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    Synopsis:

    Texas authors have once again allowed their creative minds to open up and expand the Universe in which they live with short stories that capture one’s emotions through the everlasting medium of storytelling.

    This seventh volume of award-winning short stories takes readers on a personal ride of growth and understanding, then a jaunt through history both factual and fictional, then a trip of magic, suspense, and much more. Those are just a few of the emotions one will experience as they read the 13 winning short stories from prolific Texas authors.

    This volume helps the nonprofit Drop Everything And Read Texas raise money for Title 1 schools and libraries, plus other programs they administer.

    Title

    Author

    Unwelcome Guest

    Patricia Taylor Wells

    Honor Among Thieves

    Mathew White

    Holly's Tree

    Patricia Taylor Wells

    The War Within

    Robert John DuLuca

    The Magic for all Life's Tricks

    Mary Ann Faremouth-Sandland

    Road Block

    Patricia Taylor Wells

    Texas Roughneck Journey

    Breakfield & Burkey

    Cartoon Classics

    Patricia Taylor Wells

    Bonus Features—First Place Winners from Previous Years

    2016—The Bluest Eyes

    Elizabeth Garcia

    2017—Passage

    Sandra Fox Murphy

    2018—The Enigma Chronicles - The Jewel

    Breakfield & Burkey

    2019—Baseball in the Attic

    Sherry Hall

    2020—Walking on Water

    Ann C.K. Nickell

    Grand Prize Winner

    Unwelcome Guests

    Patricia Taylor Wells

    It was an ordinary late afternoon in August, hot and humid, with only a light breeze to stir the air. Evening’s quietness was beginning to settle in, even though the sun was still high above the horizon. Brad and Lindsey Collins sat talking, mainly about the littleness of their day, as afternoon slowly morphed into the evening.

    “What are we having for dinner?” Brad asked. “It’s almost seven.”

    “I’ll get up in a minute.” Lindsey was reluctant to move from her comfortable chair. Now that she no longer worked outside the home, her schedule was guided more by her whims than the clock. Dinner often got in the way of other things Lindsey was doing. Nevertheless, she liked being at home, even though she had never thought of herself as a housewife.

    “We could go somewhere,” Brad said.

    “What was that?” Lindsey asked, turning her head in the direction of the thump that had slid in between their conversation.

    “What was what? Brad asked.

    “That sound.”

    “I didn’t hear anything,” Brad replied.

    Another thump. Lindsey was sure of it this time. Maybe a tree limb had fallen, or a careless bird had struck a window. Again a thump, but more distinct, like a low knock.

    “Someone’s at the door. I’ll get it.” Brad got up and walked into the foyer.

    Lindsey waited, wondering who would come unannounced at supper time. Then, she heard the door open, followed by an eerie guttural sound coming from the foyer. Lindsey straightened her back and cocked her head, straining to listen. The words were garbled, unlike any she had ever heard before. More than one voice, Lindsey determined. As she rushed toward the foyer to see who had interrupted their evening, she encountered two young men. They appeared as startled as she was.

    What’s going on here? Lindsey, bewildered, faced her unwelcome guests. They were no more than twenty years old, with eyes squinted and dark as night. Their black hair was thick and stood up in little spikes on top, their skin the color of a kraft envelope. Although their frames were slight and their stature short, the weapons they brandished made them powerful, menacing, and unpredictable.

    Through the archway of the foyer, Lindsey spotted her husband lying on the landing of the stairway. A third man held a 38 semi-automatic handgun to Brad’s head. Lindsey’s mind gyrated in all directions as she did a quick assessment of her situation. Are these men here to rob us? I’ve got to keep calm. Let them take what they want. But why us, and in the light of day? Her heart began to pound like a racehorse at full gallop. The other two men blocked her path, frustrating her efforts to move closer to Brad.

    Brad’s body was as still as a corpse, other than the rise and fall of his chest. That, and the sound of his desperate breathing, was proof of life for Lindsey.

    “Brad!” Lindsey called out to him.

    Brad mumbled something in return, too low for Lindsey to hear.

    “Shut up! Shut up!” repeated the man with a gun to Brad’s head as he cocked the hammer.

    Lindsey squeezed her eyes shut and stopped breathing. Nothing happened. She let out a sigh and opened her eyes again. One of the men moved closer to her, aiming the barrel of his handgun at her heart. His accomplice paced back and forth, nervously looking out the front room windows. He’s their lookout, Lindsey surmised.

    Lindsey stood with her feet cemented to the floor as her mind swirled in a strange universe that was half dream and half real. Her mind shifted between planning her escape and imagining a bullet burning through her chest. The sensation of swimming in her death was so intense she blacked out momentarily. Seconds later, she found herself fully conscious, with no memory of what, if anything, had happened during her lapse. Her instincts kicked in, and she began running for her life.

    The man who had targeted her with his gun followed close behind. Lindsey could almost feel his breath against her skin as he uttered harsh, foreign words at her. He grabbed her arm just as she reached the back door. She jerked away and grasped the doorknob, turning it in what seemed like a slow-motion haze. Suddenly the door was wide open. She could see the raised garage door of the house next door—her only sign of hope that someone might hear her desperate cry for help. But her long, high-pitched scream had no sound.

    The man clutched the necklace she was wearing as she scrambled to get out the door. She felt the gold chain dig into her neck as it separated and fell to the floor. Lindsey broke free again and almost made it to the door before her pursuer grabbed her wrist, then dragged her back into the family room where she and Brad had been sitting earlier. Now that she could no longer see Brad, Lindsey feared the worse had happened, and she would be next. There was no time to think, no time to utter a prayer. They’re going to kill us; her mind screamed as she prepared to die.

    “Get down!” the man ordered, pointing his weapon to the floor.

    I’m not getting on the floor, Lindsey vowed to herself as she struggled to figure out what the intruders intended to do with them.

    “No,” she said, wary of her voice.

    “Get down!” he repeated with more urgency.

    “No,” she repeated, a little calmer this time as she searched his eyes for whatever mercy they held.

    The man stared back at her with wide, astonished eyes as he took hold of one of her arms and pointed his pistol again at the floor.

    “Take whatever you want,” Lindsey asserted as she watched her fate unfold in the eyes of her captor, “but get out of here.”

    The man shifted his gaze from Lindsey to something behind her. His pupils widened even more, and his mouth opened in surprise as he peered over her shoulder.

    Lindsey felt a chill go up and down her spine. She was too afraid to look at the unexplainable presence she had sensed behind her. She didn’t move, blink, or even breathe.

    Suddenly the intruder let go of her arm and rushed toward the foyer. Only then did Lindsey turn around to see who was behind her, but no one was there.

    A moment later, Lindsey heard the front door slam. The three invaders jumped into a waiting car driven by a fourth man as she looked out the front window.

    Before she could catch her breath, she heard the sound of the door lock turning.

    “Jesus Christ! Call the Sheriff,” Brad called out to her.

    Thank God! Thank God! Overwhelmed with relief, Lindsey felt as though she might collapse. The page listing the significant numbers she had compiled that day for a women’s club brochure was where she had left it, right next to the phone. She quickly spotted the number and called the Sheriff.

    “What is your emergency?” the voice on the other end asked.

    “They’ve got guns! They’ve got guns!” Lindsey cried. She was in shock and unable to give the operator her name or address.

    Brad rushed into the room. He took the phone from Lindsey as she sank to the floor in a pile of uncontrollable shaking and tears.

    The Sheriff arrived within a few minutes. He listened calmly as Brad and Lindsey shared the details of their ordeal, leaving them with the impression that what had happened in their home was commonplace.

    “Mrs. Collins,” the Sheriff turned to Lindsey, “tell me again about the person you say was standing behind you after the other man ordered you to get on the floor.”

    “I don’t know if it was a person,” Lindsey responded.

    “What do you mean by that?”

    “I can’t explain it,” Lindsey said as she struggled to make sense of what she had experienced.

    “I can understand how scared you were. Probably all kinds of things were running through your mind. The two of you are very lucky, you know.

    “I know it sounds unbelievable,” Brad defended his wife. “but what she told you is real enough for me. Haven’t you ever had a gut feeling, Sheriff? Something you know, but you can’t explain?”

    “Most likely,” said the Sheriff, “you were the victims of a gang involved in numerous home invasions. I don’t understand, though, what scared them off. Are you sure it wasn’t one of them behind you, Mrs. Collins?”

    “I’m sure,” said Lindsey, still believing a guardian angel had saved them.

    Brad and Lindsey looked at one another. The intruders had taken none of their belongings yet had robbed them of their most valuable possession—peace of mind. For them, their unexplainable escape from harm was no mystery.

    Eventually, law enforcement rounded up a gang matching the description of the home invaders. Five men stood behind non-seethrough glass in a lineup while Brad and Lindsey struggled to identify the men who had terrorized them.

    “Were any of these men in your home?” asked one of the detectives.

    “I can’t be certain,” said Lindsey. Brad nodded in agreement.

    “Take your time,” said the detective.

    Lindsey carefully studied the faces of the men behind the glass.

    “I am sure, though, that two of the men were never in our home,” said Lindsey.

    “Which two?” asked the detective.

    “The second and fourth in the row.”

    “And you are 100% sure of that? What about the other three men?”

    “I can only confirm that the second and fourth men did not enter our home.”

    The disappointed detective thanked Brad and Lindsey for participating in the lineup. Then, as they left the police station a few minutes later, they were startled to see the two men they had ruled out walk past them. The two men were wearing police uniforms.

    “Looks like you were right about them,” said Brad.

    “I’m pretty sure the other three men were the ones who held us captive, but I suppose we will never know. Why us, Brad? Why us?”

    After that, every time the doorbell rang, Brad and Lindsey froze. They only opened the door if they were expecting someone or knew who was out there. Fear had made them prisoners, while their unwelcome guests remained free as birds.

    WHY I WROTE THIS STORY

    This story is based on an invasion that took place in my home many years ago. The fear of that event has never gone away. Nor has the mystery ever been resolved. There is some speculation that the intruders had intended to invade another house, not ours. We will never know. I wrote this fictional account so that I could look at the circumstances more objectively. Yet, still, when the doorbell rings unexpectantly, it all comes back to me.