A grieving father desperately fights for his daughter when their reality comes under siege
|June 18th, 2015
Michael’s phone rang, illuminating an otherwise unlit bedroom.
He laid flat on his back, listening to its melodic tune. Staring at the ceiling until the call ended, surrounding him in darkness once again. Only seconds passed until the next call, Michael sighing as he sat up.
He knew who it was by the ringtone, each contact in his phone having their own song. He glanced at the clock beside his bed before answering, surprised it was nine already.
“Hello?” Michael shut his eyes, anticipating another favor.
“Hey, I didn’t wake you up, did I?” Ethan asked, Michael shaking his head automatically.
“Great. You busy?”
“Not really.” How he never took a hint by Michael’s tone was a mystery.
“You want to come over? I got beer. Just hanging out on the porch, pretty chill night.”
Michael eased onto his back again, thinking on the offer. Glancing at the clock again, red numbers screaming at him to stay.
“I can’t.” Michael replied, closing his eyes.
“I’m...waiting for somebody to get back. Besides, I don’t drink anymore.”
Neither were lies, and on top of it, Michael never cared for the conversation. With Ethan in his early twenties, Michael his late thirties, it felt like babysitting as well.
“Who is she?” Ethan asked, amused at his own joke.
“My daughter.” Michael replied flatly after a moment of hesitation.
Another few seconds pass, Ethan’s short laugh conveying uncertainty.
“I’m not joking.” Michael assured him.
“I didn’t know you had a daughter.” Ethan said, the spark in his voice gone.
“Something like that, yeah. But she’s at some kid’s birthday party, I told her to be back by nine thirty, and I want to make sure she is.”
“You mean the one between our houses? The loud ass one with music and screaming kids inside?” Ethan said, Michael chuckling.
“That’d be the one.”
“What’s her name? I’ll pop in, say hi.” He joked, Michael’s smile fading.
“She better be heading out in about...twenty minutes. If you’re still outside you can catch her. But...I think that girl’s mother only invited her because she doesn’t have any friends here. The girl would be eight now, mine’s fifteen. More of a babysitter really. I just want her to enjoy some time for herself, without me...hovering.” Michael went on, glancing to the clock again.
There was no answer.
“Yeah...but I know it’s just a short walk away for her, I get it. I know she can be trusted to come back on time. I just worry, you know?” Michael went on, filling the persistent silence.
It continued for a while, and he pulled the phone away, looking at the screen. It hadn’t hung up, nothing was different.
“Michael?” Ethan said, a hint of fear in his voice.
“I’m here. Did you hear anything I said?”
“Michael...are you expecting anyone else? Besides her.”
“No...why?” Michael sat up.
“There’s someone poking around outside your house. A man who walked by my place, I thought he was strung out on something.” Ethan said, Michael letting out an involuntary laugh.
“Are you joking?” He asked, truly unsure.
“No Michael, I’m...I’m not kidding. He’s outside your door, did you leave it unlocked?”
“Yeah?” Michael began getting out of bed, a leg hanging off by the time he heard Ethan cursing to himself.
He then heard his front door open and shut, quietly.
“Ethan?” Michael muttered, staring at the doorway lightly lit by the outside and living room lights kept on for Britney. He could barely see out into the kitchen from his bedroom, and with still no answer, his heart began to race. “Ethan, are you messing with me?”
The call hung up.
Michael looked down at his phone, breathing becoming heavy with panic. Staring at his screen as Michael waited for the text telling him it was a joke, and not to worry.
“Britney?” Michael called her name, looking up to the doorway. His eyes took a moment to adjust, and then he saw it.
The silhouette of a tall man, standing still in his doorway.
Michael scrambled to the opposite side of the bed, standing between the wall and it, fumbling blindly as he turned on a lamp, eyes glued to the silhouette. With it on, all hopes of a prank gone too far vanished, replaced by something beyond fear and disgust he could never describe.
“Jesus Christ, what the hell is wrong with you!” He nearly screamed at the man, whose skin was a medium tint of gray, hair in tufts, skin and bones. His eyes were sunken and wide, staring into Michael’s, as if he had no real intention in being there. Like he stumbled upon the place, but the rest of the man’s face was so otherwise dead in expression it was impossible to read.
Michael stood staring only a moment longer before reaching into his headboard and flipped open the pocket knife inside. “Get out of my house!” He warned, sure the shaking hand and tone devoid of power diminished any real sense of threat.
There was a flash of anger across the man’s face, and he lunged onto the bed towards Michael, who’d already started his way towards the adjoining bathroom door with no intention to enter. He decided to stay, as Britney could return. This intruder had to be dealt with here, whatever that may entail.
He readied himself as the man slid off the side and moved toward Michael once again at full speed. Though he towered over Michael’s five foot eleven, the knife felt like an equalizer.
Immediately, Michael plunged it into the man’s abdomen, letting him do half the work with the momentum of his charge. Michael took a few steps back, pulling the blade out along the way. The man had stopped, hands over the wound. In pain but silent.
Adrenaline and desperation propelled Michael to move again, bloody blade at the ready as he stabbed him repeatedly, struggling several times against the man’s failing attempts to stop him, seemingly too overwhelmed by his assault to do anything effectively until eventually falling altogether.
Michael took the opportunity to get to his dresser in the corner, tossing the red soaked knife on the floor along the way and yanked open the top drawer. He pulled out a hand gun, every inch of him shaking as he turned to aim, a round already chambered. He hesitated at seeing the man writhe, taking note of how despite his wounds, he still attempted to crawl towards Michael.
He aimed at the man’s head, not letting himself think any more. This was an intruder who attacked first, and something severely was wrong with him. As is, he has a right to shoot. To protect himself and Britney.
Michael pulled the trigger, the flash of light and shocking bang bring the room to a deafening silence.
Opening his eyes, Michael confirms he didn’t miss. The man stopped moving and blood soon pooled beneath him into the tan carpet. Michael stood staring at the scene, breathing as it felt his heart would simply give out if not slowed.
Steadily, he lowered the gun. Eyes wide, Michael looked down at his plain white shirt to find blood on it and though he couldn’t see it, he could feel there was some on his black boxers.
“God...” He said to himself, unsure what to do next.
Am I supposed to call the police? With no marks on me?
A ding from his phone snatched him out of thought. A text, from Ethan.
Michael approached the bed, stopping himself from grabbing it to read when he saw the blood on his hand. He wiped it on a blanket, then proceeded.
Out of character, in all lower case and no punctuation, it read, ‘Get your daughter’.
Michael rushed out the door, only his gun in hand and in the same ruined clothing, down the road with only the dim streetlights behind to guide him. Ignoring the cold pavement as it scraped at his skin with each heavy step until he reached their front door.
Michael hesitated outside, wanting to listen and unwilling to burst in waving a pistol without reason. A pop song played inside, loud as Ethan said, but he couldn’t make out any other noise. No chattering, shuffling or screaming kids. Only music.
His heart palpitated once again as he hid the gun behind his back, opening the door and sticking his head in, hoping to be greeted by a group of confused children and parents. He decided against immediately speaking, staying quiet and looking in, eyes soon widened. Special lighting tinted everything a light red, there were people lying still on the floor. Besides one woman knelt over a man on his back. Michael slipped in, shutting the door silently, watching with his gun gripped tight.
There’s no goddamn way... Michael thought, undetected so far, eyes squinted and cheery music
The woman looked up, wounded arm of the person in both hands, blood trailing from her mouth to her neck. She looked as the intruder did only with longer hair that partially covered her face.
As soon as the woman began to rise with that same look of anger forming in her eyes, Michael raised his gun without debate, shooting her twice in the chest. He waited until she slowed her squirming, afraid to approach or move further into the house.
Though he did with caution, examining from a fair distance the man’s arm, bloody with missing chunks, skin pulled back in places.
“Holy shit...” Michael said to himself, glancing at the woman he despised killing once again before walking towards the speaker on a coffee table, quickly turning it off left him in silence. Michael saw no point in bothering with the red light as he reluctantly looked at each body on the floor, all bloody, but none his daughter
“Britney?” He called out, waiting for a moment. No answer.
Michael studied everyone a final time before moving on. Only three of the eleven possibly looked like the crazed two. He went down the hall and stopped. Composed not out of indifference, but fear he may not find her safe, if at all. He knew there were more people than that at the party, and if she was a part of the ones who left…
“Britney?” He called again, studying the couple doors on each wall.
“Michael?” A soft voice responded from the left, sending a chill into his brain.
He hurried into the room, closed the door, and flipped on a light, knowing the house quite well. Britney sat in a corner by the closet, cradling the birthday girl whose throat had been slashed, tears on both faces.
“Oh God...” Michael dropped to his knees in front of them. He set his gun down and held out both arms for Britney to ease the girl over to him. He looked down into her eyes, aware she feared death as well as how close it was.
“You’ll be okay, Isabelle. I’m gonna get you help.” Michael said, trying to appear calm. He laid her down gently, picked up his gun and stared at Britney as she hugged her knees, breathing rapidly with panicked eyes. “Come with me.” He said, only receiving a glance before she shook her head. “It’ll be okay, I took care of it.” He urged her, stepping over and grabbing Britney’s arm. Tears streamed faster as he pulled her up and towards the door.
“I’m getting help for you, Isabelle.” He called before leading Britney out, shutting it.
“Don’t take me back out there!” Britney cried, Michael shushing her gently.
“Shut your eyes, we’re going.” He said.
“Wait, what about-”
“We’re going.” Michael said sternly.
“We can’t leave her!”
“I don’t think she’ll make it long enough for an ambulance to get here, let alone anything a doctor could do. We’re going, cover your eyes.” Michael took her by the hand and led her back towards the living room, feeling a slight pull as she resisted, eyes shut.
Michael stuck his head out the front door to check before stepping outside and letting go of her.
“We’re stopping by the house, um...” Michael looked around, trembling as he considered stopping by Ethan’s.
“What happened?” He looked back to her.
“I...don’t know, these weird looking people just walked in and started attacking everyone.” She said, gazing off into the dark.
“Are you hurt?” Michael looked her up and down.
She shook her head vigorously, eyes welling up once again. A not so distant sound stops him from questioning further, a sort of popping followed by pained screaming possibly three houses away. As if on cue, more screaming from a separate house sounds out as sirens echo from the main road. Like it was some big, sick joke of a performance.
“Come on.” Michael started walking up the gradual hill towards their house.
“We really shouldn’t leave her!”
“I saw both her parents. They’re dead. I’m not letting her grow up like that.” Michael said as Britney followed. He would have led faster if not for the fear of encountering any more…whoever these people are…
When back inside his house, Michael ordered her to stay by the door as he checked each room, giving her his pistol when circling back.
“I’m getting dressed, and we’re getting the hell out of this neighborhood.” He said, able to see she was afraid to take it. He went back to his room, feeling sick all over again at the scene within.
Michael pulled his shirt off over his head, letting it fall to the floor before walking over to his dresser, rummaging through until finding a black replacement. He then put on a pair of gray jeans folded on top of the dresser, socks, sneakers, and headed back into the living room.
“Give me that, go get my keys.” He pointed to the gun.
She briskly handed it over, and headed towards the kitchen where they were kept on a hook.
Michael went outside to his red pickup truck in the driveway. Inspecting the truck itself as well as the surrounding area until she came outside.
“Get in the passenger seat.” Michael ordered her, going for the driver’s. They got in roughly at the same time, Britney handing the keys over for Michael to immediately start the truck with the chorus of panic throughout the neighborhood motivating them through their fear.
“Where are we going?” She asked.
“Police station I’m guessing. Better than being here waiting for them to show up.” He said, staring at the clock for a moment before turning his body to her, shifting eyes looking between hers. “Britney, what did you see?”
“At the party?”
“Nothing more than what I already told you...those people just stormed in. Started hurting people. I ran to a bedroom, forgot her, went back, and...” Britney spoke slowly, choking on her words.
“Those people had weapons.” Michael confirmed.
“We can’t just let her die.”
“I told you, there’s nothing we can do, and I won’t let her grow up without parents. Not this way. This is merciful, trust me.” Michael said coldly as he harshly shifted the gear and began to drive. Britney sat stiff in her seat, knowing his intentions were good while fighting the urge to jump out and run back to her.
“Call Ethan.” Michael tossed his phone from his lap to Britney’s clumsy hands.
“What do I say?”
“Just call him. If he answers, put him on speaker.” Michael ordered, switching his brights on and driving steadily through the neighborhood, those distance sirens now closer. Any other cars long gone, both of them assuming those who left were the only ones with that option.
Britney played the ringer out loud, not realizing it only heightened Michael’s anxiety, each one tugging at his heart more.
“Where are we going?” Britney asked, looking around at a dark neighborhood, trying to spot anyone they could help. Knowing he wouldn’t stop, just wanting to make a mental note.
“I already answered that,” Michael applied more pressure to the pedal.
“Not really.” Britney said, the automated voice telling her to leave a voicemail.
“Hang up. Call again.” Michael said before slowing as another truck approached them at the same speed, surprising him as it had sharply rounded a corner. They were surrounded by trees on either side for miles, on an off road with twists and hills.
Britney’s hands shook as she called the number a second time, in a sort of...calm panic she didn’t understand. Able to tell by the jumping of Michael’s throat he was just keeping himself together.
“I don’t know who the hell these people are or what they’re doing in our neighborhood.” He said, Britney shaking her head. He glanced over at the phone, confirming to himself it was the correct number before sighing. “Hang up, message him.”
“What do I say?” She asked, followed by the sound of the call dropping.
“Just...” Michael slowed to a stop as they reached the main road, light red.
“Ask if he’s okay?”
He sat and listened to her typing, hands gripped tight on the steering wheel, sick to his stomach thinking about what happened in his own home. What Britney must have experienced, leaving Isabelle…
This has got to be some nightmare. I fell asleep waiting on Britney.
A green light lit his windshield as well as the road in front, but the car remained still, left with the decision of a left or right turn.
Where are we supposed to go?
Britney’s sniffling caught his attention, whipping his head over to see her hand covering her eyes and her mouth kept forced shut. Her elbow leaned on the passenger door, phone in the other hand with an unanswered text on the screen. He couldn’t even tell her it’d be alright. People were dead, he killed two of them. The roads were dead, other than distant sirens, already closer than a moment ago.
“Okay, I know where we’re going.” Michael said, making a left.
“I thought we were going to the station?” She replied after a moment, struggling to speak.
“There’s nothing they can do for us. I’m sure they’re on their way already, they’ll sort it out. We’re going to an old friend’s house, see if we can stay there in the meantime.”
“What do you mean, ‘in the meantime’? This isn’t something that’s just gonna blow over!” Britney said, anger apparent in her voice.
“They’re going to want to talk to us!”
“I’m sure they will.”
“How’s it going to look if we’re gone?”
“We won’t be the only ones. Nobody is going to stay there.”
“How do you know they’ll help us?”
“Honestly...I don’t know. We’re from different worlds now; old friends for a reason. But if he sees you, he won’t say no.”
“Then why don’t you know?”
“I don’t know about the ‘us’ part. He may turn me away.”
“Well I’m not staying there alone!” She sat forward, voice still tense while slightly less emotional.
“I won’t put you in a bad situation, Britney. I trust him.”
With that, they drove in silence. She didn’t trust his judgment, but had no choice either way.
Anywhere has got to be better than there, Britney thought, trying to organize the memories flashing back and forth. Eyes pacing to match.
Michael thought on Jack. The way they met through a mutual friend, only to be screwed over by her within a couple weeks. They’d bonded by then, knowing each other well enough to ignore her false claims about the other.
“We’re about five minutes away.” Michael said, speeding up a bit more, slowed by thought.
He recalled a Christmas, finally not spent alone when Jack showed up at Michael’s door, gifting a night of hard liquor and talking so openly he didn’t know he was capable at that time. It wasn’t the alcohol, either. It was Jack. Their friendship, unique to them. How things could have turned out so wrong was beyond him. Something he couldn't bring himself to think much on anymore.
He watched through all the windows, the roads were dead, though this was not out of the ordinary.
“Who were they?”
“The neighborhood. Who were they?”
“I have as good an idea as you do.” Michael lied.
He considered a...certain type of group he used to associate with, tied to the old friend.
Could they have come back? Would it do that to them?
“Do you think they were a gang?” Britney questioned, wiping her face dry, breathing unsteady still.
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
No...they would have all come for me specifically, and they didn’t know where I live. Unless…
“Are we going to be arrested for not reporting everything?” She pushed.
“No, Britney. I don’t think they can touch us if they wanted to. We did what we had to, as did everyone else who you saw leave.”
Would he really share that?
“I need a while of quiet, please. Before we get there.” Michael said, hearing her shift in the seat.
“Well, what am I supposed to do? You’re telling me to shut up after all that? I can’t ask? Try to understand?”
“There’s nothing to understand. We know nothing right now.” Michael responded in a composed manner as anxiety began to overtake his mind.
“I can’t just sit here.”
“I need you to. Please, let me think.” Michael said, the all too familiar feeling approaching. The pounding heart, the feeling in his brain, weight of each worry. Soon he wouldn’t be able to utter a word, and then how would driving work out?
Britney sat back with a sigh, fidgeting with her own growing anxiety with clenched teeth as they turned right, deviating from the main road. Going down one of dirt and rocks for a minute or two, trees on either side like everywhere else, Britney sat forward once again.
Eventually, they stopped in a small yard. A trailer sat in Michael’s headlights, Britney vaguely able to see all the furniture and trash on the porch and scattered around the property.
“Stay here.” Michael said, the click of his seat belt buckle soon followed by the opening of his door, illuminating the inside of his truck. Britney looked over and saw his pistol, now alone in the seat as he stepped out.
“Wait! Who should have this?” She asked just as Michael was closing the door. He looked at it, deadpan expression.
“I’ll take it.”
“Are you on bad terms with this guy?” Britney asked, stare following his hand as he grabbed the gun.
Michael shut the door and started his way to the porch cautiously, the headlights helping him to see and Britney to watch with full view of him and his path. He seemed to force each gradual step and kept his eyes glued to the front door, stopping halfway.
What is he doing? She wondered as he twisted his body to look at the truck. Past it, even. Britney looked in the mirror, wondering if a person caught his attention, before looking back at Michael, his eyes easing from predatory to cautious as he turned and began walking again. Without warning, the front door flung open with a bang!
There stood a man well over six feet, overweight and hands on the door frame. He looked…odd. Drunk, perhaps. His head swayed side to side while he looked at the truck, making Britney relieved she was hidden behind the headlights. Michael took a few steps back, glancing between her and the man multiple times, raising his gun slightly.
“I’m not here to start trouble!” Michael called. The man whipped his head to him as if only just now noticing him. Not a moment later, the man sprinted down the steps towards Michael as fast he could with the weight holding him back.
Britney slammed her hand down on the horn and kept it there in hopes it would alert him of there being a second person, but it hardly fazed him. Michael acted without thinking and tugged open the driver side door, first fumbling with the handle, and jumped in.
“Lock your door!” He ordered, both doing so.
The truck rocked from the impact of the man hauling himself against the door, and immediately after slammed his fist on the window. Britney had herself pressed up against the passenger door while Michael leaned away and shouted at him to stop, pointing his gun in an empty threat.
There was a certain look on the man’s face Michael had never seen on him, but had seen earlier. Pure rage, burning eyes, this wasn’t normal…
The banging stopped when he disappeared somewhere to the left. Their panicked breathing filled the silence, and Michael looked to Britney.
“If he gets in, you get out! Just start running!” Michael ordered her, only hoping she would listen. “This is not Jack!”
Before she could reply with more than a nod, Jack reappeared with a stone in hand. She let out a yelp and pointed, Michael turning to the sound of it hitting the window, luckily only creating a small crack, but he didn’t stop there. Not three seconds later the window shattered, spraying glass into the truck and forcing Michael to shut his eyes tight. He could hear the little pieces hitting places in the car’s interior and feel them on his skin. When he opened his eyes, the light in his truck was on. Jack was gone and after looking over, so was Britney.
Instantly, with his gun in hand once more Michael about threw himself out of the truck, practically tearing at the door handle to try to stop himself from falling onto the ground.
He watched Jack run towards the back of his truck for a mere second before lifting the gun and fired two rounds; one hit Jack’s back, the other wasted past his head in the air due to the recoil. Jack continued running despite the wound, though slowed and a hand placed on the truck as he moved to the back.
The red tail light lit Jack’s towering frame enough for Michael to aim for the side of his head, and without hesitation fired a final time. He dropped instantly and nearly fell out of sight except for his feet sticking out beside the wheel.
The feeling of gravel became vivid under Michael’s hand, and an ache formed in the other arm, shaking under the weight of the pistol, among other things.
“Get in the truck.” Michael said, feeling a tense presence pulling at the back of his head until soft words broke it and cut into his thoughts.
“Did you kill him?”
“That’s what I need to check.” Michael got to his feet, knees weak, everything else stiff.
“I’ll check with you.” Britney took a step forward.
Michael turned, stopping her from taking another. “You’ll get in the truck like I asked, dammit!”
Britney flinched and darted her eyes away. He had this southern accent that came out when shouting or angry. Always there, but that was the only time she didn’t have to listen for it.
“I said go!” He waved his arm.
Stuck with a need to help, Britney figured the best way she could truly do that was to put his mind at ease. After watching her get in the passenger and shut the door, Michael turned and readied his aim while approaching the back of his truck. No movement, no sounds, seemed Jack was dead…
Michael made it to his old friend’s side and squat down. The one without a puddle of blood forming by it, though he could just barely see any of him in the glow of his tail lights. He placed his fingertips gently on his back, pushing a couple times with the gun fixed around the same spot. How long is he going to stay warm?
The tears came like a dam breaking. He removed his hand and placed it firmly over his eyes, gun still held out as he fell over a bit. Choking on forced silence.
How could I kill him? How could I have killed any of them?
In his imagination, the end of the barrel pressed against his temple, finger on the trigger. He’d die beside his friend if it weren’t for the girl he was now responsible for. Images of their blood mixing in the dirt filled his head, bodies misaligned and limp, left to decay.
God, I’d join you still if things hadn’t been so complicated…
Late night talks about life and issues, whether over the phone or in person. The sort of friendship Michael didn’t think possible, especially with another man. Years of companionship, ended with one argument, and now...
He found himself with empty hands, on his side, unable to hold a thing or feeling back. Even then, he was a silent sufferer. His foot touched Jack’s side. He’d bother to remove it if his front wasn’t covered in dirt already.
Why can’t I go back three weeks? Hours, I’ll even take hours!
“Michael?” Britney’s uneasy voice urged him to respond.
“I thought I told you to stay in the truck.” He said after a moment of forced recollection.
“Ethan just texted you.” She just about interrupted.
He stared at her screen-lit face, too frozen to sit up. Hair gripped tight in his right hand, laying on the arm.“What’d he say?” Michael’s eyes fell back to the ground as he sniffled.
She swallowed visibly, tapping a couple things on the screen before reading aloud.
‘Those people are everywhere, and I’ve gone miles out from my house. Talking swarms. You need to leave, they will kill you.’