Alyssa dropped her keys off, letting them fall to the counter top with a clatter. The house was hot. Too hot. Especially after spending an hour at the gym. She was tired. She needed a shower, desperately. Most importantly, she needed some food. Pulling open the pantry door, she started scanning the shelves. Her eyes stared over the instant noodles, cereal, oatmeal, canned soups, potato chips, bread, and everything else inside. Finding absolutely nothing to eat, she moved on to the refrigerator. She wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but she stuck around with her head in the chilled air for a few minutes without even looking at the food. It felt nice against the lingering sweat. Eventually, she focused on food. After moving between the pantry and the fridge several times, she eventually settled for a frozen burrito.
Only to open up the box and find it completely empty.
“Mom!” she called out. “Dad ate all the burritos and left the box in the freezer again.”
Sighing, Alyssa returned to rummaging through the stores of food in search of anything edible. By the time she decided to simply order some Chinese takeout, she had spent nearly a half-hour looking for food. A half-hour during which she had never received a response from her mother. She was just about to call out again when she noticed the paper stuck to the fridge with a magnet.
“Called in to work,” Alyssa mumbled, reading from the paper. “Someone tried to break into the vault?” Expecting more details, she flipped the paper over to find nothing but blank space. “That seems more like a job for the police than a security guard, mom,” Alyssa said to no one in particular. Though being called in did explain why all the lights were out. Her mother couldn’t stand sitting around in the dark and always had at least one in the kitchen and one in the adjoining family room turned on. With her father off to his high school reunion, she had the house all to herself.
If only she had someone to invite over.
Shaking her head, Alyssa pulled out her cell phone to dig up some news on the attempted robbery. She tossed a frozen pizza into the microwave at the same time.
Earlier in the evening, roughly an hour before Alyssa got off work at the department store, two men stole and drove a school bus through the brick wall of the bank. According to the news article, they actually made it into the vault. No word on how. The bank closed at six, almost three hours before the robbery. The vault should have been long since closed for the day. One security guard had been killed—not her mother, but one of her coworkers—along with the bank manager when the bus rammed through the wall. A claims associate had also been on site, finishing out the day, but had been far enough away from the wall that nothing had hit her. Silent alarms had summoned the police, but the two robbers had escaped with a bag of cash.
Which was good news. Not the deaths, which were terrible and tragic even if Alyssa didn’t know the people. The good news was that no thieves were still around. Her mother would likely be standing around guarding an open door to whatever money had been left behind and probably didn’t have much possibility of encountering any more criminals.
Satisfied that nothing about the situation was going to immediately affect her, Alyssa turned her attention to the beeping microwave and pulled out her pizza. She had only just kicked back and sat down on the comfortable leather couch to eat when she heard a tapping. Nothing loud. Just a gentle rapping at the front door.
“’Tis some visitor,” she muttered, glancing at her cell phone, “tapping at the front door. At 11:30 in the evening.” Or perhaps not a simple visitor, she thought. The three people she still talked to from high school either worked this late—fast food, ugh—or lived on the opposite end of the city. Regardless of their situation, they would at least call before knocking on the door.
Another possibility sent chills up her spine. What if mom did get hurt? Her mother could be lying in a hospital bed bleeding out while Alyssa sat around eating pizza.
Pizza forgotten on the coffee table, Alyssa shot to her feet. She made her way to the door as calmly as possible while trying to still her rapidly beating heart.
Alyssa didn’t quite make it. The sound of shattering glass locked her in place before she even reached the hallway leading to the front door.
A fresh set of chills ran down her spine; she had a drastically different idea of just who might be at the front door. Someone with far less noble intentions than a police officer stopping by to talk about her mother. Unless that had been an accident. A definite possibility, but not a chance Alyssa was willing to take. Their neighborhood was not a prim and proper kind of place. It wasn’t a trailer park either, but their home likely had more to steal than a smaller residence.
Alyssa considered running to their gun safe. To do so, she would have had to run through the entry hall to the opposite side of the house to her parents’ room. Instead, she darted across the hall straight into her brother’s room. With Clark off to college, his room hadn’t seen much use. Luckily, he hadn’t been able to take most of his stuff with him. Especially his collection.
Feeling around in the dark wasn’t the best way to search. Turning on a light might be worse. She hadn’t heard anybody enter yet, but she didn’t want to turn on the light and signal where she was.
Her hands brushed over the dresser, feeling out an array of weapons. Some hatchet, a flintlock pistol—which was only a model and even if it wasn’t, Alyssa doubted it would be loaded—a wide variety of daggers, and something that felt like a wooden stick with a rock on the end. She grabbed the dagger with a spiked finger-guard and slipped it into her belt. Her boxing experience might help use what was effectively brass knuckles, but it wasn’t what she wanted. None of the weapons on the dresser had any reach to them. And they all seemed too lethal. She didn’t want to kill anyone.
Moving towards the closet, Alyssa just about tripped over exactly what she had been looking for. A hard metal bat.
Alyssa curled her fingers around the rubber grip as she heard the front door creak open. Holding her breath, she pressed her back up against the wall to the side of the bedroom door. She kept the bat at the ready just in case anyone came in. If no one came in, she was perfectly content to let them steal whatever they wanted. A missing television or laptop was far better than getting killed during a burglary gone wrong. She wished she could call the police. Unfortunately for that, her phone was back by the couch. All she could do was hope and pray.
Footsteps crept down the hall towards Alyssa. He hadn’t chosen to head towards Alyssa’s or her parents’ room, which was all that was in that side of the house. He moved towards the side with the kitchen, living room, dining room, her brother’s room, and a small office room.
The steps came slow and soft, but not soft enough. Maybe if the guy had taken off his shoes. Even then, each step sent a soft creaking of the wood through the old house.
Alyssa stayed where she was, entirely unmoving. Her brother’s room was first on the intruder’s path, straight across from the kitchen area. One on the left and the other right. Even as she tightened her grip on the bat, she prayed that he would pick the left and completely ignore the right.
Her prayers went unanswered.
A leather gloved hand pressed against the partially opened door, slowly nudging it open.
Alyssa didn’t hesitate. The moment he took a step into the room, she swung her bat at his stomach.
He doubled over with a groan, trying to gasp for the breath that she had knocked out of him. But Alyssa wasn’t done. If her mother had taught her anything, it was that an assailant was never out of the fight until he was either bound or dead. Killing him was a bit much, but knocking him out so she could tie him up would work. She brought the bat high over her head and swung it straight down on the hunched-over man.
With a sickening crack, he collapsed on the ground without trying to catch himself.
Alyssa, suddenly breathing heavily, didn’t move. She listened. There had only been one set of footsteps, but that didn’t mean that a second person couldn’t come. After a moment of waiting, she let out a sigh and flicked on the room lights.
“Oh damn it.” She dropped the bat, backing away from the prone body as it landed on the carpeted floor with barely a thump. He had a balaclava over his face, but nothing on his neck. Purple and black blemishes already covered the visible skin. A protrusion right at the base of his head stuck out like a sore thumb. Or a broken neck.
She hadn’t meant to kill him. Give him a concussion, maybe. Nothing more.
Yet there he lay, unmoving with his neck snapped.