Speaking of first times, it's also the first time I've done W.E.P. in conjunction with IWSG, now that the two have paired up!
The theme this time around is Change of Heart.
An Uninvited Guest
Jenny sat in her understated sedan, her cell phone held up to her ear. The house she watched existed in a flurry of activity: cars, bikes, kids, their friends. It exhausted her just observing them. Imagine living such a busy life, constantly running errands, driving kids places, picking them up. The single life worked out perfectly fine for her.
As usual, things calmed down at the Harris residence as dusk fell, everyone settled in for dinner and homework. It would only be a few more hours before the beds filled and the other rooms emptied, the youngest kids slipping off first, followed by the older ones in a stairstep of bedtime routines. Finally, the adults would drift off to bed, their bedroom light blinking out around 10:30.
At midnight, Jenny would strike. The serpent in the fold.
Her instructions were to make it look like a burglary gone wrong. She'd scoped out the house when it was empty (not an easy feat with a family of six living there). She'd gathered various possible weapons from inside the home: an old cord from a no longer used landline phone, a kitchen knife, duct tape and a wrench from the garage, and a few other items that probably wouldn't get used. Better safe than sorry.
The light went out right on time.
The night sounds of suburbia drifted through the windows while she waited for midnight. Crickets, distant car rumblings, leaves blowing in the breeze. The pleasant scent of grass drifted on the air currents.
She studied the house. At night its flaws weren't so visible. She could no longer make out the faded paint or the bald spots in the lawn. It looked almost flawless in the low light. Other than the gentle drift of the shrubs and the tree's branches, nothing moved. Every door had been locked multiple ways, the windows properly closed and locked.
Every window but the basement one she'd broken yesterday to ensure it couldn't be closed. Chances are, they hadn't noticed it yet. If by some miracle they'd fixed it, she had other means of egress.
Her phone indicated it was 11:58. Close enough.
Jenny looked around to be certain no one hovered outside. Her car hid within a long line of cars, all parked along the curb, gaps left at driveways just in case the norms decided to go for a late night spin. The lights were out in every house. Even the exterior lights had been shut off by most of the residents. Didn't they know people like her took advantage of the darkness?
With no sign of humanity observed, she quietly exited her car, grabbing the messenger bag she used as a kit for these jobs. She'd turned off the dome light in advance, so she didn't draw attention to herself. Instead of trying to be sneaky, she strolled up to the house as if she lived there. Digging through her pockets, she expressed frustration through the climbing of her shoulders and her rigid movements. Hopefully, anyone watching would figure she'd forgotten her key.
The phantom key left unfound, she stepped off the porch and moved around to the back of the house, remaining tense, hands waving in the air as if she were ranting. In the darkness at the back of the house, she slowed, no longer putting the act on. Time again for caution.
She found the window still broken. No attempt had been made to fix it or block it closed, which told her they likely hadn't noticed it yet.
The cops certainly would when examining the crime scene.
Her pulse only now accelerated. Now came the time where everything could go wrong.
From her bag she pulled out a pair of leather driving gloves and put them on. She eased the window open, going slow to ensure it didn't creak.
Feet first, she eased herself through the window then reached out for her bag, from which she extracted her flashlight. She moved through the basement with quick, silent feet. Walking up the left edge of the wooden steps kept them from making any noise save a gentle squeak here and there. The door at the top of the stairs stood partially open, and they kept it well oiled, so it slid open without a sound.
The kitchen stood empty. As did the living room. It took no time at all for her to climb the stairs to the second floor, where all the bedrooms stood. Two of the doors were closed--the teens's rooms. Two others let out faint, amber lights, indicating night lights. The fifth was at the end of a hallway, the door open, no light spilling from it.
With any luck, none of the children would awaken, and she could be in and out in ten minutes. There were to be no casualties other than Mr. Harris.
She slipped into the master bedroom, easing the door shut behind her. Padding across the room, Jenny reached the foot of the bed. She crouched, waiting for her eyes to adjust the rest of the way. The bed shook gently as one of them adjusted their position.
Her pulse pounded raucously, and she breathed gently to calm it.
A small voice whispered, "Mommy?"
Jerking her gaze to the door, she saw it remained closed. Panic-adrenaline assaulted her veins. Where the hell was the kid?
Then the bed stirred again.
A woman's voice whispered, "Hush, go to sleep, baby boy."
Goosebumps rose on Jenny's arms.
This wasn't the deal. Traumatizing a grown woman by killing her husband beside her was a price she was willing to extract, but not this. This little boy didn't deserve to watch his dad die, to witness something most adults went a lifetime without seeing.
She slumped down to a seat at the foot of the bed, waiting for them to fall asleep so she could make her way back out the way she had come.
Now for some links. Bear in mind I'm not endorsing these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.
Gypsum Sound Tales is seeking horror/sci-fi short stories for Thuggish Itch, an anthology. The theme is Scientific. 1000 to 5000 words. Pays $5-$10 AUS. Deadline September 14. (You also have one more week to submit to their all-genre anthology, Colp, with the theme Sky's the Limit.)
18th Wall is seeking adventure, pulp, thriller, mystery, horror, and other speculative fiction tales for Overdue: Tales of Mystery and Adventure Returning History's Lost Books to Circulation. This is a shared universe collection. 4000 to 20,000 words. Pays quarterly royalties. Deadline September 15.
Corpus Press is seeking non-themed horror short stories. 2500 to 4500 words. Pays $.03/word. Deadline September 15.
Gehenna & Hinnom is seeking weird fiction and cosmic horror. 250 to 3000 words. Pays $30-$50. Deadline September 15.
Eye to the Telescope is seeking poetry in the theme of Witches. This will be edited by Ashley Dioses, who did a guest post on horror poetry for me in February! Submit 1-3 poems. Pays $.03/word. Deadline September 15.
Arsenika is seeking flash fiction and poetry. Up to 1000 words. Pays $30-$60. Deadline September 15.
Did you participate in WEP? What's your interpretation of a change of heart? Are any of these links of interest? Anything to share?
May you find your Muse.
*artwork clker.com, ocal