“Come on, Zach, humour me. I took time to come over here, so sit down and have another drink.” The visitor shoved a kitchen chair at Zachary. “Now.”
Zachary stepped back, dragging the chair with him. He shouldn’t have opened the door for anyone this damned Halloween night. But once he’d seen who was there, Zachary had seized the chance to tell his side of things. He’d realized, too late, that his guest didn’t want to listen.
“Forget the glass.” The visitor stood at one end of the pine table and slid the rye whisky bottle closer to him.
“I don’t want another drink,” Zachary said. “Let’s just talk, okay?”
His visitor yanked a steak knife from the wooden block on the counter. Zachary gripped the back of the chair. His legs weakened and he wanted to sit, but keeping this chair between them was his only defence.
“My sister-in-law hates it when people touch stuff in her kitchen.” He licked dry lips.
“I said drink!” The knife slashed the air.
Zachary recoiled. “Please! I can fix this.”
“How? The damage is bloody well done.”
Zachary’s hopes sank.
“Pick up the bottle, Zach. Everyone knows rye whisky’s your favourite.”
Zachary lifted the bottle slowly. “You, uh, want some?”
“No. Hurry up. I haven’t got all night.”
“Why do you want me to--”
Zachary winced at the rage behind this word. He chugged until his throat burned, then plunked the bottle down and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. His thumping heart forced him to take quick, shallow breaths.
“Yummy, isn’t it, Zach?”
Zachary nodded. He glanced at his visitor’s plastic pumpkin pail on the table, the white sheet stuffed inside the pail. Gloria and Max wouldn’t be back for hours. Nearby, he heard the excited shouts of trick-or-treaters.
“Kids won’t come to a house with no lights on at the front. And they sure as hell won’t walk around back,” his visitor said. “You should have gone out for Halloween. But big mistakes are your trademark, aren’t they?”
Zachary lowered his head.
“Drink up, Zach.”
“Sure you can.” His visitor edged nearer.
Sweat trickled down Zachary’s ribs. He drank and tried to keep the knife in sight. Booze spluttered down his shirt.
“Please. I won’t cause any more trouble, I swear.”
For several moments, the room was silent.
“My car’s parked out front. Walk me to the door.”
Zachary didn’t move. “Look, if you wanted to scare me, you’ve done it. I’ll back off. Won’t say another word.”
His visitor lifted the pail. “Let’s go.”
Zachary’s shoulders sagged. “I feel sick.”
“Too bad. I want you to come with me.”
Nausea roiled in his stomach. “Why?”
Terrified, Zachary threw the chair at his guest and raced along the narrow hallway toward the front of the house. Halfway down the hall, he bolted through an open door leading to the basement. Finally, a chance. He’d been rewiring for Max down there. Lights couldn’t come on. He might make it if he got the basement door open in time . . . reached the Pearsons’ place. It’d only take a few seconds.
At the bottom of the stairs, Zachary fumbled to his work table. His fingertips flitted over a bag of nails, tools. He picked up a hammer.
Footsteps pounded down the steps and Zachary’s stomach somersaulted. He scurried forward in the dark, touching the washer, dryer, the door.
Zachary struggled to slide the rusty bolt. He placed the hammer on the dryer, then pulled harder. The bag of nails tumbled to the floor. By the time the bolt started moving Zachary was panting.
A sharp pain struck him between the shoulder blades. Gasping, Zachary collapsed against the door. Hands grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back.
“Get up those bloody stairs, or I swear to God I’ll kill you right here!”
Zachary staggered through the basement, up the steps. Near the top, he spun and kicked his enemy in the chest.
He reached the hallway. Hands clamped around Zachary’s ankles and yanked him onto the cold ceramic floor. A wave of white heat seared his shoulder. The visitor took hold of his wrists and dragged him toward the front entrance. Zachary tried to press his feet against the walls to stop what was happening, but he didn’t have the strength.
Near the door, his wrists were released. Zachary groaned and rubbed them. “Please, I can put this right. Give me a chance.” In the darkness, he saw a flash of silver. “No! My kids need me. Don’t!”
“They don’t need you, Zach. Nobody needs you.”
Zachary heard the deadbolt turn. The door opened just enough to let cool air waft inside. Somewhere on the street, firecrackers exploded and children yelled, “Trick or treat!”
A kick in the chest knocked the words out of him.
He tried, but he could barely breathe and his legs gave out. Sweat soaked his shirt.
“It’s Halloween, Zach. You really should answer the door.”
Using the wall for support, Zachary pushed himself up. The smell of fireworks and damp filled his lungs. A sharp pain slid through his insides. Moaning, Zachary dropped to his knees. His forehead smacked the cold, ceramic floor.