I heard a noise. A distinct noise - the sound of crunching on the gravel I’d had laid around the exterior of the house. It was a good safety measure intended for times just like this. If anything came near the house at night I’d hear the gravel crunch.
Living in the country was wonderful for the kids. They loved roaming the hills and riding their horse over the wide open fields, but it was a desolate lifestyle. There was a Sheriff, but he worked “on-call.” He was only in the office a few hours a day, lived at the other end of town, and if something happened at night it would be some time before he could reach us. There was little to no need for law enforcement in the community. It was nothing here if not peaceful. There was the occasional domestic disturbance which was generally resolved behind closed doors, or in the worse case scenario a neighbor would step in and quiet everyone down. The only real need for a sheriff came from the beer bar but those incidents were rare, and generally easily settled by the owner/bartender who tolerated no nonsense and kept a baseball bat under the counter, just in case.
It was silent now and I assumed I must have been dreaming, or it had been a deer or some other animal. As I began to doze off again the memory of the time when we’d lived in the city and had the break-in resurfaced from what I’d hoped was a buried memory.
It had been a warm night and the windows and doors were open. We were watching TV, sharing a large bowl of popcorn when suddenly the front screen door burst open and there were three young teenage boys. The eldest looked to be maybe fifteen at the most. They were looking for money and anything of value they could sell. They told us to sit on the couch and be quiet and nobody would get hurt. We did what they asked; were petrified, but quiet. They ransacked the house. They didn’t get much, a couple of watches, a few other pieces of my jewelry I could live without, some DVDs, and some cash from my purse. They were angry there wasn’t more but I think because they were young they were probably inexperienced, and every bit as frightened as we were. After a few choice cuss words they were gone never to be found. Thankfully none of us had been hurt.
My parents had been asking me to, and I’d been contemplating, moving to the country to be nearer to them, and for a better life for the kids. That incident made me decide to do it. Crime in the city was escalating at an alarming rate. They weren’t even safe at school. And what if someone broke in while I was at work and the kids were alone? Off to the countryside we went. It was a long commute each work day for me but the peace of mind was worth the sacrifice.
My grandmother had passed away a few months prior and left her home to me. It was a wonderful old house and she’d had kept it up beautifully. All I had to do was add two more bathrooms. Grams was in her nineties when she died peacefully in her sleep, but up to the last she did her own gardening and scrubbed her own floors. My mom and dad lived on the adjoining property. There was five acres between the two residences but at night I could see the lights on in their house through the trees. It was a comforting sight and one that made us feel not quite as isolated. Our two houses were the only ones on our road which came to a dead end about a half mile from my house.
It was a small community and “downtown” consisted of a gas station, a small convenience store, a feed and grain, the Sheriff’s seldom used office, and the beer bar which by the way served the best hot wings I’ve ever tasted. Once in awhile I’d go there on a Saturday night to listen to the music and have a couple of beers and a basket of hot wings with ranch dressing and carrot sticks. The kids were old enough to be left alone but I felt uneasy about it, and my parents always stayed with them if I went anywhere at night.
Dad was the one who told me to have the gravel laid around the perimeter of the house. It was sage advice. Another thing he told me was to listen for crickets. He’d said, “Listen for the crickets Margaret. As long as you can hear them nothing is about. If you don’t hear any, something is prowling; animal or man.”
There was the noise again. I sat bolt upright in bed. It was close now, right outside my bedroom window. Crunch, crunch, then silence. I reached for my cell phone then remembered I’d left it in the kitchen. The sound was too heavy to be a deer. Maybe a cougar, a mountain lion, a hybrid wolf? They’d been seen by neighbors. But why would one be by my bedroom window? They generally avoided any contact with people. I thought about the gun on the top shelf of the extra storage closet in my bedroom, but the small closet was locked for safety purposes because of the kids, and wouldn’t you know it, the key was hidden in the pantry downstairs.
Still no cricket sounds and the crunching on the gravel had stopped. Just as I was beginning to feel at ease, crash! the sound of glass breaking downstairs. First I heard Josh yell, “What the - - - -,” then Bethany and Brittany scream in unison, “Mommy!” I jumped out of bed, heading for downstairs, but before I got very far my bedroom door crashed open and there stood my helpless fifteen-year-old son with a gun at his head, and my two beautiful thirteen-year-old twin daughters being held by two gruesome looking men one of whom was running his hand through Brittany’s blonde hair.
“Hey momma, what’s up? Wanta party? Bet you do. We gonna have us a grand old time.” I could see the bulge in his pants while the other was leering at Bethany and flicking his tongue in and out of his almost toothless mouth.
“Do what you want with me, but please, please, don’t hurt my kids,” I pleaded.
“Tell you what we’ll do momma, we’ll do you first and if you're good enough we won’t bother with the kids. We been watching you. You’re what we want. Saw you at the joint in town last Saturday night and you looked fine in those jeans and that T-shirt. Yessiree, real fine. Gotta have us some of that. Yep, that’s what we said. You brats go stand in the corner and be quiet. Sonny, you watch and you’ll learn a thing or two.”
Then the other one looked lasciviously at Josh and said, “Yep. But when we’re through with the bitch I want some time with sweet boy.”
The kids scrambled to the corner but not until Josh tried to fight one of them and got a good bang on the head for his attempt. They huddled together with Josh’s arms around his two sisters, all with expressions I’ll never forget — Josh looked helpless and mad, the girls were old enough to understand and both were white as ghosts and shaking. I’ve never felt so helpless as I did in that moment. All I could think of was to try and please the two men, cooperate, fake it to the max, and maybe they’d leave the kids alone. “Please God, make it so.”
“Okay momma, show time. Get that night gown off and fast. Now lookee there Earl, ain’t that cute? Little rosebuds all over her nightie. But that’s not the kind of buds I wanta see. Okay bitch, get it off, back on the bed and lay back and spread ‘em. Then he rubbed his hands together, licked his lips and said, “Ready or not, here comes big poppa.”
Crossing my arms to pull my night gown over my head I backed towards the bed.” The man who had been doing the talking had just taken a step towards me when I saw my Dad over the shoulder of the other one. He was standing in the hallway, shotgun cocked and aimed and said in the sternest voice I’ve ever hear him utter, “Freeze bastards! Put your hands over your heads and back out, slowly, real slowly, and straight back.”
After the Sheriff drove the two men away, and the kids were safe in their beds and asleep again, Dad told me he’d stayed up late reading. Just as he was ready to turn in he heard a vehicle drive down the road. Due to the late hour he was sure it wasn’t anyone visiting us. Someone had taken a wrong turn and would quickly realize it when they reached the dead end. He listened and waited. When he didn’t hear them turn around and drive back he got into his pickup and with the lights out sped across the open field to our place. He said his inner alarm rang loud and clear when he was listening for the car’s return down the road and hadn’t heard any crickets.