30 Seconds

But what if I'd missed?

Boom--chhk chhk—boom—chhk chhk—boom!

Distant screams echo in my ringing ears from the shotgun blasts. The odor of scorched gunpowder burns my nose and throat. My eyes water, hot and wet. Beads of blood cool on my face and cheeks…

But what if I’d missed?

The intruder’s blade finds my flesh. The knife jabs into my gut, then he yanks it out and thrusts it back in. The knife comes out and pain enshrouds me. My legs give way as the shotgun drops to the hardwood below.


The noise echoes in my chest.

Katchunk, katchunk.

On my knees, I wrap my arms around my gut, trying to hold everything in, but blood flows, oozes out, and forms a dark puddle around me. The knife slices and stalks past me; all I hear is that damned shotgun hitting the floor.


Katchunk, katchunk.

Distant screams call out for me, cry out for me, so I do my best to try to move towards them, but the searing heat in my gut paralyzes me. Serious damage has been done and it’s gonna take more than a band-aid to fix this boo boo. My head flops to the left, then to the right. There is no balance, there is no foundation, there is nothing but screams that I cannot get to. I search the darkened haze for the source of those terrible screams.

My stomach burns and my head is spinning, but I pull myself across the floor. Fingernails crush and tear as I dig into the hardwood. More screams fill the air and when I look up, I see my son, just five years old, lying in his own puddle.

He is not the source of the screams, but I become the source of my own. Snot and spit and blood spatter my chin, lips, and nostrils. Between heaves and cries, I hear those screams again, so I claw at the hardwood and drag my weakening body into the kitchen.

A woman is screaming.



My vision blurs, but in my head, that noise echoes—katchunk—and then my vision clears. With a trail of blood and urine behind me, borne from a coagulating puddle of gore, I lift my head and look towards the screaming, and that’s when I see him; the bastard who has completely eviscerated my family in less than a minute.

On top of my beautiful wife, her nightshirt sliced open and bloody. She grits her teeth and winces her eyes. A nipple protrudes angrily between two crushing fingers, caught within a white-knuckled grip. It’s no longer soft and beautiful and pink, but angry and purple and ready to burst.

She screams and though my beautiful wife is mere feet away, she is more distant than before we’d met.

A scream boils inside me but…

Boom—chhk chhk—boom—chhk chhk—boom!

Distant screams echo in my ears.

Burnt gunpowder scorches my nose and throat.

My eyes water as wet beads cool on my face and cheeks.

I did not miss.

The proof is on the floor, bleeding right in front of me. The knife lay next to him, right where it flew from his hand when I shotgunned him into oblivion. Thoughts of this bastard raping my wife and killing my son strobe light behind my eyes, and though I feel nauseous, I am too angry to vomit. All I can do is pump and pull the trigger over and over.

Boom—chhk chhk—boom—chhk chhk—boom!

The bastard’s body twitches.

His lungs rise, then fall.

Boom—chhk chhk—boom—chhk chhk—chhk chhk.

Chhk chhk.

Thunderous blasts transform into impotent empty clicks. My right foot connects with his ribs two, three times. I turn the shotgun over and grip the hot barrel. I bring the butt of the pistil-grip down upon his head.

Behind me, distant screams.

It’s my wife.

The shotgun drops.

Katchunk, katchunk, katchunk.

On the hardwood floor, in a pool of his own blood and piss, lies the body of a would-be rapist—a maybe child killer. I protected my family. I did not miss. I had saved them from certain savagery.

When I bought the black pump-action shotgun with the pistol grip, I was told, “If you hear a noise, all you gotta do is pump that thing. I guarantee you whoever is in your house will beat cheeks outta there.”

This was what the salesman had said.

“And,” he had added, “between you and me, I’d rather be judged by twelve than carried out by six, know what I mean?”

I did. I absolutely knew what he meant and I could only nod and hope he was right. Though we lived in a dilapidated house in the middle of a dilapidated city suburb, I had no desire to use it. “All you gotta do is pump that thing,” he’d said. “They’ll beat cheeks,” he said.

But here I am. A noise snapped me awake while I was in that strange place between fantasy and dream. There was a crash of some sort downstairs, as though something had fallen to the floor and shattered. I ignored the noise that woke me but this—I knew someone had broken in.

My skin tingled.

This was not a dream.

This was not a fantasy.

My eyes were wide open. I looked over to my wife. She slept soundly, as though this were any other night. But this was not any other night because tonight, this night, someone had broken in. She snored and I breathed in a quick prayer that the salesman was right.

Soft and quiet, I inched myself out of bed and toward the closet. I pulled it open and it creaked. I’d forgotten it did that. The noise was so much louder and lasted so much longer than it should have. Or so it seemed. I stopped pulling the door open, but it was too late.

It was quiet downstairs.

Too quiet…

Committed. I should be committed for buying a gun, because now I’m committed to use it. In my heart I want nothing more than to hear the sound of beating cheeks. But my head, it knows better. I must protect this family.

At all costs, I must protect my family.

I’d rather be judged by twelve.

I sucked in a hard breath and yanked the closet door the rest of the way open. It squealed loudly. My wife, she rolled over, but did not wake, so I reached in. No light needed. I knew right where it was; leaning in the back corner, next to my pool cue. The cold steel was unmistakable and slid into my sweaty palm. The room spun for a moment as my head and heart pumped fear throughout my body. I tightened my grip and took another deep breath. My heart pumped paranoia at an incredible pace, so I took two more deep breaths and pulled the shotgun out of the closet. My feet crept out of the bedroom and carried me to the banister at the top of the stairs. There I stood, my back to my son’s bedroom.

If someone had the balls to come up here, he was going to get them blown off. At least I had hoped mine were big enough to pull the trigger if if it came down to it. “All you gotta do is pump that thing,” the salesman in my spinning head reminded.

So that’s exactly what I did.

Chhk chhk.

I stretched my neck out, turned my ear towards the downstairs, and listened for the sound of beating cheeks.

So much for guarantees.

I’d bought the shotgun with the intention of using it only if the imperative need arose. But when it came down to it, I was unsure if I could pull the trigger after all. Sure, there may have been a shotgun in my hands, but those hands shook with terrible fear. I couldn’t help but wonder—what if the intruder was the definition of imperative need and I miss my shot?

The so-called worst case scenario.

What if he’s not a thief?

What if he’s crazy?

Like bat-shit crazy…what if he’s a wife rapist or a child killer?

“Get out of my house!” I called into the darkness downstairs. I eased down the stairs softly, “Get out! I have a,” I cleared my throat, “I have a gun!”

Silence shifted into shuffling.

And then silence again.

Dead silence.

That silence frightened me, but my feet, they kept me creeping forward. With the shotgun barrel pointed straight ahead, my finger trembled over the trigger, and for the briefest of moments, I could imagine I was Elmer Fudd hunting wabbits. I padded onto the hardwood floor and inched my way deeper into the darkness. A dim light spilled out onto the hardwood floor, as though the refrigerator were left open.

A shadow emerged from the black and lunged at me.

There were no sounds, no peripheral vision.

Only the slow motion silhouette of a figure coming at me.

A sparkle of light glistened in his hand.

Sound returned like an orchestra tuning up before a concert. One by one, my tendons creaked as they constricted to pull the trigger. The bicep in my left arm groaned when I tightened my sweaty grip around the shotgun’s pump-action.

Boom--chhk chhk—boom—chhk chhk—boom!

Distant screams.

My throat burned and snot dripped from my nostrils. I watched each ball from the shot disappear into the darkness. Each tiny lead ball drifted from the barrel and lodged into the chest of my attacking shadow.

Plunk, plunk.

Invader, intruder.

Plunk, plunk, plunk.

Wife rapist. Child killer.

Plunk, plunk, plunk-plunk-plunk.

His body hit the hardwood floor with a limp plop and the silence returned. Blood spattered and smeared the refrigerator door and walls. Warm, wet beads cooled on my face and cheeks. The monster writhed on the ground and moaned in pain; abeast lying in a puddle of its own blood urine. This bastard, this wife rapist, this child killer, this devil incarnate who surely would’ve easily eviscerated my family with his knife, cock, and hatred.

Given the chance.

Distant sirens wailed.

My skin tingled.

His knife…

It had fallen to the floor, just out of reach from his hands. I kicked it away, expecting to hear the sound of metal clank and skip across hardwood. Instead what I heard was the sound of a glass as it rolled and skidded across the floor. It hit the baseboard.


My wife, she screams and pushes past me. The pitch and intensity of her pain rises in volume with each moment I watch her smother our son’s face into her breast. Here and there, a shaking hand strokes his cheeks. Distant sirens cry louder, as though just outside the closed and locked door.

Is she trying to hide and protect him from seeing the monster’s dead body? Was she protecting him from the beast daddy just shot and killed? Those sirens, just outside the door.

Knocking, pounding.

I reach for the light switch and turn on the kitchen light. My wife’s screaming turns hysterical as my eyes try to adjust to the burn.

Pounding, crashing, creaking.

Our child, my son, my sweet baby boy—wasn’t he being caressed and protected and safe in his mother’s arms?

The door crashes open as my vision focuses on the dead body on the ground. Lit by the kitchen’s overhead fluorescent light was not the body of child killer or a wife rapist. All I saw was the lifeless body of a small child cradled in my wife’s arms. Blood puddled and oozed around them. Near the baseboard was a broken glass and small puddle of water, mottled pink. Bits of sparkling, broken glass twinkled on the hardwood.

I look at my screaming wife and follow her tears to the dead body in her arms. The dead body…my son. My boy. My sweet sweet boy—he’d been up to get a glass of water.

Certain to be judged by twelve, standing over my sobbing wife, standing over my dead son, I realize I’d rather be carried out by six.

Chhk chhk click.

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