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When I was eight, a

When I was eight, a very bad man used to live in my house. I called him the burglar. Sometimes he'd be in my closet, hiding in between the shadows of my toys and clothes. Sometimes he would lurk under my bed. I don't know what he wanted, but I knew for certain he was going to hurt me and I wanted him to go away.

The burglar only came out if I went to sleep. So, of course, I couldn't go to sleep. And I couldn't get out of bed, 'cause then I'd get in trouble. I didn't know whether it was scarier to be punished (yelled at, maybe spanked) by my folks, or to be hurt, killed, or even worse, tortured by this mysterious man who was just waiting for me.

One night I saw him. And he wasn't just a man - he was a ghost. The ghost of Blackbeard the pirate. He was living in the grove of avocado trees that grew behind our back-yard. My mom used to make me climb that fence and pull avocados that hung on our side of the fence.

“If they're on our side of the fence, we have every right to them,” she'd tell me when I asked if I wasn't being bad by stealing.

Blackbeard had come out of the trees, walked down the slippery slope of ice-plant and spirited through our locked sliding glass door. My throat was tight and my stomach queasy. He was in the house and he was coming to get me. Maybe for stealing his avocados.

I was petrified, lying there in my bed, knowing he was in the house. He knew I'd seen him. If I moved, he would hear me and then he'd come and kill me or hurt me so that he wouldn't get caught. The more I thought about it, the more I heard things. The more I heard things, the more afraid I became.

I whispered out, ever so quietly, “Moooommmm.” Waking up my dad would be even scarier than getting the burglar's attention.

No response. But I could hear something out in the living room. He knew I was awake. He was definitely going to get me … I'm sure he was heading down the hall towards my bedroom.

I was crying now. I didn't care if I woke dad up. I yelled out “MOOOMMMMMMYY!” Rustling outside my room. A light came on. Mom rushed in, “Honey, what's the matter?”

“There's someone in the house,” I sobbed, “and he's going to get me.”

“Bobby, there's no one in the house. I won't let anyone get you.”

I was not reassured. This was not the first time I'd woken her up, afraid of burglars. But this was the first time she took me by the hand and said, “Come on, get out of bed, I'll show you.”

Oh no. She was going to take me out there and he'd see us both. We'd both be killed. I pulled the covers up to my neck and shook my head.

“Sweetie, I promise, there's nobody out there. Let me show you.”

I climbed out of bed, crying and sniffling. It was so dark outside my room. He could be hiding anywhere. I could barely walk. My legs were pajama-covered rubber bands.

We crept into the hallway and she turned on the light. We peeked into the bathroom that had a door in the hallway and a door to my parents' bedroom.

My dad growled, “What the hell's going on out there?” Now I was in for it.

“It's okay, Bill. Go back to sleep.” Mom put her index finger to her mouth, motioning me to stay quiet.

We walked down the hall. She opened the linen closet. Just towels and sheets. No pirates in there. We went into the small bathroom down the hall. Lights on. She opened the shower door, “See? Nothing.” My tears had stopped, but I still knew something wasn't right.

Into the living room … where he was. Please don't make me go in there. I tensed up, squeezed her hand harder and started crying again. She turned on the lamp. Everything seemed in order. She moved chairs that sat next to walls. He wasn't behind them. She rustled the ashes in the fireplace … guess he wasn't pulling a Santa and hiding in the chimney. She lifted the dust ruffle on the sofa and we looked under there

The curtains at the sliding glass door to the back yard were drawn shut. She opened the drapes and flipped on the light switch next to the door. The back yard lit up.

Apparently he'd gotten away and slipped back into the scary darkness of the avocado trees. I knew he was still out there, but somehow I felt better knowing he was out of the house.

“Do you see, honey? There's nobody in the house.”

She squeezed my hand again and I nodded. We walked back through the dining room and into the kitchen. Mom asked if I wanted some water, and I nodded quietly.

I got my water and she took me back to my room, turning off the lights as we went. I was still a little shaken up, but much better than the blubbering mess I'd been before. She sat with me until I fell asleep.

Talking with Mom the next morning, she half-convinced me that Blackbeard had been a dream. Didn't he look an awful lot like that pirate in the Disney movie we saw a few days ago?

Blackbeard never bothered me again, but I still had some burglar issues. And every time she'd make me pick avocados, I'd be sure to toss a couple back over to the other side of the fence … just in case the burglar was still watching.

And I still don't like avocados.