The sun was just peeking over the horizon bringing with it the start of another hot summer day. The few birds left woke up and started their daily struggle to find good. Their sad song pulled me out of a fitful sleep. Mama use to tell me the early bird gets the worm and I started waking up early to see if it was true. Now I get up early to have time to myself. With two brothers and three sisters the house was always busy. I am the oldest at twenty and remember how the house became louder the more kids my parents pushed out. I know some people think I should have moved out a long time ago but that was no longer an option for many young people. The highest prized commodity was clean air and fertile land. Right now my family had fertile land and if I tried leaving, finding my own way in life I would forfeit my right to work my family land or have any inheritance. We are all home schooled or at least taught to read, write and do math. My parents tell stories of how children use to go to schools for hours during the day, I couldn’t picture it.
“Jennifer.” My moms voice called down the stairs. I had taken to sleeping in the lower level to give myself a small false since of privacy. “Jennifer the coffee is not going to make itself and today is laundry day.”
Putting my feet on the cold concert floor I hurried over to the small nightstand that served as my dresser and got dressed. Heavy socks to my knees to keep the biting bugs away. Black thick boots laced all the way to mid leg and tight black pants tucked in. Next I put on a leather bra covered by a tight black teflon shirt. Working the fields was dangerous with people always trying to take what’s not theirs. Tying my hair back with a black tie, I pull back the curtain to my small room. I saw my father racing down the stairs already dressed pulling on his face guard.
“Jennifer no time to eat. Rustlers have been spotted, all hands to the fields and watch posts.”
Shit, rustlers. They are the bane of our existence. Most people call them outsiders but my family love reading the old wester stories. They are there for the same reason, to take what they haven’t wired for. This is harvest week and usually two of my siblings stand watch at night. If the rustlers have gotten this close Xavier fell asleep, again. I swear one day he is going to come face to face with something his pretty face and charming personality can’t get him out of. Opening the inner door I step into the depression room and wait until I hear the air seal. I can see my father racing towards the fields, gun in hand, with two of my sisters following. Impatiently watching the timer I push the door open as soon as it dings. The harsh air makes my head instantly hurt but I’ve learned to adapt to it. Downing one of the purifying pills I take off after my family. Just as I come over the hill the first motor car is tearing over the opposite hill. Shit, they were close than we thought or they have once again moved their camp. I get to the first look out and club fast to get to the top. As the best shot Im tasked with picking off the big gun and anyone trying to sneak around back. Putting my eye to the scope I wait.
The head car comes to a skid with the two behind it barely stopping in time. When the driver steps out I see he is one we have dealt with before. His long dirty blond hair hands in matted tatters down his back. Half his face is covered by a skull face mask and he’s wearing an old army uniform, the color now faded and across his chest is a slash which holds medals my father says he earned before The Fall. A scar runs from above his right eye to just below his bottom lip. He stands with most of his weight on his left leg. His voice when he speaks is like nails on a chalkboard.
“Darrell, how good it is to see your family in such good health.”
“Andrew.” My father stands with his gun across his arm, ready, should play be made.
“My men and I were wondering if you would be so kinds as to give us of your bounty.”
“I’m sorry. This year we only grew enough for us for the winter and to barter with.” My dad moves to his right and waves at the small field we tend. “We will be in town the day after tomorrow, if you want to trade.”
“Now see here.” Andrew rubs his scar. “The way I see it you owe us.”
“Yes. We haven’t come in the middle of the night to raid your fields and we leave your beautiful daughters alone.”
“Are you threatening my family?” Now my dad is no longer relaxed and his gun is half raised.
“No. No. Just stating facts. NO need to get all huffy.” Andrew waves for his men to lower the guns they had raised. “But there’s no telling what my men will do if they don’t eat soon.”
“I thought you were in charge. You can’t control your men?” My dad knew as well as I did that Andrew only ruled because he was ruthless and underhanded. The last man who challenged him was set on fire while he slept. The first had taken the man and his gamy and supporters.
“I can and I do.” Andrew looks up towards me. “And if I tell them I want that pretty little thing up there, they will move heaven to get her.”
My finger tightens on the trigger and I can feel the itch I usually get right before I pull the trigger, I wait for my fathers signal.