The urgent sound of something wrapping upon wood spliced through the silence and awoke me. I sat up in bed, a puzzled look forming on my haggard face. The knocking persisted; intent, it seemed, on getting my attention. I groggily removed the covers, stood, and made my way to the source of the noise: my bedroom door.
I reached out, finding the knob and grasping it in the dark. I inched it slowly to the right and heard it click, and then very cautiously I opened it a crack and peered out, not sure what I would find, if anything.
"Danny!" A wild, wide-open eye peered right back at me inches away on the other side of the door. I let out a cry mixed with surprise and fright and stumbled backward, losing my balance in the process, and fell over. The door flew open. The light switched on, and I squeezed my eyes shut.
"Danny?" The voice repeated, only in a slightly perplexed tone. It was clear and familiar to me now. It belonged to Albert Cod.
Albert Cod is a writer. He's also my insane neighbor. But like any insane man, he denies it, declaring me narrow-minded because I don't understand his genius thinking.
I cupped my hand and held it over my eyes to shield them from the light, then opened them. When I looked up, Albert was standing over me with a proffered hand.
"Why are you wearing a ski mask?" I asked, taking in the mask on his face and the black apparel he was clothed in. "How'd you get into my house?" I added, because that was a question that needed answering, too. Shaking my head to deny the help, I stood up off the ground and sat down on the edge of my bed.
"I broke in. I'm robbing your house." He said it so calmly and matter-of-factly, as if he'd said, 'I got a pet dog. His name is Sparky. He's a yellow lab and he's gorgeous. Would you like to meet him?' He even seemed proud of this criminal accomplishment.
"Wait, sorry. Did I hear you correctly? Did you say you were breaking into my house?"
He nodded and smiled, while my face just twisted up into one big metaphorical question mark.
I shook my head. "You're crazy."
Mr. Cod laughed and disagreed. "It's for my new novel about a street urchin who breaks into people's houses at night and steals things in order to keep himself alive. Sometimes he sells them to make money, other times he just takes the food in the fridge or the blankets to keep himself warm and well-fed."
"So why did you wake me up? Did you want to kidnap me, too, or something?" If I'd been more awake and in a better mood, I'd have given a haughty laugh at his crazy antics.
See, this kind of thing was typical of him. Not breaking into my house. I mean doing crazy things in order to understand and accurately describe the situations his characters are in. He's taken sword lessons, spent a week in the desert, and purposely let a poisonous snake bite him. He's nearly drowned himself, broken his wrist, and driven into a tree, and he's been doing so for over twelve years, starting with his first and only successful novel. I've only been his neighbor for seven years, however. Why I've tolerated this much or why I haven't contacted the local insane asylum yet is a growing question in my mind, and an idea that becomes evermore favorable with each passing day in which events like these occur.
Another laugh bubbled out of his mouth, and I winced at how loud it was. "No, no, Danny. I woke you up because I need you to catch me."
"Huh? That makes no sense." You know that look that dogs give you when they don't understand something? The one where they cock their head to the side and their eyes clearly say, 'What're you talking about?' That's the look I was giving my neighbor right now.
"Unfortunately for my character, he gets caught one night. I've never been caught red-handed break"
"Wasn't there that one time
?" I recalled a time when he'd sneaked into a woman's home because he was trying to emulate a situation in which his main character's friend had been murdered, and he were trying to find the culprit. Believing that his friend's girlfriend might be responsible, he'd sneaked inside her house and searched for clues, only to be caught in the act by the prime suspect herself. Albert had been caught, as well, then sprayed in the eyes with a can of mace and thrown out the door by the woman's body-building husband.
"No, nothing like this has ever happened in any of my novels."
"Oh, all right then." Whatever. "So what, did your street urchin steal from his neighbor, too?"
"Not exactly. He meets a girl one dayhe doesn't let her know he is a thief, thoughand she happens to mention where she lives. He decides to rob her home. He's caught by her, and needless to say, she's quite appalled and surprised."
"You know I'm not a woman, right?"
"Quite certain, yes. But I don't know very many women whose houses I can rob."
"Right." I said slowly, pretending to understand his peculiar logic. "You're lucky Laura isn't over tonight. She'd have gotten out the mace." Laura is my girlfriend, who certainly is no damsel in distress. She's nearly a black belt and she always carries a can of mace with her everywhere she goes.
He nodded fervently in agreement. "Yes. Well, anyways, you've caught me. You should call the police. I would."
"But you're my neighbor. Have you even really stolen anything, Mr. Cod?" I asked.
Mr. Cod turned out his pants pockets and let a heavy, golden paper weight in the shape of an elephant fall out and thump onto the carpeted floor of my bedroom. I laughed out loud. "Are you kidding? No, no you aren't. Clearly, you aren't. You know what? I don't care. Take it if you want. I'll come by for it tomorrow, I suppose. I hope you had fun playing thief, but I'm going back to bed."
"Aren't you going to call the police on me? I broke into your house. Stole something valuable."
"That thing?" I glanced down at the golden elephant paper weight. "That cost me ten bucks, if that. I told you, you can take it. It'll be more realistic for you that way."
"Well, if you insist," he said, sounding uncertain and bemused.
"I do. I'll come by tomorrow for it. Good night." I moved from the edge of the bed to the middle and lied down. I trusted he could see himself out if he'd broken in. "Turn the light off while you're on your way out."
Sure, no problem," he said hesitantly. He picked up the paper weight, faced the door, turned out the lights, and left. The bedroom door clicked shut.
I woke to the buzz of my alarm clock. Slapping a languid hand upon the off button, I arose, glancing at the time. 10:05 am. Sunlight glistened through the window beside the bed and reflected upon the opposite wall. I rubbed my eyes and tossed the covers aside.
After showering, getting dressed, and combing out my hair which needed a cut, I headed down the hall and to the kitchen for something to eat, only to greet a nearly completely empty house.
"What the Hell?" was all I could think of to say as that confused dog look times ten came across my face. I walked around, checking every room only to find everything but the sofas, three bookshelves, and a coffee table remaining. Oh, and the TV. But the DVD player was gone, the VCR, the books that had occupied the bookshelves, the silverware, pictures that had hung upon the walls, a couple of vases Laura had given for me, and much more.
It took me a few moments to remember what had happened in the very late hours of the evening, but when I did, you can bet I swore so profusely a pirate would be embarrassed. And a moment later, I was running out the front door and sprinting across the lawn to Mr. Cod's.
"Danny!" He answered cheerfully when I knocked angrily on the door. Seriously?
"My house is practically empty." Explain yourself.
"Yes, I know. I stole everything I could."
"Seriously? I thought you were joking! I thought you would take the stupid paper weight and leave!"
"Oh, no, that was hardly realistic enough! In fact, you didn't do a very good job of catching me, either. Your performance wasn't anywhere close to acceptable." Whether he was giving the results of an inspection or seriously telling me he decided to steal everything in my house aside from a few large objects in order to place himself in his street urchin character's shoes made little difference. His tone could have suggested either. And that, coupled with the fact that he was insulting my role-playing abilities, was beginning to really tick me off.
"Where's my stuff, Mr. Cod?"
"No worries, it's all in my garage. I didn't break anything. I was thinking about it, though."
"I want my stuff." I ordered, quite upset with him. I marched around to the garage and lifted the door to reveal boxes full of my stuff. Mr. Cod appeared silently behind me, startling me when he spoke.
"Need help carrying it back?"
"No. Definitely not."
"Going to call the cops?"
"No. You're my neighbor. And I don't think they'd do anything about it."
"You're a wonderfully kind person, Danny. Thank you so much. I couldn't afford to go to prison! I've got to finish writing my novel! Can you imagine me spending time in prison?" He cried. I thought he might start leaking tears of joy.
I picked up one of the many boxes, ignoring him and his nonsensical prattling, and marched back toward my house. I'm washing my hands of this nonsense.
"You sure you don't need help?" He called.
"Positive!" I declared. As I kicked the door, which had been only partially closed, open, I pondered whether Laura would be willing to let me move in with her. If she has any care for my mental well-being, I expect she'll agree to it, or so help me, Sanity.