Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Siah went to the kitchen to refill her water glass. She barely stepped back into the living room when Nathan surprised her by breaking the silence.
“I have a question.”
She looked at him as she sat back in her spot at the coffee table.
“Since when do you carry a gun?”
“Yeah, and since when do you shoot- like that?” Eric added.
Siah smiled at them. She didn’t blame them for being curious. They had been living together for several weeks now, but this was the most they had ever really talked. There had never been time, she was usually too exhausted to converse and passed out right after dinner.
“It’s kind of a long story.” They both looked at her expectantly.
Well okay then, more Storytime. She felt herself smirk. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d talked about herself so much.
The boys must be bored out of their skulls.
“Like I told you before, my grandpa trained me how to handle a firearm. I’ve actually carried a gun until just recently. When Holsun first took over the town he declared that no guns would be permitted within city limits except by his guys. I still carried; I just started hiding it. It’s easy enough to hide a small gun under a lab coat. It was about two months ago that he came into the clinic and searched for weapons. When he found me carrying, he made an example of me so everyone knew he meant business. His toughness showed all over my face.”
She felt her face harden at the memory of that public humiliation.
“At the time I was living in a nice little house on the other side of town, had a nice old lady looking after Sharlie for me while I was at work.
He took my only gun that day but what was worse was what he said afterwards.
He leaned over me, told me my home address and the name and address of the lady I left Sharlie with and said if I didn’t cooperate with him, she and Sharlie would be the ones to pay. I knew he meant it. The second he left I ran straight for her house, told her what had happened and helped her pack up. She had family in Denver she could go live with. I made sure she had a ride out of town that very night.”
She blew out a breath. Had all this really happened only two months ago? She did the math in her head. No, it hadn’t even been six weeks. Wow.
“I stayed with Mason that night and didn’t let Sharlie out of my sight. The next day I moved into this place.”
Both boys just sat back and stared at her.
“So, when were you able to get a new gun?” Eric finally asked.
“Oh, I’ve had this.” She gestured to the leather thigh holster now visible without her coat.
The boys just looked confused.
An image flashed across her synapses. Lord, seriously? She looked at each boy in turn. Lord, this is weird.
“Come on. Let me show you something.” She stood and motioned for them to follow her into the bedroom.
“I’m sure you’ll recall that first night you were here Eric, how I chunked your gun in the fire?”
“Yeah. You didn’t have to burn it you know. It was expensive.”
“Oh, like you wouldn’t have shot me if I hadn’t.”
He shrugged. She had a point.
“Besides, that thing was a piece of junk anyway.”
He gave her a look.
“It’s true. Come to think of it, we should get you both some decent weapons. That cannon you’ve been trying to hide is ridiculous.”
She bent over a floorboard where the mattress had been in the small bedroom.
Effortlessly, she pulled up a loose board, revealing a cavity hole underneath. Curious beyond words, Eric, Nathan and Sharlie knelt down over it as Siah pulled out several plastic bags. She opened one bag and handed Eric a Sig Sauer semiautomatic handgun- fully loaded.
“Now this is a good piece.”
“You’ve had that there all this time?”
She nonchalantly pulled out and placed on the floor two more semiautomatics like the one she’d handed him, plus two small revolvers. She pulled out another bag, this one huge, and showed them a hunting rifle with a scabbard.
Eric and Nathan felt their mouths hang open.
“Wait, that means- you, you could’ve shot me that first night!”
“Yes it does.”
She pulled a belt holster out of the hole and hefted it in her hand, gauging the weight.
“I was holding a gun to your head; I could’ve killed you! Killed Sharlie!”
She stood and took off the thigh holster she was still wearing over her jeans.
“But you weren’t going to.”
She wrapped the belt holster around her waist and put her gun into its new position at the small of her back. She wasn’t used to wearing belts but she would deal.
“You didn’t know that!”
“Eric,” She put her hand on his big shoulder and looked him straight in the eye. She spoke slowly. She wanted him to really take in what she was saying.
“The first time I met you two, I saw how you were hesitating when you saw that I had a baby. That night you brought your brother in here, as bad off as he was, you still let me put Sharlie to bed and comfort her. You may be willing to kill boy, but you are no monster.”
She put a hand on Nathans cheek.
“You were just desperate to save your brother.”
Eric decided to bring up what had been bothering him since that night.
“You didn’t act scared that night, didn’t you, even consider using these?”
“Yes, I did, but like I’ve said before Eric, God gave me a peace about you boys. Even while you had the gun on me, I felt the Holy Spirit say to me, plain as day, ‘don’t be afraid, he will help you.’ That didn’t make sense to me at the time, but it does now.”
She playfully shoved his face a little before getting serious again.
“Eric, from now on I don’t want you to go out unarmed.” He was still holding the sig she’d handed him. “From now on, I want you to carry that, in this, on you, at all times.”
She handed him her thigh holster.
He just looked at her his eyes wide.
Suddenly she could picture him as a child very easily.
“Of course for real. Now try it on. I want to make sure it fits.”
He buckled the belt around his waist and then the buckle part that went around his thigh. The belt had been big on her, so while he did use a very different notch than she did, it fit him well enough. She put two fingers into the belt around his waist and thigh and gave it a tug. He comically wobbled a little.
“You need to tighten the strap around your thigh a notch.”
He obeyed and she tested the fit again. This time it felt good.
“Now put the gun in the holster and try to do a squat, sit down, just see how it feels.”
He obeyed and did the movements. The new weight distribution felt odd, but he could get used to it.
“Good. Now come on, it’s been a long day. We all need to go to bed.”
“Hey, how about next time I get off of work early, I show you both how to really shoot?”
Again, they looked at each other sideways. Their first thoughts about Siah still held true.
This chick was just weird.
Siah woke abruptly, shaking her head free of that nightmare, that memory. It had been a long time since she’d last had that dream. She calmed down her breathing quickly enough. The memory was still there but no longer held the terror it once had.
She looked at Sharlie knocked out next to her on the mattress. She remembered nothing of the attack and she was grateful for it.
It was still the wee hours of the morning. They had gone to bed early, so now they were getting up early, well, she was anyway.
She looked at the two boys on either side of her. Her gaze lingered on Nathan; when he was resting so peacefully like this, it was easy to picture him as a little boy. Her smile turned sad, he was old enough to always remember how he got his scars.
The sleep patch she’d stolen from the clinic was doing its job. It was an extremely low dose skin patch designed to allow traumatized children to sleep through the night.
Precious Savior, let him sleep well through every night.
She put one of the split logs Eric had brought into the fireplace.
She looked at Eric as she waited for it to catch. He was sleeping in the same spot against the wall where he’d been since they had all started sharing sleeping space.
She thought it odd for him to choose to sleep there when it’d be much warmer closer to the fire but he must have his reasons. That boy did nothing without reason.
Even as she looked at him Eric seemed to suddenly be having a nightmare, first becoming restless, and then thrashing almost as bad as Nathan had that night. His thrashing was quickly working his way out of his sleeping bag.
Having learned the hard way, she squatted down next to him and gave him a hard shake, making sure to dodge his fist when it came at her. His thrashing only became worse. The only thing keeping him from getting up and sleepwalking was the tightness of the sleeping bag now worked down to his waist.
She hated to do this. She reached up a hand to slap him when suddenly his hand went to his belt and he pulled out his knife.
She barely dodged as the blade came at her, as hard and fluid a movement as if he were awake.
She fell to her back as he came at her again.
She rolled left, and then right, as the knife went into the floor next to her on either side twice.
His eyes were half closed. He was completely asleep!
She rolled and dodged another blow, her left arm suddenly searing as he shoved the sleeping bag off completely.
Kick! Kick now!
She hated to do this. She reared her leg back and kicked Eric in the face.
His eyes snapped open. He was back to himself. He looked at her and his face registered horror.
“Eric, give me the knife.”
He began to cry as he gave it to her.
She took the knife, tossed it aside and hugged him. “It’s okay. I’m okay. It’s alright.”
He did cry but only a little, calming quickly enough. She didn’t let him go.
“You’ve been waking up like that since you were thirteen?”
She heard him sniffle as she felt him nod. She was surprised he was actually hugging her back. He was breathing deeply like he’d just been through a serious physical exertion.
In a way she supposed he had. His mind had clearly been somewhere else. The boy looked more scared than she.
Snoring her foot! The boys knew how they woke up sometimes, that was why they’d been so paranoid about sharing sleeping space.
She kept her hold on him as she ordered him point blank, “You are never going to sleep with a weapon on you again.”
They were picking up the manners she’d taught Sharlie. Good.
“Now wait here and clean this mess up. Leave your knife on the mantle. I’ll be right back.”
She got up and went to the bathroom, holding her left arm strangely. That was when he saw the blood coming through her fingers.
He looked at his knife, thrown off to the side. It had blood on the blade and there was a small puddle of it on the floor.
Oh God! It was worse than he'd thought!
There was fresh sticky blood on his shirt where she'd hugged him.
He had slashed her! He had slashed Siah!
How could he have done that? He could have killed her.
“Eric, what happened?”
Nathan looked from him to the puddle and back again, his face as horrified as he felt.
“I, I…” he couldn’t bring himself to voice it.
“Your brother had a night terror like what you had.”
Siah strode in from the bathroom carrying an odd array of supplies in the same plastic bin she had used the night Nathan had been shot.
“Except unlike you, he was able bodied and had a weapon on him.”
She sat on the rug in front of the now bright fire and jerked her head to Eric. He swallowed as he sat next to her. Now that she wasn’t holding her arm, she was oozing blood down her sleeve.
She handed him a pair of scissors.
“I need you to cut my sleeve off here.” She indicated high up, almost at her shoulder.
He cut her sleeve off and winced at the depth of the cut. It would need stitches.
Siah pulled off the rest of the sleeve herself, when he saw her bare arm, he gaped.
He had never seen Siah’s arms bare. It was always cold. She always wore long sleeves.
Under the blood of the fresh wound, her arm was covered in long, erratic slashes, defensive wounds.
She handed him a suture kit, like what she'd used that night on Nathan.
He looked from her arm to her.
He had never been at a loss for words before he met Siah.
“Not right now.” she said miserably. “Just stitch.”
She walked him through the process of stitching her up. He worked as carefully as he could. Not like he’d ever done this before. The substantial respect he held for Siah went up several notches as she took the stitches with hardly a flinch.
He knew the story of the scars on her hands, but the slashes on her arm- where had those come from? What had she not told them? He glanced at Nathan and knew he was wondering the same thing. She knew everything about them.
It occurred to him as he followed her instructions and tied off the last stitch, just how little they really knew Siah.
She had Eric wrap her arm in gauze over the stitches, instructing him how to properly tie it off. She sighed and rubbed her neck as she looked from one boy to another.
Good grief. Nosy kids.
She sighed as she got up and went to her closet for a fresh shirt. She peeled off her now one-armed outer shirt and tossed it into the laundry hamper. Good grief that pile was getting huge.
Keeping her unscathed undershirt on, she paused, her gaze drifting from the comfy green sweater she had selected to her hand, and then her arms.
She was so used to the scars that she couldn’t actually remember the last time she had paid attention to them. The ones on her hands were painfully obvious, but always being able to wear long sleeves, the ones on her arms were easy to hide and, honestly, easy to forget.
Shame, the cause of them, she never could.
She shrugged herself into her the sweater and decided to just tell them.
She went back into the living room and two heads swiveled at her in unison. Sharlie was still out cold. Through everything that had just happened, the child had barely stirred. Good thing.
Nathan opened his mouth as if to ask her something. She held up a hand and he shut it. She managed a tired smile at the sight. She still had to go to work in two hours.
If she could get this over with quick, maybe she could go back to sleep for a little bit. She looked at where the blood had been a few minutes ago. The carpet in that spot had been freshly cut out and the wood underneath it scrubbed. She looked sideways at the mantle. Eric’s knife was still there but placed differently than before. She could still see some fibers on the blade.
She looked at him and he ducked his head. Though she doubted he would, she had the feeling the hard boy wanted to cry again.
She bent down and gripped his shoulder. “Eric.” he looked up at her, eyes shimmering. She gestured with her head to follow her. She gently sat herself back down on the mattress, scooting Sharlie into her lap so Eric could sit next to her on the mattress. The boy seemed to startle as she draped one of the blankets over him.
Nathan stayed on his mats.
She would tell them the bare bones of the story and let them ask questions later. She closed her eyes and took a shuddering breath. She spoke in a whisper. Her eyes never left the flames.
It was time to tell them.
“You remember my story of how I got Sharlie?”
Both boys nod. She’d never told Nathan but knew Eric had to have at some point.
“These,” she peeled off her fluffy sweater, revealing her arms in the sleeveless black undershirt.
“These I received the night I was attacked while inside.”
She waited while the boys took a good long look at her as she rotated her arms slowly in a light stretch so they could see her under her arms. Her forearms had long erratic slashes all over; defensive wounds to anyone with a trained eye. Besides the small straight slash across her upper arm Eric had just given her, she had several other slashes on both shoulders. They could probably see some of the slashes on her chest, peeking out of her tank top.
She felt the boys’ eyes all over her. It felt a little awkward. She wasn’t showing any cleavage but it was more skin than she was used to showing anymore.
“The place was built to sustain a large amount of people for a long period of time. There were multiple stories of living quarters with rooms of various sizes just like a large apt complex; or a prison, depending on how you look at it. I was fortunate enough to get a small room to myself. It was just that; a room with bunk beds and a small bathroom. Meals would be served in a big cafeteria.
The first week we were there a man broke into my room while I was asleep. I didn’t even hear him; all I remember is feeling him on top of me in the dark. He had a knife. He told me to stay quiet or he’d kill Sharlie. He pressed the knife to my neck. I let him paw all over me before he finally had to move his knife hand off. That was when Sharlie started crying. He cursed and reached out to hit her. I reared up my hips and bucked him off me, went for the knife.
We fought. He slashed at me in the dark. I had my grandpa’s tool kit though. It was on the floor in the corner. When he threw me down and came at me I picked up my grandpas hammer and bashed him with it. I didn’t stop hitting until he stopped moving.
I actually slipped in blood as I scooped up Sharlie and ran.
My hands had barely healed; I was bleeding- all over the place.
I literally ran into one of the MP’s. I told him what had happened. He called for backup. They took him out. One of them took me to the infirmary. The fight had reopened the wounds on my hands and added several more. Between both arms and my torso I have over 150 stitches. That’s not counting my hands.”
She chuckled as she put her shirt back on.
“Afraid you boys are never going to see the ones on my torso.”
Only now did she raise her eyes where they sat on either side of her. Their faces were masks. She’d hoped her last comment would lighten the mood, but no.
“So, that’s how I got my scars.” She took a breath and relaxed. She looked down at the back of her hands in the firelight.
“I’m afraid it’s nothing as brave as what you boys did. I didn’t go on the offensive, I just survived. I ran. I ran like a scared little girl.”
She balled her hand into a fist. She looked past it and into the fire.
“I ran when I should have killed him; especially when I found out later what he’d done to those other women...”
Maybe it was because both boys now understood her a little. Maybe it was because they now knew she could empathize with them, she knew what it was to have to fight for your life, but it was to her everlasting shock when Nathan enveloped her in a bear hug. She had the impression he was as surprised as she was.
Even more shocking was when Eric scooted over on her other side and tentatively reached his arms around her as well. For some reason she couldn’t express she began to cry. She felt both boys shuddering with silent tears as well as she wrapped her arms around them as best she could.
There were no words as she held them both. Whatever this was that was happening to them, it felt like a release.
She could feel it there, in that moment, as strong and clear as the heartbeats around her; there was a Ghost in the room.
Siah’s words echoed in their minds as they finally laid back down. Her wounds had been reopened. No wonder her hands were such a mess. They hadn’t healed right.
Pathetic, a doctor couldn’t get decent medical care when she needed it herself. 169 stitches! On her tiny body! No wonder they looked so bad. The knife that phycho was using must’ve been something with a thick blade to make those kinds of scars; a hunting knife maybe.
Nathan could imagine how she must’ve looked to that MP, slashed, she really would’ve been, “…bleeding all over the place,” and with a baby in her arms….
He hoped the guy had beaten the phycho to death for him.
Funny, Siah didn’t seem bitter about the whole thing. She seemed, sad, and, a little embarrassed. “’…it’s nothing as brave as what you boys did. I just survived. I ran. I ran like a scared little girl when I should have killed him.””
He wondered if that would’ve helped. Siah was strong but in the situation she was in, she needed sympathy. She had made the right call. Killing that guy might’ve gotten her arrested and she might’ve lost Sharlie. Strong as she was, Siah couldn’t fight the Army.
Not alone at least.
Then it occurred to him- those stains on the mallet- they were blood.
He surprised himself by actually chuckling.