the room is clear. I yank the rest of the curtains down allowing more light to flood into the room. The panting is a little louder now that I am inside and I can locate it better. It’s definitely coming from upstairs.

With the light from the shotgun focused on the stairs, I shine the flashlight I’m holding to the contraption by the door. A smile briefly crosses my face. Boards are wedged under the knob with more boards against those, everything terminating against the back of the couch. Something an architectural engineer might be proud of. Not so much from the aesthetics of it, but more from the structural stability. I was right not to try the front door. I would still be there working on it. Even if I used the shotgun to blow off the hinges, I am pretty sure that door would still be standing. In fact, I am sure that it could withstand the best that a cruise missile has to offer.

I step to my right and crouch by the couch to get a better picture down the hallway. The light penetrates most of the way to the back of the house. I told you it was a monster. One of these 6 D cell battery jobs. If I missed with the Beretta and something was able to get close to me, I could probably melt its retinas with this light. It would also substitute as a bat should I find a pick-up game of ball. Nothing is moving nor can I see anything down the hall except a door ajar at the end of the hallway, but I can’t see inside whatever it leads to. There is a door to the left side of the hallway across from the kitchen which I assume leads to the basement. I get the impression that another door is about half way down the hall on the left. Perhaps a bathroom?

I move at a crouch around the couch, keeping between it and the wall towards the front door, making sure to keep as far from the stairs as possible. My head again on a slow swivel with my light and gun following; barrel always in line with the eyes. At the front door, with my attention between the stairs and the hall, I try the light switches readying myself for an increase in light. A faint ‘snic’ as the switches fall into position is the only response, along with the realization that normal electricity is not flowing, at least not to here.

I look at the mechanical engineering marvel and determine basically where to start taking it apart. At least I see which board to remove first. Setting the flashlight on the back of the couch, I balance it so that it casts its light down the hall. The stairs are still lit, although less brilliantly, from the shotgun light on the TV. I glance down long enough to get a grip on the board, and then my focus is back up and on the house. I tug and the board comes free. Setting the board down, I find the next one and in less than a minute, the door is free from its bonds.

I release the multiple dead bolt locks from the door and open it so that it sits ajar, making sure it is not blocking any line of sight nor impeding any movement. The stairs are almost at a right angle to me and almost out of my line of sight. The panting from the stairs has not changed and I am not all that interested in finding out exactly what is causing it. Well, actually, I am but the kids come first. And, the ‘ol “be careful what you wish for” adage. My thinking is that, with whatever is here and seeing it’s upstairs, I should be able to get the kids out without having to engage it. A part of me thinks I should but the light from the windows is seemingly keeping it at bay and where it is. I like that idea equally well and just want to get the kids out safely.

I step towards what I think is the basement door dislodging one of the boards from where I set it.  It skitters across the wood floor. Damn, I must have lost my touch. That would have never happened before.

The sound of the board moving triggers something. Another cat-like shriek from upstairs reverberates through the house followed by shuffling and growls coming from the top of the stairs. Something big is moving around up there. Based on the sounds and apparent size of whatever is up there, I have an idea of what it could be. The panting and growling and movement continue. Sure hasn’t improved your disposition much.

I focus on the bottom of the stairs where they empty into the living room, ready for anything that may sweep into the room, setting my sights slightly to the left of where they would enter into the room. Pointing straight at the entry point will miss whatever target emerges. Instead, I point to the approximate position to where it will be if it enters into the room. “Sure wish I hadn’t kicked that board,” I mutter.

Nothing emerges. I want to go to what I think is the basement door but if I do, I will lose visual with the stairs and I don’t really want that to happen. I move back by the front door, set the light once again on the back of the couch, and take out the cell phone from my back pocket. Still bars and service. Very cool! I press the green ‘send’ button twice and “Dialing Robert” appears.

“Dad? Was that you?” He answers in a whisper.

“Yeah,” I whisper back, “I’m inside. Is the basement door the one by the kitchen?”


“Ok. You and the girls come up the stairs as quiet as you can, and I mean quiet. Open the door slowly. I’ll be almost right in front of you. Don’t just run out. Wait for me to wave you out. Then all of you come out and head right out the front door.”

“Ok, Dad. We’re moving now. Shouldn’t we stay on the line until we get to the door?”

“Good idea,” I breathe back to him.

I hear sound coming from the basement door as the knob is slowly turned. The door creaks as it is pushed out a crack. There, through the crack in the door, I see my son’s eyes peeking out. He looks around taking in his surroundings to the extent he can see them. His eyes lock on mine. The sounds of movement and panting increases from upstairs but are changed to some degree. I swear footsteps are coming down the stairs only to stop and run back up. Whatever is there emits a growl each time it stops. There is an almost physical feeling of agitation in the air. I almost want it to come all of the way down the stairs just to end this tension one way or the other.

Looking over to Robert, I wave him over. He opens the door; the hinges once again protesting their movement. The growling increases and the panting seems even louder making me want to look behind me as it feels like this thing is right next to me. I hang up the phone and grab the flashlight. Robert steps into the kitchen with Nic and Bri right behind him. The sounds of feet running up and down the stairs increase. The rise in agitation is obvious.

Swinging the front door wide open, I yell firmly, “Out! Out now!” Whispering is moot at this point. Without pause, they run right behind me and out the front door. As they pass by, I tell them, “Get to the Jeep!”

I back out of the room onto the front porch stowing the flashlight and take another look around to ensure we are alone. We appear to be. It seems safe enough for now but I wonder how long that will last. I am thinking we have just been moved down the food chain a notch and entering the survival-based food chain ourselves.

I walk to the front window to retrieve the shotgun. The sounds of agitation still reach out to my ears but I don’t see anything. I turn and walk down the porch stairs holstering my handgun. Batteries, I think turning off the flashlight attached to the shotgun. That and so much more to think about in the very near future. Food, water, safety, Lynn, future.

With a heavy sigh, I walk over to my kids standing at the front of the Jeep, hand Robert the shotgun, and give them all the biggest hugs I have ever given. And that is saying something because I have given some pretty big hugs before. “I love you all so much,” I say into their ears. Well, not quite like that. Nic and Bri are both coming on par with me for height, and, well, to say anything into Robert’s ear, I have to tilt my head up.

“I love you too, Dad,” they all reply.

We step back from each other; Bri is there in her plaid blue flannel jam bottoms and an Abercrombie t-shirt. Her fine, golden hair hangs down close to the middle of her back and her blue eyes stare back at me. She doesn’t have to tilt her head far back as this year has given her quite the growth spurt. She has reached the five foot mark recently.

Nicole’s thick, dark hair hangs down to her shoulder and her plain green jams accentuate her hazel eyes. Robert holds the shotgun and is wearing blue jeans with his black Navy JROTC sweatshirt. His close-cropped hair has turned a darker shade of blond over the years but his eyes retain that same blue intensity. The thought crosses my mind, as it sometimes does, of how neither Bri nor Robert has my dark hair or my hazel eyes. Ok, perhaps my hair is not so dark anymore. The years have replaced some of the black with gray. I like to keep my hair short and the barber I go to has a peculiar knack of only cutting the dark hairs. I have heard the word distinguished used but I am sure it is only them being courteous.

Nic has her flips on but Robert and Bri are barefoot. I consider going back in to gather some of their clothes from the pile I saw on the couch but I have some at my house and we can gather other clothes for them later. Right now, I want to head back, try to wrap my mind around what has happened, and start putting a plan together for the future.

“Okay guys, into the Jeep,” I tell them. They all climb in with Nic and Bri in the back and Robert in front.

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