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C. J. Stevens

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A Shot in the Dark
By C. J. Stevens
Monday, May 30, 2005

Rated "G" by the Author.

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A story of fear and consternation

 It was another night that Sam Nesbitt had difficulty sleeping. He got out of bed as quietly as possible.
  "Is there anything wrong?" Amy asked.
  Concern edged her voice as she turned to him in the dark.
  "Go back to sleep," he told her. "I'm going to sit up for a bit and read."
  "You'd tell me if there was anything worrying you?"
  "Of course," he said. "I'm just having another one of my bouts with insomnia."
  He felt his way past the bureau until his hand touched the door. Quietly, he turned the knob and entered the living room.
  The nightlight under the big window that overlooked the bird feeders gave just enough glow for Nesbitt to circle the sofa and switch on the reading lamp.
  He didn't want to tell Amy, but for several days Sam had been having a sense of uneasiness, a sort of premonition that something was going to happen to them. It was an elusive kind of worry, a concern he could laugh at one minute and fmd overpowering the next. Somehow, he couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched, that they weren't alone.
  But this is all nonsense, he reasoned. The only watchful eyes were those of chipmunks, squirrels, and birds; the only night prowlers were raccoons, skunks, and foxes. What Amy liked best about the summer property was its remoteness. Forty acres of woods on a lonely dead-end road, twenty miles from town, and the cottage hidden by a stand of silent pines—"Sam," she had said when the real estate agent finally left them alone, "we really must have this!"
  Day before yesterday's Wall Street Journal did little to shake Nesbitt from his mood. Outside, in the ebony bowl of midnight, the pine branches were motionless, waiting, and on the hillside over the trackless leaves, animals were circling and crouching. The feeling of being stared at became intense. He lowered the newspaper quickly, expecting to see a face pressed against one of the panes of the big window, but there was only the dark with its undefined features crowding the glass.
  Retirement is hell, he told Amy one afternoon over cocktails after the second year. There had to be more in life for a vital man in his mid-sixties, something more satisfying and sustaining than golfing, fishing, and looking at birds. What he didn't tell her was that he missed the investment firm, even the train rides into New York and back to their suburban New Jersey home. Now it was New Hampshire summers and Florida winters. Of course he enjoyed the twice a year romps with grandchildren and the occasional barbecue bashes with new friends. But it wasn't enough. Sam Nesbitt dropped the newspaper and stared back through the big window.
  Maybe I should become a part-time financial consultant, he thought, do just enough to give life an edge. But one had to stay in one place to conduct a business. Amy was interested in making baskets and wanted him to whittle decoys so they could share a booth at craft fairs. Her idea was so ludicrous that it almost made him forget his uneasiness. What he did best in life was over; there was only the waiting left, the inevitable. Should he go back to bed or just sit there with the light on in the middle of the night?
  He picked up the newspaper again and rattled it open to a different page. The words were still in formation, ready to march in their close-order drill, and they all looked alike as they waited in the soft blur of lamplight.
  I should have resisted, Sam told himself, should have talked her out of that silly whim of spending summers on a godforsaken hillside miles from town. He was grateful that New Hampshire winters were long and complicated with unpredictable springs and falls. He wouldn't be able to endure more than five months of cutting and splitting logs for a fIreplace that smoked. Still, it was a sort of trade-off. Amy was no golfer, and the Florida sun was bad for her sensitive skin. Back and forth, like commuters, they were committed to two lifestyles in the one existence of a marriage.
  The trees around the cottage began to whisper their secrets as the wind crept off the hillside. What the pines said to each other was lost in the syntax of limbs. Amy's trees, he called them. If he had had his way, the pines now would be boards stacked in some lumberyard. Cutting them would have opened a view of the road and valley below. Probably he needed more space, more openness; he would like it better if there were a few houses in sight.
  Above the cottage, along the steep slopes, the wind began to freight messages in downdrafts and tiny swirls. In the distance, the faint but ominous growl of a solitary jet pulsating further and further out. Then a long sigh while the wind halted and the night stared past the abandoned bird feeders. Sam Nesbitt sat slumped, his thoughts drifting.
  Then an unidentifiable throb or hum, erratic, and for several moments too faint to hear. Along the winding road, between the cottage and town, it was definitely coming closer. Sam could feel the muscles in his neck tighten as he straightened in his chair. Some storm approaching? A squall? But no, it was too shrill to be the beginning of summer thunder. Nesbitt gulped a mouthful of air to help silence his pulses.
  Now, a mile out, the sound was more fixed, gradually becoming the howling of tires and the irregular bursts of acceleration. Some damned-fool kids, he tried to tell himself, out raising hell.
  The feeling that he was being watched, the uneasiness he couldn't control—both were closing in on him. He knew this would be no adolescent confrontation. There was some evil, adult purpose behind that mad rush along the hillside with the squeal of brakes between bursts of speed. The gun, he thought, I need the gun.
  Sam Nesbitt rose from his chair. Suddenly out of breath with fear, he stood for several moments wondering if the room would start spinning. Should he wake Amy? No, not unless it was necessary. His pulses now had anvils to hammer as he clumsily made his way to the broom closet by the bolted front door. On the top shelf he found the object he hated: an oily, alien mech-anism that gleamed in the fuzzy light of the living room. As much as he detested the revolver's ugly usefulness, Sam knew that this was their one chance. Without it, he and Amy would be lost. Perhaps they already were, had been from the start—the very day they moved into the cottage. The light, Sam remembered, kill the light.
  The outside unknown leaped through the big window and into the room. Sam fumbled his way around the sofa, the gun now poised in baton readiness. Across the room, in a smaller roadside window, the momentary blaze of headlights ricocheting from the topmost branch of a silent pine. Nesbitt crept forward and lifted the partly opened window higher and slowly removed the screen. Then he got down on his knees, letting the sill become his parapet.
  The car had stopped at the foot of the driveway, its motor idling. A faint glow, subtle as starlight, appeared and disappeared in the maze of branches and pine needles. Then the metallic yawn of a door opening.
  Sam Nesbitt pressed his body against the sill and tried to steady the revolver. The dry tightness he felt in his throat seemed to be squeezing his breath. He wanted to shout, take the initiative from the intruder, hide his cowardliness with rage. But fear made him timid, more vulnerable, not safe with himself.
  The engine was still running and the door hadn't been slammed shut. From the driveway the sound of gunfire. A shot in the dark. One bullet spiralling into the waiting night. Then the slamming of the door and renewed acceleration; the tires gripping and showering gravel as the vehicle spun backwards into the road.
  Then Nesbitt saw the glow of headlights along the high branches and listened to the sound of the motor, fIrst complainingly clear and abused, and gradually less tortured.
  Left behind were the bruised body of the night seeping through the open window and Sam Nesbitt, a man who couldn't stop kneeling. It wasn’t gratitude, wasn’t reverence that held him there, only premonition. He was convinced that they were still being watched.


       Web Site: John Wade Publisher

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Reviewed by April Smith 6/1/2005
This story kept me riveted to the screen! I'm dying to know what comes next! :-) April
Reviewed by Michelle Mills 5/30/2005
I'm waiting for the next installment CJ! WOW! Such tremendous detail, and I could feel the nervous anxiety in this man's heart. Great job! Blessings, Michelle

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