It was shaping up to be a perfect Friday evening for the Haines family. A soft breeze was blowing through their Blossom Hill neighborhood. The air was filled with the sweet fragrance of early spring. Best of all, the entire family was on hand. Twenty-year-old Maggie had just gotten back from college the day before, and both she and her younger brother, Kevin, were planning on spending the evening at home. Parents Tom and Lisa couldn’t have been more pleased. They’d always treasured times such as this, when they were all together with nothing more to do than bask in the pleasure of one another’s company.
They cooked spaghetti and meatballs for dinner and afterward lingered at the dining room table. Maggie talked about her sophomore year at Bucknell, the courses she’d liked and several others she’d been less than crazy about. Sixteen-year-old Kevin talked about a school-sponsored trip to Germany that he was planning on making in mid-July. Lisa gushed about the terrific bunch of kids she’d taught over the past year at a church-affiliated preschool in town.
After taking care of the dirty dishes, Lisa and Maggie sat down at the family computer and tried solving a crossword puzzle. They then hopped into Lisa’s Jeep Cherokee and swung by their local video outlet. They picked up the mildly naughty romantic comedy Because I Said So, starring Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore, and also a Will Ferrell feature called Stranger Than Fiction.
Everyone gathered in the family room at eight o’clock to watch the romantic comedy, which was Lisa and Maggie’s first choice. Kevin, for his part, probably would have preferred watching just about anything else. He wandered off intermittently throughout the course of the movie, eventually abandoning it altogether and going upstairs to bed. Lisa lasted until the closing credits before likewise calling it a night. Tom and Maggie stayed up a while longer and caught the end of the Philadelphia Phillies game on TV. The Phillies won in a breeze, defeating the Cubs seven to two, and when the final out was recorded Tom also went to bed.
Maggie followed suit shortly afterward, hopeful about getting an early start the next morning. Still not tired enough to sleep, however, she curled up in bed with her laptop and watched the pilot of a new TV show called The Traveler and also an old episode of Brothers and Sisters. At midnight or thereabouts she went to the bathroom down the hall and then returned to bed and chatted online with a couple of friends from college. Finally she shut down her laptop, set it aside, and fell asleep.
Roughly an hour later, shortly past two, Maggie was awakened by the sound of yelling. She got out of bed, put on her glasses, and stepped into the hallway. The yelling, which had a menacing ring to it, seemed to be coming from Kevin’s room. It was accompanied by loud thumping noises, suggesting some sort of physical struggle. Was there an intruder in the house, possibly beating up her brother?
Concerned for her own safety, Maggie retreated into her bedroom. Her door didn’t close properly because the frame was warped, so she braced herself against it and tried formulating a plan of action. She’d left her cell phone on the kitchen counter, which meant that she couldn’t call for help. But neither could she safely remain where she was, not if there really was an intruder on the premises. She doubted that she was strong enough to hold firm against somebody intent on breaking into her room.
Steeling her nerve, Maggie opened the door again. There was a stench of blood in the air that she hadn’t noticed before. She ran the full length of the hallway and went into her parents’ room. Maggie’s mom, Lisa, was sitting on the edge of the bed, with Tom lying motionless beside her. Lisa seemed distressed, practically in hysterics.
“Get out of here,” she said, her voice scarcely a whisper. “Get out and go get help.”
Maggie charged down the stairs and exited the house through the side door. She raced to the end of the driveway and paused for the briefest of moments by the curb, not entirely certain where she should go for help. Despite having lived in the area virtually her entire life, she wasn’t especially close to any of the neighbors.
She ran through the darkness to the house across the street and rang the bell. She rang and rang and pounded on the door. Just when she was on the verge of giving up and trying elsewhere, a woman turned on the porch light and let her inside.
Copyright © 2011 by Michael W. Cuneo