Winded and gasping for breath, Jen mustered just enough strength to pull herself up, nails against the wall scratching downwards with enough force to fill the gap between them and her fingers with paint chips. Her head swam and her eyes wouldn’t focus, lazily swinging the stairs in front of her into a double-image.
She knew she had hurt him. Somewhere behind her she heard a heavy breath as the stranger stirred and began to attempt to stand. The rail on the balcony above lay on the ground leading to the door to the back garden, splinters scattered on the carpet. She hadn’t thought - as the man had swung at her she simply leapt at him without question. Most would probably have turned and ran, but not Jenny.
She felt a pain in her leg and looked down. A large splinter of wooden rail stuck out of it at a crazy right-angle. Then a groan sounded from the man behind her, starting her into action.
Forgetting the wood jutting out of her leg, Jen started to pull herself towards the back door. It should be unlocked, as she was heading back down to it when she caught the man with the bathroom door half-open, staring at her from under his hoodie. Splinters crunched under her trainers, her hands grasping for any assistance. The phone table wobbled under her weight.
The man would be rising now. She could hear the rustle of clothing against the door mat. A rasping intake of breath. Maybe a broken rib? Good.
Nearly there. Her head started to hurt. She looked up at the windows, dark to the outside. A stumble behind her, a curse.
The handle cold in her hand. The sound of boots on floorboard.
- thump thump thump thUMP THUMP -
A hand grabbed the back of her hair. A yell gathered in her throat, her eyes widened, a pull - a scream, maybe her own - the door handle slipping. Jenny fell backwards, the man turning away to drag her back into the house. She fumbled her hand down towards her leg and wrenched at the long splinter. Bits of wood wracked and rolled across her back as she was pulled once more to the stairway.
Pain as she wrenched the wood free. A scream as she raised it upwards and jabbed it into a soft wrist.
The hand let go. Jen rolled forwards, onto her hands and knees and scrabbled back towards the door. She turned briefly, seeing the black shape twist itself around, pulling at the ragged triangular shape jutting out just under its hand. The back door was close, but she rolled herself sideways and onto the freezing red clay tiles of the kitchen. Her vision was back but it was dark. No streetlights out here, she thought, wondering if whether the house was closer to town help would have arrived by now.
Her mobile was in her bag. Other than the main phone, there was no way to contact anyone. And the man was in the hallway. It was just her and him. She had just rounded the cupboards behind the dining table when the man came into the room.
He turned on the light. Her eyes hurt briefly as they flickered on, but the pain in her leg was much greater. She heard him enter the room, only a couple of steps. He was now hesitant. She could hear his breath, as no doubt he could hear hers. He was also wounded and more reticent, no doubt because she had entered the kitchen and probably had a weapon to hand.
She wish she had thought of that.
He coughed and took another step. Then another. Jen looked about, searching for something she could throw.
She backed up against the living room door on her hands and knees and prepared herself. Only thing to do was to go for him again - he wouldn’t be expecting that. She grimaced in pain as her calf tensed.
The man rounded the corner, his eyes fixed on the thin trail of dust and splinters leading around it. His hood was off now. Young, heavy-set white guy, thick stubble, small blue eyes and lank hair. His furrowed brow uncreased as he looked up just as she pushed off against the door. Jen was late to notice the kitchen knife he held in his hand.
She hit him hard. He was unable to raise it as she pushed him back and pinned him awkwardly and briefly across his back against a work surface. He let out a sharp cry of surprise as she then swiftly brought her knee upwards into his genitals and pulled away, turning back into the kitchen and letting him fall to his knees, the knife clattering onto the tiles. She turned and quickly ran across to the hallway, clutching at anything she could find to support her weak leg. Then she rounded the corner to the back door, just as the front one opened.
Another mans voice, older this time. She quickly raised her arm to pull her balaclava down as a light was turned on.
“Who are you? Geoff?”
“Dad!”, came a cry from the kitchen.
Jen grabbed her bag with her other hand, reached in and pulled out her handgun. The older man flinched and stumbled back as she squeezed off a round, the wooden door frame shattering into pieces in his face. A woman behind him screamed as he fell backwards. Jenny fumbled with the door and wrenched it open, a final glance back at a shocked wife’s face. The son gave another cry from the kitchen. She hauled at the heavy bag, a prize well earned, lugged it over one shoulder and fled into the cold night air.