my limbs — like some invisible weighted blanket was holding my body down. Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I slowly turned my head towards the front hallway.

As my eyes adjusted in the darkness, I could see Natalie’s mom and dad standing in the entryway, looking directly at me with the most angry, hateful expressions on their faces. They were positioned awkwardly far from each other — about two feet of space between them — with their arms stiff and straight at their sides. Even though they were a fair distance away from me, I’ll never forget how disturbing their faces looked, contorted into pure rage that only seemed to grow in intensity the longer I allowed myself to look. Their eyes kept narrowing and they were showing all their teeth the way a threatened dog would; gritting them so tightly I thought their jaws would crack.

After staring, frozen, for a good few seconds, I finally felt like I could move my arms and legs again. I quickly turned away from them and pulled my sleeping bag high up over my head, shaking. I barely slept the rest of the night, but I never heard any noise or movement from the hallway.

The next morning it was all homemade pancakes and warm smiles and utter normalcy yet again.

I never told Natalie about any of this, as I was pretty sure she would think I was either crazy or trying to prank her. Our friendship quickly faded a few years later anyway, which coincidentally was right around the time that her parents got divorced.

Recently Natalie and her parent’s divorce came up in conversation with my mom, who told me about a comment Natalie’s mom made to her years ago: Back when Natalie and I were still super close, we had actually taken a few small road trip vacations together with our moms. I guess at some point on one of these trips, our moms were gossiping about a particularly wealthy and impossibly perfect family that lived in our neighborhood and had a reputation of being somewhat pretentious. Natalie’s mom, skeptical about their apparent perfection, said, “Well, in this neighborhood you never know what goes on behind closed doors.”

The comment is innocent enough, but for me it adds an extra layer of creepiness given what I experienced with Natalie’s parents.