50 - A Grisly Homecoming

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As Nat pulled into the driveway, she saw the familiar shape of Kyle Loman's pickup. Not an unusual sight in itself on a Friday, but seeing it this late at night sent a cold stab of fear deep into her chest.

She cut the engine and turned off the headlights, parked just a moment in the inky darkness outside the house. She tried to quell the hammering of her heart, to steel herself for -- what? 

She didn't know what waited for her inside. She knew only what she expected -- what she dreaded -- and knew that she had to do something. Cowardice and defeat had driven her from the house, but she couldn't hide forever. 

Her jury of one had reached its verdict, whether or not she was consciously aware of it. Caught between the unlikely and impossible, the only thing that mattered was facing the cold reality head-on. 

The kitchen light was on, and it cast an orange glow against the drapes, looming shadow puppets of movement shifting around inside. Seeing only silhouettes, it was impossible to know for sure what was happening; but Nat thought she could read tension in the angles of their bodies, two shapes that squared off from one other as if preparing for some arcane dance.

One was slender. The other was square-set and huge.

Nat crossed the driveway, hearing muffled sounds from inside as she approached. As she neared the door, the sound strengthened, clarified.

"You crazy bitch," she heard.
"I'll do it. Don't think I won't."
"What are you —"
"I won't let you take him."

Liz is in trouble, Nat thought, in the primal part of her brain that was unconcerned with mysteries and anger and the distance between them. Liz is in trouble, and I have to help her.

She reached a trembling hand for the knob. It rattled in her shaking grasp, but she nudged the door open all the same.

There was a single, clear moment as the door swung wide where she saw everything in perfect detail.

Kyle Loman stood at the threshold of the kitchen, his boots planted in a wide stance on the living room carpet. His baseball cap was far back on his head, the bill turned upward, and she could not see his face.

Behind him, cowering against his leg, face buried in the hollow of his knee, Liam was sobbing. He was beyond the point of speech, his terrified cries reduced to wordless shrieking. He grasped his father's jeans leg with one small fist, his bandaged hand clutched uselessly to his chest. 

Across from them, braced against the kitchen table, was Liz. Her face was a mask of rage, twisted into something incomprehensible and ghastly. Her hair hung loose around her ears; her lips curled back from her teeth in a doglike snarl.

In her hands, she held a shotgun, the muzzle pointed at Kyle's chest.

Nat had just half a moment to take this all in, but it was enough to burn the image into her mind. Time seemed to slow, crawl, distort. Her heart stuttered to a halt, thumping painfully against her ribs. 

She saw, as if in slow motion, Liz's eyes roll upward: wild, rimmed in white. She saw as the muzzle of the gun jerked up, following her surprised gaze.

Heard the crack of gunfire.

Felt the sear of pain as the bullet tore into her flesh.

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