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He was standing there, right in front of what was once his own home. His right hand, unconsciously, reached for his left ring finger, fumbling at the golden piece of jewelry around it. He felt tiredness in his bones, a cold feeling that cut deeply into his old body. It was not just the midnight cold, he was sure.

He visualized what he had to do. He had done it lots of times before. He won’t fail now. Not this time.

The old man pulled his phone out and, with his thin fingers, pressed the speed dial. It rang once. He started speaking in an old, croaky voice, befitting a man his age: “There will be an armed robbery on 23 Infinity, a few minutes past midnight. Track this phone, and send the police”. He hung up, put the phone on the ground, and started walking towards the two-story house. No one else will see the phone except for the police. He should know - he had already tried it before.

He stopped upon reaching the door, laying his heavy gym bag on the ground. It made clanking noises as it kissed the earth beside him. He took a deep breath, taking in the cold wind of the night, and pulled out his lock picking kit from the pocket of his coat. His soul was trembling, but his old, wrinkly hands were steady. He’d done this a lot of times before. It was just a matter of following the plan. Step one.

The old man opened the door with ease, locked it behind him, and went inside without even bothering to look around. He knew he didn't have to - he was never caught the previous times. He placed his gym bag on the couch, walked past the living room as quickly as his tired legs would take him, and went up the stairs, tiptoeing through all of its ten steps. The very first door on his left was open, and he went inside to the sight of the very person, he was looking for.

A woman was laying on the bed. She was bathed in the light of the full moon coming from an open window, and she looked beautiful in it. She was young, radiant, energetic; a complete opposite to his old, fragile frame. Even when pregnant, she still managed to take his breath away. He thought about waking her up, warning her of the disaster about to happen, but he knew he couldn’t – she would die a quicker death if she was awake.

He should know - he had tried it before.

It was tempting for him to just stay there and watch her sleep, but he knew that was not possible. He has got a job to do.

He pulled out a gun from one of his coat’s pockets. There were seven bullets in its magazine. He looked at the gun long and hard, wishing – no, willing – that it would be able to save her this time. He’d never really succeeded, but he thought that maybe this time, if he prayed long enough, he actually would.

The old man walked closer to her. He looked down at the gun, put down its safety, and laid it down on top of her bedside drawer, beside a gold ring similar to the one he was wearing. Step two.

He went back to the living room, where he left his gym bag. Opening it, he pulled out one of the bear traps inside, and placed it near the sofa. It was particularly noisy setting up the traps, but he knew the woman upstairs was a heavy sleeper, so there can be actual bears roaming around the living room and she still wouldn’t know.

All three bear traps were set after a few minutes. He put one near the sofa, one in the middle of the living room, and another one near the base of the stairs. The darkness of the night hid the traps well as he expected. Step three.

The old man pulled out a gun he put on his gym bag. After making sure it’s loaded, he went to the kitchen, ducked on one of the corners, and waited in silence. He played with the ring on his finger. He knew what was going to happen. He was here to stop it. Step four.

And in a few minutes, he heard it: a shuffling of feet from right outside the front door. The doorknob rattled for a few seconds, but stopped abruptly. He heard the shuffling again, this time moving from the front of the house to the side – the burglar was looking for an easy way in. He stopped right there in front of the closed kitchen window, his outline visible from the inside. The old man thought about shooting him right there and then, but remembered that it didn’t work the last time.

The burglar stooped down, and for a moment, he was invisible again from the old man. But when his outline came back, it wasn’t just him – he picked up a ladder from the ground, and propped it up against the side of the house. He started climbing, the ladder making dull metallic sounds as he went. It took some time for the old man to realize what was happening: the burglar spotted the open window on the bedroom, right where the woman was sleeping.

But that was different. That hadn’t happened before.

He hadn't even finished that thought yet, when he started running, the gun tightly gripped in his hand. He jumped over his own bear trap, leaped over the steps on the stairs, and turned to enter the bedroom. He was too late.

The woman was already awake, a state of terror and confusion in her eyes. She casted a fleeting glance at the old stranger who just entered the room, but was more concerned with the gun barrel staring her right at the face. Except for his young, angry eyes, the burglar’s face was covered, but it failed to hide his surprise, when he saw the old man standing on the doorway, gun trained to his face. His aim turned to him, returning the favor.

The old man wasn’t risking anything now – he knew full well how trigger-happy the thief can be. They were looking at each other’s eyes, both of them halfway hoping that staring at the other, hard enough would make him disappear.

But the old man gave way, raising his hands and slowly stooping down to put his gun on the floor. He wasn’t taking the chance; besides, his hands were now trembling so much that it would be impossible to get off a decent shot. His only mission was to get the woman and himself out alive, and he didn’t need a gun to do that. Relief flooded the burglar’s eyes.

But then he saw it: with one swift motion the woman, ever so brave and courageous, snatched the gun on her bedside and aimed it at the masked man. And then a gunshot went off.

The shot was clean, and it was clearly visible on the moonlight. She was hit square on the temple, and blood flooded her white sheets. The thief turned his aim to the old man.

He tried to reach for his gun on the floor, but another shot came off, and then another one. He felt warm blood escaping his chest. His knees buckled, and he fell down on the floor.

I failed. I failed. But I’ll try again.

Just as he started hearing dull siren sounds from afar, his consciousness faded and everything turned dark.

* * * *

The old man woke up with a splitting headache. The door to the pod-like machine opened, and he barely managed to get out before spewing some light-green vomit. His saliva tasted like metal, and he was pretty sure his urine would come out brown when he urinates. The radiation was taking its toll on him, but he didn’t spend the last 30 years developing this machine for some little particles to bring him down. He’ll sleep for a while, then try again later.

He laid his tired, old body into his bed. With a groan, he reached for a worn out notebook on the top of his bedside table, its folds and pages very familiar to his wrinkled hands. It was an antique in the modern world he lives in, but isn’t part of. He opened it, plucked the pen stuck on the spring on the side, and started writing:

Attempt # 89: Call the police early. Put a gun at her bedside table. Set traps on the living room. Hide inside the house to surprise the burglar.

Result: Failed.

Action: Close the second floor window next time. Also, make a better time fucking machine. Can’t even change the modifications of this one.

He thought about ambushing the burglar, before he even entered the house, but immediately remembered that it didn’t work. Old age had made him slow; too slow, in fact, to surprise the thief. He should know – he tried doing that twice; twice he was shot in the head.

The old man plopped the notebook back from where he picked it up. He looked at the video frame beside it. It showed a much younger him, along with the woman who got shot just a few moments earlier. They were standing facing each other under the arches of a church. Despite his declining memory, he remembered that scene very well; he married the most beautiful, caring, and courageous woman in the world, after all. He reached for the frame and clasped it tightly on his chest.

His whole body ached. He felt his organs slowly deteriorating. He needed rest, but instead of sleeping, he let his mind drift 30 years back to when he was younger, when he and his wife were happily together. Some insignificant burglar killed her and the baby she was carrying, but soon enough that wouldn’t have to be the reality anymore.

He’ll keep coming back to that night, he thought, no matter how many times it took him. He’ll get his wife and child back.

* * * *


Christian Jerome is a psychology graduate and a hobbyist writer. Trying to rekindle his childhood love of writing and reading books, he is now trying his hand in producing short works of fiction. He likes writing about science fiction, thrillers, mysteries, crimes, and human behavior. He currently resides in Manila, Philippines, where he’s trying to figure out how he wants his life to look like.


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