The Prowler

When the sun goes down the prowlers come out. I know this from personal experience, spending many a night's surveillance of our neighborhood. We don't live in the seedy districts of the city--where all the criminals lurk, their photos flashing at us from the television--but I am convinced our comfortable suburb is hunting grounds for a most elusive law-breaker. Although I have never seen this man, I have a description of him that will single him out from all the rest of the thugs: he is invisible. Oh, now I am sure that if the sun were up and he were standing right before my eyes, I would see him perfectly--even without my binoculars (for you see, I have found binoculars excellent for scanning the shadows between the houses at night). But after four years of constant sleepless nights, I have come to know him like I know my own wife.

The trouble with Mister Prowler began when my wife and I were married early in October. She moved into my little house and commenced proper decoration. Three weeks later the adventure began. It was a weekend night and I was asleep. My wife, a nocturnal woman, was up watching television. Suddenly she shook me from the bed, her eyes wide and her words fighting from her throat.

"There's somebody in the back yard!" she breathed. I could feel her heart pounding through her veins, so I hastily slipped on my jeans to defend her and our home. Armed with an aluminum baseball bat, I crept into the darkness of the back yard. But after a thorough investigation of the perimeter and detached garage, I was convinced the prowler was long gone. I had to stay up with my wife until she settled down. She explained she had heard somebody walking through the leaves just outside the kitchen window. The next day the sun rose and everything was fine. I was convinced my wife had been watching another slasher movie.

Now if this had been the only incident, I would have dismissed the idea of crime in our neighborhood. Police in this town really have to look for a bust--jaywalkers, expired tags, driving fifteen in a thirty-five zone--and rarely get called to a scene of real action. So when it happened again--not just once more, but several times a week--I told my wife not to wake me unless something really happened. I hoped she would overcome her ridiculous fear. But she was adamant--somebody was sneaking about the house at night--and I too got suspicious.

Since I am usually in bed by ten, I have been unable to witness any of the strange occurrences at night. And if my wife were normal (by this I mean "awake by day, asleep at night"), the prowler might have had more time to get away with whatever evil he was attempting. I was indeed surprised that he continued to harass our home; my wife has very good ears, and I became quicker and quicker to wake, my instincts sharpening my skills at putting my pants on and grabbing the bat (I still cannot rid myself of this habit when the alarm goes off in the morning). Yet I was getting frustrated, and not only because neither the police nor I could yield a suspect (I no longer recommend calling the police: after the seventh visit, they rarely even show up). Even more discouraging was that I had yet to catch glimpse of this prowler or uncover a single shred of hard, physical evidence. It was time to play the prowler's game.

Last summer, the prowler disturbed my wife's peace one time too many. I was ready for him. In the back yard--his favorite lurking place--I rigged up traps: fishing string stretched across the lawn to yank pots into washtubs; motion detectors that could flood the city with blinding light; tomato stakes driven into the ground at strategic locations; wiring attached to the top of the fence, electrically charged by a tractor battery; and a chow trained to bite before barking. I got home from work and took a long nap to prepare for the night ahead. As the sun fell behind the skyscrapers of downtown, I assumed my station, a platform in the oak tree.

I had built this structure from plans in a United States Marine Corp Survival Skills manual and it provided maximum concealment, vigil of the entire sector, and a position from where I could make immediate offensive movements in any direction. Wearing camouflage fatigues, I was virtually invisible. Even my wife, who has perfect vision, could only see me through binoculars. From the kitchen window she could use the flashlight to signal emergency, or if the baseball team scored.

Monday, the first night of my operation, nothing happened except that one of the pots (balanced on the birdbath) fell into a washtub. Tuesday night, the mosquitoes located my hiding spot. By Wednesday night, Sinclair the watchdog was lonely, and he paced at the base of my tree, or barked up at the crinkling of my potato chip bag. After work Thursday I was unable to take my nap; the gentleman next door had shocked himself on my fence and I had to remove the wiring while he watched angrily, pruning shears in hand. But Friday night I resumed my watch--only to have a windstorm ceaselessly trigger the motion detector. The floodlights blinded my eyes, and as I started to go inside for the night, my foot caught a tomato stake and I was left with a nasty cut on my shin and a visit to the emergency room.

Our neighbors heard about my battle against crime and they were inspired to join the effort. By the following spring all of the houses on our block were equipped with home security systems. Big watchdogs became popular. My wife held weekly crime-watch meetings at the church. Soon the prowler was no longer heard from, and my wife began to relax. She was cured of her sleep disorder and could retire at decent hours; now that the neighborhood was safe, there was no need for her to stay up and watch.

A month ago I gave up crime fighting. I'd already done my part--four years of bad sleep and three thousand dollars of home security equipment. Finally I took down all the gadgetry and sold it at the pawnshop. As I laid myself down for the night, I said, "Tonight I will sleep. The prowler is off to quieter neighborhoods." But as my eyes began to close, my sleep was broken by the sudden brightness of half a dozen floodlights. Dogs exploded into a cacophony of angry baying. Neighbors lurched open their windows and called to each other.

Peering across the bed at my wife, I saw she was fast asleep. I could not sleep.

And still tonight I cannot sleep, the floodlights flashing, car alarms wailing in the night, dogs barking. It is the same every night, except nobody pays attention to it all. If there's ever a night that none of these home protections are set off, then perhaps somebody would investigate. But no such luck for me, the vigil continues.

As my wife snores beside me, I pray for sleep. And I pray to God to exchange it all--the motion detectors, the floodlights, the alarms, the dogs--and give us back our gentle prowler.

About the author:

Besides writing, Brady has studied mythology and many ancient or obscure languages, especially Old Norse, Finnish, Welsh and Hittite. He enjoys camping with his family, hiking in the Rocky Mountains, Japanese gardening, and playing guitar. Currently, he is a computer programmer for a national trucking company. Along with several short stories, Brady has written a fantasy novel, The Black Jester. Brady lives in Independence, Missouri with his wife Angela and daughters Anna and Victoria.