Little Voices

By Michael Hawkins


Tonight was just like any other night, or so it seemed.  Everything appeared normal as Rick Dodge pulled into his neighborhood, but he was overcome with an unsettling but familiar sense of dread.  He had felt this before, but only once.  One Wednesday morning about six years ago, he awoke with this same foreboding sense of impending doom.  Little voices inside his head kept telling him to call in sick that day even though he felt perfectly fine, to find any excuse to stay at home.  The voices were barely an audible whisper as he showered and shaved, but by the time he finished breakfast and started out the door, they had escalated to hair-raising screams.  Julia kissed him goodbye, as she had every morning since becoming far too pregnant to go to work herself.  Rick then bent down and kissed their unborn child, whose day of birth was sure to come within the next two weeks.  As he pulled out of the driveway that morning, he tried to convince himself that his sense of dread was a figment of his imagination, that that the voices in his head were utterly meaningless.  By lunchtime, he knew that they were not.

     Julia had called around 12:30 that day, so frantic that Rick could barely make sense out of what she was saying.  As soon as he heard her say the word  "baby," he dropped the phone, ran to his car without a word to anyone, and drove maniacally to Midland hospital.  After a hopelessly long hour in the emergency waiting room, the doctor had calmly walked out and told him of the stillbirth.  "She was progressing normally.  Sometimes these things just happen," he had said.  It was unbearable returning home from the hospital, looking at the baby’s decorated room, the toys and clothes in the closet. 

After what seemed like an eternity, the misery subsided.  The birth of their dear Sarah just over three years ago helped ease the pain of their loss.  But the memory of that dreadful feeling, those voices telling him that his world was about to crash around him, never faded.  He was convinced that on some level, he had known the stillbirth would occur hours before it actually did.  And now, on what seemed like a normal late Fall Thursday evening, the voices were back, and they were louder than ever.

     As Rick turned onto his street, the voices he had not heard since Julia's stillbirth entered his mind again.  They were without question the same voices, though not nearly as subtle as six years before.  They resonated like cymbals in his head, telling him to approach with stealth and caution, as if sneaking up on something.  Rick had never been one to put much stock in little voices or intuition, but had he listened to them last time, he would have been at home when Julia felt something wrong with the baby.  He certainly would have gotten her to the hospital much sooner, and he just might be the proud father of two rather than one.  He did not heed his last warning, and he would not be foolish enough to repeat that mistake.  As he neared his home, Rick slowed his Explorer and turned off the lights.  He parked on the curb rather that pulling into his driveway and closely examined the front of his house.  Although everything seemed normal, Rick's sense of alarm was stronger than ever.

     Woodland Street was eerily quiet.  The cold November air and time change had silenced a stretch of road that was usually buzzing with playing children and speed-walking adults.  Rick turned off the engine, noting that it was nearly seven thirty by his auto clock, and slowly opened his car door.  The poodle in the Johnson's back yard always went into a barking frenzy at the slightest sound or motion, but tonight their yard was completely silent.  He closed the driver side door quietly and gingerly began walking toward his house.  With each passing step, his sense of dread drew deeper, causing his stomach to turn nauseating flips.  In a passing thought, Rick realized that if this turned out to be a false alarm, Julia would think him strange for parking on the curb and sneaking into his own home.  He did not know how he would explain these actions, but he prayed that coming up with a good excuse would be the extent of his worries tonight.

     Rick placed his right foot on the front step and then drew back.  He saw a shadow move through the living room window, a shadow far to large to be that of his beloved wife.  Rick crept up to the window and peered inside, unable to see at first through the drapes and blinds.  He knelt down and looked between two separated blinds, and to his shock and horror, saw a large, bald man, mid thirties, sitting on his sofa.  He appeared to be dressed in a prison suit, and tattoos covered both of his arms.  Rick's shotgun rested in the man's left hand while he smoked a cigarette with his right.  Rick's initial urge to burst into the house and confront this stranger quickly passed when he saw what the man was glaring at.  Julia sat across the room, gagged and blindfolded, and tied to a kitchen chair.  Sarah was clinging to her leg, crying and repeating "I'm sorry, Mommy" over and over.  As Rick watched in horror, the man stood up and began fondling himself, laughing and taunting his wife and child.  He watched the man toss his cigarette on the carpet, stomp on it, and slowly begin pacing toward Julia and Sarah.

Rick Dodge felt as if ice was in his veins as he backed away from the window.  He realized that in mere moments, the man that had invaded his home would also be invading his wife.  Who was this man, and how the hell had he gotten into the house?  Rick always wondered how he would react to a crisis such as this.  What were his options?  Calling the police was out.  By the time they arrived, who knows how much damage would already be done.  Going into his home to face this monster without a plan was foolish, but there was no time for planning.  He had to act now.

The shotgun now sitting on Rick's couch was the only real weapon he owned.  He had never been much for guns, knives, or the like, but the shotgun given to him by his grandfather was still in his possession for purely sentimental reasons.  Unfortunately, it was now in the possession of a man who clearly meant to do unthinkable harm to his family.  Rick strained to think of anything at his disposal that he could use for a weapon against this intruder.  Suddenly, he heard Sarah let out a hair-raising scream.  The muffled sound of the man's voice followed, and then all was silent again.  Rick knew that if he waited any longer, any action taken could be in vain.

Rick moved quietly but swiftly to his back yard, keeping an eye on the house at every moment.  He slipped past the back door and sprinted to his work shed.  He glanced over at the Johnson's house, fully expecting their poodle to run to the fence, barking at the top of its lungs, and blow his cover, but there was no dog in sight.  Rick wondered for a moment if its silence had anything to do with the man in his living room.  Opening the work shed door, he franticly searched for anything that would disable his uninvited guest.  After thinking briefly about a shovel or hand saw, he settled on the old axe buried in the corner behind the other tools.  The blade was dull and rusted, but it would do in a pinch.  Rick turned toward his house and took a deep breath.  There was no time for a subtle, strategic approach.  All he could do was storm in and hope for the best.

Rick went to the back door, which opened into the living room.  Judging by where he saw Julia tied to the kitchen chair, the man should be close enough for Rick to have a chance of getting to him before he could get back to the shotgun on the couch.  Rick turned his key slowly to unlock the door, then kicked it open and made a mad dash toward the spot where Julia sat in bondage.

Julia's pants were around her ankles and her blouse was torn down the middle, but things did not appear to have progressed as far as Rick feared.  The Intruder bolted toward the couch where the shotgun sat upright.  Rick ran toward him full speed, leapt over the coffee table, and brought the axe down with all of his might.  The Intruder grabbed the shotgun, raised it, and turned just in time to see the dull axe blade come crashing down on his right shoulder.  The force of the blow made his right arm go limp and knocked the gun loose, and as the Intruder bent to pick it up with his left hand, Rick turned the axe around to the backside and brought it down squarely on his right temple.  The Intruder collapsed to the floor, blood oozing out of his shirt and the side of his head, and began trembling as if in seizure.  In a matter of seconds, the threat this man had brought into their home was over.

Rick stood over him for a few moments, glaring down at the heap of human trash that had terrorized his precious home and family.  The man kept trembling for a few seconds, mouth agape and eyes bulging, then suddenly stopped and lay motionless in a growing pool of blood.  Rick backed away and then hurried to free his wife.  Sarah, who had been hiding under the end table beside the sofa, came running and leaped into her fathers' arms.  The three of them hugged, relieved that this ordeal which none of them would have ever anticipated, was over.  They remained locked in embrace for several more seconds, crying together and exchanging words of affection.  Rick turned to take another look at their unwanted houseguest, and what he saw made the events of the evening up to this point pale by comparison.

The spot on the floor where the Intruder had fallen was completely empty.  Rick raised the axe to his shoulder again and stood at attention, expecting the man to charge at any moment, but then realized that not only was the Intruder gone, but so were the bloodstains and shotgun. The sofa and coffee table were even perfectly in place.  It was truly as if the Intruder had never been there at all, as if the horror they had all experienced that evening suddenly vanished into thin air.  Rick turned back to his wife and daughter, who were also staring in the same place with looks of terror and bewilderment.  As Rick Dodge turned to look again to the spot where the Intruder had fallen just moments ago, he heard the little voices in his head again, heard them loud and clear.  This time, they were all laughing.