January 7, 2013

Home Intruder

Todd wasn’t sure why he was awake. Maybe it had been a click, a thump, or the sound of breaking glass.

Lying in bed, holding his breath, the whoosh of his heartbeat filled his ears. He strained to hear Karen’s rhythmic breathing, but couldn’t quite make it out. The baby wasn’t crying, either.

Someone was in the house.

Todd wondered if Karen slept. “Shh,” he whispered just in case, and eased back the covers that despite his effort scratched as loudly as sandpaper.

As if in spite, as if the house were somehow siding with the intruder, the drawer of the nightstand screamed over its tracks. Todd felt his forehead getting moist as he reached inside to grip the heavy Beretta automatic. He pushed the action back just far enough to check the chamber with his index finger, and his heart eased a bit when he felt the chambered round.

He could feel his wife’s icy stare on him through the darkness. She didn’t need to speak. The argument was just as cold.

She would say, “I don’t like that thing in the house with the baby.”

He would reply with a mantra. “Better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.” She hated that.

He dismissed her silently, as he always did. She was and would always be a civilian. She hadn’t seen the things he had seen, the evil in the world. She had never met the Taliban.

He glanced through the window. No vehicles outside, just an inch of fresh snow from a few hours ago.

Todd crept to the door, both hands gripping the gun. He could feel his palms sweating, the textured plastic grips stinging a little.

His bare feet cross-stepped through the hallway, and he knew something wasn’t right. There were no shadows, no humming of the refrigerator.

There was no power. The intruder had cut the power.

Todd moved down the staircase in a crouch, clearing blind spot after blind spot. None of his brothers were there to watch his back, but he knew how to do this. He had done it before, more times than he could count. It ended with the bad guys dead and some hot chow.

The kitchen was safe. Todd felt for the baby-gate, but didn’t find it. She must have moved it. He picked up a chair and placed it in the doorway. If the intruder were to trip over this, he would eat a bullet from the Beretta.

There. By the door. A silhouette against the starlight.

The pop!-hmmm of the fridge returning to life jolted Todd back against the corner, and he almost tripped over the chair. There was some light now, from the security light in the yard. This was his chance.

He touched the trigger lightly, as though checking to see if it was still there, comforted by it. Todd stepped from behind cover, squeezing as he did.

This time he didn’t shoot.

He faced only his black trench on the coat rack, still damp from the snow. His boots sat next to it, just where he had left them.

Todd turned on the light, still gripping the gun in his right hand. The floor was dry. There was no one here.

He could hear her now, calling him paranoid. Saying he had a problem, that the war had affected him. Saying he needed help.

He leaned back against the wall, this time not for cover, but to help him stay standing. His finger found a bullet hole in the plaster and picked at it. A small piece hit the floor with a crack. He had been meaning to fix that since he put it there three weeks ago. It was the kind of thing Karen would pester him about repairing.

She wouldn’t, though, because he hadn’t seen her in months. She had taken the baby and moved in with her sister. Todd had blocked her phone calls.

Maybe she was right.

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