Amber unlocked the front door of her home, then used her suitcase to push it open. She prepared her arms to hug her children, thinking they would wait for her near the door.
“Honey, I’m home,” she said, closing the door behind her. She heard the dripping of the water from the roof gutter even after closing the door.
After four weeks on a business trip, she was ready to wrap her children around her arms, but no one awaited by the door. She glanced around the living room—the couches and tables—all organized and cleaned. She raised an eyebrow as she inspected the living room, knowing it was the last thing her husband would do—organize the house. Amber closed the front door absentmindedly. She pushed the suitcase towards the television table, while her eyes continued inspecting the living room.
She had to present for her work, then the company management invited her for an extra week of celebration. Her company gladly paid for her flight change, as it was their fault for the late notice. She called her husband a week before and told him about the change of itinerary.
She sniffed at the unusual, potent smell in the room while closing her eyes. As she stepped away from the front door, she recognized it—lavender and orange. Amber opened her eyes and tied her hair in a bun using a scrunchy around her wrist. She walked towards their large kitchen.
“Hello?” she called, her voice uneasy. Her blue eyes gravitated towards the untouched family picture of her husband and her children between the kitchen and the living room. She reached the stairs with her eyes open. Her eyes then gravitated to the top of the stairs—listening with her eyes and ears to any noise from inside her house. Their neighborhood was quiet throughout the day—sometimes too quiet. Sometimes she could hear a full conversation from outside her bedroom as she tried to sleep.
“Hello?” she called again, but much softer than before, as if not wanting to call out. Before going up the stairs, she peeked inside the kitchen, making sure no one was there and the back door was not open—sometimes her husband took their children out to play in the playground he built for them.
Maybe they’re doing a surprise for me. Maybe this is all a surprise. Amber thought to herself, forcing her mind to believe it. Why is Matt’s car still in the front garage? If he wasn’t at home, he would’ve taken it. Negative thoughts spread through her mind like Covid-19 spreading through the world.
Once she made her way to the top, she tilted her head to the left—checking her children’s rooms. Both rooms were clean and nothing seemed missing. She turned to the right and tiptoed to the master bedroom. As she expected, the room was empty of anyone except their goldfish that swam in the tank. Their room was spotless, like the rest of their house—their bed made, everything neatly organized. Nothing seemed missing from first glance. She entered the room and surveyed around—for anything that would tell her where her husband and children were.
We will be at home when you land. She recalled her husband’s cheerful words. She rested on the end of their luxurious bed and recollected the entire conversation. “Hi Matt,” she said to her husband through the phone. “I want to let you know I will add another week to Hawaii. Our company held a last-minute celebration for the presentation we had. I will be back next week, along with my co-workers.” After five minutes, nothing stuck out to Amber. The conversation they had was like any other.
Her eyes roamed to their personal bathroom. She washed her face over their spotless sink, contemplating if she was dreaming. Am I dreaming of this on the plane? Am I really back home? She shook her head. I’m not dreaming. This is real life. She stared at her reflection in the mirror.
She dried her face using a clean towel and went down to the living room. “If they left somewhere, they must have left a note or at least taken the car,” she said. “Both cars are outside the garage. I should check inside the garage.” She went to the garage entrance from the kitchen—it was the closest.
Amber unlocked the door but required more force than necessary to push the door open. She paused for a moment, surprised to why the door required more force. Some boxes blocked the door. After opening about four inches, she pushed as hard as she could with both of her hands, creating an enough gap for her to walk through. A rake fell to the ground along with a few more outdoor items. Amber instinctively flipped the switch for the light while continuing to look inside the garage. A small tornado ran through their garage and missed the rest of their home. All the garage items loitered the garage floor, even the ones that were stored on shelves.
“What happened here?” Amber said to herself. She pushed screw drivers and other items so she could make her way around the garage. At the far end of the garage, a red stain caught Amber’s eyes. It looked like a half-bucket of paint spilled over the garage car entrance. Before approaching the stain, her eyes lowered to the ground but couldn’t find any paint bucket. She wiped some of the red stain on ends of her fingers.
She sniffed while her pupils raised to the top left of her eyes. After a minute, she figured out the smell was not paint but blood. From the thickness of it, the blood was not fresh—at least a few hours old.
After the dots connected in Amber’s mind, she collapsed. Why is there blood? Who’s blood is this? Where is my family? Amber thought before a thick fog invaded her mind. After a minute or two of staring blankly at the blood, she finally got up, just barely. She used all her power she could muster to stand up and wobbled towards the kitchen door. She used the wall and whatever she could hold to reach the refrigerator.
She poured herself a glass of water and wobbled to the nearest chair of the kitchen table. As she took the first sip of water, tears flooded down her chubby cheeks and some mixed with the water inside the glass cup.
Her head felt like an active volcano about to erupt. The glass water helped cool things down, but there wasn’t enough to put a stop to the soon-to-erupt volcano. She placed the empty glass on the table before looking up at the refrigerator, contemplating whether she wanted to get up to refill the glass of water. Then she noticed a note she hadn’t seen the first time she filled her glass with water. It seemed like a regular sized paper folded in three and taped to the refrigerator.
She squinted her eyes at the note. The fog inside her mind was clearing after taking a few deep breaths. She forced herself to get up—her muscles felt like they needed the strength instead of them providing the strength to her body.
Amber wobbled to the refrigerator and tore the taped note off after missing it for the first time. She went back to her seat and placed it on the table, then waited a few minutes until the fog inside her mind dissipated. The note read:
We have your husband & children. They are alive, but not for long. You have 72 hrs to bring ten million dollars. Don’t come to work.