My trigger finger is itching ad I can tell my dad knows. I have never had much patience and with someone threatening my family I am ready to act.
“Now my daughter up there.” My dad points with his chin. “She has a fast finger. You’all get on out of her.” He gestures with the tip of his rifle.
Andrew takes one more look up at me and winks. Sorry dad. I shoot a warning between his legs.
My dad just laughs. “Thats was just a warning. You have two minuets to get off my property before you have to carry some of your dead, or leave them for fertilizer.”
Andrew spits. “Now I was just being friendly. Next time I come out here my boys and I are not going to ask so nicely.” Climbing back into his car he signals his men to move out. We wait until they are a speck on the horizon before we relax.
“Come on down, girl.” My dad smiles up at me. “You are just this side of crazy.”
Sliding down the pole I land beside him. “I hate when people think its ok to threaten us. They think we are weak.
“They haven’t met you.” My dad puts his arm around me and looks around. “We need to get the harvest in today and get it locked up tight. I bet they will be back tonight and we can’t fight a whole troop of them.”
My two younger sisters, Rose and Violet, get up from where they were hiding in the shallows. We call them shallows for a good reason. They are dugouts we use as vantage points when rustlers show up. Most people know to look up but not many think to look down and my two sisters are fucking amazing with knives. I have watched them gut a rustler fast and clean without warning and without the men with him even realizing he was down. Looking at them you wouldn’t think they could handle themselves. Identical twins they have my mom looks. Long blond hair, angelic faces and the most amazing blue eyes, ever. They were born seven years after me and at thirteen they are a deadly duel.
“Girls head back in to see if your mom needs anything and tell the others to come out to the field. We need to hurry.” My father looks up at the sun. “We won’t get it all in but at least enough to be able to trade.”
“Papa.” Rose asks. “How did they get so close? Wasn’t Xavier on watch last night?”
“I don’t know. That boy is going to be the death of me. I think I heard him go out last night.” He looks out towards our neighbors. “I will go check and see if he’s there. Jennifer can you take charge and make sure the harvest gets in? I should be back in a few hours to help and hopefully have your brother with me.”
“Sure Da.” I tuck my gun under my arm and put a hand on each of my sister shoulder and lead them towards  the house. Looking back I see my father heading across the field.
“What happened?” My mother meets us at the door frantic.
“You know the usual. Andrew showed up and wanted to take our harvest. Did any of his men get around back?” I ask.
“No. Ashtin is still up in the loft keeping watch. Where’s your father?”
“Well Xavier is missing and he went to find him. Da wants us to start the harvest and get as much as we can into the safe room. He thinks the rustlers will return tonight.” I walk to the kitchen and grab a cup of water. The faint taste of metal is one I am use to. “I will head out and start. Lets keep two people on watch.  The twins can do the watch.”
“Alright. Let me go get your brother and meet you out in the field.”
I watch as everyone goes to get ready. For the most part we all watch out for each other and pitch in when needed. Xavier, on the other hand is always looking for a way to get away with doing nothing. In the last few years he has started shaving his teeth to points and painting his face. Theres a new cult starting up, made up of mostly young men, who think that they are superior to everyone else. I had hoped to keep my brothers way from it but it seems Xavier went looking and found trouble. Shaking my head at his stupidity I walk back outside and head to the field. Thirty minuets later everyone is working, fast, to get the harvest in.
As I pull up the small potatoes and carrots I try to picture what they must have looked like when my parents were young. They talk about how carrots were sometimes so big two people could eat one and how potatoes came in a lot of different shapes and colors. The carrots were even sweet, now they have a bitter taste that my father says comes from the fact that our water is not as clean as before. As the sky starts to turn orange I call a halt to the harvest and we start to pull our haul back to the house. I see that we have a good amount and next time Da and I head to the nearest trading town we should get some good trade out of it. At least tonight Ma can make her famous soup.
“Jennifer. Your father hasn’t returned.” My mom sounds worried. “It’s not like him to stay out after dark.”
“Let me finish this last run and I will climb up on the roof and see what I can see.” I sit down the last sack of potatoes and head upstairs. Climbing up the ladder to the lookout on the roof I nod at my sisters. “Have you seen any sign of Da?”
“No and it has me worried. He should have been back a while ago.” Rose holds out the binoculars. “Here you are better at this then any of us. See if you can spot him. Oh we did see some type of fire towards our neighbors house, wonder what they could be burning this early in the year.”
I take them and scan the horizon. I can see a small orange glow in the distance, in the same direction as my father went in this morning. “Here. Tell mom I’m checking something out. You stay up here and if you see anyone but Da or me coming I want you to get the family downstairs and on the bus, leave and don’t come back. Don’t play hero.”
A few years ago my Da and I had found an abandoned bus on our way to town and had brought it back. It had taken us a year to fix it up but now it was in great running condition and tricked out to be a traveling fortress. Not a full size gas guzzler but a smaller one painted black. At night it would blend into the landscape and give us a safe place to sleep. The seats were taken out and an extra gas tank had been put in. The windows are painted black, all but the windshield and the escape hatch has been turned into a lookout spot.
“What did you see?”
“Same thing you did, a fire. I will be back.” Sliding down from the roof I head towards the small motor bike we keep in case of emergencies. Kicking it on I head in the direction I saw the fire.

© 2019 by PAULINA WOODS.