A long tightly twisted straw-like string curved around the living room floor like a forgotten vacuum cleaner cord. One end of the cord dangled from the gloved hand of a man dressed entirely in black. His other hand held a silver Zippo. With a click, the lighter blazed to life and he held it under the cord.
The fuse ignited and sparked.
The man let it drop to the floor.
“Later,” he said and sprinted out of the room.
The burning progressed slowly, with a dreadful hiss. A small crawling spark, like an inchworm making its way across the floor, toward a small brick that looked like gray play dough.
The box sat motionless next to an overturned coffee table, but the family was anything but motionless. A mother, father, and daughter each had their hands and feet bound in ropes and those ropes were interlaced between all three.
Blood trickled out of the man’s nose, soaking into the tape covering his mouth.
Later? Did that guy really just say ‘Later’? The dad thought, his ears ringing from a blow he received from the mysterious man who had invaded their home. He looked at his wife.
Her face was puffy and pink. One eye was swollen closed. She was gagging under the tape.
Then he looked at his daughter. Her eyes were huge, blue and streaming with tears. Her black hair was matted, as if she had been sleeping, but she was otherwise unharmed.
He tried to understand what was happening.
Mike rotated his head, which was pressed against the carpet, and stared at the empty doorway the man had just fled through. He was praying the asshole would change his mind, retrace his footsteps, and return. Surely, he wouldn’t really leave them all here. He could wrap his mind around being robbed and beaten, but a bomb? That was something out of a movie.
They could strike a bargain with the whacko and offer him more money. A lot more. He would withdraw their entire savings, if that were what it took.
The crook even took their wedding rings!
The wiry cord shriveled another yard as it sizzled.
Helpless on the floor, they struggled and as the cord dwindle inch by precious inch. He was supposed to do something. Break free. There had to be a way out. How long now? Five minutes? Three minutes? Six seconds?? Mike wondered.
The blood rushed up and through his daughter like a mad train and her eyes fluttered back in her head. She went limp. It was probably for the better. Mike longed for the freedom to hold his baby girl in his arms.
He strained at the ropes; they angrily chewed into his flesh, but didn’t loosen.
His neck was stiff, but he angled his vision to check on his wife.
On their sides, the couple stared at the glowing ember eating the fuse. It left behind brown marks on the carpet as it went.
It was unbelievable. One of those horrid events that would most certainly have a happy conclusion. A neighbor would surely arrive any second now to borrow a cup of sugar or an egg, and save them all. It had to end that way.
They hadn’t done anything wrong.
His temples were pounding.
He wasn’t going to die today; his wife and daughter weren’t lying on the floor next to him, bound by ropes and crying. A hour ago, he had been playing bowling on the Wii with his family when something struck him on the back of the head and he crashed to the floor. The bowling pins on the TV became blurry and everything went black. He woke up staring at the empty space where his TV should have been, with his wrists and ankles wrapped with ropes.
The fuse was what, less than two feet long now? Less than the length of an average person’s arm, a little more than a few sheets of writing paper lined end on end?
Smoke puffed from the fuse, popping and crackling like a wonderfully peaceful campfire.
Snap, crackle, pop! Mike thought and felt a strong urge to laugh. That was it. It wasn’t a real bomb. It was a prank. Something to distract them while the robber fled the state, a ruse to buy time before the police were on his tail.
The fuse had left the ground and started its all too short journey up the side of the explosive clay-thing.
But what if it wasn’t? He jerked on the ropes, gyrated his hips, wiggled his back, but all he was doing was knocking his wife and daughter around.
The ropes held fast.
The fuse fizzled and vanished inside the top of the gray clay.
The hum of the air conditioner was the only sound.
He wanted to tell his wife he loved her. He flexed and stretched his jaw to break the tape, pushed at with this tongue but the tape wouldn’t come off. He settled with attempting to convey those feelings with his eyes and pretended she was telling him the same.
All that remained was a gray box. Small black circles drifted out like smoke signals.
Mike breathed in deeply and held the air in his lungs.
Mike tried to position himself so he could at least feel his wife’s face against his, but the ropes forbid the movement. His wife turned her head toward her daughter then closed her good eye.
Mike squeezed his eyes closed so tight his nose and mouth wrinkled upward.
It wasn’t real, he told himself over and over.
Nothing happened and his shoulders relaxed. He exhaled, hot breath hit the tape and warmed his mouth.
All that was left was the melting of a small cylinder coil, somewhere deep inside the container and KABOOM! That couldn’t take more than, oh, say, how long it takes a person to answer the pho-