Reply To: Lisa Warren

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Connie Bretes

Hi Lisa, great chapter, only two or three things to look at in parenthesises. Connie

Brody shoved them to the floor.
Rudy rolled out of the way as more bullets (thunked – is there a better word?) and ricocheted off the kitchen door. One tore into Brody’s leg. He jerked, then stumbled to the side but managed to slam the door shut. Shouting one curse word after another, he collapsed to the floor and covered his injury, blood seeping through his fingers.
Faye grabbed a towel and took it to him.
Rudy scooted over. “Who—”
“They must have followed us back.” Faye’s face went pale.
Dragging her doll behind, Niya crawled over and hugged Brody.
His eyes softened, and he kissed the top of her head. “Where are the guns?” he asked Rudy while tightening the towel around his leg.
Rudy eyed the door. A quiver rippled inside of his stomach. This was his fault. He should’ve been more careful and aware on their way home. “In the barn.”
Brody grimaced. “Help me up. We need them.”
Rudy shook his head. “You’ll never make it with your leg like that. I’ll go.”
Together, Faye and Brody said, “No.” in unison.
“I’ll go.” Faye kneeled on the floor and then stood.
Rudy frowned. “I can make it with my eyes closed.” It irked him that they didn’t believe he could do it.
Brody’s forehead shined with sweat. His face showed his pain. “Think, boy. There must be something in here we can use.”
“I’ll check the basement.” Rudy picked up the lantern and opened the cellar door. The storm was full upon them, the wind hissing like a monster snake hidden in the dark. With courage he didn’t feel, Rudy held up the light and descended.
Chaska followed. “Whoah. Where the heck do we look?”
His dad had a collection of broken things down here, dust-covered and scattered with no order to it. Rudy sneezed, lifted the lamp higher, and scanned the area. He handed Chaska the bottom of a snapped in two pitchfork, a rust-laden shovel, and a hay sickle. Propped against a wall was Old Bertha, a Winchester shotgun once owned by his great uncle.
Rudy hefted it and searched nearby for shells on the floor. He found a few and scooped them up. They lugged everything of use up the stairs.
Brody squinted at the gun. “That the only one we got?”
Rudy nodded. His friend looked worse—paler and seemed to be struggling to keep his eyes open. Sweat dripped down Brody’s nose, cheeks, and off his chin. A pile of towels was drenched with his blood. Rudy took(gave) him the gun and then handed over the shells.
Brody loaded it. “Only four?”
Rudy opened his mouth to answer when another round of shots pummeled the outer house. He crouched low again.
A window shattered in the sitting room as the kitchen door flew open. A man stumbled in with a long gun. He steadied himself and wiped his eyes—his hair, forehead, and the bandana across his mouth coated with brown grime.
Brody raised the shotgun.
A growling blur of fur leaped inside and clamped its jaws on the man’s leg. A loud boom followed.
The man jerked back with a hole in his chest. Blood sprayed the kitchen cabinets and the floor as he fell back.
Her face ashen white, Faye held Niya to her to keep the little girl from seeing.
Chaska called for S’unka.
The kitchen door banged from the dead man’s leg to the door jam. A whirling mass of dirt intruded through the gap.
Brody motioned for Rudy to come to him and shouted over the screeching wind. “Wet towels for your faces and go out the cellar doors. I’ll hold them off here.”
Rudy shook his head vehemently. “No. We all go together.”
Chaska looked toward the sitting room and yelled, “They’re setting the house on fire!”
Woosh. A bright fire leaped to life in the other room and climbed the curtains. Ghost-like tendrils of white smoke drifted along the ceiling. Flames of orange and yellow licked at the wall and caught hold of the furniture.
Brody grabbed Rudy’s arm. “You need to see the others to safety.”
Rudy gathered up the towels and wetted them in the sink.
Niya cried out, “Mato,” and tore from Faye’s grasp. The little girl ran up the stairs to save her bear.
“No!” Chaska shouted and headed after her. “Git back here.”
Faye and the dog followed.
Rudy crouched next to Brody and pleaded with him. “Please get up. I can’t do this. I don’t wanna leave you here, but I ain’t strong enough to make( yuh?).”
“Be strong for them. There are worse ways for me to die than protecting those I love.” He hacked a cough.
Black ominous smoke swirled in the sitting room. The fire snapped and popped, fueled by the gusting wind.
“Tell your pa he owes me from our bet. He’ll know what I’m talking about. Tell him I expect payment in our next life. Now go. Hurry.”
Tears blurring his eyes, Rudy grasped him tight. He tried to mask the fear and feelings of horror that swelled inside. To show his friend that he was man enough, no longer a boy. Reluctantly, he grabbed a clean towel and went in search of the others.
High, thick gray smoke spread feet deep in the hallway of the second story. Rudy crawled along the warm floorboards. S’unka’s barking filtered past the creaking timbers, the crash of falling debris, and the constant hiss and screams of the wind. Rudy pushed open his bedroom door. Niya huddled on the floor in a corner, weeping and cradling her bear and doll.
Faye was bent over with a fit of coughs as she pulled on Chaska’s arms.
Rudy went to help. “What happened?”
Faye racked more coughs. “Fell. I don’t know…”
Flames advanced swiftly up the outer wall, casting an eerie glow throughout the room.
Rudy grabbed Chaska’s legs. “Follow me,” he ordered Faye.
Faye pleaded with Niya. The girl hid her face against her toy bear.
“Come here.”
S’unka leaned into Niya and pushed.
“Noo,” Niya said, her voice raspy.
Faye put Chaska down. She couldn’t see Rudy through the smoke, but he must have sensed something was wrong.
“What are you—” he managed to wheeze out.
Faye couldn’t breathe to respond. Her eyes stung, a bitter ash taste coated her tongue, and it felt like her lungs were melting. Faint and drowsy, she worried she’d lose consciousness, but she shook it off and reached for Niya. The girl didn’t make it easy on her though, becoming dead weight.
Determined to get to safety but without the strength to lift her, Faye dragged Niya behind and lifted Chaska a few inches from the floor by the back of the collar. Just as they made it out of the bedroom, an inner wall set ablaze. The ceiling began to crumble.
Chaska (became aware-came through) at the top of the stairs. After a bark of coughs, she said, “Put me down.”
They clambered down, the air becoming less breathable by the moment. Faye barely touched the railing then jerked her hand away from the blistering heat. The first floor resembled a scene from hell, the fire surging to consume the lower level, unable to quench its thirst for dry kindling.
Her blood pulsing as hot as the air she breathed, Faye looked over at Brody as Rudy pulled on her arm. “No!” Faye yanked back. “We can’t leave him here.”
“He won’t come. I tried. Don’t you think I tried?”
More bullets hit. Brody took one to his chest. He balanced the shotgun on his thigh, ready to fire it. “Get out. What are you waitin’ for?”
Darker than black smoke billowed closer.
Rudy rewet the towels.
Niya screamed and tried to go to Brody, but Chaska forced her down the stairs.
Tears cascading her face, Faye’s eyes met the man’s.
“Go,” he mouthed with a stern expression.
Firming her jaw, she disobeyed and strode with purpose toward him.
“Rudy,” Brody shouted.
The boy grabbed her and pulled on her arm to the basement. They reached the bottom of the stairs, where she was finally able to break free. Turning to go back to get Brody, Faye only made it two steps.
Boom. The earsplitting sound of the shotgun tore at Faye’s heart. Was that Brody ending his pain or a threat coming after them? She didn’t know. He was gone, forever, and it was all her fault.
Rudy worked the latch on the cellar’s doors. With help from Chaska, they flung them open.
“Stay together,” he shouted and helped them up the ladder.
Faye wrapped a towel around her head. The projectile-filled wind so strong it felt like it would scrape her skin off. The house creaked and groaned as the monstrous fire roared and relentlessly overtook it. Another section of the roof caved in.
Huddled together, their frightened group headed out into the storm.
Faye couldn’t breathe. She was alone, soon separated from the kids, knocked down by the powerful punch of grit-pelting winds. She curled into a ball and wrapped the encrusted towel around her head again. Worry filled her mind, but also hope that the kids found shelter and safety. She prayed the storm kept Jake from coming home and being ambushed by the goons that had come for her. The last glimpse of Brody haunted her. He was dead because of her, of this, she was sure. She should have moved on sooner and not put them all in jeopardy.
The screeching winds taunted her, punishing her and chaffing her skin. Her breaths weighted heavy and her lungs felt lined with clay.
Jake entered her mind. The crooked smile he gave her when she did something that he thought was funny. Loving eyes which glistened with promise. They would never have that future that he’d vowed to her, and she would never have their child, which she was now sure was tucked in her womb. Picturing what he or she would look like if allowed to be born, the images of her baby’s first steps into Jake’s anxious arms, birthday parties, dressing for school, soothing the first broken heart.
There was so much they had to live for, yet she could feel her body weakening from the fight to keep them both alive. Chaska, Rudy, and Niya’s faces flashed before her. I love you all. Please know that. She prayed to God for their safety and wished them a happy life.
Someone picked her up. Clutched close to a chest, she tried to open her eyes, but they seemed swollen and glued shut. She gasped a whistling breath as pain aggravated her head and rippled down her throat to her chest. A pitifully weak exhale followed.
Jake’s voice sieved past the clog in her ears. “I…lost you…want…will never…” His words came in choppy bits and sounded like he was somewhere distant other than speaking right next to her head, his breath tickling her ear.
He carried her a long way, setting her down now and then, long enough for her to get control of her coughing fits.
Faye worried about the kids and herself. Did they make it to safety? Had she lost her eyesight? She wanted to ask Jake, but she couldn’t speak. When she’d tried, her voice came out as gibberish with distorted vowel sounds.
After a while, the smell of acrid smoke penetrated her nose.
He set her down and urged something against her lips. “Drink…make you…er.”
She took in the liquid. The obstruction in her throat swelled and choked. Someone pounded on her back. She heaved and threw up, the pounding lessening to a gentle pat. Something wet splashed over her eyes and trickled down her face. A soft cloth gently wiped her eyelids, forehead, and nose and then moved to her lower face. Faye slowly pried open her eyes. A blur of faces filled her vision, then started to clear. A concerned Jake stared back at her, along with three sweet dirt-encrusted faces.
Faye croaked out a husky sound of relief. They’d survived the night. They’d survived the Mob’s gunfire, the smoke and flames, and the suffocating dust storm. She looked over at the smoldering embers that used to be their home. Brody. Not all of them survived. The grief came like a hard punch to her stomach. She wished she’d known him better. She also wished she wasn’t why he no longer walked this earth.

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