jeopardize their situation any more than it is.

Rising, I ease along the back of the house checking my shadow so as not to cast a shadow across the window. I sidle up to the back door and test the knob. Locked with curtains across. I peek in the window corner. Nothing. At least here though, I am able to see below the curtains and it is pitch black inside. A thin ray of light hits the floor through the small opening but that is it. Back to plan A.

As I turn to leave the back door, I hear a faint scuffling sound and a very low growl. It is so low that I am not even sure I heard it but in the absolute silence of the world around me, it rings like a bell inside my head. So, if there is anything inside, it seems to be on the ground floor. At least for now. I follow my path back to the front porch.

Before climbing back the porch, slowly and silently, I remove the shotgun shell from the chamber. I am going to have to break in the window panes and supporting slats with the butt of the shotgun. Not the best idea with a loaded gun, safety on or not. The business end will be pointed in entirely the wrong direction. Chamber open and ready for a shell yes, actual shell no.

Silently, I walk back to the wall beside the front window. “Ok, well, I guess the stealth and silent approach isn’t going to work here. It’s going to get a bit noisy from here on out,” I breathe to myself. I was hoping to be able to find a stealthy way in and get the kids out without whatever is in there knowing but as I guessed and dreaded, that is just not going to happen.

Break out one entire side of the panes, — Det cord would be especially handy right now but I seem to be fresh out — reverse the shotgun slamming home a shell, use the tip of the barrel of the shotgun to lift the curtain rods off or force them down on this end bringing light into the room, crouch away from the window on the porch covering the room, and see what I see. That is the entirety of plan A. I again think about playing ‘climb on the roof and check every window’ for a stealthier entry point but am also fairly certain that whatever is in there, if anything, already knows I am here. Plus, my knees again cast their vote for Plan A and seem to have the majority vote in this instance. I also have to keep care initially not to let the barrel poke inside after drawing the curtains down so that it can’t be grabbed from inside.

Adrenaline has me pretty keyed up. That is good for reflexes, but if it is not kept under a semblance of control, it can lead to mistakes. My Arrid XXXtra Dry is getting a workout trying to keep pace.

A deep breath, another one, and I feel my nerves settle into place. I step in front of the window with the butt aimed upward at the first cross intersection of slats on the side, hoping to take out several sections of slats both to the side and upward. These are generally only glued together so I figure three good shots, with each shot focused on the two slat intersections above the previous ones, should cave the entire side of the window in. Game on.

Steeling myself back, I thrust forward and up with my arm and shoulders. The forward momentum of my shifting weight is focused entirely on the intersection of the two slats. A flash of a second before the butt meets my aim point, I shift my head down with my chin in my chest to protect my eyes and vulnerable parts of my neck from flying glass and wood. I feel the contact first with my forearms, then shoulders, and continue to drive forward. Go through the point of impact, I remind myself.

The sheer volume of noise from the glass and slats breaking is enormous. Especially considering the silence I was engulfed with. It sounds like a glass bomb went off. Pulling back quickly, I refocus instantly on my next aim point and thrust forward in the same manner. The momentary glimpse I catch of the window, besides focusing on my next target, is of broken glass and slats either missing or turned up and in. Some of the glass is still falling, catching various prisms of light. More noise comes from the second blow but not as loud as the first. Finishing with the third blow, I step back momentarily, bring the pump action forward chambering a shell and fully expecting a tidal wave of action. Nothing. The window is completely demolished on the right and silence once again dominates the scene.

A warm breeze picks up, reminiscent of those lazy summer days. The days when a breeze would carry the sounds and smells of summer; the sound of lawnmowers lazily chugging along leaving the sweet smell of cut grass; the smell of BBQ’s wafting from backyards; the sounds of kids playing; the ringing of a bike’s bell or the music of an ice cream truck as it makes its way through the neighborhood. Outside of the city, the breeze would bring the smell of trees, a feeling of peace, and the simple joy of just being outside in the sun. A part of my mind realizes those days of peace, joy, and warmth was not that long ago, but this breeze, although carrying the feeling of summer, also carries a slight, sharp, pungent odor along with it. Almost too faint to notice, but it’s there nonetheless. It stirs the curtains slightly but not enough to allow a view within other than to let me know that darkness reigns inside.

I glance around momentarily to see if my festivities have drawn any attention. The only thing I see is a dog standing in the street a short distance away looking in my direction. Not directly at me towards me. Must be a neighborhood dog. Although hard to tell, it appears to be some sort of German Sheppard/Lab mix. That is another thing to think about down the road. The pets are most likely going to migrate to their wilder, more feral side as they integrate themselves back into the survival-based food chain. Another fleeting thought passes through wondering how, and if, they will be affected by what is going on? Will their DNA be susceptible to the change or will they have immunity? Apparently satisfying itself that all is right in the world around it, the dog continues across the street and disappears between two houses as I refocus on the window and task ahead.

Rising, I step back toward the now open window. I am focused on any sound that might emanate from within and tense for anything that might erupt. My muscles are loose but the adrenaline is wrapped around me. With the light tan curtains still wafting slightly in the breeze, I raise the barrel of the shotgun to the curtain rod and give it a good push to lift it off its bracket. The rod and curtains lift up slightly and I feel the release of pressure against the barrel as the rod lifts and the curtains begin their fall to the ground. I step back into a semi-crouch to begin the final step of the Plan A entry — to see what I can see.

The curtains land on the right side at an angle downward as the rod is still attached to the left bracket and light floods into the once darkened room. As it does, the silence is broken by a loud, high pitched shriek.

“Holy shit!” I exclaim. The hair on my arms stands straight up and my neck hair comes to attention.

I cannot immediately even think about what it sounds like except that it is bloody loud. A large, startled cat is the only thing that comes to mind within that flash of an instant. It also has a growl-like quality. The shriek is accompanied by the sound of footsteps moving at high speed — um, called running I believe. A flash of movement from my right to left vanishes past my line of sight. The movement didn’t seem to be to my immediate front and leaves the impression that it was further back in the room.

I switch on the flashlight to get a better picture but can’t see what moved so hurriedly in the room just moments before. The light confirms my earlier assumption that this is the living room. Still holding the shotgun, I lean to the side to see all that I can around the angled, hanging curtains. The curtain rod is caught on what appears to be a console-style TV against the front window. I was wondering why the curtains didn’t fall all of the way down like they should have and still had a significant angle to them. The front door is to my right with some sort of contraption blocking it. However, the lighting is not good enough to identify what it is. Two couches sit facing each other and are piled high with clothes. One couch is a little in front of the door and the other against the wall to my left. Where in the world would you sit, I think and glance at the coffee table covered with glasses, plates, and what appear to be various magazines. Next to a lazy boy recliner, sitting in the far corner, stairs climb upwards to an intermediate landing before continuing up to the right.

To the right and across from me, a hallway stretches towards the back of the house with a kitchen opening up to the right. I don’t know how far the hallway extends from my angle as the light can’t penetrate that far. Back to the living room, there doesn’t appear to be any place where something as large as the shadow I glimpsed previously could be hiding. I can, however, hear what appears to be a faint panting coming from the direction of the stairs. I am actually beginning to wonder if perhaps there isn’t a mountain lion in there.

I use the end of the barrel to remove the last bits of glass from the bottom of the window and hanging above. This noise creates a stirring and sound of something shifting gives me the impression that whatever is inside has gone upstairs or is possibly at the top of the stairs. I step into the room beside the TV to the sound of glass crunching beneath my boots. I lay my shotgun on the TV with the light on and angled toward the stairs as I want to keep that part illuminated full time. I slide my 9 mil out and pull the slide back slightly verifying a round is chambered. Given the confines of the house, I prefer to have my Beretta at hand for speed of movement.

I withdraw the larger flashlight and flick it on, flashing the light around the room to verify once again that

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