There it was again, that creak. Her eye, the one not snuggled into the pillow, opened. Somehow, it was easier to listen with her eye open. Now, how did that work? She lifted her head slightly off the down pillow so she could hear with both ears.
Snick. Her head popped up. She held her neck crooked at an uncomfortable angle as her eyes tried to peer through the darkness. She knew that sound. That scraping noise came when a knife was withdrawn from the knife block on the counter. The largest butcher knife, in fact. Now what in the world would Suzie be doing with that knife?
There was a creak. Yep, the floor in front of the dishwasher. The butcher block lived on the counter by the dishwasher. But, it took a lot of weight to make that particular spot creak. Even Amanda herself didn’t cause the floor to protest. Her dad and her brother, yes, and Cousin Sylvia who was pushing 250, yes. But not Suzie, who was barely one hundred ten pounds after being caught out in a rain deluge.
The footsteps were coming this way, not that there were many places to go in this house. Amanda grabbed the quilt and sheet carefully in one hand and slowly drew back the covers as silently as she could. For once she was grateful that she was unable to afford that soft, down duvet she’d so admired. Rubbing it with her hands in the Bed ’n Bath store, she’d known the noise it would make every time she turned over in bed. What did that matter though when you slept alone and it didn’t look like that would ever change. Thankful that she had a king-sized quilt on her queen-sized bed, Amanda bumped up the quilt in the middle of the bed, hoping it might look like a body slept soundly there. Glancing at the rocker in the corner, she remembered Chatty Cathy, the doll of her childhood, the doll who stood nearly as tall as her six year old self at the time. Cathy had long hair. Maybe, just maybe, if she tucked her into the bed, Cathy would pass for a slumbering human.
A shoe scraped on the bathroom linoleum tile. His foot must have caught on that spot in front of the sink where the tile’s lifting. His? Of course it was a his. Who ever heard of a woman breaking into someone’s house?
Hide. She had what, maybe three seconds before he made it this way. Her head swivelled, eyes scanning for the likely spots. She snatched up the mini-led flashlight she kept by her bed. Its light was intense and she had bought it for its weight and compact size. Now, she wished for the days when she had that bulky, long flashlight that resembled a billy club.
She lay on her stomach and inched her feet under the bed. That worked until her hips reached the edge. No go. She eased out again and flipped over onto her back. Wiggling back under, she used her elbows for purchase. This time when her hips stuck, she braced her upper arms on the floor and lifted the edge of the box spring with her hands. Only the edge of mattress was firm, she remembered. The inside was covered by just some flimsy material that had already torn when she’d gotten the vacuum nozzle stuck there some years ago. Thank god for the carpet to dull the noises she was making.
Turning her head to the side, she was under. The dust under here was incredible. When had she last vacuumed? Sure, she stuck the nozzle under here every week. Well, every few weeks, but had she ever actually moved the bed to give a good cleaning? This coming weekend, she promised herself. Yes, she would live through this and become a better housekeeper.
Her ears picked up the tiny sound of her doorknob rotating in its cylinder. She turned her head. Softly, slowly, the door gently scraped the carpet in a wide arc. Amanda could see the edges of scruffy Nikes with the emblem on the side.
Pushing her cheek into the floor more, she glimpsed his silhouette as he advanced into the room. The glow from the moonlight coming in her open curtains helped. Or, not. The sheen glinted off the upheld butcher knife, the one kept so shiny and fine-edged by the built-in sharpener. Amanda’s eyes closed and her lips sealed against that tiny whimper that wanted to escape.
Tap, tap, tap. A pause, then, tap-tap, tap-tap as his steps stopped. His Nikes swivelled in place, aiming towards her bed, lingering, then moving toward the window. The tapping stopped.
Slowly, slowly, the scuffed shoes turned. They turned her way. The tap, tap resumed. Was he peering at the bed? Estimating the size and shape of her body? The best place to strike first?
Every nerve in her body seized. Petrified wood had nothing on her. She willed even the blood in her veins to hold still. His toes pointed her way.
Faintly, then more and more discernible, the tapping resumed. Along with it came a humming. The sound was low, almost more a growl than anything melodious. Was he trying to hum a tune? Good grief, a tone-deaf assailant. Amanda winced. What was wrong with her brain? At a time like this, she’d criticize someone’s musical ability?
“Come out, come out, wherever you are.” Then a low growl. There was a tearing sound as his knife, really her knife, raked at the clothes. Her good clothes. Did he have any idea how many hours she had spent scouring the second hand stores to acquire such a decent wardrobe? No one at work ever guessed where she got her outfits. Now, they were being ruined.
Amanda felt something else stirring in her gut. This time, it went beyond resentment. How dare he? How dare this stranger enter her home, terrorize her, then destroy her clothing? Her fists tightened against her side; her toes clenched. She was powerless to defend herself, defend her home. Why, oh why, had she chosen to cower under the bed? She was wedged like a gherkin in a sealed jar. It would take her minutes to worm her way out, then what?
The sound of his escalated breathing penetrated Amanda’s brain. It was rapid, noisy and wheezy, as if fragments of her tattered, knifed clothing had floated up his nose, clogging his sinuses. Good, let him suffocate himself. Death by polyester and flame retardants.
Her thoughts were like herded cats, scattering, going their own way, with no cohesiveness at the time when she needed it most. Think Amanda, think. What will you do when he checks under the bed?
Her clenching fingers brushed something chilly and firm. The giddy part of her mind assured her that no part of her body was firm, so it must be something else. She scrunched one shoulder lower to lengthen her reach. There, her fingers brushed it again. Slithering an inch farther, her baby finger snagged it. Her flashlight. Her four-inch long, LED flashlight. Well, it shone brightly, so maybe she could flick it into his eyes, momentarily blinding him while she made a dash to get out from under the bed. Dash. Right. If she made it from under the bed, then she’d be parrying his knife thrusts with her mighty four inch flashlight.
His breathing, if anything, was heavier now. The knife no longer slashed, but beat against his pant leg as he returned to her bed.
The humming was replaced by grunts. Low, guttural, pigs-at-the-trough-like grunts. What was he doing? Punching her bed? Did he not know she wasn’t there? Why punch the covers? Feathers floated along the edge of the bed, sprinkling the carpet with down. The knife. He was slashing her bed with her butcher knife.
Amanda shivered. She knew his intent. She’d have to act fast, catch him by surprise. Surely she could get out from under the bed fast. There was no need for stealth and she knew that she’d need to lift it off herself. She did it once, she could do it again when her life and that of Suzie’s depended on it.
The slashing punches stopped. The toes remained pointed towards her while his breath heaved. Knifing a bed must be hard work, Amanda’s errant brain decided.
Was his breathing slowing just a little? Amanda felt that she could hear his heart beating, her senses were so acute. He took a shuffling step back from the bed. One knee pressed to the carpet. Then, the hand with the knife rested on the floor near the edge of the bed. Should she try to make a grab for it? No, too far. She’d eased herself to the side farthest from him. Plus, what good would grabbing the blade do?
Now his forearm rested on the floor as well. She could see the sweat-stained pits of his raggedy shirt. Her nose registered his b.o., even over top of the perfume. Then one eye, a nose, mouth and part of a second eye peered at her. His lips formed something that might be mistaken for a grin if you were one of the walking dead.
“Hello,” his gravelly voice said. “Ready for some fun?”tart writing here…