Something woke me up and I opened my eyes. My reading lamp was on and, thinking mom must have come in, I listened for the sounds of her moving around downstairs, yet there was nothing. The house was still and quiet. When the summer heat finally abated, we turned off the air-conditioners for good two weeks prior and the constant drone we had grown accustomed to hearing was absent.

I checked the time and saw it was close to nine-thirty and determined I had been lying there for thirty or forty minutes. Sitting up, I listened again and heard something, a creaking floor or a shuffling paw. Yawning, I wondered what was keeping mom.

Then, a louder noise came from downstairs and I froze in place. What was it? I started across the floor and the floorboards creaked beneath my feet. I stopped and turned an ear to the opening where the trap door was in its open position with the ladder extended to the floor below. "Mom?"

Getting no response, I took a deep breath and started down the stairs, taking it slowly a step at a time. Announcing my descent, the stairs creaked and moaned. The house was dark with the only light coming from a lamp I had left on in the front room. The open door to mom's room was a darkened abyss; likewise, the partially open door to the bathroom revealed nothing.

Walking silently on the balls of my feet, I moved to where the hallway joined the front room and I peeped around the corner. Everything appeared as I had left it except that the kittens had moved and were nowhere in sight. The kitchen window was partially open but there was a screen over the opening. I had left it like that. I looked for lurkers among the shadows and underneath the card table. I considered looking behind the couch, but it was pushed against the wall and there was no room at all behind it.

The house was as still as a church on a Monday evening.

I tip-toed across the front room to the window and peeped out. Across the street, Old Man Carver's place stood as dark and as quiet as a mortuary. I looked up and down the road and saw nothing; no lights from either cars, people, or houses for nearly a quarter of a mile. That's when I noticed that the porch light on my own porch was off. Had I not turned it on earlier? I considered it and, for the life of me, I just could not remember. Had I turned it on? I had meant to in the off-hand chance I did have trick-or-treaters come by or maybe Smolke or Charles or both would finish their candy begging in Buford early and drop by to say hello and share a caramel nugget or two. Also, so mom would not have to walk up a darkened and broken sidewalk when she came home. Maybe the bulb had burned out. I tried the switch and the light flicked on.

I crossed the room to the kitchen and took a glass from the cabinet, held it under the water faucet and filled the glass halfway before taking a drink. In mid-swallow, I heard a thump from mom's room. I stopped and listened but there was nothing else. It had to be the kittens playing, I told myself. I glanced about the front room, verifying the kittens were missing. I placed the glass in the sink and padded across the front room again, stopping at the hallway. I waited for a moment, my back against the wall, listening before I slowly and carefully peeked around the corner. Another bump arose from mom's darkened room and I nearly jumped out of my skin.

Across the hallway from where I stood was the bathroom. The door was in the same position as before, partially open and undisturbed. All quiet in that direction.

To my right at the end of the hall in darkness was the door to the garage. I didn't even give it a glance as I stepped inside the hallway and took the two steps to the pull-down ladder before pausing. I watched the darkened open door of mom's bedroom, keeping the ladder between me and the darkened opening just in case a monster suddenly emerged. In my mind, my escape route would be the front door -- if anything came at me, I would run for the front door; do not pause, do not pass go, just run.

Want more? Order here.