It's early July and I'm in Dublin teaching summer school and sharing a large, gloomy Georgian house, at the end of a cul-de-sac off the North Circular Road.
My room sits at the top of a long, winding staircase, spacious but dark, with dingy red rose wallpaper. Its one redeeming feature, the peat fireplace, proves a necessity against the chill Dublin evenings.
My five roommates include Sue, an artist from San Francisco, three medical students, and Joe. With his pale moon face and baby blue eyes Joe appears harmless.
"I'm from the North - a law student," he says.
Of that information, only the first part will prove correct.
Joe spends all day locked in his room only venturing out at dinner. His conversation, little more than paranoid rants, reveals his hatred of Americans and British.
Blessed with Canadian citizenship, I'm above reproach. Joe greets me at the door after work, beer in hand, raving about world politics.
"Lighten up Joe," the others advise. He never does.
One Friday night, I arrive home soaked and chilled from the perpetual Irish mist.
"Gone for the weekend." Sue glances up from her Celtic cross drawings.
"Except Joe." She rolls her eyes towards the little room off the kitchen. "He's acting really weird - pacing, muttering to himself."
The hissing kettle cuts her short. Upstairs, I make a fire, pop three aspirins, down a hot whisky and pass out. A soft knock wakes me. I'm covered in sweat and my throat's burning. The wind and rain are beating against the darkened window.
"He's down there barricading the place, pushing furniture against the doors and windows." The firelight catches Sue's solemn face.
I raise myself on one arm. "Have a drink." As if on cue, the lights go out. "It's just the storm."
The reassurance slips out of my voice as carefully measured footsteps approach. We listen as they pause outside my door.
"What happened to the lights?"
"Is it the storm? Come in and have a drink."
As Joe enters, his shadow, cast by the firelight, grows larger over the walls and ceiling.
"I think someone's here." His voice is hollow, like a person talking in their sleep.
I scramble from beneath the covers. "I'll go get the police."
"But she stays." He turns to Sue. "She's been a bad girl."
Something dies in her throat and I feel Sue shrink into the mattress. I hand Joe the bottle.
"Go down and fix drinks while I get ready."
Miraculously, he leaves. We remain frozen on the bed until we hear his last footfall on the stairs. Quickly, silently, we scramble into jackets and sweaters. Sue's feet barely fit into my sandals. In total darkness, we inch down the stairs, hugging the wall. I'm in the lead trying to hide Sue behind me.
Joe, wielding a shovel, guards the 12-inch opening of the front door. A streetlight illuminates large piles of furniture stacked against the living room windows.
"She's not going."
"It's dark, I can't go alone." I pull Sue's arm behind me through the opening.
"No!" He grabs her other arm.
I force myself to stare into his vacant eyes. "It's not going to work, Joe."
For a second, he relents. With a final pull, we're outside, running down the street through the rain, to the corner store.
When return to the house with two police officers, Joe’s vanished. One officer whistles as he inspects the crazy assortment of furniture and appliances blocking every exit.
"You were lucky. Yer man meant business."
As we pack, the officers drag boxes out from under Joe's bed.
"He's from the North all right," one mutters as he examines an A4 sheet of paper. "The Psychiatric Hospital. And look at his collection."
Hundreds of newspaper clippings all neatly wrapped in plastic contain stories of murder, rape and war with references of weapons highlighted in yellow.
“We'll take some of these." One of the officers slips Joe's passport into their pile.
Shaken, Sue and I head to the safety of a Bed and Breakfast near St. Stephen's Green. A few days later I call the police to check on Joe.
"We held him for questioning, but had to let him go. He claims you girls stole his passport."
"That's impossible! I saw the officer..." Realizing the danger of this tack, I add, "We'll be in
tomorrow to give our statements."
"There's a midnight boat to England," says Sue, reading my horrified expression.
"We're on it.”