I had booked the vacation no later than a week before I was to leave for it. Once a year my extended family insisted that I host some gathering, a birthday or Easter or some other holiday. Coincidentally, ever since I moved I'd have 'just bought' tickets to a beautiful vacation spot away from home and family and work, everything. And on one of those luxurious days away was the day they wanted to celebrate. Typical of my family that the request to host came at the last minute, so I always had a valid excuse and it was always too late to reschedule. As a result, I had never hosted nor attended a family gathering, save for when I'd lived with my parents as a child.
They always wanted to come over, saying that my little house in the woods was 'beautiful' and 'great for the kids' and that it 'smelled earthy'. They were all big city folks so the concept of more than one tree in a ten foot circle was outlandish, fantastical even, to them. Of course, the few times they did come by (unannounced I might add) they always commented on those three things, saying that I had so much space for the kids to run about and play, and that the smell was simply to die for. And every time they said it I'd have to remind them that I had no sense of smell, thanks to their own genetics. They'd mope and tell me that I wasn't getting the full experience. But that was hardly the case, I could see how lovely the surroundings were, and how much open space there was, plus I lived in total isolation, so in a way I made up for the whole smelling thing with that.
That was my only complaint about the house, not the isolation but what came with it, that being the distance. Going out to eat or buy groceries was always a chore, and driving to the airport for my yearly mandatory vacation alone was slightly more frustrating since there was no airport in my little town. I had to drive at least an hour north for that, in addition to the half hour it took just to get out of the woods.
At least there's no one around for miles.
I had neighbors a few years back, but after their father back home passed away they moved back and never returned. Thank goodness for that. His dying was the best thing that family ever did for me.
I believe my family was celebrating some kind of seasonal holiday, I'm not entirely sure what though, it's the beginning of spring, what could possibly be going on worth celebrating? The island was nice though, not many people on the beach, lot's of peace and quiet. The perfect getaway.
The way home was always the worst part of this, other than the invite to host that would signal the start of our familial dance. About a year ago they started picking up on my schemes and asking for me to reschedule because 'this is important' or whatever, so I had to start getting smart too. I told them that I'd been seeing a girl, and that our schedules didn't align very often, so every chance we got to spend time together we did. She traveled a lot, so often I had to meet her wherever she was staying. This of course made my family very happy, considering before that they were convinced that I was gay. Naturally they couldn't justify tearing me away from 'my lady'.
Driving home though was always a ways. It felt so long, I'd been sitting forever in relative discomfort and all I wanted was to kick my feet up with a glass of scotch in my living room, then maybe take some shots at the targets in the backyard. Tipsy target practice as I called it. It was always fun, or at least a good way of blowing off steam.
The house loomed in the distance between the scrawny white trees of my wooded property, no more than five minutes drive away. A sudden sense of glee filled me at it's sight, as often I did when I returned. Finally, I could be home, and moreover I'd be alone.
That euphoria faded quickly in place of frustration, as a loud blasting sound erupted from nearby. My tire had blown out. I tapped the brakes lightly with my foot, but decided against stopping. Home was mere moments away, I'd fix it then. The road here was uneven, but my driveway was perfectly flat.
Still, it bothered me to no end as I pulled onto that slab of concrete. Of all the ways to end another miserably forced vacation, why did the tire have to go? Why did returning home, after all this time, have to be difficult all of a sudden? It's my curse, I supposed.
With a deep sigh, I cranked my keys to silence the roaring engine and disembarked. The tires on my side were full, naturally, meaning I had to walk across my car to check the other side.
To my surprise, the other side looked just the same as the other, perfectly round, perfectly not-popped. I went back and checked all four again, this time more closely, and was met with the same results as during my first observation.
I scanned the woods, realizing that it was likely just dumb hunters shooting targets or hunting game, not realizing that these woods were someone else's property. To be fair, I was quite a ways out, not everyone knew that houses even existed here. It wasn't the first time they'd appeared, and I doubted it'd be the last.
Once, I swear, they were trying to shoot me. I saw them only briefly hiding out in the bushes, but when I returned with a gun of my own they had vanished. A bunch of cowards is what they were, too scared to fight an armed man, even though there were more of them than there were of me.
I locked my car doors, double checking each one just to be certain. My car was stolen over two years ago and I've never single-checked a door since.
Apparently that carefulness did not translate to my house very well, considering I'd left my front door unlocked! I pushed it open with ease, finding that it was not only unlocked but left ajar. I must've been in such a rush to leave I'd forgotten.
My mother had always taught me to leave my shoes by the door. As a child, my family home had a small closet near the front door where we'd store them. This house did not have that, so shortly after moving here I'd bought a shoe rack. It wasn't much, and it never bore much weight, but it looked nicer than having my shoes strewn about the floor, clogging up the entryway.
I was appalled I'd made the error of leaving my door open before leaving, so I made an extra effort to lock it now. As I swung it closed, however, I saw something strange: a pair of old shoes, torn and dirty, resting behind the door, where I could've easily missed them had I been less careful. Were they my shoes? No, they couldn't be. I counted the shoes on my rack and found each pair present and accounted for.
Those were not my shoes.
Someone had been in my house and left their shoes. That, or they were still here.
My heart skipped a beat at the thought.
I locked the door tight and headed straight for my living room. I had a small cabinet of guns on display there. They weren't enough to warrant an actual gun room, but I still wanted to show them off. They were nice guns, in good condition and always in easy access if I needed them.
Already I could see something was off about the living room. Furniture was moved, and a toppled bottle of whiskey rested on the coffee table, having poured all over the carpet floor. It still dripped which was, at the time, a detail that I ignored. More terrifying to me was the missing shotgun in my cabinet. Had the intruder taken it? My fear rose as I realized that, on the off chance that the intruder was still here and hadn't left without his shoes, he had one of my guns.
I took a second shotgun off it's hook, loaded it with shells from the drawers below the display, and tucked a handful more into my pocket before I set off, first checking quickly behind my sliding glass door. No one outside on the patio.
I made a beeline for my stairs, ascending them quickly. There was no way an intruder could have broken into my safe, but nevertheless I worried.
My bedroom door was wide open, something I never did myself, even when I was home alone. I entered cautiously, noticing immediately that the window was open, the covers were off the bed, and my framed degrees were either crooked or fallen from the wall. However, there appeared to be no one in the room.
The covers appeared pulled off haphazardly, as if the intruder had slept there for a time, then thrown them off and left. So my intruder was a slob, great. He didn't even hang the degrees back up after knocking over. How he managed that, I wasn't even sure, unless it wasn't by accident. So he's a slob and he's jealous of my accomplishments.
My window was one that extended from floor to ceiling. It was large and allowed me to see much of my property from the comfort of my bedroom. I liked it quite a lot, but I felt the wind now and it made me shiver as it brushed past the house.
With no more than a second look, however, I realized that the window was not open, but broken, shattered in a singular spot from floor to ceiling, spanning across maybe four feet. I peered through it and saw the body of a man laying on the ground, unmoving. I called out to him, and he didn't respond. "Oh well," I said aloud. "A dead man is a happy one."
I lowered my gun, sighing with relief. The threat killed himself, likely realizing how utterly hopeless he was in the world, just like the dumb hunters outside. Now that I no longer had anything to worry about, I began the cleanup. One of my degrees, a master's specifically, was on the floor. I picked it up and replaced it on the wall along with my many other awards and scholarly accomplishments, many of which I had to straighten as well.
When I returned downstairs to clean up the living room, I noticed food left out on my kitchen counter. Once again, slobs. It was all snack food too, they hadn't even taken this opportunity to cook some good food with high quality ingredients.
I wiped down the living room table, setting the mostly empty bottle of liquor aside solemnly. It wasn't a particularly expensive bottle, but it meant I'd have to make a trip to town to replace it. The carpet was beyond me, so I promised to remind myself to call a cleaner later. For now, I wanted to find my missing gun, and any other damage the intruder had caused.
I returned upstairs. Obviously that had been the last place the intruder had visited, so most likely the gun was somewhere up there.
My bathroom door was left open, naturally, so I went to check it out. It was a narrow room with a sink, drawers, and mirrors on one side and a bathtub and shower on the other. It wasn't ideal nor particularly nice looking, but I lived alone so I rarely worried about it. It was only after entering the bathroom did I realize just how badly I wanted to take a shower. My hair was greasy, and I could feel some perspiration under my shirt. Despite this, I knew the cleaning process would provide a light workout, so I resigned to finish that first. A shower would be my reward.
The bathroom appeared in order. Unlike the door, the curtain was still closed, and nothing substantial had been removed from the drawers. Thank goodness, at least there was one room that I didn't need to worry about.
The guest room door was closed, as it often was. Nobody had ever stayed there, so thankfully I'd never actually had to clean the room. Since the intruder had used my bed, I assumed that wouldn't change now.
Unfortunately I was wrong, the guest room had been used, and quite a bit it seemed. There were blankets pulled from the closet, the bed was a mess, and there was even a heavy indent in the center of the mattress as if someone had slept there. Some of the blankets were sloppily shoved back into the closet, though many were layered across the floor.
For what wasn't the first nor the last time today, I sighed with frustration. Breathing in through the nose, letting it out the mouth with an agonizing groan. I hunched over and folded each blanket individually, even having to refold some already in the closet, disheveled from the attempt to replace them there.
I spread the covers back out over the bed, reshaping the mattress to the best of my ability. Apparently this intruder was heavier than he'd looked outside on the patio.
I got down on my hands and knees to pull the covers down evenly at either side of the bed, for presentation purposes of course. I liked to peek in once in a while to see my handiwork. And yet, one last thing remained. It seemed the intruder had left something under the bed. I reached under and pulled it out, finding it to actually be two things.
A second pair of shoes.
My breath caught in my throat. Again, these weren't my shoes, nor were they the ones downstairs. These were cleaner, not as ratty, though still in poor shape. They were also black, not white like those at the front door I'd thrown out.
There was a second person in the house, possibly living, possibly dead, likely with my missing gun. As if on cue, I heard a creaking from somewhere outside the bedroom. My head spun around, watching the door intently for only a moment before tentatively approaching it. It was closed, so I couldn't see anything behind it. I guessed that was the one drawback of always closing my doors: that I could never see what was on the other side.
The hallway was empty. I heard creaking again, followed by a gust of wind. More than likely, I'd heard the house itself and not another person moving. If the first guy had killed himself, then probably so had the second.
Unless the first wasn't a suicide, but rather a murder! What if the second had pushed the first through the window? If he had that meant he was still alive and, more so, that he was willing to kill. Why he would kill the person he'd invaded a house with, I wasn't sure.
I made a beeline for my living room, taking the shotgun from earlier once more. The only sounds I heard were my own footsteps, though somehow that was less assuring. Whoever was still here was hidden, and most likely knew that I was home.
My sliding glass door was open. That was wrong. It wasn't earlier, unless I simply hadn't noticed in my mania over the first intruder. Still, I wanted to investigate.
The first intruder was exactly where I suspected him to be: resting in a pool of his own blood on the patio, not within view from the inside of the house.
On the other side, however, was my recently added hot tub. I'd bought it shortly before my unexpected vacation, and hadn't the time to pay someone to install everything for me. The cover rested atop it, protecting the inside from falling leaves, rain, or other natural debris. The lid was slightly ajar, so I checked underneath, just to be sure. Nothing.
Back inside, I went to check my storage rooms, which were just down a hallway branching off from my kitchen in the space under my staircase.
The freezer was cold, thankfully. Nobody had shut it off in a drunken stupor or murderous rage. Everything was right where I'd left it. The same was with my pantry and general storage room. All was largely untouched, though some snacks foods were expectedly missing.
As I returned to the hallway I heard more creaking, this time from above me. Could it be the ceiling again, or perhaps something else?
I reached the kitchen again, starting to wonder if all this was a bad dream. Was there even a body on my patio? Or two extra pairs of shoes in my house? Was the solitude driving me this insane? To be sure, I peered out through my sliding glass doors again. The dead body was still there. I checked the living room, finding the same whiskey stain on the carpet and feeling the frustration of having to deal with that flood through my once again.
I checked the watch on my wrist. It was past lunchtime. My stomach growled quietly.
Footsteps rushing through the hallway upstairs.
Body tensed, hairs rose across my skin, adrenaline pulsed through my veins, temperature sprang to heights I'd never experienced as the fear coursed through me. I raised my shotgun to the stairs, half expecting to look down the barrel of the second intruder's gun. Nothing. There wasn't anybody there.
Still tense, and keeping my gun aimed, I made my way up the steps. The only way out was through the window, he was cornered.
All the doors were shut, my own doing. Why did I have to do that?
The first door was the bathroom. After several moments of quiet fear, I kicked it open. The door swung inwards, slamming into my counter and, most likely, chipping the lip hanging over the drawers. I checked, and was correct, though only a little bit.
I had yet to pull back the shower curtain. Tentatively, I placed my hand on one side, preparing to yank it open. If anyone had been hiding this whole time, this was the place they could've gotten away with it.
I licked my lips, not in anticipation, but in fright. They were drying out. I bounced on my heels, firmly planting myself on the tile floor as best I could. My gun was fixed on the curtain with one hand. I felt warm sweat drip onto my deathly tight grip. I took a deep breath, then tore the curtain open.
Apparently I hadn't adequately prepared, because when I saw the man lying in the bathtub I froze. I didn't shoot, I didn't even take the shotgun in two hands. I simply froze. Instead, I shut my eyes, waiting to be killed by my own gun.
Seconds passed. Nothing.
I opened my eyes, finding myself still in the bathroom, facing the tub and the man inside. There was something off about him. It wasn't his weight, nor his lack of clothing, not even the fresh suds resting atop the surface of the water.
It was the gaping hole in his forehead. Bright blood oozed from it, turning the bubbles red.
My first thought was that he'd killed himself, blown his brains out. He'd taken a different approach than his buddy had with the whole suicide thing, but it worked.
A second thought occurred to me: where was my other gun? How could he shoot himself in the head without a gun? Had it slipped below the surface of the water? Could I simply not see it?
The floor creaked in the hallway.
My head whipped around to see a man standing in the bathroom doorway, my shotgun in hand. He went to raise it in the same instant I did.
Boom! Boom!
Two shots, one from each of us. I threw myself sideways into the bathtub, taking the curtain out with me. He grunted loudly in pain and I heard him retreat. Taking a moment to collect myself, I threw the curtain aside and shakily crawled out of the blood bath. I fumbled for a few seconds, struggling against the flabby corpse of the second intruder. Finally getting a grip on the tub's edge, I hoisted myself out onto the tile floor, sopping wet.
There was blood in the hallway. From my angle, I saw that the trail led further down, away from the staircase. He'd cornered himself once again. For a moment I wanted to head out into the hallway myself to hunt him down. But there were still two rooms to check, meaning if I picked the wrong room, he could get the drop on me again.
My side ached severely, and with a single touch a knew why: that's where he'd shot me. It wasn't fatal, nor was it deep. The shell had merely grazed me, enough to draw blood but not enough to hinder me too much.
My second option was to stay in the bathroom. He knew I was here, and if he wanted to kill me (and I assumed he did) then surely he would return.
Footsteps again, this time slower than I'd heard them before. Maybe I'd caught his leg with my shot.
I was right. He had to be coming for me.
I charged forward, slamming the door shut with my shoulder.
Now I couldn't see when he arrived. What an idea this was.
His footsteps grew louder, I needed to find somewhere to go. If I just stood in front of the door he could still have a quicker trigger finger than me. Last time I tried to kill a man I froze up and he turned out to already be dead. I was lucky. This man was alive, I'd have no such luck here.
My eyes looked again to the chipped counter where the door had hit it. The counter! It extended from wall to wall, right next to the door. I crawled onto it, leaning right against the wall nearest the door and waited. I could his plodding footsteps thumping on the hallway floor.
He stopped at the door.
He blasted a hole through the door. Startled, my whole body shook violently. I pulled further into the wall, clutching the shotgun closer.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
Several more shots tore through the door, sending wood splinters about the floor and counter. With each shot my shoulders tensed. I feared I'd shake so heavily that I'd loose my balance and slip off the counter into his line of fire.
The shooting stopped. He turned the doorknob. Quickly I adjusted myself, aiming my shotgun at the door where he'd enter. My hands quivered, I could barely hold the gun with all the sweat on my palms.
The door swung open. I almost pulled the trigger, somehow catching myself at the last minute.
He walked in, or rather limped. His foot was crooked and bleeding, meaning that I was right. He seemed confused, glancing first at the bathtub to see if I was still there. My hands shook, now even more than before. My breathing quickly became frantic, giving away my position. He spun around.
The gunshot drowned out the sound of my body hitting the floor.