The dark of late night really was his favorite time of day, he thought. Above him a half moon gently slipped in and out of clouds. The gentle susurrus of tree frogs drifted out of the forest behind him, and was lost only in the quiet gurgle of the stream off down the yard to his left. To his right an expansive stretch of mowed grass was wrapped and hidden by tall evergreen bushes. Before him was what he had come for — a dark, modest mansion and its lone occupant. He had been watching from the edge of the trees for the better part of two hours now; watching her move from room to room after she had gotten home from work — wherever work must be. Forty minutes ago the lights had finally faded to darkness. Being almost three in the morning he was only mildly surprised that she had been up this late — he had been watching her and her house for almost a month.

Three weeks ago he had been strolling through the neighborhood like any other man might do in the evening — walking down the street, casually looking across the houses and their yards. He had learned that there was a lot to be told about a family by the home they kept. For instance how long the mail was left in the mailbox before being collected, the number and types of cars in the driveway, if there were children’s toys scattered across the porch, the driveway, the front or back yard – for that matter how often the yard itself was mowed. All these things told him quite clearly how many people lived there, if they had kids, when they were home, how fastidious they were about keeping their home and their yard, how many people might be asleep and a danger inside the house; if, for example, they happened to wake up while they were being robbed.

His fortuitous luck with the manse at the end of the street had come about precisely because of one of these walks. Normally it was the type of high profile house that he would have automatically stayed far away from — the lawn was mowed privately by a man who came twice a week; the woman who lived there came and went with far too random a schedule. The house itself, like its occupant, was too beautiful a temptation for him to seriously consider stealing into and robbing. One of the first things he had realized was that the best way to keep his career going was to not take too many risks in his targets. For him to break into the obviously most expensive, luxurious, and tempting houses was not only to flirt with the risks of armed inhabitants, swift police response, and security systems, but also set a neighborhood on notice that there was someone out there with nefarious intentions. After a while, all the neighborhoods in the area would take notice. No, better to stay with small modest targets, that way it always seemed random, he told himself. Better to keep a low profile.

He couldn’t even tell himself why that evening three weeks ago he had crept around the side of the house at the sound of voices — only that he was curious to not only see her again, but to see the people she entertained on the deck as well. He could hear and smell the barbecue from the street and with the trees pressing in close there was precious little chance of him being spotted — after all, he had done this before.

He had arrived just in time to see the tail end of the barbecue. Drinks were being finished, goodbyes said with regrets and ‘we should do this more oftens.’ Yet, as she ushered her guests back inside and through the house to see them out, he noticed that the back door hadn’t closed behind her. He remembered the heavy beating of his heart as he had crept quickly onto the deck and pressed a wadded chewing gum wrapper into the bolt hole of the door. Back in the woods he had watched her return, push the door shut, turn the lock on the end of the knob, and shuffle upstairs to bed.

A week later he had returned to the house to check the door once again. Creeping up the deck on a night much like tonight, he had noticed with satisfaction that the deck was well constructed and didn’t creak at all. With two gloved fingers he gently pushed in on the door. Though it was snug in its frame, the paper wrapper had kept the bolt from engaging, and the door quietly swung inwards into the kitchen. That night he had pulled the door shut again and walked back into the woods to watch. He had waited for an hour — no lights came on, and no police cars pulled into the driveway — sirens or not. The house didn’t have a security system. He’d be back… it was perfect.

Tonight though, he would be going into the house. As best he could figure, the back door led into the kitchen, and then from there he could get to the dining room, living room, den, and the main hallway near the front door. If she was like everyone else, her purse would be sitting downstairs either in the kitchen or living room, or near the door. He’d be able to swipe her cash, cards, and electronics, and leave through the back door with the TV. “Ten minutes, tops,” he reaffirmed to himself.

Dewy grass shushed against his feet as he stole across the back yard. Somewhere down the road a dog’s bark rang out once through the still night air. As he crept up the deck steps he smelled the faint aroma of fried onion — the remnants of the night’s dinner. Overhead, the stars spiraled on. Just as before the back door slid open at his push and into the dark kitchen he ventured. As best he could tell she hadn’t had any pets; at least, not any dogs. The kitchen was like any other upscale kitchen. Clean countertops, glass cutting board, knife block on the counter next to the coffee pot, one plate sticking up from the drying rack in the sink. In the shadows everything in the kitchen was cast in dull shades of gray and silver.

As he moved though the dining room towards the front of the house he took note of the serving cabinet behind the table, flanked by dining room chairs. In the darkness they stood like quiet sentinels; helpless as he trespassed amongst them. Behind the glass doors of the serving cabinet he could see cut crystal ware — hopefully he’d be able to find a bag or something on the way out, he thought.

Had he had a chance to prepare himself, or noticed the figure standing in the dark doorway before him it wouldn’t have saved him. She had been prepared, silent, and accurate. The twin prongs of her Taser lashed out of the living room darkness with a strident ‘crack’ and a puff of hazy smoke. As the weapon discharged into his chest his knees buckled under him, and he went down with a clipped shriek. Paralyzed, he could only look up as she deliberately walked towards him, still holding the trigger of the weapon down.

She knelt next to him as the Taser clicked rapidly in her hand, brushing her hair back over her ear. “You’ve made a very, very big mistake coming here, and I intend to ensure you regret it. In a few seconds you’ll lose consciousness, so don’t bother fighting it. We’ll have plenty time to… talk, later.” Her voice was controlled intensity; her gaze unflinching.

The first thing he knew as he came to was that he had never felt such pain in his life. The muscle strain from prolonged electric shock made his entire body feel like he had been beaten with a stick — he ached from head to toe. The second thing he realized was that he was in some very big trouble indeed.

He was standing, stretched with his wrists bound above him. The still air smelled faintly musty; he must been in the basement. There was cloth tied around his head over his eyes; he couldn’t even see the faint glare of light from around the edges. He tentatively pulled down on his wrists but there was neither slack nor give in whatever he was tied to; his feet came off the floor.

“Oh, lovely. You’re awake.” She was close before him. Her voice was surprisingly measured for a woman who had found someone skulking through her house in the middle of the night.

“Police?” He croaked, his voice catching in his throat.

“Oh, they won’t be coming. I don’t bother people that have more important things to do than deal with a poorly behaved young man. Besides, I think we’re going to solve this little indignation between ourselves. At the very least, boy, you won’t be breaking into any more houses any time soon.”

He could feel his pulse beginning to rush as images whirled through his head, each more gruesome than the last. A particular image of being trapped in the trunk of a car as it sunk to the bottom of a lake seemed quite intent on staying put just behind his eyeballs. A drop of sweat ran down the side of his neck.

“First of all, we have to come to an understanding on exactly what we’re going to do with you,” she began. “If you… make it through all of that, then perhaps we can discuss your punishment for keeping me up so late.” At this her voice dropped to a near growl, and his stomach began to flip flop inside him.

“You… you could let me go…” He stammered.

“No,” she said, cutting him off and driving a fingernail into his bare chest. “If you get out of here, it won’t be for a while; and your old life is over. If you leave here,” she drove the nail into his chest again, “you’re going to be a very changed man when you do. Do you understand me?”

He swallowed dryly, unable to answer.

“Oh, I’m sorry? I didn’t hear you,” she teased. He pressed his lips together, deciding he wasn’t going to give this bitch the satisfaction of an answer. Eventually she’d have to let him go. He wasn’t going to play her games.

“Suit yourself. Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to go back to sleep, and you’re going to stand here and contemplate your situation, boy. You’re welcome to strain and struggle, and if you can sleep standing up, go right ahead. However, I’m warning you. If you make enough noise to wake me up, I promise that you will regret it. To be completely sure you understand my meaning, think on this tonight.”

Blinding pain shot instantly across his chest as a sharp ‘crack!’ rang out of the air around him. He didn’t know what she had hit him with but it drove the air from his lungs in its intensity. The lingering sting was such that he wondered if he was bleeding.

“Goodnight, boy,” she sang over her shoulder. He listened to her steps up the stairs, and heard a door close somewhere above. His world remained terribly sore, dark, silent, and frightening.

“How did this go so wrong?” He asked into the darkness around him. There was no answer to be had.

September 2018
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