The lights had flickered in the wet splatter of the storm. Bullets of rain smacked into the sides of the house, the windows and roof, and the assault was louder and much more intense in the dark than David Kirkland had realized it would be. He fumbled around in the kitchen drawer, the one his wife always called the “miscellaneous” drawer. There were supposed to be candles in there, just in case. The lakehouse was always in danger of losing power if a storm hit bad enough and Sharon had insisted that they buy a small pack of tealights and a few larger candles to have around just in case.
Only problem was the damn things were never where you left them, you know?
He poked and prodded at the drawer. He had put them in there, for sure. A piece of paper found only moments ago had to be the receipt for them, David had stuck it in there with the wax sticks. He felt the corner of something and, hoping it was the box of tealights, gripped it tight. It was a poor decision.
The snap of the mousetrap bit down on his fingers, the flesh squeezed against the bones as he yanked his hand back out. It took a significant amount of shaking to get it to fly off, and no small amount of harsh language that he was certain helped. The mousetrap flew across the room to shatter against the wall. Pieces clicked and clacked to the floor. Fingers stuck in his mouth, trying to leech out the pain, he turned and slammed his left hand into the drawer, feeling around again for the candles. Almost instantly he felt wax in his fingers and whipped whatever it was out of the drawer. The lightning flashed outside again and in his hand, bright as day for that fleeting moment, were cheap and translucent wax candles, bought for emergencies. Emergencies such as being stuck in the house with no way to find your candles.
He wiped his wet fingers on his pants and sighed, headed back for the basement door. “Honey,” he called, “I found the candles.”
“Both kinds?” she asked in reply.
“Uh, are you going to believe me if I say yes?”
“No honey, but it’s good that you ask before trying to lie to me,” she said with a laugh. “Get up there and get the tealights.”
He swore under his breath and turned to head back to the kitchen. He had forgotten, momentarily, that they even had the little ones. She was right, Sharon always was, but he hated admitting that and he hated even more stumbling around in the dark. Refusal would have been met with annoyance but he could live with that. The thing they could not do without, unfortunately, was the lighter he had forgotten to light the candles. David had made fires with two wooden sticks in Scouts, but that was two decades ago and he was now an adult with a job and he wanted his damn lighter.
The lighter was in the drawer where the candles had been. The tealight box was in the cabinet, next to the cookie jar. They had never actually kept cookies in that jar, Sharon would never let Alana eat anything as processed as cookies and she knew the organic ones tasted like catshit. No, the cookie jar was up there to house their stashes. He took it down and popped it open. “Ah hell,” he thought, “she smoked most of the grass.” He was about to put it back when he remembered what else was in there. He popped the small baggie containing their last two mushrooms into the pocket of his polo shirt and headed back downstairs, triumphant with his tealights and lighter.
He opened the basement door, the howl of the storm outside shattering the quiet of the basement. “Shut that door,” Sharon called. He could see nothing but the blackness without letting some of the lightning in. “Light a candle to get down the stairs.” He rolled his eyes, annoyed that he had been in too big of a hurry to consider that, and clicked up a tealight with the cheap, red lighter. The little flame seemed like a spotlight in the darkness of the basement staircase and he remained cautious on his descent.
Moments later he had the whole basement partially lit, the little candles on shelves and the coffee table. Sharon was reading, she had been smart enough to bring a book down, and David was left to watch Alana sketch in her notebook with her colored pencils, which she had also been smart enough to bring. David lay back, his eyes on the ceiling. The basement was mostly insulated from the sound outside, the only part of the storm that eked in was the low hum of the wind. Upstairs it was a full-fledged gale, but here in the quiet he found the sound soothing, the little bit of the pitter-patter of rain that he could hear felt natural and calming. His vision blurred a bit and he began to drift off to sleep.
He opened his eyes. The sound had come from right above him.
“Do you think something fell over?” Sharon asked, concerned. “The bookshelf, maybe, or the Magnavox? I hope our records are ok.” She bit her lip, nervous. Once the family was safe she began worrying about the stuff. David and Sharon were both packrats, they bought too much and she made too much, her art and sculpting something they both stayed excited about even after growing well into their thirties. But they also collected things like music and movies, comics and books. The bookshelves were the most extensively covered, but they had a lot of good records in the Magnavox stand.
“I’m sure they’re fine,” he reassured her.
“Honey, that was loud.”
“Well, what do you want me to do about it?”
“I want you to go see what it is, daddy,” Alana called from her spot on the floor. “The noise scared me.” He looked down to see what she was doing. She had stopped her sketching and was staring up, the textured paint of the ceiling holding all of her interest. “What was that?” she asked.
“Something probably fell over, Alana,” he said, already exasperated. They had asked and he was probably not going to say no. David got up and went over to sit on the floor next to Alana. “I’m sure it was nothing.”
“Please?” she said, looking up at him with a touch of fear in her eyes.
He hung his head, a captive surrendering to a princess. She smiled and giggled, hugging him around his neck. When she eased out of the hug, however, her fear was still there and her eyes still on the ceiling. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll check it out if you’re really that worried about it.”
“Honey,” he said to Sharon, whispering in her ear as he passed her. “Honey, don’t forget it’s in the box on top of the shelf over there.”
“Then get it,” she said. “You take it, I don’t want it.”
“You might need it. The storm is bad, what if someone just decided to take a break in here and knocked stuff over willy-nilly?”
“I know you’re talking about the gun on the shelf over there,” Alana called to them, not looking up from her sketch pad. Sharon rolled her eyes and nodded to David, assuring him that yes, she would indeed get the gun if something was wrong upstairs.
David, for his part, rummaged through the closet under the stairs and came up with a wiffleball bat to defend himself with. Not much weight, it was unlikely to knock out a small animal and certainly would be useless against a human being but it was worth a shot. It looked like a wooden baseball bat, it was designed to so it might intimidate a potential intruder. He swung it twice, the plastic whistling in the horizontal arc.
“Easy, Sosa,” Sharon called. “You’ll give Alana ideas.”
“I’m not swinging a bat indoors, mommy,” the little girl asked. “Miss Granger at school says I can’t anymore after I knocked Billy Knowles’s tooth out.”
David shook his head, a smile on his face. He had paid for that tooth and had been just fine with it. Say what you will about his little girl’s behavior, she could take care of herself and could swing a plastic bat hard enough to knock one out of the park if she needed to. He ruffled her hair on the way by. She smiled up at him and then went back to sketching. Sharon got up and walked over to the foot of the stairs with him. He playfully patted her on the ass with the bat, then pulled her close and kissed her. She pulled back after a moment, worried as always. “Be careful up there, yeah?”
“Always, babe,” he said, flashing his best attempt at a roguish grin. “Always.”
He ascended the stairs. As he approached the door he slowed, held the bat out in front of him. Nerves were on edge and David knew it. He tried to stay calm, to hold it together, but he was breathing hard and shaking a bit.
He stepped out into the hallway. A cold sweat had broken out on his forehead, the beads pouring down his temples and his eyelids. He wiped it with the back of his hand and pressed on. He heard a small skittering off to the right. Turning to look, he realized it had come from the library. The footsteps echoed in the hall, the hardwood floors bouncing them around as he fought through his nervousness and went for the doorway. He swung the bat in front of him. Whoosh. It did not connect with anything.
The lightning flashed and as it did something scuttled from one couch to the other, slithering across the floor. The dark shape was quick. He swore, loudly, and bumped into the coffee table. He fell to the floor, swinging the whole way down. The bat smacked into the couch, the table, the floor. The scuttling moved passed him, he felt hands on his shoulders, his chest, as it crawled over him. He shuddered and swung at it, a loud thwack sounding as the hollow, plastic bat connected with something stiff and the scuttling shape crumbled to the floor.
David skidded away from the shape, fumbling in his pocket for the lighter. He clicked it on and looked at the figure next to him.
It was a small, african-american kid. A boy, by the looks of it. He was maybe eight years old. David panicked, dropping the bat and rolling over to come up to the kid and try to shake him. “Wake up, kid,” he breathed, “please wake up.” He slapped the sides of the boy’s face gently.
With a loud gasp and a shout the kid woke up, scaring David half to death. The kid began twisting and writhing as David held onto him. A full panic was on the boy and he wanted free.
“Enough, enough!” David cried. “Kid, I’m serious, just chill.” He got his arm around the boy’s chest, pinning his arms to his side. The writhing began to subside and eventually the kid went limp. David lay there in the dark, a freaked out kid breathing shallowly in his arms.
“Who are you?” the boy asked at last.
“David. I live here. Who are you?”
“Fair enough,” the boy said, nervous. “I’m Deshawn.”
“See, now was that so hard?” David asked, suddenly completely exhausted. He lifted the boy, holding him tight so he wouldn’t run away, and descended down the stairs with him. Sharon was still waiting at the bottom, her hand over her mouth in shock from all the noise and fighting from upstairs. She stared hard at Deshawn, unsure what to think. David set the boy on the couch.
“We’ve got some sandwich stuff and some bottled water. You hungry?”
The boy nodded slowly, cautious. David got up and began spreading peanut butter on a slice of bread on the coffee table. Sharon stood off to the side of the basement, pacing nervously.
Alana, however, walked up to the boy. Her sketchpad was in her hand, and she had her colored pencils in the other. Walking around her father while he worked on the sandwich, she opened the pad to a sketch she’d done earlier in the evening in regular pencil. “Will you help me color this?” she asked. Deshawn nodded, picked up a red pencil, and began to color. David looked at his daughter, smiling with pride. There was no telling how this turned out, but it was starting with coloring and a sandwich and that was just not half bad.