The Case of the Closing Door

It was a beautiful winter’s night, last night. Clear, calm and just cold enough to remind you that it’s winter, yet not so cold as to make you uncomfortable.

The kind of winter night, when you’re out walking, everything seems exaggerated. Your footsteps on the crisp snow crunch quite loud. I don’t know if that’s the result of the calmness or the cold. You are, at once, both in a sort of solitude and a part of everything around you. Nature, even under all the snow, and within all the quiet, and in the dead of night, very much seems alive and ready to offer you experiences. It’s lovely.

I usually take Dughall, our dog, out for his final walk of the day anytime between 9:30 and my bedtime, whenever that may be. Last night, I didn’t get around to taking him out until 1am. Usually, it’s a quick jaunt within our yard, to allow him to do his business, and then back in, quick as you like. But last night, because it was so nice, I decided to take him across the street, to the neighbourhood park. He seemed pleased with this. I was pleased with this.

Like I say, it was a nice night.

So we take a lovely little walk around the park. Business gets done and disposed of. We’re on our way back home. Still in the park, now maybe around 100m away from our driveway, I hear a noise, a little noise, a prolonged noise, a familiar noise, that seems to be coming from the direction of our house. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it on a “normal” night, from this distance. But I had been taking notice of the quietness of the air, and how easy it is to hear distances you normally can’t hear. It’s as if you can hear nothing for miles. So maybe, because I had my ears attuned to listening, I was ready to hear it.

I look up, towards our house. Our yard. Our garage. And that’s when I see our garage door. It’s closing. That’s what’s making the noise. It finishes closing, and again all is quiet except for a distant siren that suddenly appears and seems closer than it is.

Huh. That sure is odd, I think to myself. Why is the garage door closing?

I am positive it was closed when Dughall and I began our walk. I know, because I looked at it, and noted it was closed. I often do that, at night, notice whether the garage door is open or closed, because maybe two or three times in the history of us living here, it had been inadvertently left open overnight. So, I almost always look to check, before I go to bed. Last night, I definitely checked at the beginning of our walk, and acknowledged it was closed.

Why did the garage door close? Also, maybe more importantly, why did it get opened, so that it could be closed? Even more importantly, who opened and then closed the door?

My first thought is that my wife, Karyn, woke up, sensed that nobody was in the house at the unusual hour, got out of bed, came down the stairs to the first floor, went to our back porch, and for some reason, pressed the button on our garage door remote that lives beside the back door. To see if we’re in the garage, maybe? Even as I’m thinking up this initial reason as to why the door was opened and closed, I dismiss it. Karyn would never get out of the comfy, cozy bed at 1am, unless it was to pee. And even then, it would be only to pee. Even still, I look in through our front picture window, to see if I can see movement from her on the first floor. I don’t see any movement at all.

My next thought, then, is that it’s a ne’er-do-well. A stranger up to no good, obviously. A thief, a robber, an angry miscreant. This thought takes hold. It becomes more than a thought. It’s a certainty. It becomes the only answer. I don’t like this answer. I assume it’s an answer I’ll have to respond to.

Dughall and I arrive to the end of our driveway. All is still and quiet. I find myself in something of a high-alert status. I peer with intent at the garage, as if to see through it. I take note of everything around me, specifically recognizing that I don’t see anyone at all. I am still glancing through the windows of our house, looking for movement from Karyn. Nothing.

The garage door is closed and I assume there is someone in the garage. It’s more than an assumption. It is a foregone conclusion. I have never been more certain of anything in my life. As I jump to this conclusion, I realize that a main reason for jumping to this conclusion is to ready myself for the inevitable interaction and altercation with said intruder. It’s a survival technique, I assume, to plan and prepare for the danger. Makes sense. The foolish thing would be to assume nobody is in the garage. Must be prepared to battle.

Why are they there, in the garage? Dughall and I quietly and carefully make our way up the driveway. Dughall oblivious to the danger that is nearby. I take a bit of comfort in his disinterest in the situation. That means there is nobody, because the dog would sense it, right? Then I immediately become disappointed in Dughall in not being able to recognize such a dangerous and nearby threat. Don’t blame the dog, I tell myself. He’s innocent in this.

And I may need him in a moment to help attack the intruder.

Did they do it to get in from the cold? We are now quite close to the garage. All is quiet and still. I assume they know that we’re outside. Even though I tried to be quiet, the crunch of the crisp snow gave away my presence. Part of me thinks that maybe I’m making noise on purpose, to inform the intruder that I am out here and I’m ready for anything that they might throw at me.

Maybe they opened the side door? I look around the yard, at the snow on the ground. I note that there are no footprints in the snow. Definitely none around the side door (that never gets used, even in summer). So they definitely entered through the remote controlled overhead garage door.

How did they know to open the door? We have two remote controls for the door. One is in our car, which is in the garage, so they couldn’t have opened the door with that remote. They also couldn’t have opened the door with the hard-wired door button that is on the inside of the garage, for the same reason. That leaves the remote control that is in our back porch, right beside the back door. Obviously they used this one to open the door.

Why do they want into the garage? Thievery? Surely there is more of value within the house.

And that’s when my expectations shift to now believing they are actually in the house. They are in the house. I can’t discount the garage though. Dammit! Where in the hell are they?

I am quite a bit freaked out (for me) at all this. Yet at the same time trying to rationalize the absurdity of there being anybody lurking anywhere nearby. My freaked-out self admonishes my rational self for trying to discount the obvious danger. Freak-out is winning.

I formulate a plan. I’ll, carefully, very carefully, enter the back porch. With the dog. If there is someone in the house, near the back porch, Dughall will sense it. Right? That’s the extent of my plan at the moment. I’ll formulate more of a plan once I accomplish this initial plan.

We enter the back porch. I am both hyper-alert to my environment, and also to the mood of Dughall. He seems a bit off. Like he’s aware of something. Maybe he’s just picking up on my heightened and scaredy-cat emotions, my rational self says. My freaking-out self tells my rational self to shut up or it’ll get us all killed. I honestly believe that.

We’re in the back porch. Wait! Was the basement door opened like that when we left? We leave the door to the basement partially opened so that our cat Mafia can freely go down there to do her business, and also to get away from Dughall. There’s no way to tell how open the basement door was when we left, my rational self pipes up. THERE’S NO WAY TO KNOW HOW OPEN THE BASEMENT DOOR WAS WHEN WE LEFT, my freaked-out self yells into my brain.

I’m still alive. Dughall is still alive. Nobody has attacked us in the back porch. I take this as a good sign, and I can sense my rational self starting to take a bit more control of my emotions. My freaked-out self tells me to stand perfectly still, in the back porch, and listen with all my senses, for any unusual sounds or movements from within the house.

I stand perfectly still for probably two minutes. I am hyper-listening, and I hear nothing. I begin to relax a bit. Just a little. I still fully expect to be attacked.

Starting to feel a bit more at ease, being in the seemingly-safe confines of our house, I think what to do next. I decide to unleash the dog, who is now, no doubt, wondering what kind of game is this guy playing at? I unleash him, and he hangs around. I kind of want him to go into the kitchen, living room, etc, have a run around and bark to me if there’s anyone unexpected in there. But, no, he just hangs around me, in the back porch. I can’t blame him. I don’t want to go in there either.

I turn my attention back to the garage. My brain is now starting to tell me that there is nobody in the garage. There is nobody in the house. The smart part of my brain, however, keeps asking How did the door open and close? I don’t have an answer and I remain on high alert. Maybe I imagined the whole thing, I try to tell myself.

No, say the facts. The door definitely opened and close. I realize this because the lights inside the garage are on. Still on. They go on automatically when the door opens, and stay on for about five minutes. I look through the two windows of the lighted garage that face our back door, and I look for movement from within. The windows are frosted over, however, and I can’t see anything. I make the assumption I’d still see shadows or something. But nothing happens inside the garage. They are smart for not moving around in there, I surmise. Eventually, the lights go out. I put this down to the automatic timer, and not the intruder trying to trick me by turning off the lights.

It’s all dark in there. I decide I’ll have to open the garage door and investigate the inside of the garage, otherwise I’ll not be sleeping anytime soon. I press the button and the garage door opens. Nothing rushes out. I almost wish someone would rush out and run away. But no, they’re still in there.

I open the back door, and carefully make my way to the open garage door. Maybe a ten meter walk? It seemingly takes forever. I once again take note of the snow around the yard and the lack of footprints. Even as that sight should calm me, my freak-out is rising once again, with every step I make towards the door.

Finally, I peak into the garage. I see nobody. Just the car taking up its space, and darkness towards the far end of the garage. I stand still for a few moments to see if I sense anything. I assume they could be either crouching in the darkness up there, or they could be secreted away inside the car. I inch my way to the back passenger side door. I put my hand out in preparation of opening it. I can’t see inside the car because of dirt and ice and frost on the windows. I pull my hand back and look for a weapon nearby. I see none, other than a cumbersome snow shovel. Not helpful. I’ll have to use my bare hands, I decide.

I put my hand out to the car door again. I pause. Then, with a speed I did not know I possessed, I grabbed the door handle, opened the door, and looked inside.

Nothing. Nobody.

It’s like a flood of relief poured out of me. Much of the freak-out left my brain. Yes, there still could be someone crouching deep inside the garage, but I no longer was convinced of such.

I stayed quiet and still for a minute, inside the garage, just to make sure I could sense no movement or noise or breathing, other than my own. Satisfied there was nothing there, I pressed the hard-wired button to close the door, and I left the garage.

I look at our back door, and there is Dughall, looking through, looking at me, no doubt wondering if I had lost my marbles. I take it as a good sign, him being there, that he doesn’t sense anyone else in the house. I enter the back porch, pet and love my dog, and relax a bit more. I take my outdoor clothes off, and we enter into the rest of the house.

I am still quite wary. I take my time entering the kitchen, looking around to the other rooms. Dughall, though, trundles right into the living room and looks back to me, waiting, as if things were back to normal, for me to follow him. I do. Nobody is there. Nobody was ever there. Surely that’s the case. I ease my mind a bit more.

Dughall jogs into his crate, as he does at the end of every day, and I close him in for the night. My mind more and more at ease. I take a quick walk around the first floor, just to be sure. Nothing there. I decide I don’t have what I need, emotionally, to take a trip to the basement. If there is someone down there, I decide, they win, and I will willingly let them kill us in our sleep.

“Okay Google, good night”, I say, and the house goes dark. I start up the stairs to the second floor and the bedrooms. I allow my freak-out to rise just enough to let me sense and acknowledge the apparent emptiness of the extra bedrooms and the bathroom, and I then enter our master bedroom. Karyn is asleep.

I get ready for bed, forcing myself to quiet my mind. But before I hop into bed, I take one last look out our bedroom window, which looks out upon our garage door. I look for a minute or so, just peaking through, so as not to be seen. I see nothing and so I get into bed.

I lay awake for some time, again trying to calm my mind and allow myself to fall to sleep.

I finally fall asleep at some point, but only after having this thought run over and over in my head, like counting-sheep: But HOW did the garage door open and close?

Today, I am no closer to knowing the answer. But I don’t see anything missing. I don’t see any evidence of anyone ever being in our garage or house last night. Granted, I haven’t looked in the basement yet today, but I’ll assume everything is okay.

Writing this out today, I had the thought that, in many ways, this is probably how many women spend the entirety of their lives thinking and wondering and worrying about their safety from an assailant. Always expecting and bracing for something bad to happen.

That must be exhausting.

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