He was a lurker, an expert lurker, my grandfather.
He lurked in the dark, and during the day he lurked in empty corners.
My earliest memory is of him, sitting on my bed, in the dark. He was smiling.
I would scrunch my eyes tight to make it darker, anything but see his shiny white teeth, smiling at me.
I would hold my breath and count to ten, over and over, until he went away. I did a lot of counting in the dark. By the time I started school, I was a was very, very good at counting.
God I hate the dark. Monsters come out in the dark.
But it didn’t have to be dark, he lurked in the daytime too.
Even in a house that was full of people, he could find an empty corner that was just out of view to get me. He was an expert at it.
He didn’t seem to care that it was high risk to take a small child just out of earshot and breath Fisherman’s Friend and brill cream all over a tiny, blonde head.
He must have been untouchable. I must have been meant to stay quiet. So I did.
As soon as I walked through the door of that house to start a visit or a holiday, I would remember that I was not going to be able to sleep again, and the fear would rise up. A sick sense of dread that stole my breath, and made every sound amplify, and every smell a bit more pungent.
I wasn’t sure but, even then, I got the feeling that I wasn’t the only one in our family who was trying to stay on guard when they crossed that threshold, and I wished that someone would notice him constantly circling me. But they didn’t. Or maybe they were too busy watching out for him circling them too.
I always prayed that an aunty or cousin would come around the corner and save me, but I knew that shame also lurked in empty corners and I didn’t want to get into trouble. Maybe it was my fault for not being more careful. Regardless, no one ever passed by at the right time, so he never stopped.
I think I understood very early that I was a member of a family where some of us knew there was a monster in the house, and others thought there was a hero. I wasn’t sure though, so I stayed quiet, and I tried to stay on guard.
I wondered if I might have been a sacrifice – the others were okay if he was focused on me. But the older I got, the more I realized that his house was full of empty corners. And that it was also full of aunties, and cousins, and guests who might also have been praying for someone to save them from one of those corners too.
Those of us who knew didn’t talk – no one told. We probably all wanted to, I don’t know why we didn’t, and the monster grew.
One day I was in that house, in the bath, while everyone else was around the kitchen preparing for dinner, or playing in the front garden. I felt safe for the first time that day because I’d been a clever girl and remembered to lock the bathroom door behind me. But then I heard the chilling scrape of the window above the bath dragging open and his shadow appeared from behind the frosted glass.
He’d got me.
And climbing through that window, and into the bath water I was sitting in below, was no deterrent at all. Wet ankles weren’t going to slow him down when there was a little girl locked inside a bathroom and nobody nearby to hear him. He slid the window shut again as he stood over me, and the smell of Fisherman’s Friend and brill cream made me choke as I tried not to cry.
He smiled like one of the sly dingoes that hunted the sand dunes only a few hundred meters away from the window he’d climbed through.
He always smiled when he cornered his prey, but he was hunting a little girl, and no matter how hard I tried to keep away from him, and keep away from empty corners, he’d always find one.
Stay still. Don’t breath. Don’t look him in the eye. Maybe he’ll be done soon.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. And again.