Child Endangerment (fiction)


PDA






Oleg Volk
January 30, 2010, 03:34 PM
(Comments and criticism are welcome. The current version includes Andrew Rothman's editing suggestions.)

"Child Endangerment"

The little blond boy is named Jack. He is reading in bed. His mother disapproves, but she is not home. Jack's spot is on the top bunk. His little brother Sam sleeps on the bottom bunk. At age eight, Jack is big enough not to be afraid of heights. He is even big enough to be left alone for a little while.

Mother should be back soon. She works half days and comes home before the early winter sun sets. On the way home, she will pick up Sam from day care. Jack goes back to the book. Mahbub and Kim have had his attention since morning, even though Jack doesn't understand the Great Game they are playing.

The door bell gets the boy out of bed. From his window, he can see three men waiting patiently. He can't see their car, but tire tracks in fresh snow lead to the back yard. Strange. In a minute, one of the men presses the door bell button again and holds it for a while. Jack doesn't bother answering: he's not allowed to open doors for strangers. After another minute, the men leave the porch and go toward the next house. Jack goes back to his reading perch.

The barely audible tinkling from downstairs jostles him alert. The boy can hear the back door open, scraping over broken glass on floor. He can hear the heavy, rapid footsteps of the three men as they spread though the house. Jack doesn't think they would be happy to find him, so he makes himself flat under the blanket and tries to breathe quietly. The burglars should have tripped the alarm, but it was turned off because Jack was home. He hopes the men won't think of that.

A young man, stoutly built and covered with tattoos, pauses on the threshold of the children's room. The second level of the children's bed is level with his head, so he doesn't see Jack. The man doesn't expect much of value in that room, so he hurries to the master bedroom. Sara's jewelry and Michael's spare watch go into a bag, then he begins to rip out drawers and turn over end tables.

Downstairs, the other two men try to tip over the safe, but it is bolted down. One of them tries to wedge a crowbar into the door, but the tip won't fit. From his blind, Jack can hear the clanging as the crowbar slips and gouges the floor.

The nearest phone is on second floor landing, but it might as well be on the moon. Jack can't get to it without being seen, or talk on it without being heard. He wants to call mother. Or maybe the police. Dad works too far away; he'd never get home in time. Then the phone rings.

The burglars let it ring. When the answering machine picks up, Jack can hear his mother's voice: "I'll be a few minutes late. No later than two, though." Below, someone says: "We wait. We make the bitch open this mother." That's punctuated by another clang on the safe door.

The boy is not sure what time it is now. He hears the something slam into the stairwell and bounce down. The same gruff voice: "Stop playing with her toys and look for some good ****." Jack hears somebody else come to the second floor and tries to make himself even less visible. He's not sure how well that is working. Playing hide-and-seek was a lot more fun with other kids.

Their house is on a quiet street. Jack can hear the diesel engine of his mother's station wagon from a long way off. The men in the house seem to know what she drives and all go downstairs. He finally hazards a peek: all three are in the entryway, one watching the front door, two watching the garage door. Jack suddenly realizes that he has to warn his mother. He takes air into his lungs as the garage door rattles its way up. When the key turns, he thinks, I will scream.

He thinks again. If he screams, Mother will rush in without looking. Not good. His other option is in the closet. It is locked up, and he thinks quickly to remember where the key is. Jack vaults out of bed, barely missing the ceiling fixture. The garage noise covers up his landing. Good thing he is too light to make the floor creak!

The long cloth case is in the closet. He gets the closet door open just as the engine noise dies downstairs. Seconds to get the key from the top shelf, then try to insert it with shaking hands. The cable lock flexes against the closet door, but the men downstairs can't hear it. They are listening for Sara's footsteps in the garage. Jack can hear Sam whine about something as mother unlocks the door.

Downstairs, Sara puts the keys back into her purse. With Sam balanced on her left arm, she goes back to the car for the first grocery bag. Upstairs, Jack is pawing frantically through the folds of the gun case for cartridges. He finds two stuck in the lining -- tiny little shells that stain his fingers with lead dust as he loads them into the magazine. He chambers one quietly and pushes the safety off.

He has a good view from above, with all three intruders now facing away from him. But the one closest to the door is directly in front -- if the shot misses, he could hit mom. If it does not miss, would the tiny bullet even drop a man? The man has a big logo on the back of his shirt, and Jack aims at it. As mother pulls the door open, Jack sees the man drop and lie motionless.

Jack doesn't hear the shot but his mother does. She sees the unfamiliar face before her turn from eager to blank and drop from her sight. The two men to her sides turn to the source of the report, their eyes big with fright and surprise. Sara's right hand clenches so hard that she tears though the grocery bag. The paper handles are still hanging from her fingers as she draws her little pistol from her right hip and turns to stand between Sam and the door.

Jack sees the two men look at him as his mother's slight figure recedes into the darkness of the garage. He works the rifle bolt now, wondering what he would do if both men come up to kill him now. Mother's little pistol would not reach this far or hit hard enough to stop them. He stands up straighter, no longer using the wall for support.

The two burglars look at their confederate. He is face down with a tiny black dot right over his spine. They look at each other. They run. Jack can hear the back door splinter again as they bounce it open. He can hear the engine roar outside and the scratchy noise of a car driving away over the rose bushes. Another noise as their bumper scrapes the curb.

The boy wants to shout that it is safe to come up, but his throat is too dry for speech. He tries to engage the safety, but the lever slips from his suddenly sweaty fingers. Jack points the muzzle at the carpet. After a while, he manages to call out, and it is all over. Dad comes home early from work, though not before the cops. The ambulance comes with the cops, and they drag out the body. The news people come, too. They all want to know if Sara and Michael will go to jail for letting Jack keep a gun in his room.

If you enjoyed reading about "Child Endangerment (fiction)" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!
Warhawk83
January 30, 2010, 03:41 PM
It was entertaining but I can't imagine an 8year old thinking " I wonder if this will drop a man". That is my only criticism, good short story.

ClayInTX
January 30, 2010, 04:35 PM
Oleg,

First the bricks:

You use some passive words and style. Also, many things may be introduced in the following action of the story for better word flow.

The little blond boy is named Jack. He is reading in bed. His mother disapproves, but she is not home. Jack's spot is on the top bunk. His little brother Sam sleeps on the bottom bunk. At age eight, Jack is big enough not to be afraid of heights. He is even big enough to be left alone for a little while.
* * *
How about:
Jack is home alone and reading in bed, something of which his mother disapproves but she’s working her half-day job. He’s eight years old and big enough to be left alone for a little while.
* * *
That he is blond and his little brother is at daycare can be put into the narrative where appropriate. That he sleeps on the top bunk can be covered in the part where he jumps down from it. You named him Jack so don’t say “the boy” later in the story.

You are writing in the present tense. This will be difficult to maintain, but not impossible. However, it will restrict your point of view as an omnipotent observer.

Now the roses:
Good plot. Good action. Suspense.

A young man, stoutly built and covered with tattoos, pauses on the threshold of the children's room.

This is an extremely good sentence. You have described the perp, told the action, and introduced suspense all in one sentence. This is the way to go.

wishin
January 30, 2010, 04:40 PM
The story held my interest. Well written and believable. I suppose some jurisdictions might press charges against the parents for having a firearm that accessible to a child. I'd like to think not in this case, just because I like happy endings................

HunterBear71
January 30, 2010, 04:50 PM
When the mother leaves the message on the answering machine, wouldn't that tip off the intruders that someone was in the house? At the least, wouldn't they expect someone else to get home before her to hear the message? I would expect her to call Jack by name or tell him she loves him. I liked the story and found it well done.

Labyrinth666
January 30, 2010, 05:00 PM
There is something I don't like about "the villain" in this story, it sounds like some big, burly hell's angel is robbing the house. It is wonderful imagery, but a bit of a poor steriotype for a bad guy. I imagined him as some big leather-clad skinhead.

Walkalong
January 30, 2010, 05:58 PM
I like it. Yes, a young boy would wonder if the round would stop the bad man.

HOV
January 30, 2010, 07:30 PM
It's pretty chunky right up front, and there are a lot of irrelevant details.

The characters are shallow and fit stereotypes too well. Not enough character development. Bad guy dialog needs improvement.

Plot could improve by giving the bad guys some measure of intelligence, and have them do something smart to put the good guys in a real pickle.

Too much emphasis on gun-guy kind of stuff. Boring and/or confusing for the average reader. Gun safe bolted down? Who cares. "He tries to engage the safety?" That's not fiction, that's a rifle instruction manual.

My recommendation - use less words and make the ones you do use elegant and meaningful.

Not trying to bust your chops; fiction's not easy.

Oleg Volk
January 30, 2010, 07:33 PM
HOV, your suggestions make sense and I may try to implement them.

ArfinGreebly
January 30, 2010, 09:41 PM
Just thinking out loud . . .

Downstairs, the other two men try to tip over the safe, but it is bolted down. One of them tries to wedge a crowbar into the door, but the tip won't fit. From his blind, Jack can hear the clanging as the crowbar slips and gouges the floor.

Rather than an explicit statement: "but it is bolted down," you might try something like:
Downstairs, the other two men stuggle with the safe, trying to tip it over, but it won't budge. Cursing that someone must have bolted it down, one of them tries to wedge a crowbar into the door, but the tip won't fit. From his blind, Jack can hear the clanging as the crowbar slips and gouges the floor.

Oleg Volk
January 30, 2010, 09:46 PM
The view point goes from Jack's to the narrator's. I might regularize it and just use Jack's. The concept has evolved in my head for a year, so I may take a few days to contemplate the next version.

rm23
January 30, 2010, 09:53 PM
More, please?

If you enjoyed reading about "Child Endangerment (fiction)" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!