David Shipko is a Los Angeles based scholar and writer.

Second

          The sun is halfway to dusk. I am sneaking down a sidewalk towards a one-story house that sits at the intersection of two suburban roads, one sloping away, disappearing behind a bend, the other diving down from the steep hill on my left. Towering oak and sycamore trees crowd the streets and house. I cannot see other houses, but I know they are nearby. There is no breeze. I crouch as I move forward. If they see me, I am dead. I hope she is still in the house. I hope she is alright. I am disgusted with myself for running when they came for us. I thought she would get away, too. But I was wrong, so now I am going back. I hope I am not too late. From my pocket I pull a polymer pistol with a squared body and a folded handle. I press a button, and the pistol snaps open.  

          I stop at the corner, keeping my body low and hidden behind a shrub. Peeking through its leaves, I can see their black stretched sport utility vehicle parked across the street, its broad side barricading me from my objective. On the sidewalk beside it stands a man in a dark suit, armed with an MP5 submachine gun. Beyond him, the land slopes down a bit to the house. I can see the roof from here. I know the front door is just down the slope, but of course I will not be going that way. That is what they are expecting. They think I am stupid. I quickly survey my surroundings. There are no more of them out here, just him. The rest must be inside the house. That could be a good sign. It could mean she is alive. What would be the use of several men guarding a corpse? Or it could mean something worse. I shudder. I flip my pistol safety off, peek around the bush, align my backsight notch with my frontsight peg with his bald head, inhale, exhale, heartbeat, trigger squeeze. His head snaps back and his body crumples to the ground. He does not move. I drop my pistol to low ready and race across the street and up the hill to my left. 

          I duck into the forest uphill from the house, body low, eyes peeled, ears open. My heart thunders in my chest. I can feel every inch of my body. No one has come to the aid of the man I killed. They must know I am coming. They must be barricading the house. Probably watching the doors. Crunching dead leaves underfoot, I creep to the edge of the forest and stop. The house is about twenty feet away. I am even with the roof. The slope down to the house is exposed. Again, I sweep my surroundings. There is no movement, not even a breeze or a bird or a cloud or anything. There is only stillness and radiance, as if everything is stuck in thick, viscous light like honey. I know I still have nine rounds left, one in the chamber, eight in the mag, but I check anyway.  

          The slope is steep, so I do not walk down it so much as I surf, carried on a tiny avalanche of dry dirt. I reach the bottom and sprint for a window. No, wait, they will be expecting me to realize they are watching the doors, so they will actually be expecting me to come through the window, so the most unexpected thing I can do is go through a door, not just any door, the front door. I adjust my run. 

          I kick in the front door and plunge into the house, pistol raised, sweeping corners, checking behind the door and furniture. Clear. I am alone. Something is wrong. Fresh adrenaline electrifies my body. I push from the foyer down a short hall and into the living room. It is small and homely and drowned in daylight. There is a sofa in the center, facing a window almost as big as the wall in which it is set, and the far wall is lined with overpopulated bookshelves. On the floor before the sofa lies a blue and white patterned blanket. There is a body underneath. A body the size of hers. Not moving. Trembling, I creep forward, eyes on the blanket but ears on my surroundings, pistol still ready, and kick the blanket open. There is a piece of blank paper and an apple core. But no body. I almost collapse from relief. Almost. 

          I finish clearing the house. They are not here. She is not here. I drop into the couch and stare out the window. My pistol is still ready. Where have they taken her? How will I find my girlfriend?  

Third

First