Damn my wife is good.
Or maybe I just overestimated how cutthroat Al really is.
Or maybe I underestimated how cutthroat Anna really is…
Either way, really, she’s incredible.
Al came strolling up our drive around mid-morning. He was polite, but he tried to start talking business with me. I told him Anna was calling the shots, and that was about the last thing I did. He apologized for his mistake, but there was a glint in Anna’s eye that I haven’t seen for a while. Al never saw it coming. He was going to pay for that little slip-up, and he was going to pay in percentages.
He examined the farm and asked Anna some questions I didn’t hear. I was sitting on the porch, watching Eva play.
Anna took notes the whole time, and soon both were walking back towards me. Al wasn’t flustered, but he didn’t look comfortable. He was outclassed and he knew it. They sat down at our table and pounded out a deal.
I sent Eva inside to get water for both of them, and I stood behind Anna with my arms crossed. I didn’t say anything — she didn’t even acknowledge I was there — but I think the message got across. By the time Al left, I think he was happy to get anything. We’re keeping nearly 60% of the farm’s yield, and we’re gonna split whatever Al can get in a trade 55/45. We’re getting the 55.
I’m Luca Brasi, but my wife is the Godfather.
I’m gonna go show her how much I love her.
I don’t know what to write now.
In the marines, fighting and killing weren’t things we spent a whole lot of time dwelling on afterwards. It was what we had to do to stay alive. Aggression and violence were tools we used, the same way I used wrenches and impact guns as a mechanic. We were exceptional at it.
It feels different now.
Shout. Show. Shove. Shoot. A steady escalation of force. We weren’t there to make peace. We weren’t there to make allies. We were there to fight.
So when Eva came running back to the house, shouting about “scary men” on the road, I knew what to do.
I took my bow off the wall and a quiver full of arrows and threw on my camo hoodie. I loaded my rifle and gave it to Anna. Then I melted into the woods.
By the time I had worked my way to the road, the group Eva saw was already at the entrance to our driveway.
I understand why she ran. These were some big, scary dudes. They all carried vicious looking knives, but so did I, and they hadn’t seen me yet.
The leader was a short, thin man with half his head shaved. An actual sword dangled from his waist, along with a revolver. I didn’t see any extra bullets on him. He acted like it was a fully-loaded AR, though: sauntering down my driveway, leaning so far back as he walked it was a wonder he didn’t fall over, talking loudly. He chatted with his comrades, and from where I was hiding, I could hear everything.
He was bragging about something he did. Something to a little girl.
I can’t even write it. My hand is shaking thinking about it.
He bragged about her screams, and the men around him laughed.
It made what I had to do easier.
The never heard me coming with their boss running his mouth the way he was. One guy was behind the rest — a skinny shit with long, thin hair. He looked like he’d been a meth head before the war. He went down without a sound.
I stood over him and placed my foot on his throat. He was still breathing. I didn’t press down, but I wanted to. I drew an arrow, knocked it, and pulled the string back, aiming at the biggest one’s head.
The leader stopped talking mid-sentence and the whole group turned to face me. Big, dumb, a few of them were missing teeth, and one of them didn’t have any hair anywhere. The ones that did had it cut short or shaved in odd places. They all wore rags smeared in red paint that I’m sure they thought looked like blood.
Kids, playing at war.
“Who the fuck are you?” The leader walked to the front of his group, and I settled my aim at his throat. He was even more repulsive up close. He had the same wrinkled, pockmarked skin the loser beneath my feet did. His teeth that weren’t missing were almost gray. He wasn’t scared of me. He was an idiot.
“I protect this land and all on it. Leave now or die.”
The piece of garbage actually started laughing. His gang didn’t seem to share his confidence, but even those morons started guffawing along.
“Yeah? Who’s gonna carry out that fucking threat? You, Robin Hood?”
Behind him, there was a flash of a white dress. I didn’t take my eyes off him. It was Anna. She was waiting with my rifle.
The guy’s dumb look twisted into a grin. The gaps in his teeth winked at me.
He went for his gun. I’d hoped he would. An instant later, my arrow tore through his arm, pinning it to his gut. The gun went in the dirt, followed by him. I drew a second arrow before the rest of his group knew what was happening. I knocked it before his scream stopped. His men turned on me as I raised my bow.
A gunshot rang out and the big man to the right’s shoulder exploded, coating me in a spray of blood. I drilled another one through the leg with an arrow. He screamed and fell. There was one left. He hadn’t moved. He was a baby-faced quivering mess with a hooked nose and a paltry attempt at a beard. His eyes were wide with shock at his fallen friends. I raised another arrow at him.
He pissed himself.
He was so pathetic I couldn’t shoot him. I took a step to the side, clearing the exit. He ran without a second thought. I think he expected an arrow in the back.
I waved Anna off and, in another flash of white, she was gone.
I didn’t want her to see this.
I walked up to the leader, he was writhing on the ground. He started grasping for his gun. I kicked it away.
“You piece of shit.” He growled through gritted teeth. “You fucking piece of shit.” My arrow had gone all the way through his arm into his gut. It made it look like he was clutching at the wound.
“Funny,” I put my foot against his arm near the exposed shaft and pressed down, pinning him there. “That’s what I was going to say.” I ripped the arrow out by its feathers. His screams were satisfying. I thought of Eva, and drove the broadhead into his throat.
It was nearly two hours before I got back to the cabin. The sun was going down already. The survivors of the skirmish had long since left. I had already washed the blood from my hands.
Anna was reading to Eva when I came in. She looked up at me and smiled, but something was off. Later, after we put Eva to bed, I told her what I did. I told her why I did it. She understood. She didn’t regret her part in it, but it affected her. The lines in her face were a bit deeper, there were bags under her eyes.
She’s not cut out for this. Not the way I am. She’d do anything to protect our angel, but she’s never had to really fight before. She’d never shot anything but the cardboard targets I used to teach her how to shoot.
This can’t continue.
Woof. This one was intense for me to write. It also went through the most changes from draft-to-draft than any of this series. Take from that what you will, but I hope some of that intensity came across. Let me know if you like it! If you do, check out the rest of the series: