Here is an exclusive excerpt from the just-released short story Surviving Hector, available now!
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(i) The Man in the Room
Anita had always been a heavy sleeper, which was why it took several minutes for the stranger in the bedroom to wake her up.
Aloysius had made it a running joke that Anita could sleep through anything. When it was time for a baby, he’d say, he would have to handle the night feedings because the baby’s mother could sleep through a five-alarm fire.
It was funny, sort of, and true, sort of. She’d slept through two fire alarms in her dorm in college, but on both occasions she had not only been asleep but drunk. On neither occasion was the fire anywhere near her, so it wasn’t ultimately a big deal except for when her husband decided to bring it up.
When it bothered her—being reminded of how soundly she slept—she argued that she would rather not wake up to feed a baby anyway, especially if he was willing to do it, and anyway it wasn’t like she could help being a sound sleeper. This would sometimes lead Aloysius to come up with a list of other things Anita should really not sleep through, but everything he named—other than fires—was either not important enough to wake up for or so dreadful she’d only be waking up to experience her own immediate death.
Amazingly, not one of the options involved a stranger sitting in her bedroom.
She first became aware of the man when he slapped her on the face. It wasn’t a heavy blow by any means, and the fact that it was gentle yet still woke her implied he’d been doing it for a while.
Once awake enough to sense the slap she spent a few moments trying to justify the sensation by running through all of the things in her life that could have been mistaken for a leather-gloved hand stinging her cheek. Nothing came to mind, so she opened her eyes.
“Ah. Finally,” the man said. The sound of his voice woke her more violently than the slap had. She rolled over and sat up, and for a half-second her body couldn’t decide whether to vault from the bed and for the door or to cover up her negligee-clad body with the blanket. She ended up opting for the latter.
“Jesus Christ, what—”
“Shhh,” he said, pressing the barrel of his handgun to his lips. “Not too much noise, please. No one would hear you, but it’s unseemly.”
The man was sitting in a metal folding chair taken from the supply they kept in the garage, to be used when the company anticipated exceeded the number of chairs already available in the dining room. That usually happened around the holidays, so when she saw it she thought of Christmas, and for about a heartbeat she entertained the notion that the stranger was Santa Claus, breaking into the place on the off-season.
The man was not very Santa-ish. He was rail-thin and balding, with baggy eyes and a wide nose, wearing black slacks and a black turtleneck under a slate gray jacket. His most remarkable aspect, given where he was sitting, was that she had never seen his face before.
Her hand roamed across the bed to her left, and found the space there unoccupied. She would have turned to look—it was a king-sized bed, which was plenty big enough for her to feel alone even when she wasn’t—but didn’t want to turn away from the gun for even a second.
“No, he’s not there. And thank you for not getting hysterical.”
“I’m…” she whispered, then stopped and licked her lips when she found she had insufficient saliva to speak. “I’m a quiet hysteric. What do you want?”
“Excellent question. Right to the point, I like that. Now please pay attention. Your name is Anita Harrington, and you work for the A.D.A. Your husband Aloysius Harrington does not. He is a commodities broker, and I don’t care about him beyond the fact that he has good hearing. He’s not lying next to you because this good hearing of his led him downstairs when he heard an unfamiliar noise. That is who I am: an unfamiliar noise.”
“Do you have a name? Or should I call you that?”
“You can call me Hector. Nobody else does, and I only thought of it three seconds ago, so you will not find anything about me by knowing this. It’s better than you with the gun, however.”
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Surviving Hector: a short story is available for $0.99 on your Kindle– and it’s FREE if you are a Prime subscriber. Order your copy now.