With his feet on the rickety kitchen table, Rick Milton cleaned the crud out from under his fingernails and flicked it across the room. In an attempt to get his fingernail dirt to stick to the peeling wallpaper of the old country house, Rick flicked each ball of gunk harder than the last. The blond boy who Rick had kidnapped the afternoon before sat on the other side of the table duct-taped to a chair. His eyes followed Rick’s movements like a hawk watching a snake.
Rick needed time to think and plan but the kid was becoming a liability. Already, the boy had tried twice to escape. Rick had gone outside to use the outhouse and returned to find the boy with his chair backed up to the kitchen cabinets trying to cut through the duct tape using the corner of the cabinets, rubbing his wrists up and down. When Rick saw what was happening, he kicked the chair over and wrapped more duct tape around the boy’s wrists before setting him upright again.
The second time that the boy tried to escape, Rick had dozed off. After nearly twenty-four hours without sleep, Rick was dead tired. When Rick started to snore, the boy had tried to quietly bunny-hop his chair across the kitchen and down the short hallway to the back door. One of the bunny-hops was a bit too ambitious. Rick woke with a start to see the kid half-way down the hall.
“Son of a …” Rick yelled. “Will you just sit still for a minute? Give me some time. I’ll return you to your people.”
The boy mumbled behind the duct tape over his mouth, squinting his eyes and leaning forward against his bonds.
Rick could see the hatred in the boy’s eyes.
“You’re gonna be fine,” Rick assured the boy in a tone that left some question as to the credibility of the statement.
As Rick drug the boy and his attached chair back into the kitchen, he had a flash of brilliance. Rick tilted the chair back against the kitchen table so that any move on the boy’s part would cause the chair to fall noisily alerting Rick to yet another escape attempt.
With that bit of insurance in place, Rick stretched out on the table and pulled a blanket over himself for a good bit of sleep. As often as not, good plans came to Rick while he was sleeping. Frequently, he would go to sleep thinking about a problem or in the midst of laying out a plan and wake up with a potential solution or the outline of a plan.
Rick hoped that a few hours of sleep would leave him rested as well as provide him with a plan to negotiate a fat supply store with his bargaining chip. He would need to convince the residents of the farm that he didn’t intend to hurt the kid. Maybe he could even designate a drop-off point where the kid could be picked up a matter of hours after he left the area. Rick realized that he would also need to insure that no one followed him after he dropped the kid off.
It was a complicated piece of work. There might be easier ways to get supplies but certainly there were few treasure troves left like the one at the farm to the north … at least that Rick knew of.
Maybe there were several well-supplied farms in the area ….
Rick drifted off to sleep.
As Rick began to snore again, a lone man made his way through the darkness in Rick’s direction. It was nearly 4:00 in the morning. The moon was a tiny sliver nearly obscured by slow-moving clouds stirred by the night’s breeze.
An owl hooted outside the farm house as Rick stirred in his sleep. Rick’s snoring stopped for a moment and then resumed.
The boy tried to catch a few winks himself. Between the discomfort of the tilted chair, Rick’s snoring and the chafing of the duct tape, sleep would not come. The boy blinked his tired eyes trying to force tears to lubricate his aching orbs.
The clouds parted briefly. A shaft of moonlight showed through the kitchen window over the sink. The owl continued its cry into the night.
A flash of movement outside the kitchen window disrupted the silvery moonbeam and silenced the owl for just a moment.
The boy caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and strained against the duct tape to get a better view of the window. His chair creaked. The kitchen table wobbled. Rick’s snoring sputtered.
Suddenly, the back door burst inward and slammed hard against the wooden floor. Dust particles rose and danced in the moonbeam as a dark figure vaulted down the hallway like a wolf leaping at its prey.
The boy, sensing what was happening, tipped his chair and rolled onto his knees under the table.
Above, on the tabletop, Rick had awoken with a start. Groggy from sleep, he wasn’t sure what was happening. The noise of the breaking door had registered in his sub-conscious but his eyes had not yet focused on the shadow bearing down on him. In one final leap, the figure crossed the remainder of the kitchen and drove into Rick like a sledgehammer.
Rick’s mind was a jumble. One minute he had been sleeping peacefully. The next moment he was sitting up and reaching for the pistol on his hip. A split second after that he was struck by an apparition with the force of a felled tree.
A shot rang out as Rick’s trigger finger clenched reflexively. The bullet embedded itself into the floor. Rick felt a sharp pain in his wrist and then numbness in his hand as the pistol clattered across the ancient linoleum. As he struggled to gain his feet, Rick had the sense of being caught in a Looney Toons cartoon with the Tasmanian Devil. This phantom-like figure was moving at light speed. Rick knew he was no physical match. He had to get to one of his guns.
As Rick kicked, punched and scratched he felt the weight of his attacker shift onto his back. He scrambled to free himself but felt the man’s hot breath near his ear as his arms twined like snakes around Rick’s head and neck. Rick knew he was losing. He knew he had to do something.
Suddenly, Rick felt a sharp pain in his neck. Stars burst in front of his eyes. He heard a crackling sound … and nothing more.
The solitary owl resumed its dreary call as silence and darkness enveloped the night.