Two-thirty-eight by CD Richards
This Sentence Starts The Story contest entry
"Did you hear that?" Ellen Thompson's voice was a panicked whisper, barely audible above her husband's heavy breathing. "Troy, wake up!" The urgency, though not the volume, increased as Ellen shook her partner roughly by the shoulder. Troy Thompson muttered an unintelligible curse, as his flirtatious conversation with the attractive new cashier was rudely interrupted.
"Shhhhhh! Quiet! There's someone in our yard."
Instantly forgetting Aldi's latest recruit, Troy's mind struggled towards lucidity. Opening one eye, he noted the glowing red symbols a couple of feet in front of his face. Two-thirty-eight A.M. "You were dreaming, go back to—" This time it was Troy cutting himself off, as he heard what he was certain were rustling sounds, and at least one subdued voice mumbling something indecipherable in the garden. He threw back the covers and crept to the window of their first-floor bedroom. The light from the half-moon allowed him to make out a couple of objects on the lawn below. How many times does Alicia have to be told to put that bike away? Unfortunately, the large acacia tree directly in front of the window obstructed his view of most of the yard.
From downstairs, in the direction of the living room, came an odd, muffled, scraping sound, followed by an audible thump. Then, softly, but unmistakably, a whispered expletive.
"What are we going to do?" Ellen, who had obviously heard it too, was now sitting bolt upright, holding the covers in front of her. Making his way slowly back to the bed, Troy sat on the edge, pausing to think for a few seconds. He reached down and retrieved the baseball bat that had been gathering dust for several years.
"I need to find out what's going on. You wait until I'm out the door, and count to ten. Then take your cell phone, and go to the girls' room. The three of you get in the closet, and you call the police. But keep it as quiet as you can."
At the mention of Roslyn and Alicia, Ellen shuddered involuntarily, unspeakable images flashing through her mind. "Troy... be careful!"
Not feeling anywhere near as calm as he hoped he was appearing to be, Troy quickly and silently climbed into the jeans and t-shirt he had left on the floor beside the bed. Grabbing the bat, he made his way to the door and onto the landing.
...nine... ten. Ellen finished the silent countdown, then picked up her cell phone from the bedside table. As she made her way out of the door and to the left towards their daughters' room, she could hear the squeak of the noisy step second from the bottom. Troy had reached the ground floor.
Opening the door to Roslyn and Alicia's room, Ellen quickly took stock of the moonlit scene. Thank God — no "Redrum" scrawled on the walls in blood! She approached the 11-year-old first, and was relieved to hear Roslyn's steady, soft breathing. She had to quickly cover the girl's mouth with her hand as she was startled into wakefulness, to prevent her from crying out. Ellen told her daughter not to make a sound, and to stay put, as she turned to rouse Alicia. Though she couldn't make out what was being said, Ellen thought she heard Troy's voice coming from the living room.
Roslyn looked petrified in the glow of the cell phone display as her mother closed the louvered door of the walk-in closet behind them. Alicia, thankfully, was still more asleep than awake. Both did as they were told, and remained silently hunched on the floor as Ellen punched in the 911 code.
"Hello, police? There's someone in my house, and... no, I can't speak up... they are inside, and I have my girls with me, and my husband is—" Ellen paused to take a breath, trying to keep her composure. "Yes, I'm at 22 Rowlands Avenue, in Birchgrove. No, we haven't seen anyone, and no one has made any threats, but—"
"You have been very helpful, ma'am. We already have a car in the area, and it should be there within a few minutes. In the meantime, please try not to panic. Just stay with the girls, as you have been doing, and try to remain out of sight until we get there." The dispatcher's calm voice was mildly reassuring. "This is the seventeenth similar call we've had tonight, and no one has come to harm at this point, so I'm sure you will be fine."
"Seventeen? What the hell is—"
"Tell me, ma'am, before you and your husband retired for the evening, did you happen to leave a glass of beer and a carrot on the dining table?"
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When Ellen saw the blue and red lights flashing in through the bedroom window, she still had not heard or seen anything of her husband. Upon hearing the loud banging on the door, and the single word "police" shouted in an authoritative voice, she took the girls in tow, and cautiously made her way along the landing and down the stairs. Traversing the hallway, what she saw when she entered the living room left her standing in stunned silence. There, sitting on the couch with a vacant stare in his eyes and his mouth hanging open, was her husband Troy. In front of him, beside the tree, under which were now several brightly wrapped parcels, there were black sooty stains on the carpet in front of the fireplace.
Pinned to the tree was a large, brightly-colored sign:
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all — a good night!"
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