“Willard, when are you coming to bed?” Grace’s voice echoed in his head waking him from a deep sleep.
He sat in his recliner, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, his Remington .310 laying placidly across the chair’s arms just like it did every night. The TV filled the family room with a pale gray glow but the sound was turned down. Despite his seventy five years on the planet, he could still hear pretty good, but since there was nothing but crap on he saw no reason to ever turn the volume up.
“Soon,” he said quietly. He started to repeat himself, but a crashing noise in the front of the house stopped him.
“Did you hear that?” He asked shouting deep into the house, but Grace didn’t respond. He started to ask her again, but he heard a scrabbling noise at one of the front windows.
“Grace, why don’t come in here?” He asked, but then remembered that she couldn’t and that shook him. He was forgetting things and even hearing her voice. Sometimes he even talked to her.
They had come in last year. Maybe they hadn’t even wanted to hurt her, but they killed her nonetheless. The police said she must have put up a fight and they pushed her down, her head hitting the stone hearth. Knocked unconscious, she bled to death, alone.
There was a scraping noise at the front of the house followed by a loud clattering metal-against-metal sound and a few seconds later Willard felt a cool breeze filtering down the long hallway into the family room. He knew his place like the back of his hand after living in it for fifty years. The front door was open.
He fingered the Remington expectantly.
Grace would hate that he took out the alarm system. The system and the bars on the windows went in when the neighborhood went to hell in a handbasket in the late 80’s. When Willard took it all out late last year his neighbor had said it was like advertising that you wanted robbed. Willard figured he didn’t need it any more because they had already taken everything that was important to him.
The beam of a flashlight splayed down the hall like probing fingers. He saw the edges of it dancing along the wall and clicked the safety off the Remington.
They were everywhere in the neighborhood these days. Crackheads and other addicts squatting in the abandoned houses all around them. They prowled the neighborhood at night looking for drugs, money, or anything they could steal and fence.
Her voice echoed across the years to him, “Will, you don’t need to do this.”
“Yes, I do,” he whispered as he readied the gun. She’d always been a better person than him and he knew it.
He listened as they tried to open the French doors in the living room, but he had those nailed shut. They’d come down the hallway because all the other doors were locked, too. They’d follow the path he had set before them because he left them no other choice. Willard set the maze so the rats only came to one spot — the doorway into the family room where he waited.
“Grace,” he whispered. “Grace?” But she didn’t answer and never would.
They crept down the hall, their footsteps loud and clumsy. Willard brought up his shotgun, his hands quivering from age, not nerves. When the intruders stepped into the doorway, framed pretty-as-a-picture, Willard pulled the trigger.