She’s wearing a pair of charcoal-colored leggings and an oversized, fuzzy sweater in hues of browns and blues. Her blue knit socks are scrunched at the ankles. She’s wrapped herself up in a toasty afghan her grandmother crocheted long ago. A coffee sits on the table beside her, cold and forgotten.
She sits by the window. Snow has been falling all day. She hasn’t noticed. The sun is fading, and she absentmindedly turns on the lamp beside her. She clicks and clacks at the keys of her laptop which is balanced precariously on her lap. It tottles as she shifts in her seat. Excitement courses through her as the story she’s been working on approaches its climax.
The heroine of her story had just arrived face to face with the serial killer who’d meticulously knocked off each and every one of her friends during the course of the novel. She was breathing heavily as she prepared for the showdown.
The power goes out. The glow of her screen seems too bright as it fills the darkened room.
She glances at the battery icon, trying to recall the last time she charged it. She quickly saves her file into the hard drive and again on the thumb drive. She can’t reach the cloud with no power. She closes her file but leaves the lid up so the desktop can continue to light the room while she searches for candles.
Thump, thump, thud.
Was that in the kitchen? She closes the drawer she had been searching for candles. She pats her pockets searching for her phone. It’s probably in the kitchen where she always seems to forget it.
Whoosh, thud, thud, thump.
She grabs a poker from the fireplace and takes a steadying breath. She eases her way slowly through the kitchen doorway, squinting into the dark, searching for any out-of-place shadows.
She can make out the hulking shape of the refrigerator across the room. The moonlight barely touches the sink as it creeps out from behind thick grey clouds and peeks into the window. The door is closed tightly without so much as a sliver of light slipping through.
Schwump, thump, thud.
She cocks her head to the side and holds her breath. She is listening to the sound of the silence. Listening for the breath of another. She can’t hear anything over the thudding of her heart.
She slides her feet skatelike across the floor to the counter. She feels around for her phone. It isn’t there.
Schwump, whoosh, thud.
Was that louder? Closer? In the kitchen? Just outside the door?
The pounding of her heart grows louder and louder still. She’s worked herself up into a real panic. She remembers the fire poker she carries at her side.
She raises it over her shoulder like a baseball bat as she skates across the floor towards the door.
Whoosh, thump, schwump.
Somebody is outside the door. That somebody cut the power to her house way out here. It’s late, and it’s dark.
“Oh hell no!” she shouts as she flings the door open and resumes her batter’s stance.
Whoosh, schwump, splat.
A pile of snow slides off the roof. It lands at her feet, spilling across her kitchen floor in the pale moonlight. She stands frozen for a moment as the cold snow melts into her warm socks.
She drops the fire poker and it clammers to the floor. She feels the laughter bubbling up from deep down inside of her.
She stands in the puddling snow, laughing into the cold winter air that whips and slaps at her through the flung open door.
Whoosh, schwump, splat.
Another pile of snow lands at her feet. She closes the door and turns the thumb lock. She removes her socks as she returns to the kitchen counter.
Whoosh, thump, thud. The falling pile of snow barely registers this time.
She searches blindly through the odds and ends drawer. It’s the drawer nearest to the end. Her hand closes around what feels like a candle. It’s broken in the middle, but it will do.
Though she doesn’t allow smoking in her house, she always keeps a book of matches in an ashtray on the kitchen table. She makes her way through the dark kitchen towards the table.
“Son of a…” she stubs her toe on a kitchen chair.
She gropes around on the table searching for the ashtray. She finds her phone instead. She taps the power button and the screen lights up. She slides her thumb up to wake it fully.
The room lights up, and she locates the book of matches. She lights one and melts the broken section of the candle back together. Once that cools, she lights the wick.
She searches for a candle holder, but can’t remember ever owning one. She gives up and grabs a teacup from the cabinet. She drips some wax into the bottom of the cup and then secures the candle in the melted wax.
She closes her phone and slips it into her pocket. Using her candle to light the way, she returns to the living room. She sets the candle on the mantle and builds a fire.
She can’t believe she, the thriller writer, could be scared by a little snow. She chuckles as she adds another log to the fire.
The room is growing warm again. She takes her candle and heads for her bedroom to grab a new pair of socks. She freezes at the edge of the hallway.
A man is standing in the doorway to her bedroom. He has his back to her, but her candlelight illuminates the room beyond him, and he is made aware of her. She knows it from the way his shoulders tense.
She blows out the candle as he turns. She runs, full throttle, for the kitchen. She can feel him drawing closer behind her.
Her breathing is ragged and her heartbeat erratic as she finds herself standing in her kitchen, unsure of her next move. She considers what might work for a weapon.
The fire poker still sits in the puddle of melted snow near the backdoor. There are knives in the block on the counter.
Maybe she should find someplace to hide. She curses herself for choosing the kitchen. She curses herself for buying a house with no hiding places and very few weapons. She curses herself for acting just like one of the victims in her books.
She grabs the fire poker and slips under the kitchen table. She clutches the poker to her chest. She wishes she’d grabbed a knife from the block instead. She considers grabbing one, now, but he comes through the doorway and fills the space between her and the rest of her kitchen.
She lets out an involuntary sound somewhere between a squeal and a groan. He freezes, listening for the sound of her. She catches her breath and holds it tightly.
She sits on her haunches ready to lunge. The poker is clutched in her hands, prepared to stab, jab, or poke the intruder. He remains perfectly still, and she is too frightened to move or breathe.
“I know you came in here,” he growls almost in a whisper.
Her heart races, and she is certain that it will give her location away. He opens the door and looks out. She considers her chances if she were to rush him and drive him out the door with the poker.
She draws up her courage as he turns around and faces the table. He leaves the door open, and the moonlight illuminates the room behind him making the shadows that cross his face more ominous. He smiles a sneer as he hones in on her location.
She gasps and starts scooting backward until her butt bumps against a table leg.
Whoosh, schwump, splat.
A pile of snow slides off the roof and lands behind him. Startled, he jumps and turns.
This time, she doesn’t hesitate. She lunges forward holding the fire poker like a spear. She drives it into the soft flesh of his right side and uses her momentum to drive him out of the house.
She leaves the poker in him and leaves him in the backyard when she slams the door shut. She turns the bolt, locking the door behind him.
She races through the house to her bathroom. She closes and locks the door, climbs into the tub, and slides the curtain closed behind her. She slips her phone from her pocket and dials 911.
“911, what’s the nature of your emergency?” the operator comes on the line just as the kitchen door splinters.
“There’s a man in my house,” she whispers from her flimsy shelter.
“What is your relationship to the man?”
“I don’t have a relationship with him,” she hisses.
“You are reporting a male intruder?”
The operator’s calmness grates on her nerves. She hears him flip her kitchen table over and the chairs go tumbling.
“Can you safely leave the home?”
“Don’t you think I would have already?” she growls, out of patience.
“There’s no need to get angry. Officers have been dispatched to your location. They will be there just as soon as they can.”
None of this is reassuring as she hears him crashing around in the living room. She gulps down air and listens to the operator trying to reassure her. The crashing grows louder as he draws nearer.
“Officers will be there soon.”
She can’t reply. He is standing right outside the bathroom door. He knows she is in there because she locked it behind her. She admonishes herself for being so stupid.
He starts slamming into the door. She is whimpering quietly into the receiver. The operator keeps telling her to hang on.
“You called the cops!” he bellows angrily.
He pounds on the door a couple more times. She drops the phone and it rattles noisily around the tub.
Everything grows quiet and eerily still. She listens to the silence. She can’t even hear the pounding of her heart anymore. She is certain she must be dead.
“Police!” comes a shout outside the door.
She is too afraid to answer.
“Ma’am, if you’re in there, it’s safe to come out now.”
She doesn’t move. She doesn’t make a sound. She holds her breath and waits.
“In here,” another shout outside the door, and then the door is splintering open.
She screams. She sees the uniforms. She finds no comfort in the sight. She can’t stop screaming.
“Ma’am, it’s alright. We’re here now.”
But she can’t hear him. She’s cracked. The scream just keeps bubbling out of her.
Love Sick: Stories is out now
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Love Sick is a multi-genre collection of stories about the love we find ourselves caught up in.