2020-2021, Short Story

What Could Go Wrong…

By Isaiah Steinberg, ’23

It was a brisk October morning when it all went south. It was just 5 o’clock when Jake woke with a start. Did he hear a noise? No, must be my imagination, he thought. No matter. It was a Friday that day, and Jake was excited to get the day over with, in anticipation of a sleepover with his friends that night. Assured, he fell back into slumber. A deep, deep slumber.

See, Jake was supposed to be up at 6 o’clock to get ready for school. He was riding a new bus after starting the 9th grade just a month before. This is when the first thing went wrong. His phone did not charge overnight. As 6:00 came and went without an alarm, Jake remained asleep. It was 6:20 when Jake heard the strange noise again. Was it shifting leaves? Must be a garden snake, he reasoned. After all, they were quite common in his area, he reasoned. No need to be alarmed.

Then Jake saw the clock and jumped to his feet. How would he make the 7 A.M. bus now? He hadn’t showered, eaten, or prepared his school supplies in his backpack. He quickly got dressed and took a quick shower. As he exited the bathroom, he saw his mom and older sister leaving their rooms for breakfast. His sister would be driven to school that day, as she needed to work on a project before school hours. They all enjoyed cereal together, making sure to be hasty so as not to be late.

At 6:45, his mom and sister left, but not before hugging Jake goodbye. That left Jake to pack his things and walk to the bus stop. Oh well, he thought. At least I don’t have to work on a stupid project. Boy, was he wrong. At 6:50, he heard the mysterious sound once more. There was a knock at the door startling Jake. Do mailmen even come this early in the morning?

He went to the door, expecting to see the local door-to-door advertisers. Who will it be this time? City judge, county sheriff, the old guy who tries to market his furniture store around the neighborhood? He opened the door. This was his first mistake. He saw a middle-aged man, no older than 45, staring back at him.

“Hey, I’m a water inspector with the Green County Water Department. I’m scheduled to check your water pipes today. May I come in?” Jake frowned, puzzled. His mom hadn’t told him about this inspection. She always told him if someone would come to the house while he was home alone. Plus, why did he hear the same noise this man made several hours earlier? Perhaps the man showed up unannounced after finding that his house’s water system was in need of maintenance after a few years. That was Jake’s second mistake.

“Umm… sure,” Jake said. “I’m about to leave for school.” The man’s lips curled up. Did he just smile? Jake thought.

“Is anyone else home?” the man asked.

“Not right now,” said Jake. Truthfully, nobody would be home for hours. His mom was working all day, and his dad was away on a business trip. He, of course, would be at school.

“Okay, I’ll get right to work,” said the man. “I’ll check the bathrooms first.”

“Thanks,” said Jake. “I’ll get going.”

Then, Jake made his third mistake. He was suspicious of the man now, and instead of contacting his family or perhaps even the police, Jake decided to stay and conduct his own surveillance. He was in 9th grade now, and he was a man! He could do this on his own, he thought. He took his backpack and went out the front door, but instead of going down the street to the bus stop, Jake looped around to the back of his house. He hid his backpack in a bush, and snuck towards the back door.

Jake cracked open the door. It creaked as it opened on its old hinges. No, thought Jake. He’s gonna hear this old door! Luckily, the man had gone upstairs. Jake crept into the living room and towards the stairs. He could hear the shuffling of the feet on… carpet? What was the man doing? The bathrooms weren’t carpeted. Jake tested his weight on the stairs. Luckily, they didn’t creak. He continued up the stairs, as slowly as he could.

He reached the top. The sound seemed to be coming from the right. Just as Jake began to turn to the right, a hand shot out, grabbing Jake violently by the shoulder.

“What do we have here?” said the man. “You’re a brave little weasel, aren’t you?” Jake froze, shocked. I knew it! I knew you were a burglar, you big fat idiot! But as hard as Jake tried to form words, nothing came out. He had never been in this situation before. What should he do? What can he do? Finally, Jake found the strength to speak.

“Sorry, s-s-sir. I forgot a notebook in my room. I was just leaving,” Jake stammered. Jake looked at the man, hoping his excuse would be enough to save him.

The man’s gaze hardened. “I know exactly what you were doing, and you’re gonna pay for it!” he said.

Jake could hardly breathe. The man reached for his pocket. So this is how I’m going to die, Jake thought.

“Please don’t!” he yelled. Jake had witnessed this scene play out in movies, and he knew how they ended. Bad guys can’t leave any witnesses, he thought. The man had made up his mind. Just as the man pulled out a small, sharp knife, Jake was struck. Not with the knife, but with an idea. His family had just gotten a puppy weeks earlier! Cooper was in a doghouse out back, sleeping. Better yet, Cooper was a German Shepherd.

“Wait! My family has a safe of jewelry buried in the backyard! It’s expensive, and there are diamond wedding rings from my great grandparents in there! If I show it to you, will you let me live?” The man seemed to ponder this for a few seconds.

“We’ll see,” he said ominously. He pushed Jake towards the stairs, holding the knife a few inches from his back. They walked down the stairs and out the back door. Jake pounded his feet on the ground in hopes of waking Cooper up.

“Who are you, a soldier?” said the man. “Walk normally or I’ll make you!”

“I’d like to see you try,” said Jake, trying to provoke the man.

“What was that, you little disrespectful piece of crap?” shouted the man. “I’ll kill you!”

At the sound of the ruckus, as if on cue, Cooper bounded out of the doghouse just as the main raised his knife. “Cooper, get him!” yelled Jake.

Cooper leapt at the man, tackling him with one jump at his head. The man grunted in pain as Cooper trampled him and bit him over and over. “I quit, I quit, I quit!,” he shouted over and over.

Just then, Jake’s neighbor, Mr. Huff, his best friend’s dad, heard the shouting and peered over the fence. His eyes widened in surprise. “Jake, are you okay? What happened here?”

Jake told him exactly what had happened. Mr. Huff immediately called the police, who arrived to see Cooper sitting on the burglar’s chest.

“You have no proof! Let me see my lawyer! You have no right to arrest me! I’ll sue the police department into the ground! I have powerful friends!” As the man tried every excuse in the book, Mr. Huff called Jake’s mom, who came home right away. She arrived as the police sped away with the burglar in the back seat. Jake smiled for the first time that day.

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