Kids at War Excerpt!

Tears filling her eyes, Theresa approached dangerously close to the man. “Please sir, please,” she begged. “Just take me then. Leave the others alone. I’ll give you food and whatever else you want. Just don’t harm any of the others.”

The man’s eyes steeled as his face drew tight. “Sister,” he began in a quiet ominous tone. “We make the rules. We have the knives.” The knife’s sharp edge drew near to her face. She tried to speak again but nothing came out. Trying to make a quick decision, her thoughts left her as another voice came from the hallway.

“And I’m the guy with the gun.” A lone man stepped forward with a barrel trained on the pair of road ruffians. “And I think she said she wanted you to leave.” The man’s dead eyes bore into the knife-wielding pair. No emotion crossed his face as he remained fixed on the two.

After a long pause, the leader glanced at his partner. “Listen pal, let’s be careful here. That thing could go off and someone could get hurt.” The sound of a loud click split the air as the hammer reached its hold.

“Yeah,” the lone man began. “This thing has a habit of going off when cocked like this.” He twitched his head toward the doorway. “Downstairs.”

Both troublemakers froze like statues, hands now raised slightly in front. “Listen,” the leader replied. “You can have the older one. We’ll just take two of the younger ones. Unless you prefer them younger, then I’d just as soon have the older one.”

A thin smile crept across the gun holder’s face. Waving the barrel from the pair toward the door, he almost laughed. “Well, that’s mighty kind of you friend. But I think I’ll just have them all to myself while you two hit the road.” Finally taking the hint, the pair started for the steps. A gun barrel to the leader’s chest stopped him in place. “Why don’t you set both those knives down right by your feet, so we can go outside and get better acquainted?” Reluctantly the pair obeyed.

Theresa watched as the gunman lined the pair up in the yard. She hoped he wouldn’t gun them down in cold blood, but he had a weapon. Her options for input, she felt, were limited. One by one the girls joined her on the porch.

“I wish you’d all go back inside,” she chided. No one moved. All eyes focused on the showdown in the yard.

“Okay you two,” Theresa heard the sole man begin, “it seems we got a problem here.” Pointing the gun from man to man, he appeared to have their full attention.

The leader braved a response. “Listen here, fellow. We’re just looking for food. Can’t blame us for that can you?”

The gunman’s face went taut. “Sounded to me like you were looking for more than food in there. But tell you what…” He set the rifle behind him against the shed and began removing his jacket. “Let’s have a little tussle to see who gets the ladies. Sound fair?”

Theresa, shocked by the challenge, opened the screen door and stepped onto the stoop. “Just what do you think you’re doing, sir? This doesn’t seem sensible. Please pick up your gun, chase them off, and then leave.” She steadied her nerves hoping her words got through to this ignorant beast.

The single man’s head shook slowly as he grinned at the nun. “‘Sister, is it?” She nodded quickly. “Sister, I’m in no mood to debate with a woman. Especially one who can’t protect herself or those girls of yours.” Coming back at the pair, he shrugged. “Okay boys, I got a nasty hangover, and I’m in a real pissy mood. So I’m just itching for a fight. Here’s the rules: Whoever beats the other and gets to the gun first, can do what they want. Sound fair?”

The vagrants winked at one another. “Two on one,” the leader called out, “sounds fair to me.” Theresa disliked the sinister tone of his voice.

She shuddered thinking of either of the men winning this battle. “Girls,” she called to her flock. “Go get those knives in case we have to defend ourselves.” A poke on her shoulder caused her to peer back. Both Karen and Mary already held a knife in their shaking hands.

Turning, she watched as the three men moved toward the brawl. The leader made a lunge at the fight caller but was pushed away with a boot to the mid-section. Next, the skinnier man swung at his opponent but whiffed completely. Knocked to the ground by a punch to the ribs, he joined his partner staring at the lone fighter.

“Come on you two. You can do better than that.”

Seemingly, to Theresa, he thought antagonizing the pair would help. What exactly is he after?

Both men rose and tackled their oppressor in a heap. Fists flew, and the occasional sound of skin on skin came from the melee. Theresa gasped as the leader leapt to his feet and ran for the weapon. He made it two steps before a leg shot out from his opponent, knocking the leader to the ground with a large thump.

Jumping to his feet, the single man landed a boot in the large gut of the leader, only to be caught by a blow to the back of his head by the second bad man. Falling to the ground, he rolled trying to avoid the kicks of both men.

Theresa eyed the fight and then the rifle. If she could get there first, all of this would be over. Alone, she would chase the trio away.

Amazingly, the sole fighter tackled both men again as they made their way to the gun. Now on top of the disoriented pair, he landed solid punches and kicks that, at least from Theresa’s point of view, were causing substantial damage. The tide turned again when one of them men landed a jab to the single man’s throat.

With their oppressor on the ground, the men rose and laughed, kicking at his ribs. Giving an evil smirk to Theresa, the leader turned to reach for the rifle, only to be stopped dead by a loud gun blast from the far end of the yard.

Collectively, all eyes fell on Henry. With rapid strides, he moved forward leveling the gun on the ugly pair. “Get out of here,” he shouted. “The next shot meets flesh. And I got plenty of shells to keep going until you’re both dead.”

Theresa watched as the men sprinted for the road like racers in a track meet. Neither, it seemed, wanted to be the recipient of the next round of birdshot. Looking back at Henry, she saw the single man reaching for Henry’s weapon.

“Give me the gun dammit.” The pair struggled as Henry maintained his grip. “Let go Henry,” he shouted. “Let me finish them off.”

Henry refused to yield to the taller man. “Use your own gun,” Henry rebuked. “Leave mine out of any unnecessary killing I tell you.”

Both men watched as the pair of bandits reached the road and disappeared, still running, south. The single man grimaced and scratched his shaggy dark beard. “Yeah, I suppose it would have helped if I had loaded it before I left home this morning, though. Damn shells are still in my jacket pocket.”

Theresa descended the back steps and stormed at the man. “Are you saying you came in my home and put all our lives at risk with an empty gun?” she screamed. “What kind of a person are you?”

The man looked at Henry and shrugged. Passing in front of Theresa he bent to pick up his jacket.

Theresa grabbed his arm forcefully. “I asked you a question. And I expect an answer.” Her voice rose with each word. “And just who are you?”

No answer followed as she watched him make his way to the well. Henry stepped beside Theresa. “That’s Hunter. He’s your help, Sister.”

Theresa’s mouth fell open as she whipped her face Henry’s direction. “No,” she gasped. “Him?” Henry only nodded his reply.

“I just saved your ass, Sister,” Hunter called out from the well. “In more ways than one.” He chuckled to himself as he pushed and pulled on the pump handle to get the cool water flowing. “You could thank me, I suppose.”

Theresa hurried his direction, a stern expression covering her face. “You, you! Where exactly have you been? We’ve been looking for you for the past two weeks?” Standing over him as he let the water wash away the blood and grime, he only shook his head. “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”

Hunter rose, throwing his long hair back covering Theresa in a stream. She screamed again jumping away from him. “Listen lady,” he began, “I’ve been busy. I’ve got lots of shit to do. I’m a popular guy.”

Theresa bristled at his profanity. Inching closer, she spoke tersely through her clenched teeth. “There will be no swearing at this home. Do I make myself clear?” Hunter shrugged and looked past her at the girls. Theresa grabbed his collar pulling his face close to hers. “No swearing, no drinking, and no smoking around my girls.” Her eyes narrowed meeting his tense gaze. “Do I make myself clear?”

Hunter pushed her away with a gentle shove to the shoulders. “Piss off, lady. The militia paid me, not you.” Reaching to pick up his hat, a foot stomped down on the lid and his hand. He shot a scowl at the unwavering young nun.

“You will obey my rules. Is that understood?” Theresa’s eyes narrowed with each tense word.

“Right,” he replied, pulling his hat and hand from under her foot. “Whatever lady. Just get off my back.”

Stepping back from Hunter, Theresa crossed her arms on her chest. “I expected more than this,” she spit, waving a callous hand at him. “So much more.” Quietly, she turned and joined the girls. Directing them inside she called one last time from the back stoop. “We’ll have some breakfast in about fifteen minutes. If you can behave, you can join us inside. If not, someone will run your food out. Your choice, sir.”

“Sister, for food I can be the Pope if needed.” Theresa cringed as Hunter laughed at his own joke. Giving up on this battle, she disappeared inside with the girls.

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