"There is always a way, if the desire be coupled with courage."
—ROBERT E. HOWARD, CONAN THE BARBARIAN
HUDSON DIDN'T ACTUALLY hear anyone in his bedroom. But he woke sensing someone was there. He held his breath and listened. Crickets. Cicadas. The usual night sounds drifted through his open window. But something felt off.
Dim light filtered in from the hall—enough to know the door was definitely open wider than when he'd gone to bed.
Terrific. He wasn't imagining this.
How often had he dreamt of being a hero? Imagining how great it would be to fight off some sicko who'd busted into the house? But now he didn't feel so courageous.
Barely opening his eyes, he scanned the shadows of the room without lifting his head. I don't want to be a hero. I don't want to be a hero. He struggled to keep his breathing steady.
Lizzy. He had to make sure his little sister was okay. Mom, too. With Dad working late at the second job, Hudson had to step up. Had to. God help me.
He slid one arm off the side of his bed and reached for the Louisville Slugger on the floor. He'd grab it and bolt—and if
anybody got in his way he'd swing for the fence. He felt the cool maple handle. Slid his fingers around it.
A faint rustling noise. Hudson tightened his grip—and someone stepped on the bat, pinning his hand to the floor.
Jerking free, Hudson kicked off the covers. "Ahhh—"
A hand clamped over his mouth. "Easy—it's Dad. I don't want you waking everyone."
Hudson twisted away and stood—his whole body shaking. "You trying to scare me to death?"
His dad raised both hands and motioned for him to stay quiet. "So, you're awake?"
"I was going for the bat. What if I'd hit you?"
Dad laughed in a whispery sort of way. "But you didn't. Come with me."
He tapped a finger to his lips, motioned for Hudson to follow, and headed for the door. Even in the faint light he could see Dad was still wearing his Lowe's work shirt. Hudson trudged after him.
Dad tiptoed through the kitchen to the basement door. He looked back once as if to be sure Hudson was following, and then disappeared down the stairway.
Hudson stood at the top of the stairs. "Why down there?"
"I need to show you something," Dad whispered. He bypassed the light switch, and used the flashlight on his phone instead.
Okay, this was getting weirder by the second.
Hudson took the steps slow—scanning the blackness of the basement as he did. The dank smell seemed especially strong, and the dampness circled and clung to his legs. He paused at the bottom of the stairs. The chill from the concrete floor seemed to go right through him.
The flashlight swung around, blinding him for an instant. "You coming?"
"What are we doing down here?"
Without answering, Dad wove his way around stacks of boxes still waiting to be unpacked from the move. He made his way to the furnace and turned off the flashlight.
Dark as a cave. And just as creepy.
Hudson heard the ratchet of the pull string, and a single bulb flicked on.
He squinted and looked around for any clue as to what Dad felt was so important to show him at this hour. Furnace. Slop sink. Hot water heater. Nothing looked different.
Dad stepped in front of Hudson and squared his shoulders. "Hit me."
He looked dead serious.
"Keep your voice down." He patted his gut. "Right here. I want to see what you've got."
What I've got? Hudson took a step back. Okay, a lot of stuff had changed for the family—especially Dad—but he'd seemed like he was handling it alright.