Peggy looked down through the window and watched Dale step into the dim circle of white light. His plaid shirt was unbuttoned and hung open at his chest. His greasy hair nearly touched his shoulders. He needs a haircut, she thought, and scoffed herself for thinking of such a thing at a time like this. She felt a small wave of relief when she saw Cinder trot back to Dale’s side. Maybe it was just a raccoon after all.
“Momma?” came a voice from behind. Peggy jumped and turned to see a young boy standing in the doorway. She could barely make him out in the low light, but she saw he was suffering from an adorable case of bed head. Across the front of his shirt was a blue monster-truck with an American flag waving from the bed. ‘BIGFOOT’ stood out in bright neon lettering.
“Why’s Cinder barking so much?” asked Andrew.
Peggy walked around the bed and knelt beside her son. “Oh, baby, it’s okay. Your Pa is lookin’ into it. Probably just some coons diggin’ in the garbage again.” She gave his hair a stir and smiled.
“I’m sorry, Momma,” he said. “I put the lid on tight, I swear it. Those damned coons just get into anything.”
Peggy smiled again and felt her nerves come down a notch. “Don’t you worry about that,” she said.
Andrew’s eyes drifted to the bed and saw the shotgun lying there. “Why you got Granddad’s shotgun out for?”
She looked. “Oh, that. You know how your Pa can get. He’s paranoid sometimes and he asked me to set it out while he was lookin’ outside. You know. Just in case.” Peggy felt a sting touch her heart at the lie. But when you didn’t truthfully know the truth, sometimes a lie just had to make due. “Don’t worry, baby,” she said. “Everything’s going to be—“
A shotgun blast rang out and they both jumped. Andrew leapt into his mother’s arms, causing Peggy to fall back and land hard against the floor. She immediately rolled her son off to her side and scrambled to the window to see Cinder and Dale charging around the corner of the house. They’re not running away, she thought. They’re chasin’ after. It’s still alive.
“Momma!” cried Andrew. “Momma, what’s happening!?”
She turned back and scooped up her son. He was nearly seven years old, but he clung to the bosom of her robe like a babe. “Shhh, easy now. It’s okay. Your Pa can handle it.” Peggy suddenly felt angry for being left in the house. She felt helpless and she hated it. She resisted the urge to shove Andrew in his room, lock his door, and charge out after Dale with her own gun in hand. But she knew she had to stay. She knew she couldn’t leave him. “It’s okay, baby,” she said again in a half-song. “We’re just gonna stay inside and wait for your Pa.”
Andrew clung close and Peggy’s eyes drifted to the dark stairway. It seemed bottomless in the night. Chills ran through her as her imagination conjured up wonderful horrors that could be lurking down below, devious horrors that crept inside while the suitable distraction outside played its course. She closed the bedroom door with a soft click and moved away to sit on the bed. She nestled Andrew around her side and pulled the shotgun around to her free hand. Glancing at the open window, her mind began creating new monsters that could crawl in through the opening. She chided herself for being so skittish.
“You’ll see,” she said to Andrew. “Pa and Cinder will get that coon that’s diggin’ around and it’ll be the biggest one ever. It’ll be so big I bet we could take it down to Saunders’ first thing in the morning and get a nice hat made out of it. Would you like that? Your very own Davy Crocket hat?”
Andrew nodded but his grip to her side remained tight. She rubbed his back and kissed him on the top of his head.
“What if it ain’t no coon?” Andrew whimpered. “What if it’s one of them space monsters?”
“Shh,” she said. “Space monsters don’t come around these parts no more. They learned their lesson the last time they tried to scare us Ohio folk. Space monsters only go to Kansas and Arkansas now.” Through the window, Peggy could hear Cinder barking again. Dale shouted, but she couldn’t make out the words.
“But what if the space monster got lost and now it’s here instead!?” He looked up at her with white little eyes filled with terror.
“Space monsters don’t get lost,” Peggy said. “Their ships are too fancy.” She felt a dull ache in her hand and realized she was squeezing the barrel of the shotgun. The voice of her father came to her in an instant. Don’t squeeze it, Pegs. It ain’t a rattler thrashin’ in your hand. Just hold the handle and pull back on that trigger when you need to. It’ll do the rest. Her hand relaxed, but her imagination kept her wound tight. Watch the door, she thought. Watch the window. Listen for the creaky steps at the top. “Now listen,” she said to Andrew. “I don’t want no more space monster nonsense, ya hear?” Andrew buried his face back in her side and she shook a mild acknowledgement from him.
Cinder went berserk. Snarling filled the quiet, and Peggy knew that a fight was in full force. A distinct yelp pierced the night, and she cringed at what could cause such a large dog so much harm. The sound of the savage brawl was then banished by the thundering of Dale unloading several shots of his shotgun. Peggy lunged off the bed and to the corner of the room. She tried to see what was happening through the window, but they remained out of sight. She plopped Andrew down on his bare feet and grabbed the phone. Andrew turned into a siren of whaling cries. Peggy pressed the receiver hard against her ear, terrified that the dial tone wouldn’t be there waiting for her, but the dull ringing was loud and clear. She dialed 9-1, then hesitated. “It’s Thursday morning,” she said to herself, the words drowning under the sea of Andrew’s tears. “If I call 9-1-1, Jen will answer and make up some sob story about Kent being on the other side of the highway to cover for him sleeping under that damn billboard.” She tried to listen through her son’s crying for any sounds coming through the open window. There were none that she could hear. Her wonderful imagination jumped at the opportunity to fill in the gaps that were created. She reset the phone and cranked the rotary, plugging in the number for Gus Holcomb, Country Sheriff.