I wrote this short story in one of my fiction writing classes in college, and it's one of the only stories I've enjoyed writing this much. Don't judge me too harshly for that. It's not one of my lighter ones. Here's my favorite sloth picture to make up for it.<img src=' http://www.kaiodee.com/sites/kaiodee.com/files/Baby-Sloth-and-girl.jpg' width=400px />-------------------------------------------------------------------------TROUBLESOME NEIGHBORSThe first wave of cinnamon scent hit Anna as she pulled out the tray and set it on the checkered countertop. Snickerdoodles. It never failed to amaze her how something as simple as a cookie could bring back vivid memories. Those memories, she would never try to leave behind. Apparently, Toby thought the snickerdoodles smelled just as good. He scratched at the back door, whining pathetically. Sweeping her red curls out of her face, Anna forced them back into their clip as she went over to let him in. As soon as he had clearance, Toby darted over to the counter with the cookies and plopped down onto the linoleum, staring at Anna. If his tail had wagged any harder, he might have managed to fly.“Oh, you think you’re a charmer, do you?” Anna shoved her glasses firmly back on her nose.“Well, we’ve had this conversation before. You’re not getting any of my cookies. They’re not good for you.” Whether they were good for her or not was beside the point. “How about some rawhide, huh, boy?” After giving his belly a rub, Anna left Toby to gnaw on his snack while she cleared up the kitchen. She never could just leave it dirty, not when the sight of order in her space left her so satisfied. She hummed under her breath as she scrubbed dishes, staring absentmindedly outside as she settled into her work. George Gavin was visible through the tangle of rose vines around her window, sitting on his back porch, soaking up the autumn sunset. The bold oranges and violent reds were stunning, shining clear across the open plain. No skyscrapers, no smog, no people to get in the way of it. It was just she and the Gavins, secluded and peaceful. Scott, George’s son, came out of the house and leaned over the reclining man, his hands flashing something red. Probably a blanket. As warm as the fall colors made it seem, the wind had a chill early this year. But George flailed around, and Scott had to brace him in the chair. Anna clenched the dishrag in her hands, straining to see the two more clearly, wondering what had caused the commotion. After a moment, however, George quieted, and Anna let out a breath. Maybe Scott had just surprised him. Everything was fine. Better finish the dishes.Honestly, it was nice to see those two doing something even that pleasant together. It seemed that ever since Scott had arrived, George had lost some of his spring, some of his cheer. Her best guess was that Scott had come to help take care of George, who was definitely getting past his prime. That would make anyone unhappy, but for George, it would be torture. He’d always been such a robust little man, willing to help with anything from cleaning up storm-wrecked trees to hoisting her Christmas star up onto the roof last year. And now old age was catching up with him. Didn’t seem fair. A man like George should live forever.After wiping her hand on the flowered kitchen towel, Anna tied shut the bag in the trash can and lugged it out the back door, towing it to her sturdy, well-sealed trash bins. She’d had to pick up scattered garbage one too many times to trust the local wildlife any more. Although, now that she thought about it, there hadn’t been nearly as many strays around lately. The food she set out for the four or five cats that hung around went untouched more often than not. Even Pyewacket, the old stringy tomcat she’d secretly named, had been abnormally absent. Maybe the animals were settling down early for the winter.She glanced back over at the Gavins’ house before heading back inside, but Scott wasn’t on the back porch anymore. George sat by himself in the fading sunlight. Scott was staring at her out of one of the first floor windows. Nothing moved for a full ten heartbeats, except for the whispering, swaying prairie grass. Scott didn’t smile; he just stood there, watching her. What had she been doing? She should go back inside, right now. Back into the kitchen, into the warmth, where the cookies and Toby were. But if she moved, he would see her. Stupid, of course he would see her. He was right there, wasn’t he? Just Scott Gavin, with George Gavin on the back porch. What the hell was wrong with her? She needed to just calmly walk back inside, not running, not acting like an idiot… Something brushed against her leg. Anna jumped, before seeing the weeds around the base of the trashcans, twisting in the breeze. She gave herself a little shake, trying to laugh at her nerves, but the laughter came out too high, like she didn’t have enough breath for it. It had to be those stupid books she was reading. She knew better than to read scary stories when she was by herself; she never could seem to control her imagination. It was just Scott, after all. She didn’t know him very well, but if he was a son of George’s, that was enough of a recommendation for her. To prove it, she waved at him before snapping the green trash lid down and heading back into the house. Her feet didn’t seem to want to obey her; they kept speeding up, going much faster than was necessary for a woman in a calm, rational state of mind.Determined to shake it off, Anna settled back at the worn kitchen table with a plate of snickerdoodles and her new paperback, while Toby crunched happily on his kibble. A light-hearted romance was just the thing to get her mind settled; silliness couldn’t be overrated.She’d barely managed to finish the first chapter before the power went out. Breathe in. Now let it out. This had certainly happened before. The house was old; all kinds of things could go wrong at any given moment.Flopping her book down in irritation, she glanced over at Toby. His ears had perked at the sudden silence, and now he whined a little, scuttling around until she could pet him.“Silly boy. We knew something had to happen as soon as we settled down, huh?” She scratched him between the ears, as glad for the physical contact as he seemed to be. “Don’t worry about it, though. I’ll just go flip the breaker, like the competent homeowner that I am. Mom would be so proud.” Anna crept up the creaky stairs to the second floor and down the hallway to the gray breaker box, flipping it open and finding the right switch with the ease of long practice. She loved her old house, but she’d had to take it with some kinks. She flipped the switch, expecting the lights to come right back on, like they always did. They didn’t. She flipped the switch a few more times, with no success. And unfortunately, that was the limit of her household expertise. She’d have to give somebody more mechanically minded a call. Picking up the phone in her bedroom, Anna started dialing her mother, but stopped when she noticed the silence. There was no dial tone. Well, of course there wasn’t. The power was out. That left George’s phone; she’d better go see if she could borrow it.The light from the setting sun reflected off of the linoleum as she came down the stairs, sparking dazzles in her vision. Blinking, she put her hand to the wall to wait for her eyes to adjust, and then headed for the back door.Scott Gavin was standing there, his blonde hair highlighted by the glow of the setting sun. Anna gasped once again and slapped a hand to her chest, before laughing weakly and trying for a grin. Really had to get those nerves under control. “Oh, Scott, it’s just you. You scared me half to death.” He didn’t laugh with her. He didn’t move. He just watched her, out of cold blue eyes. Icy, and blank. Dead-fish eyes. Oh, now she was just being morbid. Scott Gavin did not have dead-fish eyes. She was far too old to be so dramatic. Maybe something was wrong. “Umm, is there anything I, I can do for you? Is George all right?” His expression didn’t change, and he didn’t answer. Anna could feel the silence in every finger, every nerve ending. She forced herself to walk across the kitchen: anything to keep moving.“Would you like a, uh, glass of water?” No matter what happened, she would always have her hostess skills to rely on. “You saw, didn’t you?” His voice was calm enough that they might be in the middle of a comfortable conversation. Nothing comfortable in the twist in Anna’s stomach. Sweat broke out on her forehead. “What?” He didn’t say anything again, and Anna almost wanted to shrink from the look on his face, the stone dead look, but tried to fight down the unreasonable feeling. This was Scott. This was George’s son. She repeated it like a mantra in her head, and swiped a hand across her forehead. George was over sleeping under a red blanket on his front porch, just like he always did, though she’d never seen the red blanket before. Bright red, a crimson slash, and draped from his neck to his waist… “You saw what I did to George.” “What?” Just like a broken record. But what else was she supposed to say? Suddenly, Scott slapped a hand on the screen. It was streaked a rusty red, like he’d been painting. Yes, painting, that was it. Anna tried to quell the nerves that were jumping in her stomach, speeding up her heartbeat. She was being ridiculous, just like always. “Let me in, Anna,” Scott murmured. “Let’s talk a minute.” He began rattling the doorknob with his left hand, leaving the discolored one on the door. Anna jumped at the noise, finally breaking out of her frozen stance.“Scott, this is weird. It’s late, and I’m sure we can, you know, talk about wh-whatever you want to in the morning.” She jolted as he began to slam at the door, but of course he wasn’t slamming, because that would be silly, “So you just, just go on home and wash your hand,” and the nausea was definitely rising now, but that was stupid, nothing was wrong, she just needed some sleep, “Really, I need to get to bed, so I’ll see you in the morning, okay?” She turned for the stairs resolutely, trying not to let her breath heave. Something ripped behind her.She shot a look back towards the door, her throat constricting like a vise. When she blinked, focused, and saw Scott again, the rest of her seized up as well, gluing her to the spot. Scott’s horrible, rusty hand was thrust through her back door screen, and he was fiddling with the hook that held it closed, but his eyes were still trained on her, so deep blue, and so cold. This couldn’t be real. This was Scott, George was just a little ways away, and all she had to do was scream…She darted to the nearest phone, snatched it off of its cradle and frantically dialed in 911. No dial tone. Of course not. The power was dead. Dead and cold, with fish eyes that stared, with blood red flowing down, down, down…Shaking with adrenaline, Anna darted for the front door, desperate to get away from whatever was going on, whatever was so terribly wrong. But where would she go, once she got out? They were alone out here, she and George and Toby and Scott. All alone. Where could she run too, that he couldn’t follow? She froze with her hand on the front doorknob, trembling, her thoughts paralyzed but her heart thumping frenziedly.“Where are you going, Anna?” The words slithered into her ear, sick with false cheer, but she couldn’t turn around. He wasn’t in the room with her, not yet. It sounded like he’d stopped in the kitchen.“Where are you going so soon? We really should talk, Anna.” It was too much, it couldn’t be real. Nothing was wrong, because this kind of thing, it…it…just…no. No. There was some logical, reasonable explanation, she just had to get a grip and find it.“What’s going on, Scott? What do you want?”“Not a whole lot, Anna. Not much at all. A simple, small thing.” He sounded placating, like he was trying to explain to her how unreasonable she was being, even for asking the question. “I just want to be left alone, Anna. To be free. Isn’t that what everyone wants?”She took a steadying breath. He wasn’t attacking, and she didn’t have to run. Of course not.“What do you mean?”“You see, Anna,” he continued, as if she hadn’t spoken, “I couldn’t be…free, over there. In that house I couldn’t do…what I wanted to. But now I can. All day, every day.” He sounded a little giddy now, which was almost as bad as the dead sound from before. “Don’t you see, Anna? Free, free, free…a sunset has never looked so alive.” Anna’s stomach clenched; his words started replaying in her head. You saw, didn’t you? You saw what I did to George…“What’s wrong with George, Scott?” Why wasn’t she running to George for help? George, snug on his porch, strong and immortal and covered in a blanket of red…“Free, free, free,” Scott hummed to himself. “Free, free…do you know, he thought I was crazy?”Anna couldn’t speak.“When he saw what I did with the animals…I just played with them, Anna. They were there, and so was I, and they were so remarkably easy to catch. It was supposed to be that way. But it’s so easy to play too rough.” Now he giggled, a discordant, high-pitched little sound. “Though at least there aren’t as many strays now, hmm?” Anna grabbed at the doorknob, twisting it frantically before remembering to unlock it, and was yanking it open when Scott spoke yet again.“I started running out of playmates at home, Anna, but you know something? I think I’ve just found some new ones.” She should run, she should get out now, but suddenly, a growl sounded from the depths of the kitchen. Oh, God, Toby. She’d left him in there. In there, with him.“’You need help,’ Dad told me, Anna. ‘You’re sick, but we can get help.’ But he was wrong, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he?” His voice rose, grating at her. Nothing felt real around her. Not the doorknob in her hand, not the solid walls of her home, those solid, safe walls which were really no protection at all. All that registered was the sickening, smooth voice emanating from the kitchen. Was she even breathing, now? Could she?“Do you think I’m sick, Anna? Hmm? Do you?” Growls reverberated from the kitchen, and the sounds of scuffling, clattering claws, and Anna half-turned, her palms suddenly clammy. A resounding crack, and Toby shrieked, a sound so harsh and full of pain and fear that it felt like something had plowed into her stomach. Without feeling the floor beneath her, or the air in her lungs, she spun around, darting for the kitchen. Not Toby, not her boy, he couldn’t, shouldn’t hurt like that, not her dog—She took in the situation in the few moments she had. Toby was cringing on the floor, gasping and writhing, his back leg at an angle so wrong it broke her just to see it. Scott was looking directly at the space where she appeared, grinning a small and ornery boy’s grin. Riding on momentum, she drove an elbow into his stomach, and he curled up, heaving for breath Shaking, she hauled up Toby and stumbled to the back door, shoving out as fast as she could. But it wasn’t fast enough. As her foot hit the top step of the stairs, she felt a hand fist into her hair, and she cried out, dropping Toby as she was wrenched backwards. Toby yelped as he hit the ground, and then just sat there and shook, not even twitching at the scuffle behind him.“Oh, please, Toby, run,” Anna huffed, but she had no more breath for words when one of Scott’s hands clamped over her throat, slamming her back against the kitchen wall, while the other grabbed her around the wrists. And he was strong, oh, so strong.“Oh, Anna,” he rasped, still calm and cold-eyed, “you can’t leave just yet. We still haven’t had time to talk. Why are you in such a rush?” Old nails that stuck out of the wall dug into her back, bruising, but it was the look in Scott’s eyes that had her whimpering. The smell of roses from the window was heavy and cloying, too sweet to be real anymore. “So what about it, Anna? Shall we have an attempt at actual conversation? You know, I went to all this trouble to come over and see you, made it so that we wouldn’t be interrupted by anyone. It’s not polite, what you’re doing.” He’d made it so they wouldn’t be interrupted? What did he mean…the power. He’d cut the power. And the phone line. Anna’s heart thumped harder.“Why,” she forced out. “Why…what…why me?” Scott looked confused, calmly quizzical in spite of the situation.“Well, I thought that would be obvious. You really should try and catch up, Anna,” he smirked, an arrogant young man once again. She could swear she saw the disguise shimmer when he tilted his head, like a holograph projected over something deeper, something twisted, something nauseating. “You were here. You saw. What would you expect me to do?”She’d seen. All she’d seen was Scott touch George to drape that red blanket over his startled form. All she’d seen were rust-colored fingers on a man who’d been messing with paint, or maybe clay or…Tears welled up and ran down her face, physical signs of what she knew, oh, she knew, but her brain couldn’t quite imagine. “George,” she said. “Oh, George…”Scott continued to speak, but she was too horrorstruck to listen, much less fight his hands off. A part of her screamed, screeched at her to do something, to do anything, but the larger part was numb, inside and out. This just couldn’t happen. It didn’t happen. But it was happening. She’d die like this; how could she possibly survive Scott? Why keep fighting it? He could break her as easily as everything else, and he was so strong. She was too weak. It wouldn’t even be a challenge for him. Oh, Christ, he’d killed George…Poor, sweet George. He was dead, growing cold and stiff in the autumn twilight, all alone out there. All alone except for her and Scott. Soon, just Scott.Tears formed at the corners of her eyes, squeezed out by Scott and George and Toby and the horrible pressure in her head that was smothering her thoughts. Scott grinned and leaned harder on her, slowly increasing the pressure. He would take his time; who was going to stop him? This man had violated her home and hurt her dog. He had shattered all she’d worked for, all the peace and security she needed. Shattered, just like an illusion, just like Toby’s leg, and all she did was stand there and listen to his sick, slow poison. She just let him do it. As her thoughts grew hazy from the lack of oxygen, it was almost like there was another person inside her head, watching it all as it happened. This one was different. She didn’t cry as she watched Scott; there was no need to, not yet. Nothing was over. Nothing was done. This other woman, the one with the steel in her eyes, shook her head as she watched Anna struggle to suck in oxygen, watched as Anna slowly began to die. It didn’t have to be like this. It was quite silly, really, to assume that there was no choice. There was always choice. There was always an option, if a person had the guts to find it, and take it. Anna fought to grasp it, to understand what was seeping so slowly into her thoughts. Give in, or don’t. Die, or fight.Fight, damn it.Live.Maybe Scott saw something in her bleary eyes, because his expression changed a little, grew more wary. But then, he settled back to his work, released his hold on Anna’s neck to rummage around in the nearest kitchen drawer, for God knew what. She gulped in air as fast as she could, coughing and hacking, but her mind had begun to work again. Of course Scott wasn’t worried about what she might do. Who could be afraid of her?The incapacitating fear changed now, altered into something that wasn’t quite bravery, and wasn’t quite panic, but was somewhere in between. Maybe she’d never had a lot of courage, maybe that little bit of grit she had would only see her as far as the next step, but she wasn’t dead yet. She wasn’t done. And if she was going to die, he sure as hell wasn’t getting off without some marks. He didn’t have enough time to react when she moved. She wrenched her arms apart as hard as she could, using the surprise to break his hold, and swung a fist at his temple, soaring on the sudden adrenaline. He slammed back into the kitchen buffet. As he bent over, clutching his head, she kicked him as hard as she could in the crotch, and his breath rushed out of him as he collapsed to the floor. Anna turned and streaked for the stairs, trying to control her gasping, before she paused, torn. Where could she go? She should get out of the house, escape and run as fast as she could. But who knew how long she’d slowed him down for? Odds were high that he’d follow her far too soon, and she had no doubt that he could chase faster than she could run. Couldn’t just dash off without thinking. No, she needed some advantage. She needed a weapon.Her hands only started shaking again once she was at the top of the stairs. What on Earth was she going to use up here? God, she was an idiot. She should have left out the front door after all; maybe she could have found a rake or shovel or something left in the garden out front…a rustling sound from downstairs broke up her thoughts, had her poised like a rabbit ready for flight. She was wasting time. She’d just have to work with what she had.As quietly as she could, she dashed into the bedroom, yanking open her closet doors and frantically pawing through her things. Clothes, hangars, shoes…Maybe she could use the stiletto, the silly shoe she’d bought on a whim and never worn. It looked pretty sharp, but how much damage could a shoe actually do? She could just see herself threatening him with it, brandishing the thing like a crucifix at a vampire…Anna snorted at the thought, shaking a little, but pinched her arm to stop it. No time for that. The closet was futile, so she ran into the adjoining bathroom, trying to watch the stairwell without running into anything. The contents of her drawers were just about as useless as that in her closet: Q-tips, nail polish, facial cleanser, cotton swabs, a toothbrush, and a nail file. She pocketed the nail file, trying not to cry. That was all she had. A nail file. One damn, stupid, useless, nail fi—“Oh, Anna…” Scott murmured up the stairs. “Anna, where did you go?” Just the sound of his voice made her stomach roil.A stair creaked—third stair from the bottom. She’d always meant to fix it, but was now pitifully glad she hadn’t. At least she could hear him coming. “Why don’t you want to talk with me, Anna? Why don’t you want to play? You and your dog and me, Anna. Nothing to be afraid of.” He giggled again, and the sound made goose bumps rise on Anna’s arms. “There are so many toys in your kitchen, Anna. Want to see what I found?” A groaning squeak sounded this time, long and painful—seventh stair from the bottom. Anna shut the bathroom door as quietly as she could, and turned the flimsy lock. Then, she spun to the tiny window, yanking aside the frilly curtain, and tried to shove it up, praying it wasn’t stuck down with paint, like some of the other ones. The pop when it came free sounded like a gun shot, making her heart jump, but she couldn’t hear anything new from the bedroom. Grabbing the nail file from her pocket, she jabbed it into the screen window and dragged it down, slicing the screen so that she could get a grip to rip it out. Speed was more important than stealth at this point. The window looked down into one of her many flowerbeds, the blooms just now beginning to fade with the onset of winter. It was a good drop, but it shouldn’t really damage her; hadn’t she seen that on television once? Climbing onto the toilet, she stuck one leg over the windowsill, bracing herself as she scrabbled for purchase on the weathered siding outside. Then the other one went through, and she was half-in, half-out of the house, trying not to think about how much she hated heights. In the grand scheme of things, it really wasn’t that important at the moment. The doorknob rattled violently; she jumped, bruising her stomach on the wooden sill. “Are we playing hide-and-seek, Anna? I think maybe I just won.”Anna sent a short prayer to whoever was listening, and shoved back off of the ledge. It hurt far more than she’d expected, hitting the ground like that. Her feet made contact first, but her legs crumpled, sending her sprawling on the ground. For a moment, she couldn’t think about Scott, and how close he was, and how fast she needed to move, move, move, before he caught her. All she could do was lay there, gasping like a fish, waiting for her body to come back together.The feel of a cold, wet tongue on her hand was enough to give her a jolt, though. Toby lay stretched out beside her; she hadn’t even heard him crawl over. He whimpered and rolled onto his side, his broken leg sticking in the air as he shook. Still, when Anna laid a hand on his head to give him a weak pet, his tail wagged a little. “Oh, Toby, sweetie,” Anna wheezed, “Such a good boy. We’ve gotta go.”Finally, she got one arm up to help roll herself over, and scrabbling at the wall of the house, she struggled shakily from her knees to her feet. The brisk autumn wind chilled the sweat on her back, giving her goose bumps. She glanced warily up at the window, half-expecting to see Scott’s face leering down with that eerie, child-like grin. He wasn’t, however; maybe he hadn’t gotten through the bathroom door yet. Maybe he wasn’t even in that room anymore, guessing that she wouldn’t stay put. Where was he? Where had he gone? If she could just stand up straight, and keep her arms and legs in alignment, she could haul Toby over to the Gavin house. Surely they still had a phone. She could barricade the doors, call the police, and sit in a corner with Toby until someone came and saved her. Resolutely, she bent and grabbed Toby around the middle, trying to avoid the leg, and started around the front of the house in a half-crouch, her skin tingling. She had so many windows; how could she know if he was watching her? Speaking of that, how could she possibly get over to the other house without him seeing her? The space between the two houses was devoid of trees, offering no shelter from sun, wind, or searching eyes. And though her body had started to recover from her fall, she still wasn’t in any condition to outrun Scott, especially while carrying Toby. She knuckled tears of desperate frustration out of her eyes; there was no time for them. It wasn’t a question of hiding from Scott. He would find her, and he would not hesitate. She couldn’t hesitate, either.“Come on, Toby,” she whispered, thinking fast, “Let’s put you somewhere safe. You’re going to be fine. Yes, such a good dog, there’s a good boy...”Since they were stuck at the front of the house, the only place she could think of to stow him was under the front porch. There was a crawl space there, a place she’d never had cause to explore thoroughly. However, she did know that it stretched under the entire front porch, and that there were plenty of gloomy, dusty shadows to hide in. Gently, she eased Toby into one of the openings, cringing when a well-meant push made him yelp. Finally, he was all the way inside, and Anna couldn’t hesitate anymore. Every second gone by was another second closer to discovery, and she needed something to defend herself with. She’d left none of her gardening tools outside, of course. That would just be sloppy, and Anna was anything but. However, clean habits didn’t seem to matter nearly so much when she was being stalked by a homicidal maniac out in the middle of nowhere, and he’d tried to choke her and he’d broken her dog and—She had to breathe. She didn’t have time to panic. Any moment now, Scott would slink around a corner, smiling under his cold, dead eyes. Time to go.Inch by inch, she crept around the corner of the house and headed towards the back. There were two windows into the kitchen on this side, partially obscured by filmy curtains. With her heart pounding so hard that it hurt, she slowly peeked over the windowsill into the room.It was murky; the sun was three-quarters past the horizon now. She was amazed it wasn’t full night already. Surely nothing this horrible could happen so quickly. Regardless, the kitchen looked empty. Maybe Scott was still trying the bathroom door upstairs. It didn’t seem possible that she could have such luck at this point, but she wasn’t going to sit around and wait for it to change. Half crawling, half crouching, she hurried around the next corner of the house and stopped at the stairs. Once more, she peered around a corner into the depths of the kitchen. It didn’t seem like the same room anymore; the life had left it, and might not ever come back.Anna took two deep breaths, and then scrambled to her feet, scurrying into the kitchen with the least noise possible. The kitchen was just as old as the rest of the house, so of course every other floorboard groaned. Still, Anna rushed to the knife block, grabbing for the chef’s knife that she always kept sharp, before she remembered. It wasn’t there. It was in the dishwasher. She’d used it to chop vegetables the previous night. Trying not to shake, she spun around, reaching for the handle of the dishwasher. Scott stood in the doorway to the living room. He’d figured out she wasn’t in the bathroom anymore.Anna shuddered, and Scott’s smile widened. As he started forward, she fumbled for the drawer nearest to her, searching for something, anything, to give her the smallest chance. She grabbed the first thing she touched, and yanked it out: the family rolling pin. Handed down for generations, and put to a wide variety of pastry-making uses. Well, now it was going to be used for something new. Scott looked a little surprised, and then chuckled, making the hair on Anna’s arms rise. Still, she raised the pin to her shoulder, like a baseball bat.“Oh, Anna. You wouldn’t want to do that. Not sweet, pathetic little Anna. Always so quiet. I wouldn’t believe a scream if it came out of your mouth.” He was nearly within arm’s reach, and he feinted, grinning. Anna swung wildly, desperation and adrenaline making her clumsy. He laughed again, moving another step forward while she was off-balance. Both his hands were stretched out, braced on the counter and the buffet, trapping her in the corner. Anna flicked a glance at his hands. They had an awful lot of nerves in them; she could attest to that from experience. Her hammer had slipped quite a few times when she’d been fixing up the house. Getting her thumb crushed had hurt more than any cut she’d gotten in the kitchen. She focused back on Scott’s eyes, trying to look as pitiful and weak as he thought she was. Scott inched forward again, almost imperceptibly, and Anna allowed herself to cringe. The look in Scott’s eyes turned triumphant. “Come on, Anna. You might as well quit fighting. You’re not made for it.”The hell she wasn’t. Before he could move in, she slammed the rolling pin as hard as she could onto his right hand. Scott howled and yanked the hand back, trying to protect it. Anna swung again, aiming for his head this time, but he ducked out of the way, his face red but his eyes still cold, so cold. A glancing blow to a counter cracked off part of the wooden grip on the rolling pin, leaving a sharp point of wood on one end. On her next swing, Scott caught the rolling pin with his left hand and wrenched it out of her grip. Anna caught a flash of his right hand; two of the fingers were off at wrong angles. She had half a second to appreciate her vengeance for Toby before Scott slammed her backwards onto the counter, bearing down with his one good hand on her throat. Once again, her vision began to blur as she struggled desperately for oxygen. She almost managed to wiggle free, but Scott spared a moment to deliver a vicious slap that left her ears ringing, before grabbing her throat again. Anna scrabbled at his hands, panicking as the blackness began to creep in. She’d known how bad her odds were of surviving this, but she couldn’t give in, not even now. Scott grunted and squeezed harder, and Anna flailed on the counter, praying for something to hit him with, just one more time before she was gone. Her elbow bumped into something hard and smooth. The rolling pin. He’d tossed it onto the counter, and thank whoever was listening, it hadn’t rolled off. But the rolling pin…She couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t think, it hurt so much...Scott shifted to a better grip, and Anna pulled in one, painful breath. The rolling pin. It had broken. The point.Anna looked into Scott’s eyes as he tried to kill her. They had still never changed, even in this extremity. That might have been the last thing George had seen. Had he known it was coming? Could she do this? For herself, for Toby, for George...How could she not? Giving him no time to react, she snatched the rolling pin with her right hand. Then, using the last of her strength, she swung, hard, sure, into the side of Scott’s neck. He heaved off of her, pawing at the rolling pin. Finally his eyes changed, widening in shock and disbelief as actual tears started to roll down his face. He ricocheted off the counter, and Anna rolled off to the side, clinging to the stovetop as she coughed and wheezed. As she stared in horror, Scott got a grip on the wood with trembling hands, and yanked out the rolling pin with a horrible sound, a ripping, sucking sound. A spray of blood came with it, more than she could have believed possible, splattering Anna and all of her pristine counters. It must have hit the jugular. As Scott slowly sank to his knees, gurgling, Anna stood still and watched. Horror and nausea warred inside of her, but she couldn’t turn away. She’d done this, and she would see it finished. Scott convulsed on the floor, clutching at his throat as his blood pooled on the floor, trying to close up the ragged wound. It seemed like it took hours, days, a lifetime, but eventually he was still. Once she was sure that he’d stay that way, Anna wrenched herself around to the sink and threw up until she couldn’t anymore. She wanted to collapse there, to never turn around and see what she’d done, what she’d had to do. If she could just erase everything that had happened in the last hour, if she could just go back to the person she’d been before...but she couldn’t. That steely-eyed person in her head was a part of her, now. And Toby was still broken. Keeping a dishcloth to her mouth, just in case, Anna stumbled to the door while staring at the opposite wall, slipping and sliding in the gore on the floor. Once she got outside, she forced herself to keep moving. Couldn’t stop. There was more to do yet, and there would be plenty of time later…she had plenty of time. Sinking to her knees by the front porch, Anna started to laugh, the sound tearing out of her. She had plenty of time now.Toby whimpered, laying near the hole to the crawl space, and Anna forced herself to stop laughing before she couldn’t anymore. Easing Toby out from under the porch and heaving him into her drained arms, she stumbled towards the Gavins’ house. She knew where the phone was; she’d been over plenty of times, to see…Oh, George...No. Time for that later. She trudged past the form on the back porch with her eyes averted and set Toby on the kitchen floor before dragging herself to the phone and dialing. “Charton Police. How can I help you?”“I just…k-killed a man.” She took a moment to gather herself, as the other end stayed dead silent. “An intruder. S-Scott Gavin.”“Miss, I’m going to n—“ the operator began. “Holly Road, number one-one-five. And send a vet.“Anna put the phone back into its charger, and then slid to the hardwood floor next to Toby.He looked up at her with wide, pained eyes, and then licked her hand.“Oh, sweetie,” she murmured. “Such a good boy. It’s done now. Help is coming.” She shifted over, putting his head in her lap and stroking his ears.“We’re going to make it, Toby. It’s over.” She took a deep, shuddering breath. All she wanted to do was lay down there on the floor and sleep, sleep and forget. “We’re going to survive, boy.” Tears welled at the corners of her eyes, and she didn’t try to push them back anymore. She just let them run, staring blankly at the opposite wall, as the sirens sounded in the distance.