Obviously didn’t finish last night but I just couldn’t. The remembered terror of what I had seen brought back some pretty powerful memories. I’m not feeling very well today either. The wildfires all up and down our part of the coast have just built on each other and the air quality is very bad. It makes you even more tired than you already have reason to be. The almost daily shocks that I have been through are also weighing me down.
So back to the story …
When all three boats left I was sick with disbelief. My mind didn’t want to process it. I’ve thought a lot about what I saw and how it made me feel … or should I say made me recognize some of the things that had been building in me all along. I’m not sure what to say. Part of me is horrified. Part of me is … is relieved to know I’m not completely broken. The other parts I’m not sure what to do with except to box them up, appreciate them for what they are, but remind myself that feelings are only one part of how things work.
I also needed to keep fear at bay as I read a book one time that said, “Fear is the mind killer.” I think it was “Dune” but I can’t be sure since it was while Papa was still alive when I read it and that seems a long time ago. But regardless of where the quote originated it is certainly true. You let fear rule and you are paralyzed. I’ve already been there done that once with the never ending hospital bills to prove it.
Whatever was happening was no ordinary emergency. I might have even been looking on what would become war if it wasn’t already. Who were the good guys? Who were the bad guys? Why would our military turn on our law enforcement or vice versa? Too many questions and not enough answers. This wasn’t a novel; there were no cliff notes. This wasn’t the movies; there was no screen play. This was real life.
I looked around more carefully than I had been doing up to that point to make sure while I was watching everything else, nothing was watching me. Then I looked at the sky and wondered about drones. I hadn’t seen any lately but then again I hadn’t been watching for them. They had become like birds in my mind; I knew they flew by on most days but I couldn’t tell you always when or what type. They were just part of the environment; annoying, but as unavoidable as palmetto bugs.
Nothing was obvious so I scooted back inside. I checked on Feena, saw her still playing well by herself, and then went down to the kitchen and started some dinner. While the soup cooked I closed up what little bit of the house I had opened. I also refilled all of the water containers. When the soup was done I poured it into the thermos I had used for our lunch. It was too early to put breakfast to soak so I put the water into the breakfast thermos.
I decided as much as the animals would hate it I was going to have to put them up early. I checked on Feena again and found she’d fallen asleep in the middle of her toys. Before I left the house I stopped, went back to my room and took the pistol – a Ruger P95 – from my nightstand, and slipped it self-consciously into the pocket of the jacket I was wearing. I also put a handful of 9mm bullets that went with it in my pocket.
Then I stopped again, took out the gun and did the check that Cal had insisted I commit to memory … the last part was to check that my magazine was full and that the safety was back on. The capacity of the magazine was 15 + 1 so I counted and then added a few to make 32 bullets in my pants pocket. And something made me grab my keys and lock the door behind me when I stepped outside. The idea of leaving Feena alone in the house truly bothered me but I didn’t have much of an alternative.
As I expected, the animals were less than pleased about being forced to go in early so I gave them a little extra feed to sweeten their dispositions. I figured once I closed the shed up that they lived in, it would be dark and they might think it was night time and go to sleep anyway. I was feeling bad about the goats so I grabbed the machete from the tool rack and went over to the palmetto stand to cut some for them to chew on. I was set to bring down the machete when I realized I heard noises off in the dense scrub between my property and the gated community.
Listening harder I heard three men speaking in Spanish though with an accent that I wasn’t used to hearing. They were native speakers, I could tell that, but from a country that I didn’t have much exposure to which was unusual.
The first hombre said, “El anciano dice hay cabras aquí. Pollos demasiado. ¿Crees que él estaba mintiendo?” (The old man said there were goats over here. Chickens as well. Do you think he was lying?)
The second hombre answered him, “Temía por su vida demasiado. Dijo que también hubo una mujer allí. Tomaremos los pollos. Tomaremos las cabras. Y nosotros tomaremos a la mujer.” (He feared for his life too much. He said there was a woman there too. We will take the chickens. We will take the goats. And we will take the woman as well.)
A third hombre complained, “¿Por qué? La mujer hace demasiado ruido. Al menos con los pollos podemos exprimir sus cuellos.” (Why? The woman will make too much noise. At least with the chickens can ring their necks.)
The second hombre in a cold and unfeeling voice that drew coarse laughter from the other two asked, “¿Quien dice que no podemos hacer lo mismo a la mujer?” (Who says we cannot do the same to the woman?)
Over the years I have found that I am very flexible, the way my personality expresses itself is different with different people. When I am around non-Hispanics that side of my heritage plays to the fore. And when I am around Hispanics I tend to reveal that part of my heritage. Now whether it is just an old wives tale or a stereotype I’m not really sure but when I am around Hispanics my temper seems quite a bit hotter; it will go from simmer to rolling boil almost too quick for me to catch it. It doesn’t happen often but listening to those men did unleashed my fire. It was not just their words, but the tone and way in which they spoke them.
I had to stop them. I was as sure of that as I was that to remain alive I had to continue breathing. They were on my property with their machismo all hanging out and threatening my animals and me which meant they were also threatening my daughter. My fear was gone. My worry evaporated. I was calm. And the grip on the machete I held was strong. “Zombies,” I thought. “They are nothing but zombies. Los muertos en espíritu really do walk.”
My caution, and some confusion, reasserted itself when I saw them. They wore the same type of clothing as the law enforcement officers that had been shot. Was it possible that they weren’t LEOs? These men obviously weren’t but the ones on the boat as well? But what were they doing wearing such uniforms? As they drew closer I saw that the uniforms didn’t fit very well. They also weren’t wearing regulations shoes. I couldn’t recall whether the same could be said of the men on the boat. What they did have that the men on the boat had not were guns and they carried them like they knew how to use them.
A stupid machete was not going to help me. I considered just hiding and dealing with whatever the aftermath might be. But then I changed my mind. It was ridiculous to think that they’d pass by after specifically coming this way for food … and whatever else they wanted. I carefully put the machete into the crook of the oak tree I was hiding behind and pulled the P95 from my pocket. If I needed more than 16 bullets for three men I was in too much trouble for the gun to do me any good so I knew I would have to make it count.
It was as I was watching them that something else bothered me; they were too familiar with walking in the type of landscape they were in. Most people, when they walk through scrub, show that it isn’t something they normally do. They’ll trip on the blackberry canes or saw brier vines. They’ll lurch in the patches of loose sand. They’ll kick leaves or crunch dried palmetto fronds that had fallen to the ground so that they make a lot of noise. Not these three men. I knew that meant something but I didn’t know what, so I filed it away in case the information became useful.
I gave them one last chance but they weren’t changing their direction and were making a fast but cautious beeline for the house. There was no more time. They were not going to hurt my daughter or take my property that I needed to take care of her.
It was too easy. That is what bothers me the most I think; not the result but the doing. It was just too easy. There were three men and with a breath, breath, they no longer inhabited this earth. Their bodies remained but they were no longer in need of them.
I’d hunted and fished with Daddy and Papa for as long as I could remember. Momma insisted. She grew up poor, knew what it was like to be hungry in a time in this country when real hunger was something too few really understood much less experienced. Daddy didn’t want to at first; he wanted a little lady. Papa – being more worldly and experienced – asked Daddy why I couldn’t do and be both. So I learned to hunt and fish … and clean my kills and cook them, eat them, and preserve what I couldn’t eat right away for later. I fished from the dock but Daddy did refuse to allow me to learn to operate the small sail boat that used to be tied up there; memories of my brother’s loss caused him pain until the day he died.
Daniel had thought having a girlfriend that could shoot was “cool.” So much so that he sometimes embarrassed me and one time almost got me in trouble with one of my foster families who imagined I was some gangsta fem with guns on the brain. Being able to talk guns kept me from being a victim in a couple of the homes they stuck me in. And now, knowing guns was going to kept me from being a victim again … only I wouldn’t be talking about them but using one. I set my stance and used the tree to steady my aim.
Daddy and Papa always said to shoot to wound was inhumane; that a clean kill was the mark of an honorable hunter. Cal had told me to always shoot to kill or not to pull the gun at all lest it be used against me. I told me to shoot to kill because wounded men were dangerous men and the three in front of me were already dangerous enough.
Remembering Cal’s instructions to aim and hit the center mass of the intended target I sighted and then caught all three by surprise with my ambush. They walked right into it. I don’t know if it was overconfidence on their part, luck on my part, or a combination of the two. No matter how you cut it my first two shots were clean, making two men fall where they stood. The third turned to the side before I could correct my aim and my bullet took him in the right side of his chest. He stumbled, giving me time to re-set, and I placed a round between his shoulder blades knocking him to the ground where he finally lay still … I shot a man in the back.
Four shots from me and three men were dead. If I were a cop or a soldier then I would have done a good job and could say perhaps that I was proud of my actions. But I’m neither of those things and in truth I’m merely disgusted that it was necessary.
I quickly changed my position and waited for five minutes but nothing happened. No sounds of anyone coming to investigate the gunfire. No yells. Nothing. I wasn’t sure then that I wanted to know what those three men had left in their wake wherever they had come from. The only “old man” that I could think of in the direction that they had come was a couple in the gated community. I was not up to investigating.
I ran back to the house and checked on Feena. She was just waking up from her nap and I was in a quandary. I needed to get rid of the bodies, and quickly, but how to manage it with my daughter?
I had no choice; I put her in the sling and then left the house. Soon enough she dozed again. I pray she didn’t witness anything. I’m hoping God heard my prayers. She was used to riding my back or hip as I worked so all of the bouncing around she did didn’t faze her. I remembered the ants of my last encounter with a corpse so I wore latex gloves under my rose gardening gloves. I also brought a tarp … not to cover the men up with but drag them away on. The canal near the gated community, the one that emptied into Hillsborough Bay, was going to be their burial site. Even if they didn’t sink I knew the tide would carry them out and away overnight.
It took two hours and the day was ending on a chill note before I was finished. Nothing on their persons revealed their identities. I did find where they had crossed as just on this side of the road next to the canal were three duffel bags filled with miscellaneous stuff, all of it looked stolen. The first two bodies went in with no problem, the third I was nearly unable to do because what I found when I got back with the last one turned my stomach.
Sharks. It is November so they should have all gone out to the warmer waters of the Gulf but obviously not … or maybe all the fighting and fear lured them back. Either way several had found the corpses of the first two men and were in the process of savaging them. But then I thought, “Let their own kind have them back.” I rolled the last corpse in, turned my back, and walked away.
Feena woke while I was giving the goats the palmetto fronds I had promised them. I had collected them at the same time I collected the machete. Then it was back into the house and locking it down for the night. Feena wanted her dinner badly and I sat and fed her to keep the mess to a minimum. It was only after feeding her and cleaning things up that I had to rush to the bathroom and throw up. But that was it, just the once.
But it left me feeling washed out. I knew that I needed rest. I went around the house and picked up and cleaned what needed cleaning. Still no power. And I worried about draining the batteries from the solar system as it had been so hazy and overcast that I didn’t think much charging had occurred at all so all I did was fill water containers and took a shower using the shower bag.
Feena and I were as clean as we were getting, her more so than me. I let her play for a while longer and by ten o’clock she was tired again. And I was exhausted. I folded a comforter and laid it beside her nest of blankets. I then laid my bedspread over everything. The space had been a “water closet” back in my great grandparents’ day but had been turned into what it was now when the indoor bathroom was put in downstairs and the old chamber pot stand was no longer needed. There area was deeper than wide which was fine for a hidey hole.
I had told Feena we were camping in a dollhouse and she loved it. I didn’t even have to tell her it was time for bed because she had been eagerly waiting for me to finish making things more comfortable. She crawled in and laid right down. I was suddenly edgy and decided to take a look from the widow’s walk.
I needn’t have bothered, there was nothing to see. Moonlight gave the haze from the fires that still smoldered on the far shore an eerie, opaque glow that was nauseating. I climbed down and then my next stop, this one involuntary, was Cal’s room.
That was where I almost cried … almost. We had parted on less than good terms. I knew he still cared enough to warn me when the whole mess started but I’d discovered something, something that I wasn’t sure what to do with, and “cared enough” wasn’t as hopeful and satisfying as it should have been.
Then to bed. I snuggled up to Feena, too tired and full of care to break down the way I likely needed to. I didn’t even have time to wonder if I’d be able to fall asleep before the black curtain of exhaustion fell across my eyes.
Something woke me. I don’t know what even now. I just knew that something was different and that something was in the house. I heard nothing no matter how I strained my ears but despite the silence I became more and more certain that there was something in the house with us … someone … more than one someone. The house seemed to breathe differently.
My heart started to pound. I tried to convince myself that it was nothing, that it was my imagination. Then I heard something through the wall vent; a thump that nothing in the house could have made on its own. I wondered when they would start tearing up the interior. I thought if they made enough noise perhaps I could escape with Feena out of the window before they realized the house wasn’t empty.
How did they get in? Why I hadn’t heard anything before? What was that noise? The stairs?
My heart was pounding. I could barely breathe. It … they … were getting closer … and closer. I heard the door to my bedroom turn … it needed to be adjusted as it was loose. I hadn’t locked it because of this; worried I would lock it and be unable to unlock it with Feena stuck on the other side.
I heard a step … not a light one but not noisy either. Male – definitely male – and definitely bigger than me.
I sat up as carefully as I could, still barely breathing, took the P95 I had brought into the closet with me, and aimed it at the door.
The knob turned gently. A little harder like it was being tested. Then, with me unable to compute it, there was a scrape and the knob turned all the way. The door was pulled outward carefully.
I was shaking so badly I could barely hold the gun. This was different than the men in the wood lot’s scrub had been. This was up close and personal and all I had was fear instead of anger. Feena was asleep right behind me. What if I made the wrong decision? What could I give them that would make them just go away? There was the obvious of course but then I was out of time to debate myself … the door opened wider and with the large shadow looming over me and the gun in my hands twitching wildly I pulled the trigger and simultaneously launched myself out of the closet knocking the person down and as away from the closet as I could manage.
I was trying to bring the gun up again when two large hands grabbed mine and pushed my arms up and away towards the ceiling. I didn’t have much time, it sounded like the cavalry – the man’s cavalry – was on their way up the stairs. Feena was screaming in the closet, the loudness of the shot jerking her awake in fear.
In desperation I continued to fight, for my daughter, for myself. Then the man rolled me over on my back squashing the wind out of me and still I tried to fight. If I could just loosen his grip.
I tried to raise my knee but he seemed to be prepared for it. His hip bore me into the hard wooden floor. Then someone ripped the gun from my hands; not the man as his never moved from their hold.
Strangely enough something – someone slapped the man above me on the side of the head. “Damn it man … for a cop you got a bad case of the stupids. Or maybe you want a scar like I got on my a** where my third wife took a shot at me when I came home late one night and scared her.”
A bright light nearly blinded me but I still fought on. I knew that voice but I couldn’t give up. I couldn’t let them get to Feena.
“Aria! Aria!! Stop it! It’s me!!”