Elizabeth awoke with a start. She sat upright, unsure at first what had awoken her. A noise? Her father snoring from across the hall? The popping of logs in the fireplace? A dog barking? She couldn't be sure. She listened, straining to hear it again. And then she heard it, sure this time, the unmistakable “warning” bark of Bo, her family’s pet and guard dog.
She could normally tell in an instant if he was barking out of curiosity, boredom, playfulness, or if it was more serious. This bark was the serious kind. She slipped carefully out of bed to keep from waking her sister, and then tugged on her muck boots and eased down the hall and passed her parent’s room, which was dark and still. They apparently hadn't heard Bo, but that wasn’t unusual; Elizabeth had a keen sense of hearing and a special bond with Bo, and so often was the first one up if his bark meant business. Elizabeth briefly considered waking her parents, but decided against it. It was okay to check very quickly and see if there was a real danger before waking them up. Her father and mother worked so hard, and she wanted them to sleep a little extra if they could. No need to bother them over a possum in the grain buckets, or if the Miller’s cow was in the garden again. Besides, she knew what to do. They had trained her well.
She made her way down the hall, first unlocking the steel cage door at the top of the stairs. This was a barrier which protected the upstairs sleeping rooms from the rest of the house; if bad men broke in, they would have to make a lot of noise before getting to the family. Beside the door was a rack of rifles, and she picked out a small one, just her size. It was pink with a small but powerful flashlight taped to the muzzle. Once switched on, wherever the rifle pointed it would become bright as day.
Elizabeth unbolted the security door and eased it open carefully. It was well oiled, for just this purpose -- so that family members could open it without alerting bad men that they were awake and coming to greet them. She left the door slightly ajar and tread quietly down the stairs to the heavy front door of the home. It was more like a fort, really. The door was studded with iron and steel plates and heavy timbers, and she slid a footstool near the door over to her, stepped on it, and then craned her neck to peak out the tiny glazed view port.
The yard in front of the house had once been covered in her mother’s flower beds. She had vague memories of them, of playing with a puppy-sized Bo and her then toddler-sized sisters as her mother tended the beds in her sun hat. That seemed like ages ago now. The yard was all barren, all possible hiding spaces cleared away, with the large shady oaks felled and turned into lumber to reinforce the house. Where the white picket fence once stood was now a barbed wire one, the pickets repurposed as shutters.
She could not see the dog in his crate on the front porch, nor was he anywhere in view in the yard. She listened for a few minutes and thought she heard him scramble across the backyard. At well over a hundred pounds, he was not a quiet dog and sometimes at night it sounded as if a horse were loping around the house. At the back door she stood on a stool and instantly saw Bo – his thick body arched, hair standing on end across his back, his head down. He was not barking, but instead emitted a low, rumbling, and menacing growl.
He was locked on to something she could not see from the view port. She placed her head near the port and craned her neck, straining to get a view of something . . . there it was, a shape on the ground, moving . . . crawling . . . perhaps a dog. Sometimes packs of wild dogs had terrorized the family, and forced them to take Bo inside until they could be dealt with.
No. She saw it now. She could finally make it out. A man was lying on the ground. He had a gun. And it was pointed at Bo.
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