I first met Michael during a supplementary lecture at university. I only attended it for a few easy credits. Michael, I would learn, was in the same boat as me.
Over the first two months, we bonded and eventually went on a date together.
He wasn't exactly my type, to be honest. Usually, I liked the outgoing, conversational type. Michael, on the other hand, seemed to be a true introvert.
During the very first lecture, he sat at the end of the small lecture hall. He listened and didn't interact with anyone.
It was only after a while that he warmed up to the rest of us. We exchanged a few sparse words, but we hit it off pretty well.
As time passed, I learned how similar our interests were. I loved photography and French literature and soon found out that he enjoyed both of these things as well. It was quite odd for an engineering major, but also intriguing.
It didn't take long for us to become quite friendly, hanging out at the cafeteria after the lecture was over. Soon it became a bit more. We officially started our relationship after our second date.
Things were perfect, at least, for a while.
There was one thing that was quite off-putting about Michael, his jealousy. I wanted to hang out with friends? He'd asked if other guys were there if so he'd tag along. I was meeting up with other students to work on a project? Same thing.
Even after we talked about it, his attitude didn't change much. Eventually, it turned into a big argument, and he promised to better himself.
I knew it should've been a major red flag, but I guess I was too enamored to see what was going on.
For a while, I believed in his promise. He didn't seem to be bothered about me going out on my own anymore or at least, he hid his jealousy really well. Either way, I was happy about it.
That was until the night I went out with a group of high school friends. We had a few drinks at a bar and wanted to catch up on old times. After a while, a female friend pointed at a figure near the end of the bar. Apparently, someone had been watching me for a while.
The moment the guy glanced over again, I noticed him instantly. It was Michael. I walked up to him and flipped out. At first he tried to tell me it was all a coincidence, but in the end, he admitted he'd been following me around.
I didn't talk to him for a week.
When I finally replied to his messages, he pleaded with me to give him another chance. I reluctantly agreed to meet up in person, and he admitted he went too far. It was all because he loved me so much he said.
Afterward, he took me out on a fantastic date, and I was dumb enough to forgive him. What can I say, I was a silly girl, and I was in love.
That was, until a few weeks later.
I'd stayed over at his place. In the morning he went out to get us some breakfast.
While I put on some coffee, I remembered that I needed to send an email to one of my professors.
I looked around for my phone, but of course, I couldn't find it. I tend to be a bit of a scatterbrain when it comes to my phone, often forgetting where I put it. It didn't help that Michael's apartment was so damn big.
After searching for a while, I went to Michael's laptop.
He didn't like it when I used his things, but since he wasn't around, I told myself it would be alright. It would only take a minute.
I opened up his browser, logged into my account, and began typing out the email. That's when I saw a bookmark folder in the menu bar. The caption simply said, 'Maria.' I smiled a bit, wondering what he'd saved in there. Was it the French poetry site I'd sent him? Or maybe it was one of the photography blogs I'd told him about.
At first, I told myself to ignore it and not to snoop around. Eventually, though, my curiosity won over.
What I found made my heart drop.
There were hundreds of bookmarks in that folder. There were some about French poetry and literature, others about photography, but there was so much more. I found my social media accounts, my account on Reddit, the Facebook groups I'd joined and links to a few Evernote documents.
The first one was titled 'Things she likes.' The document consisted of a complete breakdown of everything I enjoyed. Bands, movies, books, hobbies. It even included things I'd never told him about. Another was a breakdown of my daily and weekly schedule, my classes, my part-time job, the places I frequented and information on all my friends.
I looked through them in a state of shock. I realized what this was. Michael had created a profile of me!
He'd done all this to get closer to me, to make an impression of me? This was sick, disgusting!
I started to look through the rest of his bookmarks, and it wasn't long before I found other, similar folders. There was one named 'Lauren' and another one named 'Kim.' Both of them were almost as detailed as mine!
This freaking creep!
I was so captivated and shocked by all this that I almost missed him returning home. The moment he opened the door, I quickly closed his laptop and started to search for my phone once more.
The moment I found it, I pretended that I'd received a text message and told him I had to leave.
"Michael, I'm sorry, I just got a message by Professor Lindeman! I totally forgot that I'm supposed to meet up with him this morning!" I lied and started to get dressed.
"Really? You've got to leave right now? I was about to make us breakfast. I even got the croissants you like so much!"
I forced myself to smile at him. "Oh babe, that's so sweet! I'd love to stay, but you know how Lindeman can be. God, I can't stand him at times!"
Good going, Maria, good going. I gathered my things and was about to walk to the front door. Before I could, he came over to me and put his arms around me. When he gave me a kiss, I almost cringed back.
The moment I was at the front door, he seemed to notice something.
"Hey, have you been on my laptop?" he called out.
"What? Don't be silly," I said, laughing a little.
"Then why's it closed? I never close it."
Shit, I cursed to myself. Maria, you stupid, stupid idiot. I hadn't even closed the browser I realized.
Before he was even at the laptop, I put my shoes on.
"I really got to go, sorry," I rambled on and opened the door.
"Why?" I heard him ask in a voice completely different from his usual one. It was strained, angry and... scary.
"Why the fuck did you touch my laptop?! Didn't I tell you never to do that?!"
I didn't answer. Instead, I rushed from the apartments and hurried down the stairs. I had to get away. He called after me, but I didn't stop.
Once I was outside, I mingled between the pedestrians and got away as fast as I could. Still, I looked over my shoulder countless times to see if he was coming after me. Thankfully he didn't.
From that day onward I avoided going near any of the places we'd used to hang out at. I didn't even go to that supplementary lecture anymore.
It wasn't much use, though. I ran into him countless times. Each time he told me it wasn't what it had looked like. He'd only put it together once we started dating. It was to prepare for our anniversary. He wanted to surprise me and made a massive list of all the things I enjoyed. This time I didn't believe any of his lies. Instead, I told him he was acting creepy and that I didn't want to see him ever again.
His advances didn't stop. At first, they were civil, but soon they became outright stalking.
Again and again, I saw him. He followed me to my lectures, to the cafeteria and even followed me when I was hanging out with friends... Finally, one day, I exploded. I screamed at him in the middle of a bar to leave me the hell alone. I threatened to call the cops and called him a stalker in front of everyone present. He was kicked out by the bouncers, and a male friend escorted me home.
It didn't help much. From then on, he didn't approach me directly anymore, but I often noticed him nearby, watching me. At the same time, I started to get weird friend requests on Facebook, and my Reddit posts were flooded with strange comments. I knew it was him.
The day I found him inside of my apartment, I finally informed the police. I'd forgotten that he knew where I kept my spare keys, but I'd have never guessed he'd go that far.
It was early in the evening, and I returned from my part-time job to find him in the kitchen, preparing dinner. It was our anniversary, he said. He'd planned it all, and it would be perfect. Just like in old times. I'd forgiven him by now, hadn't I?
I ran and didn't stop until I reached a friend's place. From there, I called the police. The moment we returned to the apartment, Michael was long gone.
I told them everything. The way we met, our relationship, my discovery, the stalking, and what he said when I found him inside. For the time being, they said they'd watch the area. They urged me to get my locks changed and to file a restraining order against him as soon as possible.
My landlord wasn't pleased about the whole thing. When I provided the police documents, he reluctantly agreed to have the locks changed.
In the following days, I filed for a restraining order. I didn't see Michael throughout the whole ordeal, yet it took quite a while before it was put into effect. His parents were wealthy and influential. They tried their best to block my request and to sweep the whole thing under the carpet.
It didn't work. Once the restraining order was put into effect, I was happy to put this whole thing behind me.
Yet, things aren't always that simple. At times I still saw Michael and university. It was never for long, always from afar, and the moment he noticed me, he vanished again. Every time it happened, I shivered.
Some of my friends advised me to talk to the police about it, but a university is a public space. We were both students here. There was no way I could get him banned from campus.
As the weeks went by, the whole thing seemed to slowly settle down. I still saw Michael here and there, but he didn't seem to care anymore.
I wish I could tell you this story ended here. I wish I could've checked this off as nothing but a run-in with an obsessive stalker. However, things turned much, much worse.
Eventually, I didn't see Michael anymore. At least that's what I thought. Yet, there was this strange feeling.
At first, I struck it off as an overactive imagination. There was no dark figure nearby. There was no one following me. It's all in your head Maria, I told myself again and again. When a friend pointed out he saw someone as well, I knew it had to be him.
It was always at night, in the dark, but it was clear someone was following me around.
Michael was a smart guy, fiercely smart even, top of his class, honors and all that. So, of course, I never caught him.
I wasn't sure what he was up to. Was he just watching me, or was he up to something else? I told the police, and they said they'd make sure I was safe, but there wasn't anything else they could do. I had no proof that it was him other than this 'gut feeling' of mine.
One day a coworker of mine approached me near the end of my shift. She asked me if I had a new boyfriend. When I said no, she seemed a bit confused. She told me there'd been a guy outside, clearly waiting for me. When we checked things out again, he was long gone.
Yet again, I couldn't do anything. I had no proof at all.
On the way home, I was anxious the whole time. I hurried from the station to my apartment, looking around constantly. Was he nearby right now?
The moment I opened my mailbox I freaked out. Neatly stacked between my mail was a small little note. With shaking hands, I opened it. There was only one line written on it.
What's true terror?
I jerked around, almost waiting to see his grinning face right behind me, but I was all alone.
I rushed inside and locked the door. I was panting heavily, almost shaking. This had to be him!
I called the police and told them what had happened. They sent someone over to check out the note and said they'd handle the situation. If the note were indeed by Michael, he'd be in a lot of trouble. I was relieved when I heard this.
This relief quickly changed to utter frustration, when they informed me that yet again there was no proof. Michael hadn't been seen on the security cameras in the building, and he had an alibi for the day. I screamed at them that someone else must've delivered it instead of him. The only thing they did, though, was to ask me if I could think of someone else. They didn't seem to take me serious at all!
A few days later, I got another message. This one wasn't in my mailbox, though. It was during one of my lectures that I halfheartedly checked my email. I noticed one by an unknown sender. Probably spam I thought, but I clicked it anyway. Ever since I deleted an important email by a fellow project member, I was careful about it.
The email consisted of a single line.
Is it the fear you feel every day?
I knew right away who'd sent it. I jumped off my seat and almost dropped my laptop. The whole ordeal prompted looks from everyone and a joking remark by the professor. I apologized and sat back down, but I couldn't concentrate anymore. Why was he doing this? What the hell did he want from me?
I blocked the sender and deleted the email. I knew it wouldn't be of much use. If he wanted to send another one, he could just create a new account. Still, I wanted this tiny victory.
Things got worse every day. Whenever I walked around campus, I had this feeling that he was around. I felt watched constantly. Was he hiding behind that corner over there? Was he inside that building watching me from behind the curtains? I could never be sure.
This whole situation started to take its toll on me. Whenever I heard someone walk up to me, I thought it was him.
When I confided in a friend, she was visibly shocked but told me this was exactly what he wanted. To scare me, nothing else. He wouldn't risk doing anything to me, he couldn't. It was all tactics. I knew what she meant, but 'what if'? What if he was actually waiting for a chance to... do whatever he planned?
When I returned home that day, I knew something wasn't right. Did you ever enter a familiar place and you knew instantly that something was wrong? That's what I felt that day.
I'm a very orderly person. I keep my place clean. I know where each and every item belongs and where I left it. I'm almost pedantic in a way.
It didn't take me long to notice a small ceramic plate, resting on a cupboard in my hallway. It wasn't supposed to be there. Its usual place was on the living room table! Why the hell was it here? I hadn't touched it! I knew I hadn't!
I rushed into the living room and saw it right away. A small note was resting in the place the plate normally would.
Is it the paranoia slowly taking hold of your mind?
I cried out in utter shock. He'd been here again, inside of my apartment! There was no doubt about it!
Or was he still inside? For a moment, I froze and listened. Then my instincts kicked in, and I ran from the apartment.
I rushed down the stairs and out of the building, but I didn't make it far. Right next to the entrance, I collapsed into a shivering, crying mess. How the hell had he made it inside? How the hell had he gotten a hold of the key? What the hell was it he wanted!?
This time the police took things seriously. They checked the whole place but found no trace of Michael. They also found no hint of a break in. For all they knew, he either had a key, or he must've picked the lock.
The police checked my place for fingerprints but found nothing. When they checked the security footage though, they saw someone sneaking up to my apartment. They didn't see his face, but the note and everything else pointed at no other than Michael.
I wasn't there when they took him in. I didn't want to see his face, nor his creepy smile. No, I didn't want to see him at all. All I wanted was to know that he was in custody and I'd be safe.
When they confirmed that Michael had been the perpetrator and was in serious trouble, I was more relieved than I'd been in weeks, or even month.
Was this whole thing finally over?
For the first time in a long while, I was able to sleep through the night. No dreams, no paranoia, just sleep.
This morning, however, I woke up to something resting on my nightstand. At first, I told myself it was nothing. There was nothing there, and I was still half asleep. I closed my eyes and prayed before I opened them again. When I looked, the small note was still lying there. I started shaking, and when I read it, the tears streamed from my face.
True terror is hope. The hope that you’ll ever truly get away from me.
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