This is an excerpt from a novel that I’ve been writing on-and-off for the past year or so. I wrote this while attending the Iowa Summer Writing Festival back in the summer of 2015. For those who don’t know, it is a series of week-long writer’s workshops hosted at the University of Iowa. Shortly after getting home from the festival, I was emailed by someone who works at the Daily Palette, an Iowan magazine. They were wanting to publish some stories that had been written during the festival, so I sent them a copy of what I had worked on.
I’ve posted the text of the story and a link to the website below. Hope you enjoy!
“You should buy a gun,” his father had said to him, the day he moved out. “You’ll sleep a lot better at night knowing that your house is secure! A man’s home is his castle, after all.”
The memory sprang into Lee’s mind, almost as if Dad was looking down at him from heaven and going, “Told you so!” Knowing his dad, Lee decided that was pretty likely. Now, as his sweaty palms clutched the grip of the baseball bat, he wished that he had actually listened to his dad’s advice. A gun would be nice right now. You can cock a gun and send a burglar running. With a bat you have to actually get up close and take a swing. Could he even do it? Could he potentially kill someone with a bat? Why hadn’t he just called the police?
Lee had been lying in bed, in the zone between asleep and awake. He couldn’t remember what he was dreaming about, but he knew that it was pretty nice, whatever it was. He’d woken up enough to feel Jenny’s head resting in the crook of his arm. Jenny always seemed to be trying to curl herself up into a ball when she was asleep, huddling into the warmest object, which was usually him. He smiled, feeling himself slowly drift back into sleep.
Then he heard something downstairs. It was nothing loud, just a quick, barely audible creak. He wasn’t even sure if he heard anything at all, the sound came and went so suddenly. It could have been anything; the house settling, or the cat, or the air conditioner . . . or the door opening.
He opened his eyes slowly, feeling his drowsiness fly away. Lee cursed under his breath. Why did his brain always do that?! He could have drifted back to sleep, probably had a really nice dream, but noooo! Mr. brain had to instantly make him think about the front door opening. Sure, it creaked. Jenny had asked him to put some WD-40 on it . . . several times, actually. But the door was locked! It was late, and he was tired. Of course he was going to think every noise was an intruder.
Then he heard a sound that was undeniably the refrigerator being opened. At first, Lee froze. His mind refused to compute. Someone was downstairs. Someone was in his house! He remembered the baseball bat in the closet. The five or six steps from the bed to the closet seemed so far, now.
But, before giving it any real thought, he slowly slid out from the bed, being careful not to make the floor creak under him. He slipped his arm from underneath Jenny’s head as carefully as possible. Jenny moaned a little as he got up, but didn’t wake. She just curled tighter into a ball and shifted over to the warm sheets Lee had left.
Lee crept to the closet slowly, going toe-heel, shifting his weight, toe-heel. He read on the Internet that was how to move silently. It was probably bullcrap, but he did it anyway. He winced as he opened the closet door, which made a creeeeeaaaaak that seemed mockingly loud. Was every door in this house squeaky?!
He waited a few precious seconds for his eyes to fully adjust to the dark. He then reached into the closet and groped around until he felt the bat’s grip brush his fingers. He grasped it tightly in both hands, and slowly left his room. As he crept down the hallway towards the stairs he thought about his dad watching him from heaven, chuckling about the whole situation. The longer he moved towards the stairs, the longer he felt every shadow around him moving, the more a gun seemed like a good idea. He swore that, first thing in the morning, he was going to go buy one! A nice and big one: a gun that screams “Get Out!”
He reached the stairs. Peeking down, he could see the light of the fridge coming from the kitchen. That light was almost scarier than the darkness upstairs. The dim, yellow light made the shadows seem to dance even more. The occasional, gentle clink of glass bottles as the intruder rummaged for food seemed as loud as firecrackers.
Step, by step, by step, Lee descended. He remembered to skip the third stair, the one that always creaked (Everything creaked in this house!). He hugged the wall, making sure the bat didn’t bump into anything. He stuck to the shadows. It was obvious someone was there. Over the sound of him rummaging through the fridge, Lee could hear him humming softly to himself.
Lee peeked around the corner. There he was! The refrigerator door hid his face. The only thing between him and the burglar was now the open, arch-like entrance to the kitchen. The light switch was on the wall of the arch, on the opposite end of where Lee was currently hiding. He began forming a rough idea. In his mind, he saw himself leaping around the wall, flipping the light on, and charging the intruder. He’d take him out with one manly smack to the head, and he’d get to have the whole “My hero, how can I ever thank you?” fantasy with Jenny as they waited for the police.
There were lots of things wrong with that plan, but Lee didn’t have time for minor details like that. He took a deep breath, and, with what he believed to be a manly war cry and ninja-like reflexes, leaped around the wall and hit the lights. In reality, it was more of a terrified yodel, and some “cat in the bathtub” movements for the light switch.
It was about four or five steps from the light switch to the fridge. Lee covered it in a single leap. Crying out, he raised the bat, ready to bring it down on the intruder’s head.
The intruder’s head popped up from the fridge. His arms were full of food, an unopened package of Canadian bacon between his teeth. Said pack of Canadian bacon dropped to the floor as the intruder replied to Lee’s scream with his own.
The intruder jumped back, dropping the rest of the food he had nabbed. The bat’s downward swing missed its mark by several inches, putting a nice crack in the hardwood floor. Lee brought the bat up again, adrenaline and panic overtaking his body.
“Woah, woah, woah, woah!!!” The intruder had backed up until he bumped into the kitchen island behind him. “Lee, hold it! I can explain!!!”
Lee paused, looking the intruder in the face. Instantly his panic was replaced with another emotion: anger. He lowered the bat, but considered killing the man with it, anyway.
“Bobby!” Lee hissed. “What the hell?!”
Bobby, practically bent backwards on the kitchen island, just gave a sheepish grin and waved.
Lee just ran a hand through his hair, kicking the fridge closed. “Dammit, Bobby! I almost bashed your head in!”
“Nothing new, huh?” He said, keeping his sheepish grin strong.
“What are you doing here?! It’s . . .” He glanced over at the clock on the wall. “It’s three in the morning! How did you get in?!”
Bobby peeled himself off the kitchen island and gingerly stepped forward, putting something small and shiny down beside the sink. “You’re really bad at hiding your spare key.”
Lee’s grip on the bat got even tighter, to the point that his knuckles turned white. “Like I said, it’s three in the damn morning. What are you doing here?! . . . And where are your pants?”
Bobby looked down at himself. Other than a torn up Iron Maiden T-shirt, his only article of clothing was a blue pair of boxers. Bobby then looked Lee over and just replied. “Where are yours?”
It was Lee’s turn to look down at himself. It was then that he remembered he’d been sleeping naked. He didn’t look Bobby in the face, knowing that the grin he probably had on would make him do something with the baseball bat he’d later regret not regretting.
Lee held up a finger, “One minute,” and spun around and headed back for the stairs.
“Bring me a pair, too?”
Lee held up a finger, but a quite different finger, over his shoulder.