Back in the early 2000s I moved in with a now ex-boyfriend. He lived in a bungalow style house in one of the neighborhoods of a large midwestern city. This happened when I was taking a personal day from work after moving in to finish getting things arranged and unpacked.

It was midafternoon when the doorbell rang. Through the peephole I saw a conservatively dressed woman. My guess was Jehovah’s Witness so I planned to say no thanks and get back to unpacking.

I opened the door and got a better look. The woman was about my age, late 20s, and she had frizzy hair like a perm gone wrong. It was a nondescript brownish blond and looked dry and damaged. All her style choices looked like those of a stereotypical grandmother. She wore a lightweight tan jacket, a white turtleneck that looked like it had been washed many times, a long khaki skirt that buttoned up the front, and loafers styled like moccasins. She was underdressed for a late November day. The only break with her style was shiny, black aviator sunglasses. I couldn’t see her eyes.

I opened the door but left the screen door closed. “Hi! Is Scott* home?”

I started to say he wasn’t home but then my instincts started to kick in. I asked what she needed and she held out a paper plate wrapped in foil. “I made these for Scott. He helped me out the other day and I wanted to thank him.” That almost made sense. Scott was a firefighter and he’d had a call to a house recently but...why would she bring them to his house? How did she find his house? Why was I instantly uncomfortable and panicked once I opened the door?

I told her she’d have to give it to him at work. She asked if he was at work, I said she’d need to talk to him later at work, she asked when he’d be home, I said she’d need to speak to him, she’d ask if he was home, it was an endless loop. I noticed she had a jerky manner of talking, like she had to move physically to speak. Finally I broke the loop and said I couldn’t talk to her anymore and she’d have to leave. As I closed the door she slammed her hand on the screen door and screamed, “No!”

I closed and locked the door quickly. Almost instantly, there was knocking at the back door. That didn’t make sense - the back yard was fenced and we kept the gate locked. The lot was long and narrow so along with the locked gate it took a little time to go from the front to the back. I ran to the back and peaked out. She was there and now she was yelling that she knew he was home and I had to let her in. I looked at her out the backdoor. She clearly had a problem and I didn’t know if 911 was the best way to help or not.

The doorbell rang as I looked at her. Hopefully it was someone else. I went and looked out the peephole. There she was again. She gave me a big grin and the knocking started in back. I marched to the phone. There were two of them so I was sure this was a crime and she was putting on an act. 911 was my best bet. As I reached the phone it rang. I expected it to be her but it was our neighbors across the street. They were older but not too much. He (Jim*) was a retired cop, she (Jenny*) worked an office job in the city. She was off today and was just wondering if Scott and I would like to come for dinner-

I cut her off, panicked, and asked if anyone was at my front door. She said no and I begged her to double check. She asked me why and I explained. Immediately she got Jim on the phone. Jim told me he’d be right over and to go to the interior of the house away from the windows. All this time, the bell rang in the front and there was knocking in the back. Eventually it stopped. Jim yelled at the front door it was him and I could open up. He asked me a lot of questions and then we had the following conversation I’ve never forgotten:

“If that thing ever comes back again don’t open the door.”

“Jim, if she ever comes back I’m calling the police. Wait...what do you mean that thing?”

“I don’t know what religion you are but you should get something for protection and hang it by the door. Don’t talk about it again, either.”

Scott was as confused by it as I was and didn’t recognize her from my description. At first we talked about it but then I noticed after he was talking to Jim one day he didn’t want to discuss it any more. He was raised Catholic and a few days later he hung a crucifix near the door. He insisted it was just something from his grandma’s house he’d had a long time and it reminded him of her.

I lived there for a little over a year and nothing else happened. About a year after I moved out Scott called me at work. He thought I’d want to know Jim had died.  During the call, we talked about old times and Scott talked about how Jim had been so concerned about me after the incident. The same thing had happened to Jenny late one night when they’d just had their first child. I tried to take it beyond Jim’s concern but Scott said Jim had asked him never to talk about it and he wanted to respect that. Since then I’ve lost touch with Jenny and Scott.

It wasn’t until a few days after the call I realized it. Jim and Jenny were my parents age. Their first baby is a few years older than me. That means the same thing happened to her in the 1970s. I still don’t understand it.

*Pretend names