The torturing hot African sun was directly overhead, beating down on the bleached, arid, dust-filled savannah. Everything it touched seemed to shimmer, radiating remorseless heat. There was no escape. This was not a place to be; only mad dogs and Englishmen were out at this time of day. The small group sheltering under the acacia bushes were neither mad nor Englishmen. But they were here. Greed the major factor for their presence in this unforgiving landscape.
Tsavo National Game Reserve was either hot and dry or wet and flooded. Full of wildlife: from the giant Rothschild giraffes (with their extended necks and distinctive orange and brown fur), to the gangs of unruly warthogs running through the bush, with their twenty offspring chasing each other's short, wiry, curly tails. The current season was the hot one. Everything stood still. The heat was intense, burning the red dusty soil, making it so hot your head felt like it would burst. Water was scarce, down to a few soured, mud clogged pools. But change was in the air. Huge black clouds gathered in the far distance over the Taita hills. When it finally broke, the deluge would come, washing the heat away, changing the dust to thick red mud. Flowers would rush to enjoy their short time to bloom. The watering holes would fill, and the great migration to the south would start. But now there was no respite. The deserted plains carried on forever in every direction, small stubby bushes and acacia trees the only haven from the intense sun. The savannah was as quiet as a graveyard at this time of day. Everything that walked, flew, or slithered knew to stay still and hide away until the sweltering ball of heat in the sky moved through its arc. Only later would there be some relief.
Under the cobalt blue, cloudless sky a nearly seven-foot-tall, gaunt, ebony tribesman was standing stock still. Perched on one leg, motionless. Frozen in time. Thick plaited curled ringlets of hair covered in cow grease hung down his back. A red and black tartan robe was draped over his shoulder and secured at the waist with a long leather thong. On his hip hung a fourteen-inch, brown, battered, hide scabbard, holding a razor-sharp blade. His feet were wrapped in sandals made from old car tires, with more leather wrapped around his ankles. From head to toe, this formidable warrior was covered in beads of many different colors: wrapped around his neck in bands, plaited into his dreadlocks, around his wrists and ankles, all making for a very impressive site. Finally, in his right hand, was a wicked looking spear with a six-foot-long, worn mahogany shaft and a blackened steel point. He was standing with his eyes closed, head cocked to the left and mouth slightly open. The puffs of wind gusting across the arid savannah had suddenly changed direction, veering almost 180 degrees. This could be trouble. The Masaai warrior was not concerned for himself. He had carefully smeared buffalo dung all over his body before they had left. It was the Muzungus, the stupid white men, that would cause the trouble. If he could smell their sweat, the prey, about 40 yards in front of them, would pick up the scent in seconds.
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Saying goodbye to the company commanders was difficult. Saying goodbye to First Sergeant Tanneyhill was especially difficult. Conor promised Chaplain Yancey that he would attend as many of his services as possible, as he had been doing, and Conor thanked him for his support and friendship. The brigade commander, Colonel Baker, agreed that Captain Willingham would be the best choice as Conor’s replacement, and the three of them met for two hours to transition the regiment.
In the late evening, Conor was walking the regimental line with Captain Willingham when three soldiers called out from their trench.
“We hear you’re leaving us, sir. Before you get away, we’d like for you to join us down here.”
Willingham and Conor jumped down into the trench with the three young soldiers. One man reached into his coat pocket and brought out a handful of shelled, roasted peanuts. He passed three of the peanuts to Conor, three to the others, and they toasted each other by tapping the shells together. “To the Thirty-eighth Georgia,” they all repeated.
The peanuts were damp and stale, but Conor didn’t care. It was the purest, most unselfish, most cherished gift he could remember.
“We’ll miss you, sir. We walked a lot of miles together, didn’t we?”
“We did. And I appreciate what you men have meant to this regiment, and to me personally. I’ll ask you to give Captain Willingham the same great support you gave me.”
“We will, sir. Good luck to you.”
Conor mentioned to Willingham as they finished the inspection of the line, “Where did we get such men as these? How could I have been so blessed to command them? To have gone into battle with them, and bled with them, and watched so many of them die? These men have carried me from the field after being wounded. I have seen them march for days on dusty roads, wade fast-flowing, rain-swollen rivers, trudge through hard rain and thick mud, and lie down on the grass and be asleep in a matter of seconds. I have looked into their eyes just before we faced an enemy of superior strength and seen their determination, and knew they would be right there with me as we moved forward each time, every time. I have watched them freezing in the cold, half-starved, homesick, lovesick, physically sick, and yet they manned their posts. I have written to their mothers of their astonishing bravery and of how proud they should be of their dead heroic sons. I have listened to their ribald humor, their cursing, their sarcasm, and their prayers. I know that no matter how long I live, no matter what else I do in this life, I will never see their equal again. Just where did we get such men as these?”
Afterwards, when he got back to his hut and thought about those young, undernourished, loyal soldiers so eagerly sharing their few remaining peanuts with him, an act of extraordinary generosity matched only by their magnificent valor, Conor sat on the ground and wept.
Hours later, Ophelia stood in front of her kitchen counter, cursing a blue streak. “Shit, fuck, son of a bitch! This fucking hurts like hell!”
Her front door slammed open, and suddenly she was in Daniel’s arms, sitting in his lap in the nearest chair, his hands running up and down her arms in jerking, frantic movements.
“Phia! Are you okay? Who hurt you? What’s wrong?”
Ophelia laughed weakly, but didn’t unwrap her right hand from her left. Instead, she took a chance and held both hands up—showing him the blood seeping out from between her fingers. Daniel gritted his teeth, but he made no move to attack, and Ophelia’s respect for him raised another notch. He pulled out a handkerchief from the pocket of his shirt and gently pried her hands apart, clucking his tongue over the two-inch-long cut that was still oozing blood.
“How in the world did you accomplish this, Phia?” he asked, his ministrations tender as he blotted the wound.
“I cut myself trying to cook,” Ophelia mumbled, “obviously not my most graceful moment.”
Daniel chuckled. “At least you didn’t sever a digit, so it’s not that bad.”
Ophelia sniffed, tears brimming. “Yeah, but it freaking hurts! It might even be deep enough for stitches, and I really don’t like needles.”
Daniel pressed a kiss to her cheek. “I may have a solution, if you’d trust me.”
“Does it involve your fangs?”
He shook his head. “No–” his eyes gleamed mischievously– “but it does mean I’d get to taste you.”
Ophelia wiggled in her seat, and Daniel groaned. “On second thought,” he said with a wicked grin, “keep moving like that, and I’ll have a different way to distract you.”
Eyes wide, Ophelia jerked to a stop, but not before the damage had been done, and the physical proof of his desire poked the side of her leg. She flushed. “Uh...” She licked her lips. “the pain. What about...the pain?”
Daniel laughed and pressed a kiss just below her ear. He took the handkerchief away from her wound. She hissed in pain as it stuck. “I’m sorry,” he murmured as he pulled it free. “I really can help, but you might rather put a bandage on it and let me drive you to the clinic.”
Ophelia bit her lip. He looked so uncomfortable, and even though his remedy had to do with him being a vampire, she wasn’t nearly as put off by the notion as she would have been a few days prior. She looked into his eyes and shook her head.
“What do you need to do?”
He sighed with relief. “Vampire saliva can either stop bleeding, or make a person bleed more, depending on whether we’re drinking or ending the feeding. Unfortunately for you, to stop the bleeding and trigger the numbing agent that will help with your pain, the fangs must be triggered, which means a drink has to be taken. However, that doesn’t mean I need to bite you–” he paused and winked– “unless you want me to, of course.”
Ophelia swatted his shoulder with her good hand. “I thought your saliva is what makes a person a vampire?”
“It is, but it’s…complicated. Mortal blood is designed to fight the infection, so to speak. I would have to consciously force it into your bloodstream for a minute or more for there to be any chance of it taking hold. For this, and for any pleasure feeding–” he gave her a wicked grin that made her laugh– “my saliva merely interacts with the skin around the wound, preventing it from trying to close until I’m ready to stop. Are you okay with this?”
Ophelia bit her bottom lip. “You won’t bite me?”
He shook his head. “I won’t. My fangs will descend, but I won’t bite, I promise. I’ll only drink for a moment, and then close it.”
Taking a deep breath, Ophelia nodded, emitting a startled squeak when his eyes glowed bright blue and his fangs shot out. With his golden hair, and lightly stubbled jaw, he was sexy beyond belief, and the look on his face had her nearly giving in to the urge to tilt her head to the side and offer him everything. Taken aback by the direction her thoughts were headed, Ophelia blinked rapidly, and raised her hand.
He took her wrist in one of his, and her fingers in the other, turning her hand until the cut along the side was near his mouth. “Last chance to change your mind,” he whispered.
Ophelia gulped, her body tingling beneath his heated gaze. “Do it, Daniel, please.” The last word came out on a whisper as she subconsciously flipped her long hair behind her back, exposing the smooth column of her throat. Daniel’s eyes darkened, and keeping his eyes on hers, he pressed his hot mouth to her skin, sucking gently at the wound.
The tingling in her body intensified as he laved his tongue over the cut, raising his head a few seconds later. Ophelia’s breath came in short pants as moisture pooled between her legs. She’d never felt like this, and she wondered if it was part of the saliva interacting with her skin. Ever logical, she cleared her throat.
“Am I—uh—is this because of…?”
Daniel smiled, fangs flashing. “No, Phia. I would never use power on you like that.”
Ophelia sucked in a breath. It was because of him. /For heaven’s sake, take for once. Take without question. Love./ Her eyes widened at her own thoughts, and she made a split-second decision—he was her vampire, after all. Adjusting her position, she straddled him, the proof of his desire a hard spear aimed straight at her core. Cupping his face in her hands, she kissed him, relishing when his breath caught in shock. His hands gripped her hips, rocking her against him as she deepened the kiss, her tongue exploring his mouth, uncaring of the fangs he possessed.
With a moan, she nipped his bottom lip. “Do you want to bite me, Daniel?”
“Yes,” he groaned.
Ophelia pressed a hand to the back of his neck, pulling him forward until his mouth rested above the pulse at her throat. “Then do it.”
His lips grazed her heated skin, his fangs scraping lightly. “Are you sure?”
She moaned, the pleasure building as she continued to move against him. “Yes!” Without another word, he plunged his fangs deep, and she shattered, realizing the absolute truth:
She was in love with a vampire.
Charles Willoughby’s youth was an ordeal of beatings by his God-fearing father and seductions by his grossly obese mother. A warped and cruel man, he marries a woman who is willing to submit to his jaded sexual demands. However, when she bears a child not of his loin, he holds her and the child captive on his isolated farm and severs all ties with the nearby town. Then when his wife is killed, he is left with the girl. Although his religious beliefs preclude him from killing her, he doesn’t feel obligated to treat her humanely.
The girl, Taffeta Moonrose, is treated like a dog under Charles’ care. But one day, she finds herself free when Charles has a heart attack. Now, weak with hunger and on her own, she ventures forth into an unknown, hostile world in a desperate search for food. After stealing from the towns people all summer, she becomes known as the wild girl of Ashville.
When Matt and Toby Claybourne arrive at a nearby cabin on vacation, they learn of the “wild girl” and become determined to find and adopt her. When they finally do find her, their relationship with her becomes one that will change each of their lives in ways unforeseen.
This is a story that will grab your attention right from the prologue and won’t let you go until you’ve finished the very last page. It will take you on a rocket ride of emotions that will allow you to hate, entice you to love, tease you with hope, and leave you crying with a smile on your lips.
What Charles Willoughby does to his wife and her bastard child begins you on a journey filled with fear and humor, suffering and joy, sorrow and redemption.
You have just entered a new realm - a new Universe where there are worlds, races, powers, allies and enemies just waiting to be discovered. You have found yourself...
Beyond the Outer Rim
In the prelude to the series, we met Dungias as he became the Star Chaser – forever changing his world and receiving a quest to travel to a distant system and save the progeny of the Founders.
Venturing to the Rims, Dungias encounters new races, new cultures, and a self-styled adventurer by the name of JoJo Starblazer. A brilliant and daring pilot, this pirate seeks her freedom from the constraints of the Inner Rim Empire, the Middle Rim corporations, and the Outer Rim races of legend.
With only her skill, her savvy, and one dedicated First Mate, she seeks to find her niche in the Cosmos... even if she has to cut it out first!
Rosa sat on the carpeted closet floor, her body slumped against the inside corner wall.
I knelt alongside her and stroked her hair while trying to
keep my composure in the face of a rage that I couldn't quiet. An assassin had taken aim at the lives of my wife and child--the center of my universe. Whoever did this would pay a price, despite the fact that my faith instructed me to avoid revenge. I would have something to repent on the Day of Atonement.
Her eyes opened. She sat upright. "I felt like I was going to faint, so I leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. I guess I must have passed out." Rosa studied my face. "What's the matter?"
"She is fine," a paramedic said after listening to Rosa's heart and checking her blood pressure. "Pregnant women tend to have lower blood pressure. If they stand too quickly, the blood pooled in their feet and legs does not return quickly enough to the heart. Give her a few minutes."
"What about the baby?" I asked.
"The baby should be all right," the paramedic said. "You do not stop breathing when you faint." He and his partner packed their equipment, checked Rosa once more, and left.
A hole in the doorframe, four feet above the floor, was the same size as the one in the wall. The slug must have hit a moment after she fell while entering the closet.
"What are you looking at?" Rosa asked.
"A miracle." I helped her up and drew her close. Her head nestled in my shoulder while I kissed her neck. "Right now, the sound of your heartbeat is all I want to hear."
She hugged me.
"Let's get you onto the sofa." I held her around the shoulders until she sat.
"I am okay now," Rosa said. "What happened?"
"We're in someone's crosshairs. Two shots fired, probably from the building over there." My head turned toward the window. "I want to check it out before the police arrive." I grabbed binoculars from my travel bag and crouched by the lower corner of the window frame.
About three hundred yards from the hotel, on a level parallel to ours, curtains, buffeted by the breeze, flapped in and out of an open window.
The phone rang. Rosa picked up the receiver on the end table, listened for a minute, and hung up. "The manager said the police are on the way. The paramedics reported the incident."
I closed the drapes. "Pack our things. I'll be back soon." I pulled out my shirttails, shoved the holstered Glock through my belt, and kissed Rosa.
Sitting perfectly still, totally relaxed suspended in space, Brody was 50 feet down, according to the depth gauge strapped to his arm, in crystal clear water sat motionless and waiting. His Rolex Submariner was counting off the seconds; so far one hundred and twenty had slowly ticked past, free diving is all about relaxing, you stop thinking, sitting in a trance like state, a Buddha hanging serenely in the ocean, holding a six-foot pole with a razor sharp spear!
His lungs were relaxed and full, life was all around him in the depths constant movement and color from every direction. The current was very slight pushing him to the North East, his body felt warm even at this depth. Glancing up to monitor his position, clearly visible above, the small wooden sailing craft was safely anchored to the reef. Earlier he had slipped off the boat swimming until the bottom disappeared into nothingness, taking a deep breath then duck-diving, finning for a few strokes, until the lead weights around his waist started slowly pulling him down.
Hassan was sat on the boat fiddling with the engine nervously, tidying the ropes and sails, continuously glancing at the place where his new customer had just disappeared. They had met on the Jetty a few days earlier, Hassan had spotted this new ‘Muzungu,' a white guy, jumping off the weekly ferry. Hassan approached with his best tourist grin plastered across his face and offer to help the newcomer with the dive tanks and other equipment, as usual, this quickly flourished into finding accommodation and a bite to eat. Hassan usually earned his daily cash catching fish, but Brody had come to dive. They made an agreement, Brody would hire him and his dhow with the small rusty outboard on a daily basis until he left the island. Giving Hassan a regular stable income for his mother, father, and sister, plus himself. This deal sat well with Hassan it was guaranteed money, a rare thing on the Island, he figured he could also do some fishing while he waited on the boat.
Brody’s watch was still ticking away the seconds, he had about a minute left, he loved it down here. So silent and peaceful, away from the dreams and memories he fought against daily. His lungs started to tighten, looking up again to the bottom of the boat; it seemed to be getting further away with every second ticking by, but Brody always wanted to push that little bit more, always one more step. He held on, then taking careful aim, the lovely Coley Coley was swimming about twenty feet away from him in circles, interested in this motionless creature just sitting, not swimming, not moving, not breathing. Brody aimed and fired, the bolt from the spear gun was dead on target, just behind the pectoral fin, it went straight through the fish’s heart. Brody’s practiced aim was proving to be unstoppable here, but the water was crystal clear he could see the bottom another sixty feet below him.
The fish was easily 12 pounds, a good size, there were a ton of them living off this reef. Brody believed in free diving for fish as this seemed fairer than using his tanks, at least the fish had some advantages over him in this alien environment.
The Coley Coley struggled then went limp, they were known for being the least energetic of the large eating reef fish in tropical oceans, Brody quickly dragged it in then started for the Dhow above.
When His head broke the surface, it was still only 07:00 but the temperature was already nearly 100 degrees, he felt the tropical sun burning his head immediately. Paddling to stay afloat Brody threw the line to Hassan, who gratefully took it and started hauling in the dead fish before the Sharks got a scent of it.
Hassan shouted, “Hey boss that was long, I thought you had joined the fish and swam away!”
Hassan always hid his fear that his boss and paymaster would disappear over the side and never come back!
He was a Swahili, the coastal tribe of East Africa, born in the water, they were natural boatmen, and could tell the weather, the wind, and tides before they could walk. They knew the best reefs, fishing spots, mooring points and also the best of what the town had to offer. Hassan had led Brody to a lovely secluded house or shack depending on the way you looked, it was on the beach and quiet with just the wind in the palms and the waves lapping on the shore, he had taken it without a second glance.
Brody did four more dives for fish that morning, he only wanted one but knew Hassan would be able to sell them in the market, his family would eat well tonight. Brody also knew the Swahili’s were so generous he would get more food than he could eat, cooked by Hassan’s mother, so the sentiment was not entirely altruistic.
After the last dive Hassan coaxed the outboard back into life which took a while, Brody pulled the big stone anchor off the bottom, and they set off back across the lagoon.
Brody sat on the small wooden deck of the boat gutting the fish as they slowly headed back towards the village where his shack was. The journey would take about an hour as the outboard had seen much better days and was just being prayed over too last until they reached home. He had gutted so many fish it was second nature; his mind started to wander. He was so lucky to have found this place, a tranquil paradise in the middle of nowhere; he could live peacefully and forget the past he so wanted to lose.
William Brody was born in the UK, in North London on the estates near Wood Green. The place was good enough, his mother and father both wanted the best for him. His dad worked for the local council, and his mom in an insurance office on the high street. Life was all right, a bit mundane but okay, Brody enjoyed school but was not so good at the education part. Sports, especially swimming, was great but sitting in the classroom was not so much fun. His reports always said that he could do better and must try harder. The inner cities didn’t have a lot to offer Brody, inheriting his father’s wild Irish ways he longed for the outdoors. When the school offered outdoor pursuits or camping his name was at the top of the list, every Friday his bike would be loaded with camping gear, cycling off into the evening, not returning until late Sunday night.
Whenever school was too much, he would head down to Canary Wharf on the Thames and watch the boats go by, smelling the tidal river as it raced in and out. His dream was to join the Merchant or the Royal Navy and sail the seas for the rest of his life; he could think of no better way to spend his days, afloat on the water he loved so much.
On his sixteenth birthday he applied for the Merchant Navy but was turned down as his grades in school were frankly rubbish, plus the few scrapes with the law did not help. The next stop was the Royal Navy, the recruiting officer was acting the same way.
The Sargent said, “Look, lad, you can do better at these exams and come back after a couple of years.”
Brody was not happy he asked out of exasperation, “What else is there?”
The recruiting Sargent looked him up and down, then said, “Well lad, you look damn fit, what about the Royal Marines.”
He had not thought about them before, it would be at least near or on boats. One second later the forms were signed, his dad breathed a deep sigh of relief and handed the lad over to the Royal Marines.
With a jolt Brody was back to the small fishing boat, all the fish had been gutted, they were only a few minutes from the small jetty. Hassan expertly maneuvered the Dhow up against the wooden poles. They landed the five Coley Coley, Hassan immediately seemed to find a basket made from coconut fronds, they appeared to use them for everything, then raced off along the dusty track towards the small fish market. Brody knew Hassan would get a good price for the fresh fish, the local boats had not left before 04:00 this morning it was a good eight hours round trip.
Hassan gave one of the fish to his younger sister to take home to their mother for the feast tonight. Since Brody had landed on the Island, their fortunes had changed, they were starting to enjoy his company, the rent from the little house on the beach also helped.
Brody collected his gear and headed off down the beach to his pad, it would be noon soon, this place would touch one hundred degrees, combined with ninety-five percent humidity, no fans or air conditioning made the situation almost unbearable. He usually found some shade and slumped in a hammock for the rest of the day or wandered the beach looking for interesting shells. Often meeting local fishermen, sitting on the beach mending nets, chatting with them was enjoyable, they did not have a word of English nor him Swahili, but they were good natured and happy to have someone with new stories to tell.
The Marines then the Special Boat Service had instilled in him the importance of learning the language and culture, mixing with the locals was second nature. Brody sat and patiently learned one word after the other, earlier in the week the old men had taught him ‘Samaki,' the Swahili word for Fish, he was going to use that tonight at the meal.
Right now all he wanted to do was head back to the little house and take a snooze, free diving was always tiring, the dull ache inside his head was growing as he wandered back to the shack. Although this was a strictly Muslim Island, the elders always managed to find a local drink called ‘Mnazi’ made from fermented coconut juice. When he got to the shack two old men were sitting on the porch, they had gnarled fingers and hands like tree bark, once fishermen but were too old for that hard life now. They mended nets, sharpened hooks and told stories about when the fish were bigger, and the ocean was more terrible. They also liked to sneak a drink, with three wives each and who knew how many children who could blame them! These old reprobates had snuck off and decided Brody’s house was a good idea, they could blame the ‘Muzungu,’ white man, if they got caught.
The ‘Mnazi’ was sweet like treacle, the old men had three small wooden cups with short hollow sticks for straws poking out of the top. The bottom of the straw had old sail cloth wrapped around the base as a filter. The ‘Mnazi’ came in ancient, battered gourds and was dutifully poured equally into each cup, pieces of coconut husk floated on top of the milky drink. It did not smell so good either but it was potent, the trick was to hold your nose for the first couple of shots then the smell seemed to disappear.
They had a good haul, Brody knew he would drink too much. The sweet, rough liquid was intoxicating, Brody had drunk his fair share of booze over the years, it had caused problems in the service on more than one occasion, but had all been covered up and glossed over as he was a good soldier. But that was then, and this was now, he was his own boss, no demands rules or regulations.
They enjoyed the drink; telling stories in English and Swahili as the alcohol flowed, he understood the Swahili much better, and them English. After four hours they were like old friends all the gourds were empty, they were just formulating the best plan ever, to steal a boat and head for the mainland for more booze. When Hassan came trotting down the path towards them he was horrified that the old guys had made Brody drink, they didn’t care and were falling asleep in the house.
Brody was drunk slurring his words, thinking he knew what he was saying, he was speaking to Hassan in Swahili that made no sense. Hassan left them to get his food the plan was to invite Brody for dinner with his parents, but as they were strictly Muslims, this would not be a good idea.
Lars instructed Eileen to stay where she was and to keep well hidden. He then worked his way to the left of the house. Not seeing anything, he moved closer to the rear of the house. Near the woodshed, Lars could see a body beside the woodpile. It was Ronald. Lars moved back around to the front of the house and took his position behind a large tree stump, which hid most of his body. Lars pulled the hammer back on his rifle and aimed at the front door. He let out another wolf howl. The three men came out again. This time the first two men out the door had guns. Lars aimed at the first man and squeezed the trigger. He quickly reloaded and fired at the second. Both men fell immediately while the third ran back inside the house. Lars hurried back toward the rear of the house and caught the third man running out the back door, heading for the woods. He made it halfway to the tree line before Lars dropped him. Lars ran up with his rifle ready to shoot again, if necessary. It wasn’t. The man was dead, blood oozing out of the hole in the center of his back. Lars hurried back around to the front of the house to check the other men. Lars had been dead on when he shot those two as well. Lars poked the bodies with the end of his rifle. There was no movement.
Lars cautiously peered inside the front door and then walked in―ready to shoot if necessary. The house was silent. There had been only three men, and Lars had taken care of them in short order. He went into the bedroom and found Sara on the bed lying face up, naked with a gunshot wound on her forehead. The pillow under her head was soaked with blood. He moved closer to the body. There was blood between Sara’s legs and she had marks on her arms and face. Bastards! Lars shook his head in disgust and covered Sara with a sheet. He then headed back to the woodshed. Ronald was lying face down in the dirt beside the wood pile. There was blood on the leg of his jeans and two blood spots on the back of his shirt. He still had the ax in his hand. Lars guessed the men had sneaked up on Ronald and shot him in the back. Then they raped and killed Sara.
Lars walked back to where he had left Eileen. She had watched Lars cut two men down in a heartbeat, and she had heard the shot ring out from the back of the house. She was crying when Lars reached her. “We need to call the police,” she said.
“And how do you suppose we do that?” he replied.
“I don’t know, but we need to call someone.” Eileen cried, as he led her all the way to the house.
“That’s not how the world works anymore,” Lars informed her. “There is no law anymore.” Her tears let up as she thought about what Lars said. Eileen was shocked at how a man who could be sweet and gentle could be so cold-blooded. But she knew Lars had done what he had to do.
Lars took Eileen into the bedroom where Sara lay. He pulled the sheet back. He wanted Eileen to see what he had seen. He wanted her to know exactly why he had done what he did to those men. When Eileen saw Sara, she became hysterical. She screamed and her whole body began to tremble. Though she only looked at the body a few seconds and then turned away, Eileen saw the bruises on the arms, legs and neck of the pale and slightly bluish body. She saw the blood and matted hair between her legs. Eileen then understood the trauma Sara had suffered through. Lars grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her toward him. He gave her a big bear hug, but a bear hug was not going to comfort her much now. They just stood there for a while and Eileen finally began to calm down and her trembling lessened. Lars pulled the sheet back over Sara’s body, and then went back outside. Eileen followed, softly crying.
Lars found a shovel and chose a nice spot to bury his friends. He began to dig. As Lars dug the graves, Eileen sat on a stump and thought about what had happened. Sara was such a beautiful woman. That could be me, she thought. Lars is right, there is no law out here to help us. We must help ourselves, and if we fail we will die just like Ronald and Sara.
Eileen got up, drew her pistol and found a target to shoot at. It was only a discolored spot on a nearby tree, but to her it was an attacker. She pulled the hammer back and fired at the spot. She fired again and again until her pistol was empty.
“What the hell are you doing?” Lars demanded.
“I’m killing an intruder,” she replied.
Lars just stood there in his hole looking at Eileen as she reloaded her gun. Again, she fired at the spot on the tree. When her gun was again empty, she walked over to the tree to check on her accuracy. Lars got out of the hole he was digging and walked over to the tree as well.
“Well done,” he stated.
“Thank you,” she replied.
Eileen could see ten holes in the tree, all within the dark area she had chosen as her target.
“What brought this on?” Lars asked.
“I’m not going to end up like Sara,” she replied. “Hell no! That is not going to happen to me.”
Lars smiled, then returned to his hole digging leaving his red-faced partner to her target practice. Eileen reloaded her pistol three more times and unloaded it on the tree. She then reloaded the gun again and stuck it in her holster.
An hour later, Lars had dug two holes side by side near a large elm tree. Eileen couldn’t help Lars wrap the bodies in blankets for burial. She was still very distraught and her crying continued intermittently. As Lars placed the bodies into the makeshift graves, Eileen picked some flowers she found at the side of the house. Lars began to fill the two graves with shovelfuls of dirt. When he was finished, Eileen gently placed the flowers on top. They both just stood there for a moment. Lars mumbled some words, and then turned to Eileen again and gave her another hug.
Eileen followed Lars back into the house. He looked around and gathered all the ammunition he could find and placed it into a cloth tote. Lars also found two .357 magnum pistols, which he put into the bag. He then gathered up the guns lying beside the dead men and a couple rifles Ronald had that Lars didn’t want to carry all the way home. He hid these in the woodshed where he figured no one could find them. Then Lars went back to the dead men. One by one he dragged them out into the yard. Lars closed the doors to the house, turned to Eileen and told her it was time to get back home.
“Are you going to just leave these men out here in the yard?” she asked.
“Coyotes and buzzards need to eat too,” he said. “Now let’s get home.”
Again, Lars seemed so cold-blooded, but she did not say a word.
Lars led the way back home, and for a long time, Eileen didn’t say a word to him. Finally, about halfway home, Lars stopped. He laid his bag and gun down against a log and turned to Eileen. He took her by the arm and pulled her close to him and gave her another bear hug. Eileen still felt shocked, hurt, and sad for Sara and Ronald. “I’m sorry,” he said. Eileen began to whimper a bit, and Lars gently pushed her back and looked into her eyes. “I’m sorry you had to go through this,” Lars said. “It couldn’t be helped. If I had not done what I did, the same thing might have happened to us. We could have ended up just like Ron and Sara.” Eileen nodded her understanding, but she could not help feeling the new feelings she was now experiencing.
Eileen had never seen anyone killed. She saw people killed on television and never gave it a second thought. To see two men buckle as bullets tore through their flesh, splattering blood everywhere, became very real for Eileen today. She felt their pain as she jumped from the echoing report of Lars’ rifle. She felt the pain of the man who ran out of the rear of the house as well, though she never saw the man get shot. This was something she would never forget.
The one feeling she was not having was fear though. Her stomach was in knots, but she felt safe with Lars. Lars was a gentle man, but when necessary, he transformed into a killing machine. He could take care of himself, and he could take care of her, she imagined. Or can he? Ronald couldn’t protect Sara. I can learn to shoot like Lars, Eileen thought, but can I kill another human being? I must. I don’t have a choice now, unless I want to end up like Sara. Eileen managed a small smile and pulled Lars back to give him a hug. “We had better get going,” he said, and they continued their trip home.
Lars and Eileen worked together to make dinner. They didn’t mention their ordeal throughout the meal. When they were finished, though, Lars suggested they go out on the porch. “We can talk some more while we watch the sunset,” he said. Lars refilled and handed Eileen her glass of tea, got his, and together they walked onto the porch.
Eileen was first to talk, “I know why you did what you did. It’s hard for me, but I know it was necessary.”
“We can’t take our safety for granted anymore,” Lars said. “We cannot assume everything will work out for the best around here. We need to get real serious about our safety or we may not live long.”
“Do you think we’ll have more intruders?” Eileen asked.
Freeda sat in the chair across from me and leaned back, her eyes probing mine. “I had a dream about you last night. You were running through the mountains in your wolf form, but you were being chased. I woke up before I could see if you were caught.”
I choked on a drink of coffee. “M-my wolf form?” I asked while coughing to dislodge the liquid from my windpipe.
“You already know it’s possible. The glow of your magic has changed.”
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(Available at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-the-gift-of-life-diamante-lavendar.html) When life gets tough, it’s not so easy to see it as a gift. When we are hurt or bad things happen,