“It’s just not the same,” Kyle said. “I’m used to beef.” He finished off the leftover spaghetti from the night before, turkey meatballs with the sauce this time. Kyle’s mother was recently making attempts at eating healthier.

“Your father says the same thing. Don’t worry, we’ll get used to it,” she said.

Chatting with his parents, Sharon and Tim, Kyle sat at the kitchen table at the back of the house. Although he lived a mere thirty minutes away, he tried to make it back when he could to visit. It’s something he’s done ever since he moved out.

Jeremy, Kyle’s younger, twenty-year-old brother did not accompany them this afternoon. He came home last night feeling under the weather and was sleeping it off in his bedroom upstairs.

“Speaking of food,” Tim said. “Mario should be coming around soon.”

“Mario?” Kyle asked.

 “Yeah, he used to work with me at the plant three years ago before it shut down and everyone was laid off,” Kyle’s father answered. “He’s really fallen on hard times. His house was foreclosed on afterward and has been staying at the homeless shelter not too far from here. He’s a good guy, comes around occasionally to talk for a spell and we give him a bite to eat.”

“He’s been stopping by this time on Saturdays,” Sharon added. “But your dad and I have to get moving. The bank closes early today. We have grocery shopping to do too. Think you can stay here and wait for Mario, Kyle? Give him something to eat?”

“Um… okay. I don’t have a problem with that,” Kyle said reluctantly. He didn’t feel like hanging around to make small talk and feed some stranger. But because his mother asked, he agreed. Shortly after, Kyle’s parents left their home on an afternoon of errand running.

Kyle sat in the living room on the sofa watching an old rerun of I Dream of Jeannie on the retro channel. He always had a thing for Barbara Eden, but then who didn’t? Not twenty minutes later there came a knock at the back door. Kyle walked through the dinging room into the kitchen, lifted the back door shade and peeked out. Standing there was an emaciated looking, unkempt man wearing a dingy grey jacket; it was ninety degrees outside. A mop of disheveled black hair adorned his scalp, and his face was an ashy color, gaunt with sunken cheeks.

“Hi, I’m Mario. Is Tim here?” said the man boldly, so Kyle could hear him through the closed door. Kyle opened it.

“You just missed him,” Kyle replied.

“Sorry I came to your back door. I was just walking down the alley and figured I’d take a short cut through your back yard.”

It bothered Kyle that this man came onto his parent’s property so freely but kept it to himself. Mario looked not only sickly, but shady.

“My dad isn’t here. He should be back in a little while. I’ll tell him you came by,” Kyle said, attempting to shut the door.

“You think you could spare a bite to eat?” Mario said quickly, before the door closed shut. “Your parents usually give a little something. I haven’t eaten all day.”

Mario certainly looked hungry. Feeling guilty and with the knowledge that his mother asked him to feed Mario, Kyle let him into the kitchen. The door was left open, and Mario stood next to it, knowing not to go too far into the house with Tim not around. And Kyle would let him in no further regardless. Kyle opened the fridge to see what was available: lunch meat, slices of Colby cheese, a half empty jar of mayonnaise and a bottle of mustard. A loaf of wheat bread sat on the kitchen table.

“I could make you a sandwich,” stated Kyle. “How about that?”

“That would be great. I’d take anything right now. I much appreciate it.”

Mario leaned against the kitchen wall next to the open back door, hands in the pockets of his dirty jacket. It was common for mendicants to wear unseasonal clothing, Kyle thought. He made the sandwich quickly not bothering to watch his hands, surely Mario wouldn’t mind. And he kept a peripheral eye on Mario as he placed slices of bologna on the bread.

As Kyle squirted mustard from the yellow squeeze bottle on to lunchmeat, Mario let go a loud, dry cough covering his mouth with the crook of his arm. “Sorry, been feeling sick since last night,” Mario asserted in a rough, throaty, voice. Kyle turned his head toward the man in acknowledgement but said nothing. He noticed a small wound near Mario’s collar bone, coagulated blood was plainly visible.

“You have some kind of cut or bite mark there, you alright?”

“I got into a scuffle with some crazy joker last night in an alley off Central and Vernor, attacked me for no reason, the prick. It’s just a scratch.”

Kyle went back to his task and the kitchen fell uncomfortably silent for a moment. Breaking the stillness, Mario clutched his stomach, hunched over slightly, and let out a small groan.

“You okay?” Kyle asked.

“Yeah, sure, a slight stomachache is all,” Mario answered, hiding the pain. “It’s because I’m hungry I suppose.”

Mario’s eye lids slowly began to droop.

“You don’t look too good buddy. Want me to call an ambulance?” Kyle asked.

“No, I’ll be fine, just need food is all,” Mario said, opening his eyes wide and straitening his back up against the wall. “I’m fine.”

Kyle finished the sandwich, reached into the fridge, took out a can of Pepsi and handed the food and drink to Mario.

“Here you go; something to wash it down with.”

Kyle moved forward, grasping the door handle as if to close it, ushering Mario out onto the back porch.

“Thanks man… thanks a lot,” Mario said gratefully.

Kyle closed the door but kept on eye on Mario through the window. He felt bad for the guy but hoped he would find his way through the back yard and out into the alley. Something about Mario gave Kyle the creeps.

However, Mario chose not to leave as Kyle had hoped. Instead, he sat down on the back porch atop the steps. There he opened his cold can of Pepsi and gnawed on the bologna sandwich. It kind of annoyed Kyle that Mario wouldn’t leave his parent’s backyard but figured he would as soon as he finished eating.

Before half of the sandwich had been devoured, Mario paused, staring at the ground with glassy eyes. Food mixed with saliva fell from his mouth and onto the grubby jeans of his lap. He didn’t move for a few seconds then released an aching bellow. Grasping his belly, Mario hunched over in pain, dropping the sandwich and soda on the steps.

Kyle rushed out on to the porch to aid the suffering man.

“Hey dude, are you alright?”

Mario turned to look at Kyle then fell over backward on the porch. Mario’s breathing sped up rapidly as he stared off into the cloudless sky. Just as soon as the heavy breathing started, it stopped. Kyle touched Mario’s neck and felt no pulse. Mario lay there dead on his parent’s back porch.

“Oh, God!”

Kyle ran into the house and grabbed his cell phone that was left on the kitchen counter table to call an ambulance.  He sped back to the back porch and was about to dial 911. To Kyle’s shock Mario no longer lay there but was sitting upright as he did moments before. Kyle squat down next to Mario’s side.

“Mario, you okay?”

Slowly, Mario turned his head, glaring at Kyle. Dark circles surrounded wide, unblinking eyes. Like an animal, Mario’s upper lip curled and bearing yellowed teeth, he gave a low snarl.

Mouth open wide, ready to bite, and with the energy of a sprint runner Mario rose from the sitting position and lunged toward Kyle’s throat. Kyle jumped backward avoiding the attack and fell on his buttocks on the back porch. Mario stood up, turned around to attack. The adrenaline in Kyle’s body caused him to jump up to his feet. Kyle was backed against the railing of the porch as Mario advanced, white foam dripping from his mouth.

The back porch was built right next to the chain linked fence that separated Tim and Sharon’s backyard from Jim’s backyard, the next-door neighbor. Kyle quickly turned and leaped over both the back porch railing and the fence. He landed easily on the Jim’s grass then ran up the path between the two houses toward Jim’s front yard. Halfway up, Kyle peeked back at Mario. Although clumsy, Mario leaped over into Jim’s side of the fence. Releasing guttural noises, Mario hastily followed suit keeping his wide eyes focused on Kyle.

Kyle entered Jim’s front yard and quickly spied the neighborhood for help, no one was present. The houses aligned on both sides of the street were silent. No cars traveled along Curtis Drive, no pedestrians walked up the side walk. It was a typical, boring Saturday afternoon in this small suburb. The neighborhood’s emptiness did not deter Kyle to call for help. No one heard him.

Swiftly, Kyle leaped over the fence that separated the two front yards and back onto his parent’s property. Screaming, Mario chased after him. Kyle remembered the front door to his parent’s house was locked. “The keys!” he shouted.  He ran for the front porch fumbling through his pant’s pocket to find them.

Mario stopped at the fence that Kyle just leapt over and gripped the top edge of it with both hands, letting out gurgling noises. He couldn’t get over the fence. To solve the problem, Mario simply ran out of Jim’s yard through the front gate and directly over to Kyle’s parent’s yard. This gave Kyle a bit of time.

Kyle stopped on the porch of his parent’s house, in front of the locked front door which had a plane of large glass in its center. Cell phone in one hand, he pulled out his keys from his pocket and fidgeted with them to find the right one. Mario entered Kyle’s parent’s yard through the front gate and ran up the walkway to the front porch.

Kyle found the right key, opened the door, and stepped into the foyer, slamming the door behind him as Mario pounded on the thick glass, screaming incoherent sounds. Kyle locked the door as Mario watched at him through the window, pounding harder. The back door is still open, Kyle remembered. He quickly ran through the house into the kitchen and secured the back door.

Kyle needed a weapon; he had to fight off Mario if he got in. Dad has a gun, he thought. Calling his mother on his cell, Kyle ran back into the living room. Mario pounded harder; it was just glass. If Mario found a brick or a rock, he could easily shatter it.

“Hello?” Kyle’s mother answered.

“Mom! Where does Dad keep the gun?”

“What? Why? Why do you need a gun?”

“Mom, it’s an emergency, tell me where the gun is!”

Mario picked up a chair from the porch and struck the glass panel of the door. It fractured a bit with a loud crack.

“Mom! Where’s the gun? Tell me!”

“It’s in the…”

Mario pounded relentlessly on the glass of the front door with the backend of the chair.

“What’s that noise?” Sharon asked.

“It’s Mario! He attacked me and is trying to break into the house! You have to tell me where the gun is!”

“It’s in the bedroom dresser! Bottom drawer on the right!”

“Call the cops, mom!” Kyle said before hanging up then jolted into the dining room and through a door into the only bedroom on the first floor. He pulled open the correct drawer and searched through a pile of white socks. And just like his mother said, a loaded .38 revolver sat at the bottom like an unearthed buried treasure.

The sound of loud shattering glass crashed throughout the house. Mario finally broke through the front door. Kyle would not let himself stay cornered in his parent’s bedroom. Gun in hand, he quickly ran out through the dining room and into the living room. Mario was absent from the scene.

Kyle moved forward, closer to the foyer. He could see the large broken window of the front door, jagged shards scattered on the floor, but no Mario. Perhaps he saw someone walking by and went after him instead?

As Kyle took a step closer and Mario came running into the living room from the foyer, mouth ajar, foam dripping from it. Mario lunged toward his prey as Kyle fired two shots into his torso. The slugs caused Mario to pause but it did not stop him. He continued forward and Kyle fired one more with no effect. With both hands, Mario grasped Kyle’s neck and attempted to take a large chunk out of Kyle’s throat with his teeth.

Kyle put the nose of the gun into the forest of Mario’s thick black hair and pressed it against his skull. Mario, oblivious to the pistol, grunted like a mad man. With remorse, Kyle fired. This time Mario silently fell to the floor.

Distraught, Kyle fell back onto the couch still clutching the gun handle. He just shot a man in the head. Could what he did really be called self-defense? Is a bullet to the brain a proportionate justification against a weaponless man? There would be some serious explaining to do in front of a jury. Police sirens whaled in the distance outside and grew louder by the second. The authorities would soon see what Kyle had done.

The sounds of creaking footsteps came from upstairs. Kyle looked up the stairwell and his brother, Jeremy, stood at the top with a wound covered in coagulated blood on his left arm. His skin was pale, and he looked down at Kyle. Dark circles surrounded wide, unblinking eyes. Like an animal, Jeremy’s upper lip curled and bearing teeth, he gave a low snarl.


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