Sara Vanden Berge

I realize the time for scary stories has come and gone, but I’ve got my own terrifying, real life experience to tell.

It happened last Saturday night. My family took my son to Chili’s to celebrate his 17th birthday. After dinner, we all went our separate ways. My daughter went to spend the night with her grandma and my boys went to the Tarleton football game.

I was the only one left with nothing to do - and I was thrilled. My plans included a couple of hours at home by myself, a glass of chardonnay, bubble bath and a frivolous magazine.

I raced home.

We live in the country and the driveway leading up to our house is fairly long. Our garage door was broken and had been left open while we were at dinner. (Yes, we are those trusting people who live in the country and sometimes neglect to lock up the house properly.) I pulled into the garage and entered the house through a door that leads to the laundry room. I flipped on the light and heard a noise. I turned to my right and saw the door at the other end of the laundry room leading to the backyard slam shut.

A wave of terror washed through me. Someone had been inside the house and had just run out the back door.

I stood frozen for several seconds, trying to figure out what to do. My stash of butcher knives was only a few feet away inside the kitchen, but I was too afraid to go inside the house any further.

My other option was to run outside and try to get in my car, but the garage was open and I was afraid the burglar/rapist/knife-wielding maniac would nab me and chop me into little bits.

I was in full panic mode.

I decided my best bet was to try and get away. I was hoping to do it quietly so the killer lurking outside wouldn’t see me, but I was like a bull in a china cabinet.

I banged into the ping-pong table and fumbled with the door before I finally got back inside my car, locked the doors and barreled out of the garage. I was shaking to the point of convulsion when I called my husband.

“I just walked into the house and someone ran out the back door,” I said.

“I’ll be right home. Call 911,” he said.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Why didn’t she call 911 first? The answer is simple: I have no idea.

I told the 911 operator what happened and gave him directions to our house. He assured me that deputies were on the way and advised me to stay away from the house.

No problemo.

My husband called back.

“Where are you?” he asked.

I told him I was parked down the road at our neighbor’s house.

“Don’t stop,” he said. “Keep moving! You don’t want to be a sitting duck!”

A sitting duck?

I peered out the window into the darkness and tore out of the driveway, determined to out-drive my would-be attacker.

A few minutes later, the deputies arrived and told me to follow them back to the house.

They went inside to check things out and about that time my husband and sons came tearing down the road. I was shaking and sniveling like a baby. My teeth were chattering so bad that I could hardly talk.

The deputies informed us that nothing inside the house appeared to be touched.

“The beds are all made,” one of them said.

So the killer wasn’t sleepy? What a relief.

We all ambled back inside and stood in the laundry room while I re-enacted the chain of events.

The door that slammed shut was open when I showed the deputies how I entered the house. When I shut the door I came in, the draft caught the back door and slammed it closed.

Everyone stared at me.

I sniveled again and the investigation came to a screeching halt.

The intruder was the wind.

I was speechless.

We figured the back door had been left slightly open when we left for dinner. When I entered the laundry room later that evening, the draft from the garage was what likely pulled the back door shut.

I managed to choke out an apology to the deputies, who, by the way, were quick to respond, thorough and supremely forgiving.

“It’s no problem, ma’am. Better safe than sorry,” one of them said.

Hours later, my legs were still shaking when I crawled into bed.

There would be no wine, bubbles or reading that evening - and that was OK.

I was just happy to be alive.

Sara Vanden Berge is managing editor of the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at 968-2379, ext. 240