Experience: I woke up with a stranger standing over me
‘I woke myself with a short, sharp breath and without thinking sat bolt upright. There was a man standing over the bed.’
It was the Easter break and my husband and I had taken our four young children for a week’s holiday in Portugal. We had rented a villa in a hotel complex near the sea, which offered lots of activities and seemed an ideal balance of fun and relaxation.
It was the penultimate night of the trip and as I tucked the elder two into bed, Laura, 13 and Charles, 10, I wished we were spending a couple more days there. My husband worked in London and hardly got time to spend with the children; this had been a well deserved break for him.
I left Laura and Charles and went to check on the younger two, Alice, 8 and Claudia, 4. They were already sleeping. I kissed them both on their foreheads, shut the door softly behind me and went back to my room. Max (my husband) was reading, I kissed him goodnight and fell asleep.
At three-thirty am a flash of light woke me up, it shone through the room’s French windows and then disappeared. “Max,” I nudged my husband, “Max, did you see that light?”
“It’s probably fireworks. Go back to sleep.” I did.
Twenty minutes later, I woke myself with a short, sharp breath and without thinking sat bolt upright. There was a man standing over the bed.
I tried to speak but I was too frightened. He was at the end of the bed, his hands were in my purse, he was searching through my belongings for something to steal; he lifted up my pearl necklace that my grandmother had left me. I found my voice.
“Max,” I screamed, “Max, there’s a man in our room.”
My husband woke, he was confused and disoriented: “Whaa, Whaat, wait let me get my spectacles.”
The man dropped my pearls and ran from the room, he must have been barefoot – he made absolutely no noise. I didn’t think; I chased. The Police would call my actions stupid the next day, perhaps they were, but I was furious, all I wanted to do was to get hold of this man, I needed to catch him.
I sprinted after him down the corridor and up the stairs, but half-way up my knee (that I’d broken the previous year) gave way. I collapsed and lost sight of the thief. Max shot past me and continued the chase, but it was too late – the man was already out of the villa and sprinting down the street into the dark.
My knee felt like it was going to explode and then a lump of bile rose in my throat. ‘The children! The children!’
I launched myself back down the stairs and ripped open the first door. Laura and Charles were there, I ripped open the second, Claudia was there but Alice wasn’t.
I pulled off her bed sheet, ‘oh god, oh god,’ my brain whirred, where was she? Then I noticed the sliding door – it was open. He’d come in through their room.
“Alice! Alice!” I was absolutely terrified, ‘my child, my child’ is all I could think.
“Yes Mummy,” a little voice sounded behind me. Alice walked out of the bathroom; I grabbed her and gave her a huge hug.
‘Thank god, thank god, they’re okay, they’re okay.’
Max came in with Laura and Charles, who had woken up in my search for Alice, Claudia was up too. We sat on the bed and tried to calm them down.
“It’s okay, Mummy and Daddy are here, it’s okay.”
I pretended everything was fine, but as I pulled the door to and saw that the man had unscrewed it from the outside, I struggled to hold it together. This man, this stranger, had come through my children’s room, and I had no idea. He had unscrewed their door and I had heard nothing – he had been silent, completely silent.
This stranger that stood over me could have done anything, he could have taken them and I wouldn’t have known. Maybe that was his plan, maybe that’s what he was going to do, but then I woke up. I felt sick. I had been so oblivious.
We went back to England, back home and the children went back to school. The image of the man at the end of my bed took me months to shake; I would wake most nights convinced he was in the room.
Even now, fifteen years later, I still shudder at the thought of what could have been.
* As told to Alice Audley