Greg knew that his neighbor Pete was always worried about his house getting robbed, even though they lived in an upper middle class suburb. There had already been a series of break-ins in other similar neighborhoods; nothing had actually been taken, but witnesses who had seen the would-be robber—or robbers—were very vague about the details, as if they were afraid of telling the police too much about what they’d seen.

“I’m not taking any chances,” Pete said while Greg was visiting one afternoon. “I’m upgrading my security system. What if my kids are home when this creep shows up?”

“From what I’ve heard, whoever’s doing this haven’t done anything violent…yet,” Greg replied. “It sounds like they’re getting a kick out of the challenge more than anything else.”

Pete shook his head. “I’m still not taking any chances.”

That seemed to settle the matter. A home security company arrived that weekend and installed the new security system that Pete wanted. His wife spoke to Greg about it later that evening.

“He’s really worried about what might happen to the kids when we’re not home,” she said. “Quite frankly, I think it’s become something of an obsession with him. He’s so protective, I think he’s gone a little overboard. I mean, we live in a safe neighborhood: there are a lot of police officers and military people living here. We’ve never been robbed in all the time we’ve been living here.”

“I’ll talk to him,” Greg answered. “It’s probably just a phase he’s going through. I’m sure he’ll get over it once this latest scare is over.”

But Pete was unapologetic. “My wife is the one who’s overreacting. I’m just doing what I think is right: a man has the right to protect his family, doesn’t he?”

“That’s what we have the police for.” He was trying to be polite, but firm, as if he were talking to one of the more stubborn kids at the middle school where he taught. “Look, maybe you will get robbed someday; statistically, it’s bound to happen. But there is such a thing as being a little too, well…”

“Paranoid? Yeah, I know, that’s how some people think of me. But I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood like this. When I was a kid, my parents’ house got robbed at least three times, and they never caught the thieves. My dad took it personally. He always said, ‘A man has a right to protect his own.’ That’s all I’m doing.”

Greg wasn’t married and didn’t have any kids, so he conceded to Pete on that point. It’ll pass, he reminded himself. After all, this is a safe neighborhood…

It was later that night, very early in the morning, when Greg was awakened by someone—or something—in his living room. Cautiously getting out of bed, he quietly reached for a nearby flashlight that he kept on hand for emergencies. He heard low, muffled voices in the hallway. Trying not to make any noise himself, Greg opened his door just a crack. He could see soft light from the streetlight outside reflecting off the living room walls. Opening the door wider, Greg crept out to the landing that gave him a complete view of the living room. Down there, he could see a figure of medium height and build, wearing dark clothing that looked too big for it. Greg noticed that there was something off about the figure; at first he thought it might have been a teenager, or someone younger, but it moved like an adult, like he or Pete might have. Greg suddenly remembered his phone and turned to go and get it when the figure suddenly stood on the landing with him, its face right in front of his.

Greg tried to make sense of the face and how the figure had managed to get up the stairs so fast. The face…it looked human, but distorted, like a warped mirror. Greg felt a surge of panic, but the figure’s yellowish eyes looked calmly at him.

“Who…what…are you?” Greg finally managed to ask in a hoarse whisper.

The figure bowed slightly. “I am a Yard Man. Forgive the intrusion. My kind visit your houses, in the dead of night, when no one—usually no one—sees us. We come to see what you have, because we are not allowed to take it. Once we were thieves, and were condemned for it. Now, we simply visit, watch…and leave, taking nothing. Do not be afraid. You are in no danger, and you will barely remember when I am gone.”

“Wait…” Greg wanted to ask more questions, but the figure reached out for him with a thin hand. Greg felt himself losing consciousness…

…and woke up back in bed, awakened by the sound of his own alarm. Greg turned it off and sat up in bed, trying to make sense of what happened. It felt like a dream, or maybe a nightmare…but he’d seen the figure’s face, he did remember…and he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone, not that they’d believe him anyway.

The Yard Man would stay in the shadows until it was time for him to visit somebody else.