I opened my apartment door, unprepared for the snapshot of death.
The muzzle of a forty-five pressed against my forehead. A metallic coldness stung without pain, ready to blow my brains out, and sent chills throughout my calves. It’s the same feeling I get when I stand too close to the edge of my balcony.
“Step back and get down on your knees.”
I dropped to the floor with my hands wrapped around the base of my head. My apartment door gently closed. The sound of steel-toe boots tip-toed passed me. Hammer clicks brought visions of bullets traveling into my skull, lead and steal piercing through the hands that protected its base. The torturous feeling of imminent death dragged on.
“I don’t have much,” I said. “My wallet’s in the kitchen. I’ve got two hundred dollars cash and a credit card. I’ll give you the pin…”
The steel-toe boots came stomping back. I looked up to see the Intruder bend down on one knee where he rested his hand, gripping the gun in the other. His eyes were hollow behind a tattered orange ski mask.
He was sweating, panting, and grinning.
“Don’t want your money, old man. I came here for something else you have.”
The Intruder tossed a pair of black zip ties onto the floor.
“Put those on,” he said. I stared passed the zip ties in disbelief. I kept thinking, no way could this be happening to me.
It has to be a joke.
Then, I heard the steel-toe boots making their way back to me. I looked up, only to be knocked down by the butt of his gun.
“Wrists and ankles, tie ‘em up,” the Intruder said as I stared into blinding darkness.
“What do you want?” I asked, touching the split on my forehead. My vision came back and I saw the legs and arms of the Intruder looming over me. His breath warmed my cheeks. His nose, concealed by the mask, hovered inches from my face.
“Wrists and ankles. Tie them.”
I did what he said. He backed away with his eyes fixated on mine. His breath grew heavy as he watched me bind my ankles, and he laughed when I used my teeth to fasten the zip tie around my wrists. His boots eroded the silence of the room as he walked away.
Moments split between living and dying are worse than life and death itself. Being alive, visualizing death and anticipating it. Knowing it’s coming while it takes it’s precious time. That’s the snapshot of death. My mind sifted through mental pages of a photo book, watching the events that lead to the muzzle’s fiery explosion.
The steel toe boots stomped toward me once again.
“Where are they?” The Intruder asked, walking passed me and peering through the door’s peephole. The gun by his side quivered in his hand.
“I don’t – where’s what?” I asked. The Intruder pointed his gun at my chest, glaring at the bullseye. He was biting his lips and tensing his neck. His hallowed eyes bulged angrily.
“The tapes, old man,” he said. “Where’d you put the tapes?”
“Police. The – the police,” I said.
“I mean, they – the police – they came here yesterday and they took them.”
“The police took them?”
“I just – I didn’t know – I -“
“Why?” he asked. I shook my head, refusing to answer. He knelt down, pressing the muzzle of the forty-five against my forehead. The metal scorched like hot iron. “Why’d they take the tapes?”
“I was scared so I called the police.”
“You were scared so you called the police,” he said, backing away with a nod. His tongue clicked against his teeth and he slapped the forty-five against his thigh. Holding my stare with penetrating eyes, he threw his orange ski mask to the ground.
“Betcha recognize me.” He looked me over in contemplation, the corner of his mouth twitching up with a throaty laugh. His finger loosened around the forty-five’s trigger.
“The man from the tapes.”
“How’d you find them?”
“There was a water stain on the floor. I pulled up the carpet in the bedroom – thought I’d find an underground room for a water heater or something. I don’t know. I just kept looking and found your tapes. I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“Did you like them?” He asked.
“Did you like what you saw on the tapes?”
“No,” I said. “I was scared.”
“Scared of what?”
“I don’t know. Scared of what I saw. Scared of you… Scared for those people you…”
“Were you afraid I’d come back?” he asked as he walked closer.
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m afraid now.”
“You should be. Gotta’ make up for my mistakes. Left behind something very valuable to me and came back here to get them.”
The snapshot of death I envisioned became blurry as I stared at the ground.
“My whole collection of tape’s gone now.” he said, tucking the forty-five into the back of his jeans. He reached into his left pocket, revealed a camera phone that beamed a red light, and began recording me.
“Now,” he said into his camera phone. “Tell me how we can fix this little mistake?”