BREAK-IN - ERIC BEETNER
The gun was still warm from the stranger’s hand.
Michael stared at the figure face down in the entryway of his house. His eyes moved from the body to the broken lamp he’d used to cold-cock the guy.
He tried to remember the last thirty-seconds, but it was a black hole.
He could still recall the brief conversation through the door, the stranger knocking after midnight and pretending to have car trouble. Even before he opened the door, Michael thought it strange that someone would wander so far off the highway to make it to his front porch. The pleasure and peril of living far away from town: seclusion.
Michael remembered seeing the gun, the man commanding him to step back, stay quiet. The memory ran out a second before the moment he smashed the man over the head with a marble-based lamp.
Michael set the gun down on the small table by the door where he normally tossed his keys. The man on the floor continued to breathe and the pool of blood around his head continued to grow.
It was no life threatening blow. Michael knew the stranger would come around soon.
“Michael?” Amy called from upstairs.
“Stay there.” He could hear the whining nighttime cries of Dylan, his two year-old and that was sure to wake Kaitie, his four year-old. “Amy, listen,” he said. “Call the police. Tell them someone tried to break in.”
“Oh my God.” Michael heard her footsteps reach the top of the stairs. She gasped. “Michael!”
“It’s okay. Just call them. See how fast they can make it out here.”
“No, he’s not dead. Now, go.”
Amy padded away to make the call.
Michael thought about how it might be better if the stranger was dead. The intruder would wake up any second, angry. He was obviously capable of violence whereas Michael had just drawn his first blood on another human. Applied Physics professors don’t have a reputation for bloodletting.
His eyes drifted to the gun. If the man stood up and attacked, could Michael use deadly force? The lamp had been beyond what he thought himself capable of already so he didn’t know the answer himself.
Dylan’s cries intensified. The man on the floor stirred. Michael heard Amy’s feet move quickly down the hall to Dylan’s room and the crying soon stopped.
The old farm house was easily twenty minutes from town. If the police were anywhere but sitting right by the phone it could be as much as a half hour before help arrived.
A decision would have to be made before then.
Michael stepped around the body to close the front door. The invader had dropped a small bag, now blocking the threshold. Michael kicked it aside to make room for the door to swing shut. Inside the pack, metal clanked together. Curious, Michael opened the worn black gym satchel.
Duct tape, wire, a hammer, a hunting knife. These were not the supplies of a stick-up, a simple, “Give me all your money and jewelry” home invasion. This man was prepared to stay.
Michael thought of the children. He felt sick to his stomach. Bikes, a sand box, a rope swing all decorated the front yard. Advertising that young kids lived here. The house was far enough away from everything, a man could stay for weeks without anyone noticing. Fall semester at the University didn’t start for another month.
A chill ran through Michael. The stranger on the floor groaned.
“Amy? Did you talk to the police?”
Her feet padded urgently down the hall. He turned to her. She cradled Dylan in her arms, his head lolling slack, asleep. She whispered. “They said they’d send someone.”
He whispered back. “How long?”
“They didn’t say.”
There was movement from the carpet in the entryway. “Go back to the room. Get Kaitie. Lock the door.”
There was panic in Amy’s whisper now. “Michael –”
Michael turned back to the stranger, Amy’s feet shuffled away above him.
The man rolled, brought a hand to his head and felt the blood, opened his eyes.
Michael reached out. This time, the gun was cold.