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The crash was the thing that woke her. She sat up in her bed and watched the breeze sweep through the window causing the curtains to do their midnight dance. Her heart raced; the thudding pounding in her ears. Silence suffocated the house, leaving nothing to be heard but the night-time song of the crickets that crooned by her window.
Another thud came from the living room. Curiosity struck her and forced her feet to touch the floor. Maybe Daddy finally made it home and had fallen and hurt himself. He usually worked in a factory when he wasn’t in his own general store so it wasn’t unusual for him to come in late and knock something over or to trip over something on his way to bed. She would wake up and meet him in the living room where he would give her a hug and a kiss, then send her to bed. Tonight seemed different for some reason.
The nightgown she wore tickled her ankles as she tiptoed to the door. A breeze flowed through the window as she passed; the fresh scent of flowers wafted past her as she touched the doorknob. Opening it a crack, she peered down the darkened hallway. Slowly, her feet met the nap of the runner that lined the hardwood that lead through the dark corridor. Warm wetness met her fingers as she moved down past her brothers’ room. She quickly wiped her hands on her nightgown and continued, the groans were louder and more pained. Daddy must have really hurt himself.
Stepping into the living room, she found her father on his side curled into the fetal position. She rushed to him and knelt beside him. It was then that she saw the gaping wound he was covering. His body shook and he was covered in a sheen of sweat and shuddered as he took a breath. His eyes held something that she’d never seen before. Fear and unshed tears.
“Lil,” he grunted, “go on now. Go to your room.”
She watched her father bite back another stab of pain. Her arms reached around him as far as she could as the terrified feeling of letting him go took over. She shook her head and closed her eyes to hold in the tears that threatened to fall.
“It’s not safe, baby.” He brought a shaky hand to hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. His breath hitched and he coughed before turning on his back to look up at her
She started to protest; to say that she would never leave him, when she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. In the darkness, frozen within the nothingness were two red glowing eyes in the form of slits staring directly at her.
“Daddy, get up.” She whispered in his ear. Her pleas fell on deaf ears as she gazed down at her father. His lifeless expression and the far off glossy glare in his eyes told her exactly what she didn’t want to know. Her father was gone.
She shook him, tears running their tracks down her cheeks. He couldn’t be dead. He was her father. Her protector. Her screams for him to wake up was all she could hear. She collapsed over him; the pain and exhaustion finally taking her over.
A chuckle came from the corner. Lillian’s eyes slowly rose finding nothing in the dark void where the eyes were before. Someone else was in the room with her. Someone that killed her father. The laugh echoed throughout the room, no clear sense of where it was coming from. She stood and slowly moved away from her father.
The scream she felt was lodged so deep in her throat that she was sure that she would choke on it. She wanted to move but her feet felt like they’d been bolted to the floor. The outline moved closer; the face hidden within the shadows, only briefly revealed as it passed a beam of moonlight that came in through the window. A man was moving near her. Or what she thought was a man. He continued laughing and she was sure that she saw long white teeth like the neighbor’s dog. He stepped over her father’s body as if he was just a lump in the rug and stopped just a couple of feet in front of her.
“What a waste.” He smiled as he turned to the body. “All that wonderful blood gone to waste. Unfortunate.”
“Please don’t hurt me.” Lillian pleaded, covering her eyes.
“Oh, trust me, dear. I won’t. You’re far too important to me. Now go, child. I’ll be back for you soon enough.
Somehow she finally got the power to move her legs. She watched the darkness for the eyes but all she could make out was the blurs of the room and her father lying in front of the couch. Laughter from nowhere made her feet take off. It laughed harder as she scrambled to get the door opened and closed behind her.
She stood in the middle of the room, the darkness creeping over her. The eerie silence ran loud in her ears and forced her to listen to the drumming of her heart. Her first thought was to hide; to get away from that man that had killed her father. The man that said it was coming back for her. She ran to her closet, pushing herself into the deepest corner and pulled the winter clothes in front of her.
With her knees pulled all the way up to her chest and her forehead resting on her knees, the tears fell uncontrollably. The man that she cherished more than anything was gone. The red-eyed monster had killed him. She knew that she should have gotten up to go and get Mama, James, and Thomas, but for the life of her she couldn’t move. Something told her to stay put. She did the one thing that her grandmother always told her to do…Pray.
“Found her!” The lieutenant yelled over his shoulder once he’d pulled back the clothes that hung in front of the youngest child. He knelt down in the door, watching the little girl with a tear stained face slowly stand.
She’d jumped when the door opened, sure that the red-eyed man had come back to get her. She felt better when she dried her eyes and saw the man in the uniform. She was safe.
Her eyes were bloodshot and puffy, the product of crying all night. She peeked out of the closet, watching as more men in blue continued on a search of the room. The first man in a black uniform helped her step into the room. Another man in an all-black uniform stood in the center of the room. His long tailed jacket held a shiny golden badge over his heart.
The chief of police closed the space between them and knelt to be eye level with the four year old. He couldn’t help but sympathize with the young girl. She’d spent all night in a closet, scared for her life. He put on the biggest smile that he could muster as he took in the blood smear on her gown. What had this child gone through?
“Lillian, I’m Chief O’Brian. Are you feeling well?” She nodded and brought her hands to her face as she began to sob. “Do you know what happened last night?”
“A red eyed monster killed my daddy.” She sniffled. A case of hiccups took over.
“Are you sure about that, little lady?”
She nodded. “Big red eyes.” She looked around the room. “I want my mommy. Where’s Mommy?”
The chief looked up at the lieutenant. How would they tell this little girl that she was the only one that had survived? That the rest of her family never made it. They never even stood a chance.
“Could you take her out of here?”
The lieutenant took Lillian’s hand and led her through the hallway. Red streaks covered the wall. The family pictures that hung on there were splattered. She could hardly make out the faces of her family as she walked through. The living room was in shambles. The furniture was knocked over, torn, and destroyed. A mess that her mother was going to hate to clean. She looked at the place where her father had been lying. Nothing was there but the blood stain soaking into the carpet.
Daylight started to break through the clouds. A small crowd had gathered outside the house; all watching and waiting. But where was her mother? Where were her brothers? Her grandmother, Mae was standing at the bottom of the stairs, still dressed in a housecoat and rollers. Her slippers scratched across the concrete as she ran to get granddaughter and took her into her arms.
“It’s okay, baby. Everything’s gonna be alright.” She said, her Southern accent stirred into every word.
“Grandma Mae, where’s Mommy? And James? And Thomas?” She searched the crowd over her grandmother’s shoulder, still looking for the rest of her family.
Mae put her granddaughter down and stooped before her. An ache passed through her chest as she prepared to tell her that everyone that she loved in her home was gone. She pulled her youngest granddaughter into a hug and kissed her on the top of her head. This would be the hardest thing that she’d ever have to tell her.
“Baby, whoever killed ya daddy…killed ya mama and brothers too.”
Tears that she didn’t know she had fell as her body shook against her grandmother. Her whole world has shattered and there was nothing that she could do to pick it back up. The only thing she could do was cling to her grandmother. The life that she knew was over.
She could never talk about the event of that night. Sitting in the front pew of her family’s funeral she could only remember the look on her father’s face as he told her to get to safety. Her grandmother squeezed her hand as the choir started another selection, her mother’s favorite.
Days later, her grandmother read the news article that declared her father a hero for trying to save his family from a group of burglars, but was killed in the process. Her mother and brothers were killed to eliminate witnesses. The youngest daughter was the only survivor and the robbers were never caught.
Only she knew why.