Elizabeth screamed “Bo!” through the viewport grill.
Bo turned and looked her direction, and then bounded toward her, barking as he went. With his large body in the way Elizabeth could not see the man on the ground, but as Bo neared the door she could see that he was gone.
She threw up the crossbar and opened the door, letting Bo skitter inside, and then quickly dropped the bar back in place.
“Elizabeth, what’s wrong?” called her father’s voice from upstairs. She could hear the metallic click of a gun being put into operation.
“There’s someone out there dad, I saw him.”
“Are the doors locked?”
“Get up here and watch after your sister. I’m coming down.”
Elizabeth ran up the stairs with Bo right behind her. She slipped past the gate and into her bedroom, peeking out the window from behind a heavy iron plate and a row of sandbags. Her father had built heavy structures like it around all the windows, making them bulletproof. This kept raiders from shooting into the homes and killing them while they all slept, and it meant that each room had a protected area from which to fire back. This required heavy reinforcement – posts, timbers, crossties – all around the house, and since most of it had been thrown up quickly during the Emergency, it was ad-hoc and hasty work at best. It gave the home interior a very utilitarian look.
As Elizabeth squinted through a sandbag firing port near the bottom of the window she could see nothing moving on the lawn, in the wire fence, or in the garden beyond.
“Liz!” her father whispered from behind.
She turned to see him standing far back in the hall, looking over her head out the window with a pair of night vision goggles.
“Get down,” he hissed. “There are five or six men hunkered down in the wood line. Brazen, SOBs.” He kept watching with the goggles. “Definitely raiders, too. They are armed and pointing our way. Get Jim and Heath on the phone. Tell them they are on our north, between the two of us.”
Elizabeth crawled over to the hall and took an antique army field phone from a desk and cranked it a few times. Jim and Heath Sowell were family friends and neighbors just to the north. Back during the Emergency Jim Sowell had given the family the phone so they could coordinate at nights. For months they had seen a few refugees, and the occasional skulker, but raiders had been less common.
In a few seconds she heard Jim Sowell’s distinctive answer, “Yello?”
“Mr. Sowell, Dad says to tell you they are between us, on the wood line.”
“Hey there Liz, yeah, we seen ‘em come up, but we haven’t done nothing yet. He want us to shoot?”
Elizabeth looked up. “Dad, do they shoot?”
“No, not yet. They’ll be hard to hit in those trees, even for the Sowell boys. Just tell ‘em to keep a watch on. I’m going to get my rifle.”
“Mr. Sowell, Dad said not to shoot. He’s gettin’ his gun.”
Sowell didn’t respond for a second, and then came back with a hurried, “I see ten to twenty on our north. It’s pincer movement!” At that moment she could hear the sound of gunfire echoing through the night from the Sowell place a half-mile away.
“I know, honey. I’ll see what I can do,” he said as he rushed past her and into the hall. She heard his frantic steps as he went onto the shooting position on the roof. That was usually where he spent a part of his nights, watching for trouble.
Elizabeth did her job, getting her sisters Julie and Sarah into the sandbag bunker in her parents’ room. She left her mother in bed, as she was too difficult to move and the bed was well protected with sandbags anyway.
Elizabeth could not remember the last time her mother had moved out of the bed under her own power. She simply lied there most days, half conscious, slowly dying. The whole family tried to carry on without her, but the work load was getting to be unbearable. The two younger girls weren’t old enough to be much help, and so the major effort to raise and provide for the family fell to Elizabeth and her father. The strain was getting to everyone.
Her father, strong and patient as he was, was beginning to snap. He was losing his temper more often, and sometimes he just quit working midday and locked himself in his room. What was worse, the potatoes were running out. Elizabeth tried to fight back the gripping fear that her family, which had made it through so much, was now falling apart.
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five
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