Three girls alone. Intruder at the door. What do we do?
| INTRUDER |
We didn’t have a gun that worked, and the kitchen was too far away to grab a knife. Our only protection lay in our minds.
I was twelve, Dee Dee eleven and Katy nine the night Mama left us for a couple of hours while she and ten-year-old Pete went to the registration meeting. Spring 1966 had come and with it, Little League baseball. They had been gone for a bit and the three of us were lying around the living room, munching on potato chips and watching TV, when the front door rattled.
My hand froze between the bag and my mouth, potato chips perched on my fingertips. My heart started pounding like a hammer on a stubborn nail.
“Did y’all hear that?” I whispered, icicles hanging on every word. Except for my mouth, not a muscle in my body twitched.
“I di-id.” Katy’s face was as white as a marshmallow before getting shoved into a campfire. “It sounds like someone’s . . . trying to break in!”
“So did I,” Dee Dee hissed through clenched teeth. Always ready for a fight, I could imagine us having to hold down the little hellion, to keep her from marching to the door and confronting the would-be burglar. But she looked terrified, which scared me even more.
In that instant, I realized our lives were in real danger. Whoever was trying to get in the house wasn’t there for a visit. We didn’t have a gun that worked, and the kitchen was too far away to grab a knife, but our imaginations had already been shoved into overdrive. Skill and cunning would be our only hope.
Each of us holding our breath, we inched together toward the hallway. The living room sat just to the left of the front door, and we’d have to move past it to get out. We didn’t want to be the first thing he saw when he busted through.
We had just made it out of the living room and into the entryway, and I started to exhale so I could take another breath. Only four more steps to the hall. Moving as quietly as we could, we were tiptoeing past the front door when . . . BAM! Something smacked the other side. Hard.
“Bathroom!” Dee Dee ordered.
Still holding on to one another, the three of us scrambled through the entryway, turned at the hall, and ran into the bathroom, locking the door behind us. We needed to hide somewhere with no windows for him to break through, and the bathroom was our only choice. Built to accommodate four growing kids, the three of us easily fit inside, with at least eight feet to spare.
“What are we going to do?” Katy’s voice trembled, her eyes filling with tears. “What does he even want? We don’t have anything a burglar would steal.”
“Yeah, but that makes everything worse.” I had been wondering the same thing. It couldn’t be anyone who knew us. Everyone we knew would realize there was nothing inside our house worth stealing. We had one old television set and Mama was wearing her only diamond. “When he doesn’t find anything, he’ll be mad and then he’ll definitely kill us.”
And just like that, the burglar transformed from a thief to a murderer.
“Once he gets through the front door, he can kick through this one.” My mind was spinning, trying to figure out a solution. We didn’t know what kind of weapon he’d use, but we knew our fate was sealed, and we wanted to make sure that sucker got caught. Our parents would deserve justice.
“The first thing we have to do is make sure the cops can find him if he kills us.” Dee Dee was pacing back and forth, her mind was whirling, too. “And we need to find a way to fight.”
“We can use Pete’s detective kit!” Katy’s eyes brightened.
Pete got a detective kit for Christmas, three months earlier. A jar of fingerprinting powder was included, and we knew it to be at least half full. We knew because we had helped him use the other half. The only problem would be getting our hands on it. There were ten long feet of hallway separating us from the kit. And getting from the bathroom to Pete’s bedroom and back would be tricky. Before we could risk anyone trying it, we had to be sure the murderer hadn’t already made it into the house.
Silently unlocking the bathroom door and opening it only enough to stick out our ears, we crowded around the crack, one hanging over another. For a moment the house sat in silence. He hadn’t made it in yet, but someone was shaking the back door. He must have given up getting in the front.
My hands started trembling, my dry throat threatening to close. Then reality slapped me in the head. You’re the oldest, dammit. Buck up and take control! If you panic, the other girls will too.
“Okay, let’s think,” I said. “We can’t all go, just in case he’s already in. I’ll do it. Y’all stay in here. If you see him follow me, lock this door and don’t let him in, no matter what happens.”
Dee Dee shook her head. “You’re too slow, Stephie. I’m much faster; I’ll go. I can run into Pete’s room, grab the kit, and get back in here before you even start.”
I rolled my eyes, but I knew she was right.
Dee Dee was set. “Y’all just be ready to lock that door as soon as I get back in.”
“Okay,” I said, grabbing the handle. “Five, four, three, two – go!” I opened the door just wide enough for Dee Dee to escape, and she blasted through. In less than ten seconds she was back, kit in hand. When she was safe inside, I shoved the door closed and locked it. She had done it, maybe there was hope!
Our smiles drooped into frowns after we opened the box and found far less fingerprint powder than we had remembered. “There’s enough to coat the door handle and faucets, though.” I was trying to stay positive. This was not the time to give up.
“Wait!” Dee Dee’s back straightened. “There’s baby powder in the cabinet! We can use it after the fingerprint stuff runs out.”
We moved quickly, skillfully dousing the waiting fixtures. In a matter of seconds, the door handle and wood surrounding it were covered in black dust. Both faucets of the double sinks were smeared as well, dark powder trailing onto the white vanity like gunpowder. When the last speck left the jar, Katy whipped out the baby powder, squeezing white puffs into the air until fine particles coated every inch of the five-foot countertop.
Time was running out. We knew we had a few minutes at the most to prepare ourselves for the worst, and we refused to make it easy for him. Three sets of eyes roamed the room, searching for any place to hide. The bathtub was no good because of the glass door, and cabinets under the sinks weren’t big enough.
Just in the nick of time, my eyes landed on the built-in clothes hamper. “I’ve got it!” I said, moving toward the flap at the top. “Katy, we’re going to hide you in here. He’ll never think to look for anyone in the dirty clothes.”
Jerking open the hamper door, we found it half full. Perfect! The plan was foolproof. We yanked out all the stinky clothes then Dee Dee and I shoved Katy inside, piling them back in, on top of her. Opening the flap, we could barely see her eyes. Satisfied, we figured Katy would be able to peek out without detection once the maniac made his way in to kill us.
“Katy, we’re going to close this flap. No matter what happens, you have to be quiet. When you hear him fighting with us, open the flap just enough to get a good look at him. You’re gonna be our eyewitness and it’s up to you to make sure the cops get him. But don’t let him see you or hear you!” Katy’s eyes were filling with tears again as Dee Dee gave her the orders. “You’re tough, Katy. You can do it. This is important.” Katy nodded her head. She looked too distraught to answer.
Dee Dee held onto the baby powder as I grabbed a bottle of alcohol out of the cabinet and shut the door. “Once he gets in, I’ll break this bottle and use it to cut him up,” I explained to Dee Dee. “Being alcohol, it will sting him while it slashes. That may catch him off guard and give you enough time to get out. Then you can run to the Nichols’ and call the cops.”
She nodded in agreement and I could see something else click in her brain. “I’m going to dust the entire floor, and we’ll stand all the way back here,” she said, moving to the wall farthest from the bathroom door. “That way they’ll get his footprints, too.”
“Good idea, Dee Dee. And leave some in the container. You can squirt it in his eyes if he gets close enough. He won’t be able to see with baby powder in his eyes.”
I moved to the wall, standing as close to it as I could, as Dee Dee released the powder. She moved backward, to the door then back to me, careful to tiptoe around the baseboards so it wouldn’t be her footprints the cops would find. We held our breath as the whole room filled with fine white dust. Coughing was not an option. Even though we hadn’t heard him, the criminal had surely made his way into the house and we didn’t want to alert him to where we were hiding.
Dee Dee made her way back to the wall and I wrapped my arms around her, holding on tight.
“I love you, Stephie,” she whispered.
For an instant, quiet replaced dread, falling around us with the powder flecks. Then we heard the back door slam.
“Boy, that wind is strong.” The voice sounded like Pete’s.
“It sure is,” Mama replied. We could hear her moving through the den. “Where on earth are the girls?”
Our eyes straining to stay in their sockets, Dee Dee and I looked at each other, then at the door, and raced toward it. “Mama!” we screamed as Dee Dee let the handle fly. She ran out, dragging white powder with her, covered head to toe in the stuff except for her hands, which were black. Katy was kicking inside the hamper, so I stopped to get her out. When I opened the door, dirty clothes tumbled onto the powder-caked floor and Katy unfolded enough to where I could help her stand up.
Mama stood in the doorway, mouth open but not speaking, Dee Dee and Pete beside her. As her eyes scanned the bathroom, she finally found her voice.
“WHAT THE HELL?”
“Did you see anyone outside when you drove up, Mama?” Dee Dee was pulling on her arm, trying to get her attention.
Katy and I chimed in. “Yeah, Mama! Did you see the guy outside, trying to break in?” Since we hadn’t seen him, we hoped either Mama or Pete could describe him to the cops.
“I don’t know what the hell y’all are talking about! There was no one outside!” Mama wasn’t interested in hearing about him, either. “It must have been the wind.”
It must have been the wind? There was no question about what we heard. The sounds didn't come from Mama and Pete, Mama has a key. Besides, the rattling started way before they got home. If Mama would just listen, she'd see there's no way it was the wind!
“You three get this damn mess cleaned up. Hurry up, it’s a school night and you need to get in bed!” With that she marched into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
The three of us, who had barely escaped certain death before Mama and Pete scared off the faceless intruder, stood motionless, watching as baby powder settled onto the hallway floor.
“Um, girls?” Pete was still standing there, eyes questioning.
“It was awful, Pete,” Katy cried. “A man was trying to break in the house, and he was going to kill us. Well, he was going to kill Dee Dee and Steph, but I was going to be the eyewitness.”
“We had it all planned out.” Dee Dee stood next to Mama’s empty footprints. “But you and Mama scared him off.”
Taking a moment to think, Pete came up with his own plan. “Then let’s get my detective kit and dust the front and back door handles! Maybe we can still find out who he is,” he exclaimed, turning toward his room.
“Weeelll . . .” Dee Dee said, glancing at the black powder coating her hands. Katy and I turned back toward the bathroom.