As I pulled into the driveway and parked the car, I sighed in relief. While I loved my job (and loved the freedom to travel), it was good to be home. I’d missed my family while I was away. My husband’s SUV stood stock-still beside mine.
Although I was a little disappointed that no one heard the car and ran out to greet me, I pulled my suitcase from the trunk and wheeled it to the front door. Opening it, I called, “I’m home!” My voice echoed along the empty hallway.
Oddly, no one popped their head out of one of the other rooms. Leaving my bag by the door, I peeked into the den.
There had been a tussle in there, and not the sort my kids had when they got on each others’ nerves. The tables were overturned, the lamps fallen to the ground, and one of my figurines had been smashed. On the rug was a deep red bloodstain, radiating away from the shape of a body outlined in tape on the ground.
What had happened here?
Fearfully, I called, “Lizzie? Sarah? Justin? James?” Nobody answered.
As I turned my head back into the hallway, I noticed for the first time the splotches of blood trailing along the floor, as if they had dripped from the blade of a bloody knife. I couldn’t shake the eerie feeling that something was very wrong. Shaking, I crept along the hallways, poking my head into my daughter’s room. It was empty, and thankfully blood-free. But then I noticed the tape outline on the floor beside her bed. Next to where the hand was outlined was a small vial, with a drop of purple liquid still inside. It looked suspiciously like poison.
You write too many murder mystery novels, I told myself. What would Sarah be doing with poison?
Still, the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention.
Turning the corner to our second hall, I gagged. Blood covered the walls. Another fight, one my son must have lost, if the outlined body on the floor was any indication. Tears swamped my eyes. What had happened here? I had talked to them only last evening. Sagging against the wall, I let my tears fall, remembering each of my children on their birthdays, during their first steps and, for my eldest, her first heartbreak.
“Mom!” I heard someone scream. Lizzie. Was she still alive? “Mom, help me, please!”
Desperately, I dashed down the hall, in the direction of the noise. It was coming from the basement. Without thinking, I barreled down the steps.
No one was there. Still, I heard. “Mom, help me!”
Another voice sounded, telling her to shut up. My eyes darted around the basement. On the floor, was a tape outline of my eldest daughter, and by her hand, her voice recorder. Grimly, I walked over to it and pushed the STOP button. I crumpled to the ground.
My family. What had happened to my family?
“Stand up and keep your hands where I can see them!” said a brusque voice. “What business do you have here, ma’am? This is a crime scene!”
My heart stopped pounding for a second, until I realized that the man pointing a gun at me was a police officer. “This is my house,” I said, my voice wavering.
The officer put away his gun. He pulled the walkie-talkie on his shoulder closer to his mouth and muttered into it. A woman’s voice answered.
“Come with me,” he said grimly. “We’ll need you to ID the bodies.”
I followed him on shaking legs, obediently sliding into his back seat. He drove in silence, leaving me to replay the gory scenes in my head. Strangely, my tears seemed dried up for the moment. I was too numb.
“This way, ma’am,” the officer said as he opened my door. Silently, I followed as he led me in through the back door of a building.
The room he led me to was dark. When he leaned forward, switching on the lights, two dozen people jumped out at me, my husband and kids among them.
“Surprise! Happy release day!”
Gasping for breath, I realized that it had all been a hoax. When my husband moved forward to hug me, I smacked him on the shoulder, but I smiled.
Happy release to Krista D. Ball, James Hartley, Debra K. Dunlap, Lea Schizas, C. A. Verstraete, and John Russo!
Lindsay Below is the author of Lurkers, a young adult novel coming from MuseItUp in July 2011. Her middle grade novel, Same Old Lie will be released from MuseItUp in November 2011. Visit her at www.lbelow.com.