I stepped into my kitchen and found a stranger perched atop my counter. Adrenaline surged. Fight or flight instincts howled at me to run. Every muscle in my body contracted. I froze. There was a stranger in my kitchen. The intruder rocked slowly back and slowly forward. With each movement he drew a kitchen knife across his thigh. His jeans were ripped and bloodied and beads of blood dripped off the knife he had taken from my kitchen. Back and forth again.
I needed to move. I was currently standing between him and the front door. None of my windows were connected to the fire escape and my apartment was seven stories up. Doing bodily harm to another human being was a much simpler way to exit a building than jumping out a seventh floor window. Had I retained the faintest amount of bodily function I would have stepped aside and offered him the door. Let the police deal with the armed intruder after the fact.
I was less than ten feet from the intruder and I could hear my heartbeat. I was shaking. My teeth were chattering. I had slammed the front door shut when I had come in. I had jangled my keys from hand to hand and flung my shoes off, but none of this seemed to have registered with the intruder. Still he sat atop my counter, slowly rocking himself back and forth, knife in hand.
He resembled a cautionary tale parents use to keep their kids in-line. “Stay in school or you could end up like this.” The blue jeans he was wearing were at least a size too big for him. Splatters of paint, mostly beige and white and that creamy yellow color so many suburbs seem to love, had dried in a pattern that closely resembled a Rorschach. The knees of both legs were worn through and the skin below was covered in an ugly tangle of thick grime and matted hair. He had on a dark green hoodie, hood up, which had retained only a ghost of its former color. It had probably never been a cheery mint but the hoodie’s original color had very likely been a few shades lighter than its present state. Thick, greasy lengths of hair hung inside the hood framing the frostbitten tip of his nose. I was very glad that the sleeves swallowed his hands up because I doubted they would have been spared the harshness of winter.
I still had not managed any movement, but all of the observations told me that the wheels were turning in my head. I could feel my thoughts trying to gain traction.
There was blood on my knife (I had come to the conclusion at some point that the knife he was holding was my own) and none of it had dried.
One word whispered through my thoughts again and again and again and again. Blood. There was blood on the knife in his hands. Back and forth he rocked, sawing gently through his own thigh. Thin rivulets of blood ran down his leg, spilled over my counter, and dribbled down to the floor.
I gagged and closed my eyes as tightly as I could manage, telling myself not to throw-up. I dropped to one knee and still needed to prop myself up with my right hand. I opened my eyes and the world wobbled like it had drunk far more than was good for it, but if the intruder noticed he paid no mind. He was managing to stay silently seated through it all.
He seemed so unaware; almost catatonic. Were it not so impossible, I might have thought he had not noticed me at all. The commotion I had caused coming through the front door had not stirred him from his reverie, nor had my stumbling about a moment ago. That fact alone unnerved me more than any other. There was something wrong with this man. I was completely sure that he was unbalanced and sooner or later something would set him off.
The intruder continued rocking.
Back and forth.
Back and forth.
The knife in his hand rocked with him, no longer able to open any new wounds, just slowly shredding exposed tissue. Sooner or later he would hit bone. I wondered if he would keep cutting even then. I wished I knew how long it would take him to bleed out when he inevitably hit the big artery that ran through each leg. I wished I knew how long it would take him to hit that artery.
Tears blurred my vision and mucus built up in my nose, I blinked and sniffled. A cramp in my calf relented. The return of bodily functions continued with my bladder. It released. My entire body was on pins and needles like I had managed to let everything go to sleep at once. My hand scrambled into my pocket and gripped my phone. It took three tries for my thumb to actually unlock the phone. The phone chirped happily; glad to finally be of service.
The intruder turned his head, slowly. The motion was every bit as trance-like as his rocking. The frostbite covered far more than just the tip of his nose. It spread across his face like he was blushing with ice water instead of blood. His eyes were dark, his pupils pushing the irises into near nonexistence. He blinked. Recognition flickered in his eyes and then faded away again like a radio station from one town over. He drew the knife up to eye-level and stared, turning it over and watching the light play off the blade. Recognition tuned back in and the intruder buried the knife into his throat. A sheet of blood poured over his hand and down my counter. He twisted the knife once and fell from the counter. Blood pooled around him, expanding in-time to his heart’s inane beating. The linoleum floor had driven the knife sideways, ripping half his throat out.
I found my voice and screamed until my throat bled.
The police lead me out of my apartment and sat me down in the lobby with a Styrofoam cup of coffee and a wool blanket. Sometime later a young patrolman was brought to me by an older man. The patrolman apologized awkwardly. Apparently he had nearly shot me when I had not put my hands on my head as ordered. I nodded and the older man led the patrolman away.
The older man came back later and introduced himself as the detective in-charge of my situation. He shook my hand and asked me a few questions. I must have given him the right answers because he wandered off amiably enough.
Another indiscriminate amount of time later, the detective came back. I caught his name this time, Detective Riley. He looked tired and rumpled. His overcoat still had dark patches on it from the falling snow and his graying hair was not staying parted properly. He kept rubbing at the stubble on his jaw like he was apologizing for it being there. He told me that nothing was official, but between the two of us it was looking a lot like a drug-related incident. This year’s winter was exceptionally harsh and much of the transient population was literally freezing to death in the streets. This guy had probably taken something—Meth addiction can be nasty—and then gotten himself lost and sought shelter. He had probably wandered the apartment building until he found an unlocked door and then gone off the deep end. Riley said he’s seen drugs do all kinds of screwy shit to people’s minds. The guy had most assuredly been in a haze through all of it. His hand was warm on my shoulder, even through the blanket.
“I’m sorry about all this, but we are still going to need to take an official statement from you. Maybe tomorrow we can set something up, give yourself a little time to level out. And of course the city will offer you counseling if you’d like.”