This story is by Jeff Elkins and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Her father’s gun was heavy in her hand. Jamie gripped it tighter, trying to stop her arm from shaking. “Get back,” she said to the strange man, hoping the gun would make her lean fourteen-year-old frame seem intimidating.
The man held his hands up in a defensive position. “Please, just put it down. No one has to get hurt. We can all just walk away from this.”
“Shoot him,” Jamie’s older brother, Andy, yelled. He was laying on the floor at the man’s feet. Blood trickled from Andy’s nose where the man had punched him.
The man leaned to the left, reaching for the cell phone on the side table next to him.
Motioning the gun toward him, Jamie yelled, “Don’t make me shoot you!” The living room was dark. Jamie hoped the man couldn’t see how much the gun trembled. “You shouldn’t be here,” she said. “What are you doing here?” The world felt like it was spinning.
“Jamie, shoot him!” her brother yelled again.
The man put his hands up in surrender. “I’m unarmed,” he said.
“Shut up!” Jamie yelled, pushing the barrel of the gun toward him again. “Just shut up!” Her hand throbbed from holding the gun so tight. She could feel the grooves of the grip pressing into her palm. She’d never hurt anyone before, and she didn’t want to start tonight. She wished she were still asleep, safe in her bed, surrounded by her stuffed animals.
“Damn it! Jamie!” Andy yelled. There was a desperate fear in his voice. “Snap out of it. Shoot this asshole!”
“Look, no one needs to get hurt here,” the man said again in a soothing tone.
Jamie gripped the gun with both hands. “Shut up. Just let me think!” she screamed. She tried to swallow, but her mouth was too dry. She looked around the room for something that might ease the pain building in her throat, besides cheap living room furniture, the room was empty. Nothing to drink in sight.
“We can all still walk away,” the man said. “Just put down the gun, and we can all walk away.”
“Jamie! Jesus! Please!” her brother wailed. “Just shoot him!”
Jamie felt a surge of anger. Why’d he have to wake her up? Why’d he put her in the middle of this? He was always doing this to her. She shouldn’t be pointing a gun at anyone. She shouldn’t be up at two in the morning. She should be sleeping so she’d be ready for her World Cultures test tomorrow.
“Jamie,” Andy pleaded again.
“Shut up, Andy!” she begged. “Just shut up.”
The headlights of a passing car filled the room. Jamie caught a glimpse of the horror in the stranger’s eyes. His voice was so calm, it had been masking the fear radiating from his face. A rush of confusion ran through her. No one had ever looked at her in terror before.
“This is all just a big mistake,” the man said.
“Jamie! Just do it!” her brother yelled again.
There was a heaviness in her chest and her eyes. Taking one hand from the gun, she suppressed a yawn.
Seizing on her momentary lapse of attention, the man grabbed the cell phone and punched out something on the screen with his thumbs.
“No!” her brother yelled in a panic. Gathering all the strength he could muster from his position on the floor, he kicked the man in the knee.
The stranger yelled in pain, dropped the phone, and grabbed his leg. Andy scrambled to his feet. Snatching the phone from the ground, he ran to Jamie’s side. He tucked the phone into his back pocket, smiled, and said to Jamie, “Do it and let’s get out of here.”
“Please. Don’t. Just. Please, don’t,” the man said, as he rubbed his knee.
“We can’t leave him, Jamie,” Andy said. “He’s seen our faces and he knows our names.” Holding out his hand, he said, “Give it to me. I’ll do it.”
Jamie hesitated. She had no doubt that if she gave her brother the gun, he’d shoot the man. Even though everything felt like a blur, she knew she didn’t want that.
“Daddy?” a small voice said from the stairs behind the man.
“Oh God!” the man said. He looked at Jamie pleadingly. “Go upstairs, Logan. Go back to bed, big boy.”
Jamie squinted through the darkness. She could make out the outline of a small boy standing in the hallway a few feet behind the man.
“What is this shit?” Andy said, irritated by the complication.
“Listen!” the man said, limping forward with his hands in the air. “Keep my phone. Take whatever you want. Just go.”
“This is a goddamn mess,” Andy said.
“Daddy? Why’s it so loud?” the boy said.
“Go back upstairs, big boy,” the man said. There was a pained crack in his voice.
Jamie kept the gun pointed at the man, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the kid. He was wearing footy pajamas and holding a blanket that looked to be the same size he was. Even though she knew nothing about him, she felt a deep need to protect him from the gun in her hand.
The child began to cry. “Daddy?” he said through tears.
“Go upstairs, baby,” the man said. His voice trembled.
“Stop it. Just stop it,” Jamie said, unsure who she was talking to. She could feel the warmth of tears building behind her eyes.
“Shit, Jamie,” Andy said with a mix sympathy and frustration. “Listen, give me the gun and get the hell out of here. I’ll take care of this.”
The child was crying harder now.
“No! Please!” the man yelled over his son’s tears.
“Give it to me,” Andy growled, reaching for the pistol.
Jamie’s chest filled with rage. Tears fell unhindered from her eyes. Before Andy could grab the gun, she pivoted and turned it on him. “Back off!” she screamed.
Andy held his hands in the air. “Relax, sis,” he said.
The man took a step back toward his son, and Jamie lurched the gun toward him. “Be still!” she screamed. She pointed it at Andy, and then back at the man, and then back at Andy. “Both of you,” she said quietly.
The child’s cry moved from a wail to a whimper. “Daddy?” he said again.
A knot caught in Jamie’s throat. Why had she left the house with Andy? Why had she grabbed her dad’s gun?
“Sis, you’re freaking out. Give me the gun,” Andy said, stepping forward.
“Please, just leave,” the man said, his voice strained to a whisper.
Jamie turned the gun back on her brother. “You said no one would be here,” she accused him.
“Well, that’s what I was told,” Andy said, taking a step back.
“But he’s here. And his kid,” she said, motioning the gun toward the man while keeping her eyes locked on her brother.
“I was told this would be an easy score. They’re supposed to be on vacation,” her brother said.
“But they’re not!” Jamie yelled.
“We leave tomorrow,” the man begged. “My wife went up today, but we don’t leave until tomorrow.”
“Well, how was I supposed to know that,” Andy said, his frustration building.
“Just stop,” Jamie said, pointing the gun at her brother again. It was more a plea than a command this time. She could feel the exhaustion coming on again. She wanted to lay down, curl into a ball, and fall asleep on the floor.
In the distance, the sound of sirens pierced the night.
“I’m sorry,” the man said, holding out his hands again. “My phone. It has a panic alarm. I pressed it. I’m sorry. Please. Don’t hurt us.”
“Daddy? I’m scared, Daddy,” the boy cried, responding to his father’s fear.
“Alright, enough. We’ve got to go,” Andy said, stepping toward her.
A surge of confidence filled Jamie’s chest as it became clear to her what she had to do. Looking her brother in the eyes, Jamie said, “I’m sorry,” and she fired the gun.
The boy screamed.
The man spun, snatched his son, and ran for the front door.
“What the fuck!” Andy yelled, his eyebrows knit with rage. A small hole in the carpet smoldered at his feet.
Jamie again gripped the gun with both hands, trying to hold it steady. She raised it to the level of his chest. The sirens grew stronger. She heard the front door open as the boy and his father fled. A wave of relief washed over her.
“Enough!” Andy screamed, stomping his foot. “Give me the goddamn gun!”
Jamie held it tighter. Looking her brother in the eyes, she said, “The cops will be here any second. Don’t make me shoot you.”