A night like this, even though I pretended it wasn’t, was my favorite part of family vacation. Mom and dad wanted an evening alone together, we were in a foreign country, so they didn’t know any baby-sitters, and even though mom told me not to watch scary movies, I did. Six hours alone to watch whatever I wanted, and to not have to watch them fawn over each other was golden. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy my parents love each other and stuff. But at a certain point it’s like, “Get a room.” I see my friends' parents and they’re not nearly as lovey-dovey. In fact, most of them act like they don’t even like each other.
These used to be my least favorite nights when Jenny stayed in with me. She would watch garbage tv, never compromising, and order weird, expensive room service that I would half get in trouble for. She’s a good sister, but our six-year age gap puts us in different worlds. She’s already had two boyfriends, and I’m still reading comics and riding bikes with my buddies. I liked it. I got to watch her argue with our parents about big deal stuff, so when it came to some of the worst stuff I was doing, it wasn’t as big of a deal. Now for the last three years, when the folks went out, so did Jenny.
They were running late tonight. Even Jenny. She would usually try to get back a half hour or so before the folks. I had made it through two creature features on one of the English channels. The next movie was Phantasm. I lied to myself that the reason I didn’t want to watch it was because it was too cheesy—really, it scared the hell out of me— and went back to the weird hotel channel guide. My French isn’t that good. But it’s good enough that I spotted, L’Invasion des Profanateurs, as it scrolled by. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was one of my favorite movies—even though it scared me good. It was right on that line of being able to watch it without nightmares, or at least nightmares that weren’t that bad.
I was over ten minutes in when I realized that both; the movie was dubbed instead of subtitles—which was going to make it a tough watch, but that it was also almost eleven. Just a few minutes ‘til, an unprecedented occurrence. We had no protocol for this situation. Was I supposed to wait an hour then call someone? Would I be getting my parents in trouble, and in turn be whisked away to some French orphanage?
I put the thought out of my head and turned my focus on the movie. For a second it was hard to follow, before I stopped trying to decipher the French and realized I pretty much knew every line. Then the French became a comforting murmur in the background as I almost heard Sutherland’s voice. It wasn’t until Sutherland and the main lady were running through the streets that I realized the movie was coming to its conclusion and everyone was really running late. I took a quick minute to remember all the events that lead to the movie's conclusion, nodded, satisfied with the end, and pushed the guide button. The scrolling screen with the clock in the corner popped up. 11:51.
I glanced around the suite in surprise. Were they all here already and I didn’t even notice them come in? I left the guide up—having the clock to reference was somehow comforting—and took a casual stroll through the rooms. No one. I regrouped in the living room. What could I do? I had a key for emergencies. I could go into the hall and look around. But what would that do? I could call the front desk. And say what? Say, “I was just checking to see if you knew where my parents and my sister are?” French orphanage for sure. No. I could call the front desk and pretend to be my dad and ask if I’ve received any messages. Would they try to leave a message for me, though? We’d never done anything like that before.
The phone rang.
I jumped, frozen in place, and watched the phone rattle on its hanger. I crept toward it. I grabbed the receiver, cutting it off mid-harsh-ring. Something on the other end clicked as I lifted it to my ear, “Hello?” Nothing. Not even a dial tone or static. It was dead. I hung it up and stepped back, hands out, ready for it to ring again.
The door rattled. I turned to the handle of the door in a readied stance. Just as I thought that maybe I had imagined it, it rattled again. This time I watched it jostle and twitch. I took a step toward the door and cocked my head as I listened. My footsteps were silent. I grew closer. A heavy squeak from the other side. I took a step back.
Thump Thump Thump
I jumped and stumbled past the coffee table and worked myself behind the far end of the couch, my hands grasping its arm. I stared at the door, ready to dive for cover.
Thump Thump Thump
I held my breath and crouched.
The moment froze. My knuckles white, clutching the arm of the sofa, the light of the tv casting a blue glow across the foyer and kitchenette. Two clicks, a high-pitched Peal, and then an explosion so loud my ears rang. Everything kicked up, the dust settling in slow motion around me as the door flew across the room. Red lazer beams probed through the entry from both sides, flitting around the room with chaotic organization, like a small swarm of zipping fireflies.
A voice gave the "all clear" and four black clad figures streamed through the entry, two flanking each side. They fell into position, one standing while the other kneeled, and probed the bedroom entries. The standing soldier on the left flank held up a fist. The other standing soldier returned the signal and tapped the helmet of the infantryman kneeling in front of him. The two flanks mirrored each other as they breached the adjacent wings.
I peered over the arm of the sofa. Two more black clad mercs entered, more slowly than the first, behind them a man in a gray suit, his hands behind his back, strolled into the room. He came to stand at the end of the foyer, just short of where the door had landed, and looked around, listening to the soldiers shout confirmations of no-contact. The man in the suit nodded to the soldier on his left.
“Bravo position.” The four figures marched from the bedroom and headed back out the door, the two infantrymen to either side of the man in the suit peeled off behind them, taking up the rear as the team marched into the hall.
The man in the suit stepped over the door and stood in the middle of the room. He appraised the obvious areas, turned, and casually walked into the kitchenette. He straightened a fallen vase as he passed it, dusting his hands after touching it and opened the fridge. He bent and looked inside. It was full. He grabbed a beer and a can of nuts. He stood, pulled the kitchen table back to where it had been before the breach, opened the nuts, grabbed a few and popped them into his mouth as he set the can on the table. He walked back into the living room twisting the cap off of the beer bottle. He took a deep pull, let a sated exhale through his nose, and dusted the debris off of the corner of the end table next to the sofa across from me. He pulled a coaster from the tumbled stack and placed it on the dusted corner and neatly placed the beer on it. “Glad your old man didn’t get into the Stellas.” He glanced over his shoulder at me, turned back to the room, gave it a final appraisal, and turned back, leveling a fixed gaze.
I flinched, sinking lower behind the arm of the sofa, only my eyes and hair poking out from behind.
The man huffed an amused snort, took a few steps closer and gave me a coaxing, casual wave of his hand. “You don’t need to hide. I’m probably not going to kill you.” He stopped, put his hands behind his back, and grinned. “Why don’t we see if you can help me find your parents.”
I pulled myself up to my chin, still clutching the sofa’s arm. “Who are you?” My voice trembled so hard it scared me. I stooped again.
“I’m a guy in a suit, Karl.”
I stood, shoulders exposed, and tilted my head. “How do you know my name?”
“I was just guessing.” The man gave a small glance to the master wing, “You’re here all alone, huh?” then to the guest wing, “What about your sister?” He turned his calm stare on me and took another step my way.
I stood and took a step back, wringing the knots from my hands. “Just me.”
He reached a hand out and beckoned with a step toward the door. “Let’s go.”
On cue two soldiers came through the charred entry, marched past the man on either side and seized me by the shoulders. He waved two fingers toward the door.
The men carried me after.
Rattling and hisses from the hall as plums of white smoke billowed through the door. The men released me and held their weapons at the ready. The man in the gray suit undid his coat. Two muffled shots. The two men on either side of me dropped. The man gave them a quick glance and turned back to the door.
My sister’s voice echoed in from the hall. “Hi, Mr. Harper.”
The man put an arm behind his back, tucking it into his coat with a polite nod. “Jenny.” He sidestepped across the room in smooth strides and sidled up to the dividing wall of the kitchenette. He peered over the edge at the entry as he pulled a blade. He held it low and listened.
The smoke began to settle.
“Still bringing knives to gun fights?” My sister mocked from the shadows.
Mr. Harper snorted a humored scoff and stepped out from behind the wall. “How about we all just put our knives and guns down and talk about this?”
“Sure thing. You first.”
“Of course.” Mr. Harper leaned down and gently placed his knife on the floor next to him.
“Now kick it away.”
He obliged and the knife clattered across the floor. “Ok. Now you.”
I watched, wide eyed as my sister stepped into the mangled entry, the settling smoke behind her making her look cooler than ever, and she had always been pretty cool. She held up her empty hands as she carefully stepped through the door. “Harper.”
“Jenny.” He gave her a nod as he again slipped his hand inside his jacket.
“I wouldn’t do that if I was you.”
She stepped forward. “Let me see your hands.”
He lifted his chin, stiffly, removed his hand and slowly held it up. “It’s good to see you.” he glanced around the room.
“Wish I could say the same.”
“Jenny, I think you sh—”
“They’re not here.”
“Oh?” He relaxed. “Do you expect them—”
“Look, Harper. You’ve got two options.”
“Leave right now.”
He waited for the second choice.
She offered none and stepped forward.
“And?” he asked with an open palm.
“Sounds like you’ve already made your choice.”
He huffed. “I believe I’ll leave, if that is still an option.”
“I’m afraid it isn’t, Harper.”
“I understand.” He slouched. “Guess we should—” In a flash, he barrel rolled toward the hall leading to the master suite and in one deft move both retrieved his discarded knife and drew a second, landing behind the wall in the safety of the shadows. “Your move.”
I was frozen in place. My sister saw my worried expression and grinned before holding a finger to her lips and then subtly gesturing for me to get down. “Do we really have to do this? Why don’t you just give up?”
I crouched behind the sofa that had originally been my protector and watched Harper flip his knives and catch them blade down, reading himself. “The extraction team is already on their—”
“They’re all gone,” Jenny cut him off.
Harper grumbled and brought a finger to his earpiece. After a short moment he crouched and dug the toe of his shoe into the floor.
I could easily see Harper, but I failed to notice the silhouetted figure creep up behind him.
“I guess it’s just us then,” Harper said.
The click of the gun sounded as the silhouette brought back the hammer.
“Oh, fu—” Harper never had time to finish his sentiment as the two muted reports sounded from the pistol. He slumped forward onto his face, and came to rest, butt in the air.
The black clad figure rose and stepped toward me.
I stood and stumbled as I backed away.
My sister came toward me, holding out a hand. “It’s ok, Karl. It’s all over.”
I shook my head at her and pointed at the figure. “Look out, Jenny.”
The figure took another cautious step and held out its hand.
My foot caught on something as I continued to back away, I tripped and fell hard knocking my head on the edge of an end table.
I came to, looking into a balaclava covered face with familiar eyes. I panicked as everything came flooding back and began to scramble away from the figure. “It’s ok.” She dug a thumb under her mask and pulled it up to her forehead and smiled down at me.
She smiled more deeply and closed her eyes as she nodded. I looked past her at my sister, her arms crossed and an annoyed smirk on her face, then back to my mom. “What’s going on?”
“I’ve got a lot to tell you. But right now, we need to get moving.” She put a hand under my elbow and gently pulled me to my feet.
“Come on, Dingus.” My sister sneered and stuck her tongue out playfully, pulling a pistol from her waist and taking point as my mother followed behind, taking me by the hand and guiding me through the wreckage of the room. My sister sidled up to the edge of the entry, gun raised, and nodded at our mother.
Mom nodded back.
Jenny glanced around the edge into the hall, turned back to mom and gave her another nod.
I pulled on my mother’s hand. “Where’s dad?”
Mom turned a reassuring smile on me. “He’s fine. We’re going to go get him now.”