The Early Bird
Christina C. Franklin | Mike S. Young
Claire looked at her alarm clock; 3:20 a.m. announced the glowing green numbers, only 15 minutes since the last time she anxiously glanced at it.
“I must calm down.” She proclaimed to Spartacus. The tabby looked up at her only briefly before resuming his cleaning ritual.
She was mad at herself. She knew just the year before she would never have been this skittish. _Well, okay maybe just a little, _thought the worry-prone thirty-something who’s stressed induced acne was worse than that of a prepubescent teenager.
It was only after old Mrs. Britley next door was attacked that Claire started looking over her shoulders. Silent Valley was always a safe town. Nothing more than an occasionally moose ever trespassed there. But nine months ago that all changed when a slew of home invasions left the residents of the town shaken, bruised and hyper-vigilant. A neighborhood watch had quickly formed, an action meant to sooth the fears of all involved, even though the perpetrator had already been caught and placed in jail. A slap on the wrist as Claire remembered it. She had reflected that big city jurors must have more tolerance for such crimes then those in her sleepy town. Nine months was all that the burglar received after terrorizing Silent Valley and battering an old helpless woman. And as a result, whenever she heard a noise, Claire threw on all of the lamps, lighting her house like an airline runway, and tonight had been no different.
The cat had jumped off of her bed when he heard the noise too. After grabbing the Maglight her father had given her last Christmas, Claire thoroughly canvassed the front, back and side yards from the safety of her doors and windows, making note that her floodlights had failed to turn on. Spartacus had followed her from room to room, hoping that the kitchen was part of her mission.
After Claire saw the overturned trashcans, she had been convinced that the noise must have been nothing more than a curious raccoon, so she abandoned her post. But she was still rattled, especially after hearing the local news tonight. According to the somber looking blond and doe eyed newscaster, as of yesterday, The Silent Valley Burglar was now “free as a bird”.
Claire tried to erase these thoughts from her mind as she attempted to settle back into bed struggling to forget the noises she had heard just minutes earlier … .
Lenny had checked his wristwatch. 3:00 a.m. Perfect, _he thought. _Both the night owls and the early birds should be fast asleep. Lenny breathed in the fresh dampened scent of freedom and then laughed to himself at his previous choice of words. He hated birds. Being called a jailbird only infuriated him even more. That’s how they referred to him in the slammer. He swore the warden must have personally trained all of the guards how to say that word with such effect that it evoked a vision of fingernails running down a chalkboard. It made his skin crawl each time they sang out both perfectly enunciated syllables.
Lenny knew Claire Owens was the one who reported the old woman’s attack. The damned old lady screamed so loudly it startled him and made him panic. He had no choice but to quickly shut her up with a swift blow to the face from a nearby candlestick. Then he went and ran like a sissy out the front door and around the side of her house. Claire’s stupid floodlights shinned right into his face giving her the opportunity to see his startled expression. He bolted down the street and tripped on his carelessly tied laces falling straight into the line of a passing cruiser.
He knew Claire was the one who identified him in the lineup. But now, now he must repay her.
He rose from his quiet crouch from behind the screen of Burning Bushes. As he approached the back of her house, he smiled to himself remembering this morning’s news headline: “The Silent Valley Burglar Freed!” He was notorious! He couldn’t help but want to rub that in the face of those guards.
Lenny cursed himself now as he tripped on a fallen log and crashed headfirst into Claire’s trashcans. As he quickly regained his composure and scrambled to his feet, every light in the house illuminated the small single story rancher. Lenny couldn’t believe his reoccurring misfortune. He thought enough in advance to disable her floodlights when she took old woman Britley into town this afternoon, but now it appeared as though she turned on half of the lights of New York City as a wave of yellow brightness poured out of the house and onto the dew laden green lawn.
Lenny ducked low behind the shrubs lining the carport, waited a few minutes, and then swiftly attempted to make his exit. He was not going to let Claire get the best of him again. He ducked again behind the Burning Bushes, and when the coast was clear quickly made tracks down the empty street. Three doors down, he slowed his breathing and his pace slumping his shoulders forward and hanging his head low trying not to be noticed by any insomniac that happened to be up at this time of night.
As soon as he heard the car approach behind him, Lenny closed his eyes and clenched his teeth. When he reopened them, Lenny saw his illuminated shadow displayed on the side of the dilapidated barn, outlined by the bright red and blue lights. He quickly searched his brain for an acceptable excuse for his walk at this time of night.
Claire reached over to scratch Spartacus under the chin. He purred his consent and rolled on his back as the glow of colorful lights flashed in the distance. Claire spread the window blinds and peeked out. Harvey, the newbie on patrol tonight, was talking to an inconspicuous man whose head was hung low.
“What now?” She queried the cat, shaking her head in dismay. She had quite enough excitement for the night.
“Probably just a drunk.” She surmised. With the economy in the tank, alcohol sales were the only thing thriving. Good for the local Stop and Shop, but bad for the general morale.
“Yeah, that must be it.” She thought as she saw Harvey frisking him.
Scooting back under the covers, Claire resumed her cat scratching. “I’ll get Mrs. Britley’s grandson to help me check those floodlights.” She said recalling their dysfunction. Spartacus yawned in latent response.
She sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. Time to go to sleep.”
Claire took one last look at the clock. 3:33 it read. The only one up now would be an early bird trying to catch a worm.