A True Cottage Caper

(The following is a true story, but also an assignment in an online intense, intensive course called Method Writing given by Jordan Rosenfeld. The object of this assignment was to make the reader feel uneasy. Please let me know if I succeeded.)

After my mother's funeral last summer, we headed back to our rented cottage several miles outside the tiny Quebec municipality of Mandeville in the Lanaudiere Region. We were relieved to get off the highway and travel through the rolling hills on the shores of the Maskinonge River. We were in dire need of some rest and relaxation, and our kids needed to be outside instead of cooped up in hotel rooms and waiting in hospitals.

As we turned down the last stretch of dirt road leading to our cottage, we saw a large group of young men between the ages of 16 and 19 coming down a trail and onto the shoulder of the road. As we passed, I saw my husband glance into the rearview mirror for a better look.

"That does not look good," he said.
"Why not?" I asked. "It just looks like a group of kids on holiday."
"They look a bit old for summer camp," my husband replied.

We continued a little bit further until we arrived at our cottage.It felt wonderful to be at our destination and relax. The purple phlox had bloomed while we were away, and the calmness of the pond made everything seem peaceful. As our children ran around outside, happy to finally stretch their legs, we unpacked the car. Half-watching the kids, I saw my husband try to unlock the door, but mysteriously, it was unlocked. I then saw him bend over and pick up a bread knife between the doors. He walked into the cottage and emerged a few minutes later.

"Someone's been in there," he said when he came out.
I could feel dread in the pit of my stomach."I really don't need this," I said.
"I know," he said."My feelings exactly."

We got the kids, and we went into the house to check if anything was missing. As I walked into the house, I had the eerie feeling that strangers had indeed been there. I remembered my father's girlfriend, Shelley, telling me what it felt like after their house had been broken into, cringing at the thought that someone had gone through her personal belongings. I also remembered her saying that it had taken months before they realized all the things that had been stolen.

"If anything is missing, our homeowner's insurance will cover it, but we'll have to file a police report," I said.

I sat with my kids in the living room, while my husband called the police. It was very unsettling to think that someone had broken into the cottage. It made me feel anxious and unable to sit still. But how could someone break in with a bread knife, particularly one that came from inside the cottage. It didn't make sense. Even stranger, the lock had not been broken and showed no signs of tampering.

My husband came back. He'd spoken with the police who instructed him to contact the owner. He called the owner and learned that neither she, nor anyone else she knew, would have gone into the cottage while it was rented. My husband also asked if there was anything of any value in the cottage that could have been stolen. Apparently, the only thing of any value was the TV and satellite system, both of which were still there. By this time, I'd checked all our valuables, and we had taken them all with us.

As the day wore on, we tried to remember if we had taken the bread knife out of the kitchen for any reason on the day we left. If I'd needed to cut something, I would have used scissors, not a knife, let alone a bread knife. Anyway, I would have put the knife back and not left it between the two doors. But what about the unlocked door? Were we in such a hurry to get to the hospital that we forgot to lock it?

By nightfall, we started to assume that we'd forgotten to lock the door. We couldn't explain the bread knife, but we decided to forget about the whole thing and get on with our holiday. Sleep, however, was not to be had that night. Our neighbours, as we discovered, were the group of 16 to 19 year olds we'd seen on the road the day before, and they kept us up most of the night.

We left early the next morning for the beach. My children were dying for a swim in Lac Maskinonge. After some beach fun, we headed back to the cottage. When we walked through the door, I again had the distinct feeling that someone had been there, but I said nothing. We were just settling in to watch a movie when we heard someone calling from outside the cottage. The accent sounded like someone from Montreal, but there was a hint of something else. My husband and daughter went out to see who it was. A few minutes later, my daughter came running back into the house.

"Who was it, honey?" I asked.
"A really big man, and he had your computers," she said.

My husband walked through the door a few minutes later with our computers.
"Well, it looks like the party animals are also a bunch of juvenile delinquents. We're going to have to check our things to see if they stole anything else."
"What kind of delinquents are we talking here? Violent offenders who are too young to prosecute or neighbourhood vandals?"
"I'm not sure. The co-ordinator just said that they were 'at risk' youth."

After looking through our stuff, we discovered that our DVD player was missing. Our anger was building. How were we supposed to be on holiday with a bunch of "at risk" youth next door who'd already broken in at least once, but probably twice?

In the meantime, my husband had called the owner who was going to report the neighbouring cottage owner to the municipality. In order to house at risk youth or delinquents, cottage owners had to obtain a special permit, something she was sure the owner didn't have.

We were in a very uncomfortable situation. We'd spent a lot of money to rent this cottage, but for reasons beyond our control, we hadn't been able to use it. When we finally could spend some time there, we were getting broken into whenever we left. If we were heartless, we could just call the police. But we wondered if pressing charges would teach these boys a lesson or just turn them into criminals. Even though they returned some of the things they stole, they hadn't returned it all. Someone who was truly repentant, we reasoned, would return everything. Clearly, they had learned nothing from this and would probably be back.

What would you have done reader? Would you have called the police?

With a full head of steam, my husband marched over to retrieve our DVD player. A few moments later, I could hear his loud, but controlled voice. After 10 minutes, he emerged from the woods with our DVD player and some DVDs that we hadn't even noticed were missing. When he came in, I asked him what he said.

He told the co-ordinator that we wanted all our stuff back and that he wanted to speak directly to the pair who'd broken in. When he had both of them in front of him, he told them that it was too bad that two people had to ruin everyone's holidays, theirs and ours. He added that we were still debating whether to call the police and press charges. Clearly, by not returning all our things, they were not sorry for what they did. Afraid for his job, the co-ordinator then jumped in and announced that the entire group was leaving the next morning.

My husband was still sweating and angry when he retold the story, but I could see that he was as relieved as I was that they
were leaving.
"I guess my mother was looking out for us," I said.
"Someone was. It's rare that you ever get stolen items back, and it's even rarer to have the chance to tell the thieves what you think of them to their face."
"I wonder if you're T-shirt drove the message home to those two?"
My husband looked down at his shirt, and we both laughed.
On his blue T-shirt, NEVER WRONG was written in large navy letters.


John_Ward Leighton | October 12, 2009 at 10:08 PM

The incident you mentioned about me and my girlfriend had a sequel. After Shelley left and I was working as a private "I" i had been on a surveillance all night and was just dozing off when I heard someone breaking in though my front patio door. i went down stairs with the small baseball bat and confronted a rather large (an over sized sixteen year old} person armed with a small hand wrecking bar. i gave him a couple of swats with the bat and then when he was down steeoe on his neck and phones 911.

When the police finally arrived and handcuffed him and took him away i discovered that the small wreaking bar was something that had been stolen from me in the previous robbery.

You were damned lucky to get your things back. The perp was tried as a juvenile and got the obligatory slap on the wrist of two years probation and community service,

Yep the story was kinda creepy. I think your Mom;s good angel was looking our for you.


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