by T.w. Moran

Mr. McKendrick commenced with a hacksaw, notching deep branches into the studs and load-bearing beams before refastening the faux-wood panels with sparse pinhead nails to maintain the illusion of integrity. He had already scraped the caulking from the plate-glass windows, removed the panes, and reglazed each light with pebbles in the sills.

The wiring proved easier than he had imagined. Piggybacking on Mrs. Nelson’s Wi-Fi, Mr. McKendrick researched how to reverse-engineer everything, then managed as best he could. For a week, he had been powering a new kettle and an antiquated hotplate off an extension cord covertly run to an unused outlet behind the widow’s HVAC unit.

Having neither wife nor children helped assuage his anger; after all, you couldn’t miss what you never had. However, his house—fifteen years repairing septic systems before he could afford it, another fifteen until he had paid off the mortgage—was the only jewel he had ever owned, and it shone. Somehow cat burglars had come through a back door they called “eminent domain” and filched it without picking his locks.

Near dusk, as he loosened the banister screws, he conceded that being fair had always meant more to him than being good. Nevertheless, he had mended Mrs. Nelson’s fence, affixed her shelves, and fed her dog. He had given spare change to boozy beggars, bought candy bars from neighborhood kids outfitting their baseball teams, even scanned the Bible on occasion. He had never cheated on his taxes nor spoken ill of the dead. Maybe he had no friends to speak of, but no man could call him a foe.

Just before midnight, he ventured by flashlight into the basement and reengaged the main breaker. Afterward, a half-drunk bottle of bourbon in hand, Mr. McKendrick reclined in his favorite armchair—the sole component left unimpaired—and bathed in the ambient glow of a waxing moon.

The next morning, when a sheriff’s deputy arrived to enforce the eviction, he found Mr. McKendrick in that chair, a viscid revolver at his feet. The discharge had been detected, but Mrs. Nelson never could have guessed she had been reporting her neighbor’s demise.

The entire banister crumbled into kindling the moment the deputy leaned on the newel. Gun drawn, the officer ascended the stairs to clear the residence. When he flicked the light switch, sparks slithered through the recesses like rattlesnakes.

T.w. Moran: (@tdubwrites) hails from Humboldt, Illinois. Many moons ago, he studied creative writing at Lake Forest College and eventually earned an MA in English from Western Illinois University. After a pandemic-shortened but decorated tenure as a writing director at Beijing Language and Culture University, Moran now resides with his wife in Riga (Latvia). His writing has featured in The World of Chinese magazine, and he has new fiction slated to appear in The Dillydoun Review. His first novel in the works, Moran spends his days trying to make the best of perpetual lockdown by putting pen to paper.

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