Grandma and Grandpa always went to bed with the chickens. Their little house didn’t have electricity, so on hot summer evenings they lay on top of the covers in their respective beds, hoping a stray breeze would meander in from the screen door at their feet.
On one such evening many years ago they were lying there just after sunset when a warning came across the old Bakelite radio: “At 5:45 this evening a dangerous convict escaped from Kentucky State Penitentiary. Citizens are advised to say indoors. This escapee should be considered armed and dangerous. If you have any knowledge as to his whereabouts, please call your local police.”
Now, to Grandma “dangerous convict” meant “rapist” and to Grandpa it meant “murderer.” And since Grandma and Grandpa lived right up the hollow from the maximum security prison, the news of an escapee always rattled them. The convicts couldn’t very well swim across Lake Barkley in front of the prison, so they generally headed up the hill in back of it. That direction was wooded and hilly, making pursuit difficult. Grandma and Grandpa lived at the top of those hills behind the prison. Many times over the years she had discovered pants and shirts missing from the clothesline, and thanked the Lord that the escapee had taken it and gone on his way.
Upon hearing the radio warning Grandma, a fierce Christian warrior, began to pray. Grandpa–it was generally agreed–was probably the biggest “fraidy-cat” in the county. (Think of Don Knotts as Barney Fife and you pretty much get the idea.) He sat bug-eyed listening to the warning. He told Grandma to recheck the lock on the screen door.
Convict or no convict, it was so hot they weren’t about to close the big wooden door, lest they suffocate in their feather beds. Perhaps years of living near the prison had lulled them into a false sense of security.
Grandma put the little “s” hook on the screen door and blew out the kerosene lantern. Before long they were both asleep, snoring loudly. Grandma’s deep, chesty snore was answered across the room by Grandpa’s more nasal whine. They were like two bull frogs calling to one another across a pond. With overcast skies and no moon it was inky dark in the house. Hours passed uneventfully; the only sound was snoring.
Not long past midnight Grandpa awakened to the sound of the screen door rattling. There was no breeze, so something was shaking it. He lay frozen until it suddenly rattled again.
Grandpa called out, “Who’s there?”
No answer, but the door stopped rattling.
Grandma awoke and said, “What is it, Calvin?”
“I heard someone at the door,” Grandpa whispered back.
They lay breathless for a minute, and Grandpa quietly reached under the bed for his shotgun. He didn’t take his eyes off the general area of the screen door, though it was so dark he couldn’t see who was standing on the other side of it.
“I have a gun!” Grandpa hollered.
Still no answer.
Then the door rattled again, louder than ever. The little “s” hook jangled in its eye, threatening to unlock itself.
Grandpa sat up in the bed and raised his shotgun. “I said I’ve got a gun and I’m gonna shoot!”
Again, the door stopped rattling but no one answered.
“Maybe he doesn’t understand English,” offered Grandma.
“By God, Ester, he’s gonna understand this shotgun,” said Grandpa. Despite his bravado, his voice quivered.
They waited. For a full minute there was no sound at all. Sweat broke out on Grandpa’s face–his hands were wet on the gun. Grandma clutched her big Bible and murmured a prayer.
Suddenly the door shook louder than ever, and Grandpa fired.
“Boom!” One very loud blast cut through the middle of the screen. At the same time a horrible high-pitched scream came from the door. Grandma, ears ringing, fumbled for a match to light the kerosene lamp. She adjusted the lamp and eased out of bed into her slippers. Grandpa sat breathing heavily, still clutching the shotgun to his chest.
Grandma fumbled her way to the door and raised the lantern up high. All she could see was a big hole smack dab in the middle of the screen door. She unlocked it and swung the screen out into the night, looking left and right.
At first she didn’t see anything; then she looked down and gave a little yelp. Lying in the gravel, blown nearly in two, was her favorite cat. “Blackie,” so fond of finding his way into the house to nestle with Grandma in her big feather bed, had apparently climbed the screen in an attempt to get back in. He had gone courtin’ a week ago. Now his nights of romancing were over.
“You killed Blackie,” said Grandma.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” said Grandpa. His head dropped to his chest and he relaxed his grip on the shotgun. Grandpa was just as fond of the cats as Grandma was.
“I know you didn’t mean to,” said Grandma. “What time is it?”
Grandpa fished for his pocket watch in the britches hanging from the bed post. “It’s just past midnight.”
“Well,” said Grandma, “Whoever that prisoner was, he’s long gone by now. We’ll just leave the screen door like it is, hole and all.”
Grandpa poked his shotgun back under the bed and lay back with a sigh. It was a while before he and Grandma recovered from their midnight commotion. But after a time weariness took over and they drifted off.
Soon the frogs were calling to one another again.
© Wade Kingston