Updated: 6 hours ago
Before dawn Siah bolted out of bed, ran to the closet, grabbed her clothes, ran to the bathroom and was half dressed before it occurred to her- she didn’t have to go to work.
She breathed out an exhausted laugh.
She changed back into her jammies, stumbled into the kitchen and poured herself some water as she calmed herself.
She couldn’t believe she’d done that. The first time in months she was able to sleep in and she still woke up before it was light out? She supposed she shouldn’t be surprised. It had been nearly a year she had been going at this break neck pace, she couldn’t expect herself to stop too abruptly.
Washing out the glass, she set it aside and walked back into the living room to see all three kids propping themselves up and looking at her. She breathed out a laugh at their bleary faces.
“I’m going back to bed. You kids do the same. ”
She banked the fire and snuggled back into bed with Sharlie. She was asleep in a minute. Eric and Nathan looked at each other over her. Eric shrugged; Nathan let out a rare chuckle as he laid back down and dozed off. Siah was so weird.
They all slept until long after the sky lit with pale gray light.
Pounding on the door caused them all to jerk a foot in the air, everyone scrambling for their weapons.
“Doctor Villalobos? It’s Marshal Thompson.”
Why on earth was he here?!
She lifted her long over shirt and stuffed her revolver into the pocket of her pajamas, motioning for the boys to do the same as she went to answer the door. Marshal Thompson was there, two deputies behind him. They looked her up and down, clearly embarrassed.
“Could we come inside and talk ma’am?”
Siah shook herself awake and made a show of rubbing her eyes.
“Yes, yes of course. What’s going on?”
“We just wanted to tell you that the judge has officially signed off on how we called it. The shooting of Brent Holsun has been legally ruled as self-defense.”
She let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding.
“And we actually have some more good news for you.”
“There was a reward out for Holsun dead or alive.”
“I- didn’t know that was a thing.” It sounded like something out of an old western movie.
“It is. Same rules of law apply. If the case hadn’t been ruled self-defense you would’ve faced the same consequences as any other homicide.”
“Murder and self-defense are very different Marshal.”
“I know it was ma’am. That’s why I ruled as I did.”
He tilted his head and looked straight at the boys.
“You outta know ma’am, we found a weird dunking device stashed close to the lake.”
Siah didn’t miss his change in tone.
“Seems it was a dumping ground for Holsun and he used the device to torture by drowning. Good way to get information out of someone.”
The Marshal was paying particular attention to Eric’s hands. Having just woken up, he didn’t have his arm guards on; leaving his scarred wrists exposed by the too short sleeves of the hoodie he slept in.
Eric balled his big hands into fists as he lifted his chin and glared at the Marshal.
“Well,” she said overly loud. Sharlie woke up from behind the boys and was looking around with sleepy eyes.
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.” The Marshall turned his attention back to her.
She prayed the boys could keep it together.
“So how much is that reward?”
When he told her the amount, Siah felt her jaw go slack.
“The Federal government put that high a bounty on Holsun?!”
“No ma’am.” He chuckled. “The reward was posted by the Anti-Slavery Collective. Since Holsun had been a known slave trader they put the reward out for him themselves.”
“Wow.” She had only heard of the Anti- Slavery Collective in passing. “They put bounties on people?”
“That they do ma’am, been no end of trouble for us since they started either.”
“Since criminals began killing each other off to get the rewards.”
He flicked his gaze to the boys.
“It’s one thing to put a price on information that leads to an arrest, but a price on people’s lives? That’s just the same thing the bad guys are doing. It’s been one blood bath after another with too much collateral damage.”
“Is what they’re doing legal?”
“Yeah. It’s been a pain.”
“Anyways, I’m not under obligation to tell you, but it seems,” He looked around at the tiny room, the sleeping bags and mats still strewn around the floor. “That you really need the money.”
She forced her jaw not to clench. She was embarrassed, but he was right. She did need the money. Since Holsun had taken over the town and the clinic, he had been giving her only enough to keep her alive. She wouldn’t let her pride get in the way of providing for her kids.
“Thank you Marshal.” He gave her the contact information for how to collect the reward money, and gave one last lingering look to the boys before tipping his hat and leaving with his men.
Throughout their talk, it had not escaped her notice that the two younger Marshals had both dropped to a knee at different moments- right next to the plywood covered front doorway- one to tie a shoe and the other to, “Check the workmanship”, apologizing as he did for the cracks that were creating drafts. They made no move to go anywhere else.
So there weren’t any other bugs. Surprising. She’d thought for sure one of them would ask to go to the bathroom or to get a glass of water from the kitchen.
When she finally shut the door behind them, she braced herself against it and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
It was over.
It was actually over. The circle was complete.
She turned around and looked at the boys. One circle was finished and another was beginning.
“Well, since we’re all awake now, let’s go for a walk.”
They both looked surprised but didn’t protest.
They had to walk farther into the forest than usual for wood. When they came to an area with a decent amount of dead wood around, they all drifted off, each lost in their own thoughts.
They both jerked their heads up when Siah broke the silence.
“You boys need to understand something; the Marshall's know what you did to set up Holsun.”
What? Siah continued to pick up fallen branches as she spoke.
“Either they just can’t prove it or Marshall Thompson is deliberately ignoring or even burying evidence he’s found.”
They looked at each other. “Why would he?”
“Thompson knows me. He knows I’ve stuck my neck out for him, for this investigation. He knows what a valuable asset I’ve been and possibly could be again in the future. He’s also taking your ages and what you two have obviously been through into consideration, so he’s trusting my judgment about you two.”
He and Eric looked at each other.
“How do you know all this?” he asked.
She finally stopped and looked straight at them like she usually did.
“Both of you need to understand, you were an answer to prayer.”
“I prayed for protection for myself and Sharlie. I prayed for the grip Satan had on this town through Holsun to be broken, whatever it took.”
She looked them both in the eye. “Praying for something to happen, ‘whatever it takes’ is a dangerous prayer to pray; but the situation was dangerous, so it was fitting. All the months I was working with the Marshalls, I told them, especially Thompson what I was praying for. He’s not a Christian but he is a person of peace. He indulged me and listened.”
She blew a long breath out.
“The way he was looking at you boys just now, then me, he was trying to tell me, without any words, that he knew what had happened and was letting it slide.”
Her eyes looked shiny, like she was about to cry, she took their hands and smiled at them both as a chill breeze blew through the trees. They looked up, over the mountains they could see huge dark rounded clouds rolling towards them.
“Come on. We’d better head home.”
They nodded; picked up the wood they’d gathered and left.
Siah felt the temperature drop and saw her breath in the air for the first time in years. Since the Ruin it had been perpetually wet and cold, seasons being indistinguishable. Would it be dry and cold from now on, or for a few months? Would that be the only noticeable change in seasons? If it was, they would need warmer clothes and bedding, soon. What they had now was barely keeping the chill at bay. If it got colder…
They headed home in silence.
Eric had never thought he’d have a place he’d think of as home.
Siah was talking to Nathan while Sharlie tried to inject herself into a discussion that was too grown up for her.
Maybe it wasn’t the place so much as the person. They’d never had anyone in their lives who’d really cared for them, never anyone who would risk anything for them.
Yesterday when she’d just appeared there in the doorway he’d been shocked. He’d thought they’d have plenty of time to clean up and get rid of the body before she got home, but then she was just- there.
He still couldn’t believe how she’d reacted, after she’d seen them kill, again- this time in her own house- he had expected to see shock, horror, terror for Sharlie, instead she had calmly covered for them, even to the point of taking the blame for Holsun’s death, even covered up what they’d done to the pervert.
So she didn’t want them to torture anyone again, he and Nathan still had to talk about it, but- that wasn’t asking for much. He hated admitting it, but she was right; it wasn’t like they wouldn’t have been ready for anyone anytime, and besides Holsun coming after Siah and Sharlie, all the other information the perv had given them was out of date or irrelevant to them.
Two days after Holsun’s death- First Storage Unit-
Siah woke up feeling chilled. No question, they needed new bedding. She didn’t have much money left, but she was sure Manaen and Elaine would give her what they needed out of their store- she just hated to ask. She knew they needed the money.
She looked at Nathan on the same thin mats he’d been on since day one. Eric had brought their sleeping bags from where they’d been staying before, but it was still pathetic cover in these temperatures. The mattress she was on had seen better days. It had been here when she’d moved in. She only felt safe to use it because she’d put a layer of plastic between it and the sheets.
She would swallow her pride; call the Carvers in a while and ask- no.
An image of the set of keys Carl had left in the spider hole she now stored her guns in came to mind. She’d nearly forgotten them.
Will there be good bedding there?
The urge to pray came over her. Siah prayed for her friends she hadn’t seen in so long, for the boys still sleep on either side of her, for the Marshalls, for their case against the cartel operatives who’d been arrested and for clean new pillows, blankets and bedding they could bring here to the apartment. She went all out with her prayers and went on to pray for a car; she would love to drive again. The Great Wave had taken her last vehicle and she hadn’t been able to get a new one in the last three years. Survival had taken precedent.
She leisurely got up and put the last of the meat into a fresh pot. It was the kind that was only good after stewing for a long while but it would have to do.
She absently wondered if it would be tender by the time she came back for lunch. Wait, she didn’t have to go to work. She giggled with relief. It was really over. Really, really over. She turned from the fireplace to see all three kids sitting up in bed and looking at her strangely.
“Mama, what’s funny?” Sharlie piped up.
She smirked and hugged her. “I’m just happy I don’t have to go to work.”
She looked at each of them. “Hey kids, let’s do something fun.”
She laughed again as three very different young faces held the same mystified expression.
Over the small, chewy breakfast, Siah explained about the secure storage units on the other side of town.
It was Eric who voiced what they were thinking. “So that same drug dealer that gave you the keys to this place, also gave you the keys to his storage units?”
“Yup. I remembered Carl mentioning them. They’d been collateral for a debt. He hadn’t even looked through them when he blew town. I figured even if there wasn’t any merchandise in the units; they might still make a good place to hide out if needed. I never have checked though them though, so, who knows.” She smirked, “Maybe we’ll find us some hidden treasure.” She said in a piraty tone. They didn’t get the joke.
“At the least I’m praying for new bedding for all of us.”
“Yeah, blankets, pillows, that kind of thing, especially something new for us to sleep on.”
An hour later, they were lost in the maze of open air storage units.
During the long walk to the storage units, she told them in brief the story of how she had met the Carvers on her way here from Texas, how she had heard they were in Tinplate and wanted to visit them later.
The entire walk here, they hadn’t seen a single other person, no one else driving, no one else walking, no one at all. The truth was plain; Tinplate would soon be just another ghost town.
The front office of the storage units were of course, long abandoned, but the locks on the storage units were surprisingly intact. Siah was pleasantly surprised, she’d half expected the units to have been ransacked; Guess no one had bothered with storage units when robbing warehouses and stores after the Ruin had been easy.
She turned to Nathan. “Hey.”
“Hm?” Eric grunted. Couldn’t they ever take a hint and have Nathan respond? She wondered if Eric’s habit of talking for the both of them was something they had coordinated or just a habit.
“Did you boys ever rob this place?”
They looked at each other over her head. Did they think she didn’t notice when they did that?
“We tried.” Eric said, “But we couldn’t figure out how to pick the locks.”
She couldn’t help but snicker.
“You couldn’t find a pair of bolt cutters?”
“Not good ones.”
She laughed out loud at their discomfort before pulling to an abrupt stop. This was it, a number that matched to one of the keys!
“Yes! Thank you Lord!”
Siah set Sharlie down and pulled the keyring off the carabineer hanging on her belt loop. Lord, please let this work.
To her immense relief the key fit into the lock perfectly. Lord, please let this be fun for all of us. She lifted the garage style door and felt a rush of pressurized air hit her. The small metal room was full of cardboard boxes of various sizes with an odd assortment of big stuff scattered in the back.
“Surprised how clean it is.” Eric muttered. He was right; the room held no trace of mildew or mold anywhere. The very thin layer of dust on everything bore no traces of mice or bug tracks anywhere. Surprising. The door must have kept this room hermetically sealed.
“Okay kids, everyone take a box and look for anything we can use. Don’t forget I’m praying for new bedding for all of us.”
The boys looked at her then each other before drifting to the stacks of boxes. They each took one while she and Sharlie shared.
Her first box was a hodgepodge of a guy’s miscellaneous personal items, some useful, most not. The second was electronics from before the Ruin. Shoving the depressingly useless tech aside, she continued with a third.
Siah looked up from where she was kneeling. She felt herself smile as the boys pulled a huge tool kit out of a box. Nathan opened the drawers and he and Eric gawked at the tools inside. The looks on their faces made it easy to picture them as children on a Christmas morning.
She drank in the sight.
“Siah, can we keep them?” The joy in Nathans eyes was startling. It was such a stark difference from his usual, from when they had first met, it made her breath catch. Eric gave her a yearning look, still too afraid to hope. It was with effort she held back tears.
“Course you can keep ‘em sweetie.”
He and Eric hefted the huge metal box out and looked through the contents almost reverently. Siah brushed aside her tears and continued rummaging through the box of clothing she’d found. Nothing useful, a lot of summer wear.
She pulled out a red one piece girl’s bathing suit. Memories overtook her; swimming with her little brothers and nephews, helping her nieces with their bathing suits and showing them how to braid their hair so it wouldn’t get in their way while swimming. Then there was that time she had gotten her grandmother to get in the water at the lake with her…. she smiled despite the tears that spilled over.
Sharlie’s shout broke her out of her thoughts.
“Mama look! There’s paper!”
She quickly brushed her tears aside.
“Good girl Sharlie!”
She had trained Sharlie to know how valuable paper was and to keep an eye out for it, but as Siah dug everything out of the box, she took out several more school related items.
There were several sizes and types of backpacks, notebooks, drawing paper, and construction paper, regular and children’s scissors, pens, pencils and several different sized boxes of crayons and map pencils. She hadn’t seen these kinds of school supplies in years!
Thank you Lord.
Born just before the Ruin, her baby had never held a crayon before. Choosing an eight pack of thick triangle shaped crayons made for small children; Siah opened a package of construction paper, knelt on the floor next to Sharlie and showed her almost four year old how to color with crayons. By the time Sharlie had been old enough to enjoy things such as crayons and paper no one was making them anymore, they had been difficult to find, and ridiculously expensive when you did. Siah could see a new pathway opening up in Sharlies mind as she put her first lines on the page. She got the hang of the crayons quickly and began coloring diligently. She looked up then and saw the boys looking at Sharlie with longing in their eyes.
Had anyone ever given them crayons?
“Hey,” she said casually. “Boys, I’m going to want to take this home. We’ll get a lot of enjoyment out these ourselves and the Carvers have a little girl, I’d love to share with her.”
Her eyes were moist as she smirked, like they were fooling her. She set the box of supplies next to the toolset. The next few boxes were more miscellaneous mishmash, some of which she had to explain to the boys.
“What’s this thing?”
“I don’t know. Ask Siah.”
“Hey Siah, what is this thing?”
“Oh my goodness let me see that.” She walked over to where Nathan held up a beat up box.
She opened the box and took out the slightly dusty thing. “It’s a salt lamp. I haven’t seen one of these in years. They were popular for a long time. I had one myself. It’s called a Salt Lamp because it’s made out of a solid chunk of Pink salt that they bore a hole into and connect a tiny light bulb inside of.”
“Why would you make a lamp out of salt?” Nathan asked.
“It was supposed to provide a natural, healthy light that promoted sleep, like steady firelight.”
No one spoke until Nathan broke the silence.
“So without the bulb, it’s just a lump of salt?”
“Yup.” She plunked the thing back into the box and smirked.
“We’ll have to wash it before we can eat it.”
They kept rummaging until Sharlie declared herself to be hungry. She hated to leave while on a roll but she knew Sharlie needed to stay on her schedule, and honestly she was hungry too.
“Okay kids, lets pack it in, we’ll come back in the afternoon. Sharlie, let’s take this with us.”
Sharlie watched in awe as Siah chose a small pink canvas backpack from the selection in the box and zipped the construction paper and crayons inside. The thrill on her face as Siah slipped it onto her tiny shoulders was an expression she would never forget.
Eric carried the big tool chest while Siah hefted a backpack with the rest of the school supplies. Nathan had a duffel bag full of miscellaneous items over his good shoulder.
Sharlie held Nathans free hand, looking for all the world like Cleopatra showing off her jewels.
She was worried about the weight of the duffel bag on Nathans shoulder, but he assured her it was fine. Despite his protestations, she saw the relief on his face when they finally arrived home. The boy was exhausted.
“Nathan, sit back and rest. We’ll serve up the food.” He didn’t protest as he crawled onto his mats. Eric put away the tool box in the corner of the room before dragging the coffee table to the fireplace in front of Nathans mats like they always did. She set the first bowl on the table just as Eric set it into place. Siah loved that meals had become such a comforting routine for them all.
After lunch, the boys went to turn over the firewood they’d set to dry under the overhang while Siah took Sharlie to swing for a bit before her nap.
It began to rain as she took Sharlie inside. The child fell asleep quickly and Siah thought to herself, when was the last time she had treated herself to a nap?
Siah looked up at the boys as they shut the door behind them. Nathan had been ready to fall asleep before they’d eaten and Eric worked hard every day.
“Hey boys,” both perked their heads at her. Honestly, sometimes they stuck her as truly twin like.
“I’m gonna take a nap along with Sharlie. You two want in?”
“Why don’t you two take a nap as well? We deserve one.”
She thought they would bluff and bluster about not needing such things as naps, but to her everlasting shock, they simply looked at each other, turned back to her, nodded, and silently went to their beds.
They hadn’t been back to the storage units for ten minutes when Siah scared the boys witless.
“Eeek!” Both boys jumped and reached for their weapons as they whirled to where she’d been opening one of the larger boxes.
“What is it?”
Siah did a double take at Eric’s spider question but decided to ignore it.
“Boys, I found coffee, real, instant coffee!”
They both looked into the large box she had just opened. “Whoa.” They said in unison.
“This is valuable right?”
The box held row after row of brand new, see- through plastic jars of instant coffee, plenty for them to enjoy and trade with.
Siah tried moving the large box but found she couldn’t, it felt dense and heavy. There was more than instant coffee in this box. “Boys, help me move these.”
Siah felt her heart race as they moved the jars aside and uncovered the tops of two large white buckets. Lifting out the packing peanuts, she had Eric lift the buckets out one at a time so they could see the label.
“I can’t believe it!”
It was two five gallon buckets of Maple Syrup! One hundred percent grade A organic maple syrup! The lovely little green maple leaf was a brand logo she didn’t recognize, but that didn’t matter. She knelt right there and laid hands on the bucket.
“Lord Jesus, we thank you for this blessing. Let it nourish us and not hurt us, let it bring joy to us and those around us. In Jesus name I pray, Amen!”
She looked up at the boys. They looked completely lost.
“Come on boys,” She grinned. “Let’s keep looking.”
They cheered as four other large boxes were filled with package after package of freeze dried and M.R.E. type foods, the pinnacle find in the last box including, of all things, two five gallon containers of Wildflower honey.
Siah was floored. Between the unopened containers of instant coffee, real maple syrup and honey, they certainly had enough to trade for a ride into Boulder to pick up the reward money for Holsun. That would allow them to move out of Tinplate for good- and the MRE’s and freeze dried foods- she laughed out loud at the sheer joy of having so much food, even the boys smiled.
It was getting too close to dark. She had the boys pack up as much as they could carry in their new backpacks and headed home.
On the long walk home, her mind wandered. Despite the joy of dinner being set, Siah looked at the boys and sobered. She needed to leave Tinplate, but she wanted the boys to leave with her. She wanted them to stay with her- forever… then something else occurred to her, the boys’ clothing.
Each was only wearing jeans and a shirt with a hoodie and jacket. The fleece hoodie barely fit Eric and Nathans was too thin. Their jeans fit reasonably well, if not a bit short, but they each had only the one pair. Both of their sneakers looked like they were held together with glue. They probably were.
In the few short weeks they’d been with her, she swore Eric had grown more in the shoulders and chest, and despite better eating habits she had been worried that Nathan looked thinner then when they had met. It was only just this morning it had occurred to her- Nathan was meeting her at the eyes- he hadn’t been able to before. The boys were having growth spurts right in front of her!
The boys said they were used to trading for what they needed but if what they were wearing was any indication, those were not good trades. She had been able to bring some pajamas, underwear, socks and a few shirts that had fit Nathan from the clinic, but nothing she had found had been big enough to comfortably fit Eric.
If she was being honest the sweater and jeans she was wearing were pretty shabby too. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d bothered thinking about looks. She kicked herself for not praying about this sooner.
Lord, please give us all better clothes.
Her grandmother had taught her how to sew. She was sure she could alter anything they found.
Even if they’re too big I’m sure I can resize them. Please bless us with real coats Father. I’m sick of seeing the boys in those ratty hoodies. They deserve better.
It was nearly dark by the time they arrived home. Siah was grateful for the MRE foods. The salty dinner was heated and eaten quickly.
Nathan surprised her as she lubed him up with the essential oil mixture for the night.
“Hey Siah, how many more units do you have keys to?”
“Six more.” She smirked.
He turned back to her and grinned. It was so good to see that boy smile. She rubbed his head Sure it was a sneaky, smug smile, but baby steps.
Someday Lord, please let me get to see a truly heartfelt smile on his face.
Siah closed her eyes and took in a long breath of chilly air as she fingered the threadbare blankets over her and Sharlie. The kids were long asleep while she looked at the fire and prayed. She prayed again for clothes, pillows and blankets for all of them- and courage for herself.
“Please bless me with courage.” She whispered. She was never very good at emotional stuff- with being vulnerable. But she would have to suck it up. She smashed her thin pillow over her face.
Sometimes she hated being an adult.