Vaughn’s eyes opened in complete darkness. He scanned up and down, left and right into the void trying to orient himself but it took a moment to complete the freefall back into consciousness. He finally managed to raise his head up from his pillow and find his clock which was resting on the nightstand. The red digital numbers were at first glance incoherent, hieroglyphic nonsense until his consciousness was fully restored.
The time read 3:01.
He reached out next to him feeling the warm curve of Jessica’s flannel covered hip under the duvet. He slid his hand up along her side feeling that she was facing the other way, curled up in a fetal position as she always did when she slept. As usual, her legs extended well into his half of the bed. Her toes were always cold.
“Did you hear that?” he whispered to her.
No reply. She was out. No need to wake her up, he thought. He was probably just awoken by a dream.
He lay for few moments staring up blindly into the blackness. He wished that they had a dog…a German Shepherd, to be exact; one of those majestic, vicious and vigilant breeds that would sound alerts at intruders and scare them off or even better, lock its jaws onto their leg.
Vaughn and Jessica Clayton had moved the past spring into an old house in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains west of Denver. It was a seventies tri-level which sat on a hillside on a ten acre lot peppered with ponderosa pine and aspen. An on-property seasonal stream was advertised and it did not disappoint after the late season snows melted off. One of their first mornings in their new home they awoke to find a herd of fifty elk cows and calves mewing in their yard.
The space of the enormous lot appealed to Jess and Vaughn who were recovering suburbanites. They were quickly spoiled by the tranquility. In no time they developed a loathing for the cinder-block strip malls and six foot privacy fences that had hemmed in their prior life.
The lot also had views. What could possibly be said about the views that would do them justice? The
panorama, culminating in the snow-capped Mount Evans beat the hell out of staring at the phallus-shaped, brown water tower located across the street from their prior abode.
But acclimating to rural life was, in many ways, more difficult than Vaughn had expected. The nights, especially after midnight, were utterly and completely quiet unless the coyotes were yelping. The mountain lion screech was a most unnerving sound as well— unlike anything he had ever heard or expected. But in the absence of those disturbances, night was a profound, deafening, hypnotic silence that magnified the sense of isolation and intensified all the insignificant and meaningless noises of a creaking, forty year old, plywood house.
The wind blowing the bird feeder against the window was the audible equivalent of a car crash in one’s driveway. The snapping of a mousetrap sounded like a shotgun blast. The gentle buzz of the refrigerator, which was inaudible in the daytime, was akin to some roaring, heavy-industrial machine.
These sounds were meek noises to desensitized, urban dream-weavers. The shrieking cop sirens and barking dogs and base-bumping car stereos of the city night drowned out the tiny noises. But out here, on the edge of the wilderness— at least a comparative wilderness anyway— those meek little noises were thunderous sounds.
Vaughn reassured himself that the noise that had awoken him, if it was indeed real and not dreamt, must have been nothing. It was just the old, plywood house shrinking as it cooled in the crisp spring night. Nothing at all, he declared to himself. Just go back to sleep. He adjusted his pillow, positioning his cheek on the cool spot and closed his eyes. He still wished he had a Shepherd, though.
When Vaughn was a kid, a neighbor had a big, vicious, brown, Shepherd mix. It barked menacingly at everything, especially anything small and weak and human. The ten year old Vaughn, an exemplary small and weak human himself, had to pass that beast on his way to the school bus each morning. Shasta, which was the dog’s unfittingly effervescent name, would always be standing guard at his three foot chain link fence between houses, waiting for little toe-head Vaughn to pass by. It would stand before the meager fence, one which he could easily hop with minimal effort, drooling and barking, his dead brown eyes locked on.
The legend of Shasta wove its way through the network of imaginative, neighborhood youth. It was known among these kids to be a fact and not myth that Shasta had broken loose one evening from his chain link confines, climbed into an open, second story window, and made off with a neighbor’s newborn baby. All childhood legend of course, but a story that resonated with the neighbor kids, especially when one was walking home from a friend’s in the darkness. Many a kid in Vaughn’s neighborhood cast anxious glances over their shoulders on such nocturnal journeys.
“Never look behind you cuz you might just see what’s gainin’ on ya.”
Vaughn chuckled as he recalled that grammar school advice, given by a chubby neighbor kid who was a devotee of the Shasta myth and also one who liked to scare the shit out of the neighbor kids with his Ouija board.
Back to sleep, Vaughn thought. I’ll probably dream of satanic devil dogs now, he thought.
Vaughn dozed off.
But a sliding noise stirred him again.
Then he heard what sounded like a voice.
“Gah!” it seemed to exclaim with restraint.
Vaughn sprung up. It was definitely a voice. It was definitely a male voice, a hushed, whispering voice but indeed a male voice. It was definitely not Jessica as she was definitely asleep and she was definitely not male.
Did I dream it? He asked himself. Maybe. He found his clock in the darkness again. It was 3:17. He sat in bed, eyes darting around again through the black ink of night. He thought about what he should do? Should he go check it out? That was rash. He would have to get up and that would wake Jess.
He imagined himself as that ten year old, frightened of dogs. Just listen, he ordered himself. Be still. He put his hand on Jessica again and leaned towards her ear. He brushed away her silken hair and whispered in her ear. She didn’t respond but her breathing, which generated a faint whistle when she exhaled, had become quiet. He knew she was awake.
“What?” She asked in a faint strain.
“Shhh,” Vaughn replied. “Did you hear that?” he whispered.
They both held still for a minute or so listening to the darkness. A strong breeze combed through the pines outside their window. After a minute, Vaughn decided that it was just the wind. But his eyes scanned the blackness once more just to be sure. Jess was already whistling faintly again. She was apparently unconcerned. Vaughn gently brushed her hair with his hand and started to lay back.
This time Vaughn knew that sound for certain. It was the sound of squeaking footfalls on their wood floor. There was absolutely something inside the house. A feeling of terror splashed onto him as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice water over him as he lay in bed. He leaned over towards Jessica’s ear again.
“I’m gonna check on Brooke.”
“Okay,” she mumbled, barely decipherable and barely awake.
Vaughn quietly sat up on the edge of the bed and tried to clear his head asking himself if he was, in fact, awake. Am I dreaming? He checked the clock again. It was 3:18. “Should I do this?” he whispered faintly. “Be careful”. He fumbled for his glasses on the nightstand being careful not to tip his water glass over. Why was it so difficult to find them in the dark? He groped about until his hand bumped into the lenses. He grabbed them and put them on. He sighed, asking himself again if he was in fact awake.
Vaughn’s heart began to pound him into action. He was indeed wide awake, now. He reached into the nightstand and, feeling along the underside of the top, he located and removed a small key that had been taped there by him several weeks before. He snatched it and, leaning forward, he reached down and felt along the inside of the bedrail, along it laterally up towards the headboard.
“Where is it?” he whispered while searching. “There!” He felt cool steel and slid his hand back along the barrel until he felt wood of the stock. Carefully, he pulled it off the hooks that held it in place on the rail. It was ingenious, he thought. He had hooked the old shotgun onto the inside of the bed rail with modified shelf brackets.
Vaughn sat there on the edge of the bed again, this time holding the old gun and the key. It was probably all for naught, just normal house noises, he thought. His heart rate slowed as he listened. Nevertheless, he proceeded feeling for the lock which was a cable that slipped through the loading and ejection ports making chambering and firing the shell impossible. He pushed the key into the lock thinking once more if he should really do it?
“Be careful…Oh God be careful. Please God, don’t let anyone get hurt tonight.”
It was quiet except for the velvety drone of the wind in the evergreens outside. He slowly turned the key.
Keep it pointed down. Keep the safety on. Don’t fire unless you know what you’re shooting at. Don’t even aim it unless you know, he thought. The key clicked and the cable broke loose dropping onto the floor. He took a deep breath and stood up with the unwieldy rifle. Am I being foolish? He asked himself. Put it away. This is dangerous.
Vaughn made his way through the darkness to the door of the bedroom. He quietly cracked it open and looked down the hall, waiting for his eyes to adjust so he could see more detail. The outline of the hallway doors emerged. The glow of a neighbor’s porch light, several hundred yards away, beamed though the patio door on the main level across the living room. Nothing was moving. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary.
Vaughn slipped into the hallway sliding quietly along the wall, rifle pointed down. He came to Brooke’s door. It was partly open which was the way he had left it when he put the toddler down. He gently pushed the door open and went in, following the glow of her nightlight towards her crib. He listened. There was no sound. He carefully kept the shotgun pointed away and crept closer to her crib. Still nothing. Closer. He looked into the bed. There was just enough glow from the nightlight to make out the outline of her tiny body. Brooke was on her stomach, knees tucked under, butt sticking straight up in the air, toy monkey to one side. Vaughn could now hear her faint, whistling snore which was not unlike her mother’s. He carefully retreated from the room.
He moved on down the hall and down the stairs and towards the kitchen; towards the dim blush of blue haze coming from the refrigerator’s indicator light. He could make out the shape of the island and the faucet. There was no movement and no sound. He scanned the adjacent dining room and living room. Nothing. No sound.
Then a noise made the hair on his arms stand on end. But it was only the refrigerator coming on. He sighed in relief. Everything seemed in order. The living room was dark but quiet. He listened again. No sound. He started to relax.
Vaughn stepped into the living room and turned towards the office…
…and his heart hammered one enormous beat that he could feel in his temples. There, in front of him, to his utter disbelief, was the silhouette of a man, a man with a small flashlight who was silently digging around in his desk. Vaughn couldn’t believe his eyes. He wanted to call out but pulled back ferociously on the reigns of his emotions. Could it be a dream? A lucid dream, he thought. No, it was real. He was there. He was awake. An intruder was indeed rummaging through his desk drawers.
Vaughn ducked quietly back into the hall and against the wall. He could feel sweat trickling down behind his ears. What do I do? He asked himself. He expected paralyzing terror to render him catatonically helpless but, to his surprise, he didn’t freeze up. He was not shutting down with terror, just flushed with adrenaline. He thought of his wife, asleep. He thought of his daughter. His fight instinct surged in torrents of epinephrine through his arteries and into his muscles. It felt like he could jump twelve feet and knock a man over with a wailing war cry. Waves of tingling pinpricks washed up and down his ribs and legs.
Kill him! Kill him dead! Shoot him! Were his only thoughts. He’s in your house. This is your house. He might murder your wife or you or rape your child. Do it! Kill him!
Careful. He warned himself. Easy. Breathe. What if you miss? What if he has a gun? He’s cornered. He’ll attack. You must kill him with one shot. Get a better angle.
The adrenaline was pumping so hard he could feel pulsations in his neck. He pushed the safety in on the gun. Was it on or off? It must be off, he thought. Yes, it’s off. Easy, now. Get ready to load the shell. Push that little thing in with your thumb. Now, one smooth motion …up, down. Quiet.
Vaughn took another peak around the wall again at the intruder. He couldn’t see the sweeping arc of his tiny flashlight anymore. Where is he? Damn he’s quiet. He’s got balls, too, coming in here like this, Vaughn thought. He scanned back through the living room sweeping his eyes all the way across to the dining room. Did he see me? Maybe he saw me and took off. No. He’s trapped in there. I would have heard him. He’s got to still be in the office, but where?
Then the intruder poked his silhouette head up from Vaughn’s desk.
Oh shit! Now! Do it now! What if he shoots back? Just do it! Blast him! Pump it and blow his fucking brains out. Reload and keep shooting until you’re out. Make sure you get him.
Vaughn started forward carefully, gun aimed at the intruder. He noticed a trickle down his own left leg. His bladder had let loose but only a little. Pissed my pants, he thought. Worry about it later. He crept towards the office, shotgun aimed through the opening in the door, aimed towards the silhouette’s chest.
Shoot now! Shoot! What if I screw up and don’t do it right? You have no choice. This is your house. This is your duty…protect your family! No, I can call the cops! No. They’ll never make it in time.
He tip-toed forward. The silhouette was going through Vaughn’s desk drawers quickly and silently, flashlight held in his mouth. Closer Vaughn crept, and closer still, his right thumb on the release, left palm gripping the forestock, sights aligned. Ready.
Moving closer, he reached the wall of the office. How could the intruder not notice him now? How could he not hear me? He poked the barrel into the doorway. His head followed, peering carefully in. The intruder was still there, oblivious. He was not ten feet away.
What now? What now? Shoot him! Do it!
He watched him for a moment, wanting desperately to call out. The intruder’s head was down as he felt around for a key or something under the desk. There was no doubt in Vaughn’s mind that he wanted to get into the safe in the closet. But then the intruder looked up…he looked up directly into Vaughn’s eyes…
“FREEZE!” Vaughn shouted.
There was so much adrenaline coursing through him that his order sounded more like a high-pitched shriek. “Don’t move!” In one fluid motion he slid the forestock back and forward loading the shell. The intruder’s eyes darted about looking for an escape but he knew instantly that he was trapped. He threw his hands into the air.
“No shoot! No shoot! No shoot!”
“Get your hands up,” Vaughn shouted nervously despite the intruder’s hands already being up. He stretched them even higher. “Back up!” Vaughn shouted. “Back against the wall!”
“Okay! Okay! No shoot me. No shoot. Okay?”
Vaughn screamed for Jessica. There was no answer. He waited two seconds and screamed again. “Jess!” Then one second more. “Jess!”
“No shoot me, okay? I no move.”
“Is okay, no? No shoot. I do what you say.”
“Get down!” Vaughn barked, the deeper, more resonate and commanding quality of his voice returning. “No, just keep your hands up. Jess! Jess! Damn it!”
Jess finally appeared almost running into Vaughn and setting off the shotgun.
“What the hell is your…?” shouted Jess as she switched on the light, the blinding light, the light which illuminated reality in a brilliant, irradiant supernova.
The intruder came into full view. He was dressed in black sweats and a gray hoodie. He was small, Latino, tattooed…tattooed on the face.
“What the hell?” Jess screamed. What…what is going on?”
“Call the police,” Vaughn ordered.
“Do no shoot me, man. Is cool,” begged the intruder.
“I said turn around. Shut up! Turn around or I’ll blow you away!”
“Okay, okay,” he said as he turned around. “Juss hear me. We no have to call cop.”
“Shut up,” Vaughn replied. “Keep your hands up. If you lower them I’ll shoot you dead. Jess! Did you call 911 yet?” Jessica was still standing next to him, frozen in disbelief. “Jess!” Vaughn shouted at point blank into her face. “Call the police! Now!”
Jessica Clayton, a mother, was consumed with other ideas, other instinctual ideas.
“Shoot that son of a bitch!” she ordered.
“No shoot me!” begged the intruder. “Tell lady iss okay. No shoot me!”
“Shoot that asshole!” She ordered. “Shoot him, Vaughn. Kill him or I’ll kill him myself. I’ll go get a knife. You son of a bitch! You break into my house? You come here to take my daughter? Huh? Answer me! Shoot him, Vaughn. Kill him! Kill him or I’ll do it. I’m getting a knife.”
Brooke’s crying called from down the hall.
The intruder’s eyes widened pitifully as he looked back over his shoulder. “No shoot me. I make all okay. I give you money. No cop. I give you money.”
Jess turned for the hallway. “Brooke better be all right or I’ll come back here and stab your frickin eyeballs out you son of a bitch,” she declared.
“Brooke’s okay,” Vaughn assured her. “I checked on her, already. She’s fine. Just call the police. Do what I say!”
Jess ran to the kitchen and grabbed her cell phone but the battery was dead. She fumbled around the kitchen junk drawer, that drawer that has all the dried up pens and old receipts and stamps and scotch tape and AA batteries and rubber bands and scissors, but she couldn’t find the charger there.
“Did you call the police yet?” Vaughn asked, with the intruder’s spine in the sights.
“You let me go and I give you money…please,” begged the intruder.
“My phone’s dead,” shouted Jess.
“Just call the police!”
Brooke’s screaming grew louder.
Indivisible can be purchased here from Amazon: