Sam had warned her. Actually, Erica’s husband had forbidden her from watching crime TV, while he was away on a hunting trip. She liked watching crime shows, but when she turned off the TV, scenes of torture and murder continued to dance in her mind.
Erica pulled a blanket tight around her curled up body despite the muggy summer air moving through the basement patio door. It was midnight and she was wide awake and—anxious. She sighed and turned the flat screen on again to watch a late night talk show.
“I wonder what Sam’s doing,” she said, shifting on the couch and pulling her cell phone from her pajama pant pocket. She pushed a speed dial digit.
The number rang once, then again and after the third ring went to voicemail. “This is Sam, leave it and I’ll return it.”
“Hi, babe, it's me. Just wanted to say I’m missing you. Hope you’re having fun, but can’t wait to have you home again. Call me when you wake up? Love you.” Erica ended the call and placed the phone on the side table next to the couch. She struggled to get free of the tangled blanket that held her captive and headed for the kitchen upstairs.
Erica stopped on the first step. “Maxy, where are you?”
Max strolled from behind a chair stretching his legs and meowed with each movement a wimpy vocal not worthy of his thirteen furry pounds. He flipped his bushy tail then rubbed against her legs.
Erica doubled over to gather Max in her arms, then hugged him. When he struggled to be free, she set him back on the floor. Erica took another step up, then stopped to sniff the air. Was that cigarette smoke she smelled? She remembered the open door and ran to close it. Erica jumped when she saw her own distorted reflection in the glass, then pulled the sheers over the black hole.
“I shouldn’t have let Sam take all the guns with him,” she laughed and walked back to the stairwell and stepped up. She heard something in the kitchen at the top of the stairs--a muffled clatter and paused. Her heart bounced inside her chest. The noise stopped. Should she be quiet? Should she make noise herself? Who was in the kitchen?
Erica froze, holding onto the bookcase at the bottom of the stairs. Her legs trembled, but she had to go see what was up there. Lifting a foot, she steadied herself and placed it on the next step, then another all the while--listening. Her eyes darted from the upper landing and back to the basement. She didn’t have a plan if she met an intruder—except to run.
Once she reached the top, Erica jumped around the corner like one of the cops on the crime show she’d been watching—minus the weapon. She fumbled for the lights and heard a crash behind her. Erica clutched her chest and fell against the wall. The icemaker! The icemaker was releasing its ice.
A cabinet door squeaked when she opened it to get a glass to fill with water. After filling it, she hurried back down the steps spilling droplets along the way. Just as Erica came out of the stairwell, she felt someone grab her hair, pulling her sideways toward the bookcase. Erica dropped he glass as she fought to pull away from her captor.
“Max, what are you doing?” Erica squealed, expelling the air from her lungs. She pulled the cat from her hair. “You’re not supposed to be on the bookcase. I guess we shouldn’t have taught you how to leap on heads, even if it seemed cute at the time.” Her hands trembled as she comforted the insulted cat, then released him on the floor again. Erica sprinted back to the couch and scooted under the blanket. She refused to sleep in their bed when Sam was away, but she wasn’t having much luck sleeping on a couch either.
An oversized clock on the wall read 2:10 a.m. Erica pulled the blanket up to her chin and studied the room that glowed from the television. She wasn't watching the talk show that had turned into an infomercial because her eyes had stopped at the sheers that were swaying over the patio door, but she’d closed the door. Erica held her breath and felt her heart keep cadence with every step of a pacing shadow outside the glass door.
The lurking shadow barked. “Tinkerbell!” she cried out at her parents’ part Labrador-part something else-dog. “I forgot about Tinkerbell.”
Erica grabbed her cell phone and pushed the speed dial for her parents’ home number. “Answer please, Mom, answer,” she whispered, listening to the rings.
“Hello,” her mom said in a sleepy voice.
“Sorry to wake you, but I wanted to tell you something.”
“Erica? What is it?”
“Did you and Dad have fun tonight at the card game?”
“Is that what you wanted to tell me?”
“I wanted to tell you there was a death in the Coot’s family.”
“Susie died,” said Erica.
“Remember the new dog Susie? I think she died.”
Her mother sighed. “Are you watching something scary?”
“I’ll be glad when Sam gets home. I’m lonely, and yes, I’m a little scared.”
“You wouldn’t be scared if you didn’t watch crime shows.” Her mother reminded.
“I know, I know. Can you some sit with me for just a little while, Mommy?”
“Erica, you’re downstairs in our basement.” She heard her mother take a deep breath, then release it. “Would you like your dad to come down and check out the basement for you?”
“No—no I’ll be ok. Thanks for letting me stay here while Sam is away, by the way” Erica said. “Sorry I woke you. Love you.”
“Love you, too. Now get some sleep.”
Erica didn't hang up. “Do you think Dad would mind coming down and...?” The call went dead in Erica’s ear. “Mom?”