The 7 days of snippit rampage continues. Here is chapter 3 of the upcoming novel, Hard Magic. (coming in 2011 from Baen Books) Feel free to share it if you like it, because that’s how I sell more books, and I always welcome comments. 4 more sample chapters to go.
And if you are just joining us:
As soon as the idea was introduced that all men were equal before God, that world was bound to collapse. Behold the failed America, a culture steeped in rot, their magics used publicly in the streets, without control, even allowed to the despicable Jew.
Adolph Hitler, Final Munich speech before his arrest and execution by firing squad,1929
The paper didn’t have much more about the theft of the UBF dirigible. There had been a small article about how it was found abandoned in a field in Missouri the day before yesterday, but nothing new today. The headlines were mostly about the upcoming election, and FDR was talking about some New Deal, which just smelled a little too much like what the Marxists in Europe were shoveling for Sullivan’s tastes. A group of his fellow veterans had gathered in Washington as what they were now calling the Bonus Army. Some anarchists were going on trial for something or other, but those assholes were always causing trouble. Besides that, the rest of the front page was about how the Bolsheviks had signed a new pact with the Imperium and the Siberian Cossacks to divide up Manchuria. The embargo was forcing the Japs to use Hydrogen in their airships, but other than the inconvenience, they were busy as could be taking over everything in the Eastern hemisphere. The sports page was still going on about the baseball scandal, after the Yankees had been caught illegally using magic to hit more home runs, and the boxer he’d put $5 on to win last night had gotten knocked out in the second round. Figures…
The door opened. “We’re ready for you.”
Sullivan carefully folded the paper, put it back on the table, adjusted his tie, and entered the conference room.
“So, how are you feeling, Mr. Sullivan?”
He didn’t answer for a long moment. Mostly he was feeling angry. Lied to, cheated, used… And that wasn’t even counting the physical injuries he was still recuperating from. His back hurt, headaches were making it hard to sleep, his right hand still wouldn’t close all the way, he had itchy stitches in his leg… and he was fighting a miserable cold. So overall, Jake Sullivan was in a lousy state, but when the man asking the question was also the man that had the power to put you back in prison, it did bring out a certain level of politeness.
“Fine, Mr. Hoover, sir. I’m doing fine,” he lied. The bandage around his hand gave him an excuse not to shake J. Edgar Hoover’s hand.
“Excellent,” the Director of the Bureau of Investigation said as his assistant pulled a chair away from the table for Sullivan. It was at the far end of the conference room. “Have a seat. We were just discussing your actions in the Jones case.”
Hoover was a stocky man. His eyes were quick and a little too crafty, and he spoke too well. Sullivan had never liked him, and had developed an instinctive distrust from the first time they’d met in Rockville.
Purvis looked uncomfortable. His arm was in a thick cast. The Fade had broken it in two places with that club. Cowley and the other four agents from that night were also present, as well as a couple members of Hoover’s entourage and a grey-haired secretary who was poised to scribble some furious shorthand.
He was too much of a professional and a gentleman to speak badly about his superior to somebody like Sullivan, but it was obvious that Purvis didn’t like Hoover much. It was understandable. Purvis worked his ass off and had busted some of the most dangerous Active criminals there were, but Hoover was always the big hero in all the papers. And now the Special Agent in charge of Chicago looked real uncomfortable since his boss had felt the need to hop a dirigible and fly all the way here from Washington to get a personal debriefing.
Sullivan had sat out in the hall for that part. He wasn’t one of them. In fact, he was a convict, a low-class criminal dirt-bag. He’d heard how some of these men spoke about him. They thought he was just a dimbulb Heavy that they could bring in once in a while to smack around some Active hooligan they couldn’t handle. Sure, there were a few G’s who treated him with respect, like Purvis and Cowley, or the Treasury guy Ness, but most of the others were openly hostile.
From the beaten feel of the Chicago agents, it looked like Hoover had given them a good ass chewing. “We were just telling the Director about your bravery—“ Purvis started to speak, but Hoover scowled hard and Purvis shut his trap.
Hoover coughed politely before continuing. “These men were impressed by your actions, Mr. Sullivan, but I, on the other hand, am a bit let down.”
Sullivan raised a single eyebrow. Oh, this ought to be rich.
“When you were released from Rockville early, you made an agreement that you would assist the government in capturing people like you… And my understanding is that you now wish to stop helping? Do I have that correct, son?”
Sullivan was pretty sure he was about the same age as Hoover, and he didn’t cotton to being called son. “Yes, sir. That is correct, sir.”
Hoover didn’t like that answer, so he stopped and picked up a piece of paper and began to tap a golden pen on the table in front of him as he pretended to study it. His frown made the other agents shrink a bit. “You’ve been a valuable asset, one which I’m not prepared to lose.”
“With all respect, sir, my agreement with you and the warden was that I would help arrest five Active murderers.” Sullivan held up his bandaged hand and began to count. “Tommy Gun Smith in Philly, Jim McKinley in Kansas City, the Crusher in Hot Springs, the Maplethorpe brothers in Detroit, which should count as two, and Delilah Jones was the last, and I did everything I could to catch her.”
Hoover nodded. “So a Heavy can count. I see we’ve got us a jailhouse lawyer here gentlemen…” the members of Hoover’s entourage laughed. The Chicago agents knew better. “You want math, Sullivan? I’ll give you math. Jones got away. So that makes four.” Now Hoover held up his hand, thumb curled in. “And you did not manage to arrest the Maplethorpe brothers.” Hoover lowered a chunky finger. “You gunned them down, in the streets, in broad daylight. Maybe you’re right. They should count as two.” He lowered another finger.
“They didn’t leave us much choice, sir,” Agent Cowley stated. “I was there. They came out shooting and—“
Hoover glared at the agent. Purvis shook his head angrily. Hoover had ended men’s careers for far less than interrupting him. Cowley wisely backed down. Hoover turned back to Sullivan. “So by my calculations, that means you owe me three more arrests.”
The big man’s nostrils flared, but he kept his outward cool. “That wasn’t the agreement.”
Hoover leaned back in his chair. “Tolson.” He opened his hand, held it out, and one of the functionaries immediately stepped forward and placed an open folder in it. “Thank you. This is your agreement, Mr. Sullivan. Let me educate you for a moment. An agreement is a contract between two men that is legally binding. Except that’s the rub. You’re not a man, you’re a convict. So…” Hoover pulled a sheet of white paper, crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it at Sullivan. It fell short and rolled to a stop right in front of him. “The agreement says whatever I say it says. You will help arrest Delilah Jones, and you will do whatever else I tell you to do. Lincoln freed the slaves, but he never said anything about the convicts.”
Sullivan just sat there, staring at that crumpled piece of typing paper. His anger fed the Power in his chest, and he thought about just reaching across the table and Spiking Hoover through the floor, then he could pull the pile of smashed guts and pulverized bones up out of there, launch it through the ceiling and spray it as a red rain over downtown Chicago…
But he didn’t, because despite what the jury had said, Jake Sullivan was not a murderer. Sure, he was a killer, he’d lost count of how many lives he’d ended in the war and in fights in Rockville, but he wasn’t a murderer. There was a difference.
He spoke very slowly. “You lied to me…”
“I work for the government, son. Deal with it.” Hoover pushed away from the table and stood. He addressed the entire room. “Carry on agents, and this time, when you let a felon escape, do not let it get in the papers. That will be all.” One of his men opened the door, and Hoover turned to leave.
But Sullivan wasn’t done. “Hoover.” His deep voice reverberated through the room, and there was no Mr. attached. The crumpled paper floated off the table, and hovered, spinning, in front of his face. Hoover visibly paled, hesitating in the doorway. It was a well known fact that the man was terrified of magic. Sullivan slowly enclosed the paper in one big fist and took it away. “You lied about Delilah too. I was suspicious that a bunch of Actives just happened to know we were going to be there to catch her. I did some checking yesterday. I’ve got some cop friends in that area, and they say she didn’t kill anybody during any bank robberies.”
That seemed to take Purvis by surprise. Apparently the Chicago agents had been in the dark too. “So who were those dead men in the photographs?” Purvis asked.
Hoover exchanged glances with the agent named Tolson. The taller man seemed baffled. Apparently they hadn’t prepared an answer. Finally Hoover spoke. “That’s not important. Just know that she murdered them. And the highest levels of government want her caught. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, sir,” all of the agents answered simultaneously.
Sullivan didn’t say a word, but inside he was seething. He just squeezed the crumpled contract in his hand, pummeling it with his Power as Hoover walked out. When Sullivan finally let go, a hard ball of compressed wood pulp the size of a marble hit the floor and rolled away.
San Francisco, California
The room was kept dark, thick curtains closed. The lights hurt the boss’s eyes, and Garrett also knew that despite what his employer said, he was ashamed to let anyone see him closely. He had been a proud man once, an unbelievably strong man, and it hurt Garrett to see him in this state.
“So let me make sure I got this straight,” his employer said from the bed. “A single Heavy fought a Brute to a standstill, caught a dirigible that was already in the air, knocked out Heinrich, beat the ever living hell out of Francis, and resisted your Influence?”
“That about covers it,” Daniel Garrett replied. It was rather embarrassing to have his entire crew defeated by somebody with one of the most mundane of all Powers. “Every other Heavy I’ve known was employed as manual labor or on a construction job. I thought all they could do was make heavy things light enough to temporarily pick up. This one was different. It was like he had more than one type of Power.”
The General shook his scabrous head in disagreement. Even that small motion seemed to pain him. “No,” he rasped. “There’s only one man in the whole world who possesses more than one type of Power. This man, everything he did came from the same Power, the magical alteration of gravitational pulls. He’s just…”
“Different,” Garrett said.
“Resourceful.” His employer had to stop for a moment to cough into his towel.
Garrett wasn’t so sure about that. He did not have a head for science, but the tools the Heavy used seemed to go beyond just altering gravity’s strength and direction. His gut told him that something was different about this one.
The General’s coughing fit continued. The sound was painful as his lungs ground and struggled for purchase. The hacking continued for another thirty seconds and Garrett started to rise to get Jane, but his employer waved for him to stay seated. Finally the white cloth came away stained with blood, and the man continued as if the spasm had never happened. “Recruit him,” he gasped.
“Hire him, Garrett. Find this Heavy and make him a job offer.”
“No offense, General, but the new girl threw him through the dirigible. I’m relatively certain he’s dead.”
“No,” he said, gesturing with one skeletal hand at the telegram on the desk next to the bed. “After you reported in I did some checking. Apparently he doesn’t die easily.”
He took the telegram and read it. Finally he whistled. “Impressive.”
“Apparently that power-mad imbecile, J. Edgar Hoover, agrees with you. That’s why he was sprung from jail. Hoover doesn’t understand Powers. He just tries to wield them like clubs. Treats Actives like mushrooms. But we could use a man like this.”
After looking over the telegram, Garrett didn’t feel quite as bad about losing to the Heavy. Very few Actives had survived the battle of Second Somme.
“Time is growing short, Daniel,” the General warned.
Garrett didn’t know if he was talking about his declining health or the impending threat of the Imperium. Either was terrible in its own way. “I’ll be on the next flight.”
The General must have fallen back asleep immediately after Garrett had left. It was getting harder to remain conscious for any period of time. He returned slowly, aching, eyes burning at even the tiniest bit of light. His body was dying, rotting from the inside out, and he had been in such terrible pain for so long that he knew all he had to do was wish for death and it would blissfully come. He was only alive because of Jane’s healing magic and sheer stubbornness.
He still had too much work to do.
There was another reason he’d dispatched Garrett to recruit the Heavy. His sources had confirmed what he’d first suspected when he’d heard the man’s name. It had been too much of a coincidence for there to be another Sullivan out there that was that talented a Heavy.
It seemed appropriate to use this man to balance the scales, he thought, but then a new pain appeared in his stomach that distracted him. It was hard to concentrate when your body was falling apart. Whenever the suffering grew too much to bear, all he had to do was recall the memories of Tokugawa, and he found renewed determination. That man would never rest. If he even was, or ever had been, a man… the General had his doubts.
His memory was still sharp. The spreading tumors in his brain had left that at least. It had been back in ’05 when a handful of western military observers had been sent to document the war between the Russians and the Japanese, and he could still recall it like it was yesterday. The Tsar’s forces had been utterly destroyed, fleets sunk in oily flames, and a hundred thousand men had been butchered in the first engagement.
The Imperium was born.
And that had been the day that Black Jack Pershing had met the devil himself.
El Nido, California
The day was like any other summer day in El Nido, work, work, work. Try to get the hard stuff done before it got too hot so you could take a nap when it was really miserable, and then back to work for the evening chores. Always up way before dawn to milk and feed. Only to dairy farmers did waking up to the cock’s crow at sunrise feel like sleeping in. It had been a long time since the old farmer had slept in. He figured he could sleep when he was dead.
The morning’s work was done. Gilbert and most of the family had gone into town. That just left him and Faye to finish moving hay, but he didn’t mind. The girl worked harder than most boys her age. Better company too.
“So I been thinking some more…” Faye said as she threw a pile of alfalfa into the feeder. She paused to lean on her pitchfork, wiping the sweat from her face.
“Uh oh,” he replied, rolling his eyes.
“Is magic alive?”
He kept forking the hay over. He thought about it for a long time. “Is electricity alive? Is fire alive?”
“Hmm…” Faye frowned. “That’s what I thought. That’s bad then.”
“Why’s that bad?” The girl’s brain was always spinning around about something.
“Because if magic ain’t alive, and it’s just stuck to some people, then why couldn’t it be stuck to some thing?”
He froze, pitchfork stuck in the hay. She didn’t seem to notice.
“Why couldn’t somebody figure out how to take someone else’s magic and put it in like another person? Or an animal? Or a machine even?”
“Stop it,” the old farmer ordered sternly.
Faye was confused. “Stop what?”
“Just…” How could he explain? He didn’t want to expose this poor girl to what was out there, waiting. But she was just too damn smart for her own good. “Just, never mind. Don’t think about stuff too hard. Keep working.”
She sniffed. “Are you mad at me, Grandpa?”
“I could never be mad at you, girl.” He kept working, letting the rhythm of the movement calm his thoughts. After a few seconds Faye went back to her fork. Someday he would explain everything he knew to her, but he wasn’t a man that liked to talk, especially about things like that.
A few minutes later the girl looked up. “Somebody’s coming,” Faye said, pointing at the road. Sure enough he could see the dust of approaching automobiles. “Probably more thieving Okies passing through. I’ll lock the tool shed.”
He nodded. He had taught her well. But these autos weren’t coming from the main road. They were coming from the direction of Potter Field, the little airfield a few miles away.
They’d seen a metal single-wing cargo plane fly that way earlier. The whole family had stopped whatever they were doing to watch. It was quite the sight. There were just a few fabric biplanes at Potter. It wasn’t like they got any fancy planes out in the San Joaquin Valley.
The old farmer suddenly had a bad feeling. “Throw the cows over the fence some hay,” he told her, watching the approaching dust suspiciously. “Do the dry cows first. Go.” Faye hesitated, then did as she was told. He wanted her away. The rest of the family had taken the Dodge into Merced, and wouldn’t be back until it was time to start the 4:00 milking.
There was nothing else along this road except for his dairy. The cars pulled up the lane and stopped in front of the house in a cloud of white dust. He went out to meet them. He didn’t bother to hose off his boots.
There were four men in each car, and all eight of them stepped out at the same time. Their clothes were fancy-boy city clothes, black or pinstriped suits and nice hats. The farmer didn’t even dress that nice to go to church. He could tell these men might have been from the city, but they weren’t fancies. They looked hard and dangerous.
The old farmer knew right away why these men were here. His wide straw hat covered his grey eyes, and he risked a glance back toward the barn. Faye had done as she’d been told and was out of sight.
The tallest one seemed to be the boss. He was square and thick, one of the biggest men the farmer had ever seen, with a jagged scar crossing half his face that had left one eye a blinded white orb. “Are you Joe?” that one asked. That didn’t mean much. Half the Portuguese men in the world were named Joe. “Travelin’ Joe?”
They had been bound to catch up with him eventually. The old farmer tipped his hat.
Faye was sweating, using a pitchfork to toss alfalfa over the barbwire fence to the dry cows. The hay was dusty, collected in her hair and inside her too-large hand-me-down work shirt, and it made her nose itch. She stopped to sneeze a couple of times, then went back to work.
It was hot. The valley was always extra muggy in the summer, probably from the irrigation, and the sun was always beating down on her head. Her rubber boots were heavy with dried poop, too big, and made her feet sweat.
And she was as happy as she could be.
The Vierras were good people. They were always loud, frantic, and yelling about something, but that’s just how they were, but at least here she didn’t get beaten daily for having the devil in her. Grandpa was actually proud that she was different. And unlike her life before, there was always food. Faye even liked to work. She didn’t even mind the Holsteins much.
Life was simple, and it was hard, but she was content, because it wasn’t mean.
A cow stuck its head through the fence, curious, smelling her. It chuffed and blew green snot all over her pants. She wiped it off with a handful of hay and patted the cow on the nose. She licked Faye with a giant rough tongue and the girl giggled.
A gun fired. The line of Holsteins jerked, ears all cocked suspicious in the same direction. It had come from the other side of the milk barn. A flock of black birds leapt into the air and flew over the roof. Grandpa was probably shooting at crows, but Faye frowned, since that sure hadn’t sounded like Grandpa’s shotgun. One of the dogs started barking like crazy.
Then there was a whole bunch of guns. A giant mad bumblebee passed overhead and it took Faye a second to realize that it was actually a bullet. Something was terribly wrong. She clutched the pitchfork tight and the dry cows bolted from the fence and ran for the far side of the corral.
The Okies are robbing Grandpa! It was like the bank robbers they talked about on the radio. Still holding the pitchfork, she ran for the barn, big boots clomping, but that was too slow, so she focused on a spot fifty feet ahead, which was as far as she’d ever traveled before, touched the magic, sent her senses ahead, clear, and was just there.
She’d done just like Grandpa had taught, appearing an inch or so off the dirt so she wouldn’t melt her soles to the ground, and hit the ground still clomping forward. Now she could see around the block edge of the barn and there were two black automobiles, and a bunch of men in suits running toward the house and shouting. There was another boom and one of the men fell off the porch and into grandma’s rosebushes.
A hand landed on her shoulder, and Faye nearly jumped out of her skin. “Girl!” Grandpa whispered in her ear. He had Traveled right behind her. He dragged her back around the corner as he broke open his shotgun, pulled the spent shell out, and fished another one out of his coveralls. He didn’t seem any more upset than when he was dealing with a particularly nasty cow. “Go hide.” He snapped the shotgun closed and pointed with it toward the haystacks, but then he scowled. “Shit. Forgot.”
“Where are you going?”
“Something in the barn I need. Go hide.” He closed his grey eyes and disappeared.
Faye focused on the haystacks. A man’s voice came from behind her. “There’s somebody el–” And then her boots landed in a pile of straw and she didn’t hear the rest. Scared, she scrambled behind some broken bales. Just her eyes sticking over the top, and she searched for the men. The nearest one was rounding the barn, silver gun in his hand, and he was jerking his head back and forth, wondering where she’d gone. She squeezed the pitchfork even harder, though she didn’t know what she planned on doing with it.
Then she saw something strange. Another man, a giant, seemed to fly over the edge of the barn and landed easily on the tin roof. It was like he’d jumped right out of the yard, but Faye knew there was nothing to stand on over there, so he would have had to have leapt twenty-five feet straight into the air. The man crouched, scanning slowly, perched effortlessly next to the lightning rod. He reached into his suit and pulled out a huge gun. Faye ducked lower so he couldn’t see her. This man was special too. Like her, but different. Scary.
Grandpa Traveled and appeared right behind the first man, stabbing the shotgun barrel right into him. The man never knew what happened as the Sears & Roebuck shotgun blew him near in half, but Grandpa didn’t see the big man on the roof.
“Grandpa!” Faye screamed.
The old farmer looked up, seeing her, surely focusing on the safety of the haystack and—
Grandpa lurched forward as the man on the roof shot him. He traveled, and was instantly before Faye. Grandpa took two steps and fell to his knees. “Oh…”
Faye dropped the pitchfork, grabbed him by the straps of his coveralls, and dragged the little man behind the broken bales. “Grandpa!” she screamed. Blood was welling out from between the top buttons of his shirt, way too much blood. “Hold on, Grandpa!”
He grabbed her wrist, his fingers hard as rocks, and he shoved an old leather bag into her hand and squeezed it shut. Blood came out his mouth when he tried to talk and she had to put her ear down next to his mouth to hear him. “Don’t let them get it. Find Black—“ and then she couldn’t hear the rest because it turned into a gurgle as he breathed out. He didn’t inhale. Faye pulled away, and Grandpa Vierra’s grey eyes were staring at nothing.
A man in a suit came running around the edge of the hay. Faye saw him coming and she was filled with an emotion she’d never felt before. The wood of the pitchfork was hard in her calloused hands as she rose, straw colored hair covering her face. Fifteen feet away the man raised his gun.
He shouted to the others. “I got th—“ but then Faye Traveled, screaming, and drove the three narrow tines of the pitchfork through his ribs. Still screaming she pushed the man, driving him back, until his knees buckled and she drove the fork all the way through him and into the ground. The man grabbed onto the handle, but Faye put all her weight on the shaft and held him there while he kicked and cussed. After a few seconds he quit moving.
“Hey, girl,” a very deep voice said. She turned, and the giant man from the roof, the man that had killed the first person who’d ever loved her, the man who’d murdered her Grandpa, was standing there, calm as could be, with the biggest revolver she’d ever seen pointed at her head. He cocked the hammer. One of his eyes was white. “No reason for any more killin’ today,” he lied. “I’m looking for something. That’s all.”
Faye wrenched the pitchfork out of the fallen man and pointed it at the big man. Blood dripped from the tines. “You… you killed… killed my Grandpa,” she gasped.
He nodded. “I guess that’s how it’s got to be then.” He pulled the trigger.
The bullet passed through the space where Faye had just been as she materialized off to the man’s side. She gasped in pain. She’d gone too fast, hadn’t used her instincts, and done something wrong, but there was no time, and she stabbed the pitchfork deep.
The man looked down at the iron embedded in his body. The top was in his ribs, the middle had to be through his guts, and the bottom went in just under his belt. Faye drove her weight forward, trying to stick it in deeper, but the man calmly grasped the shaft and wouldn’t let her. It was like pushing on a wall. The man hauled the fork out of his body, several inches of bloody metal from each spot, and in the process knocked Faye on her butt.
Grandpa’s leather bag hit the ground, spilling something metallic into the hay.
Blood leaked out the three holes in the one-eyed man’s side, but he didn’t seem to care. His attention focused in on the bag. Faye scrambled for it, fingers hitting the drawstrings just as he pointed the big revolver at her, and desperate, she Traveled further than she ever had before.
The .50 Russian Long dug a divot in the dirt, but the girl was already gone.
“Gawdamned Travelers,” he spat. It was a good thing most of them died young, because he hated them especially hard. He checked his side. The little whore had got him good, but not good enough. It took more than getting stabbed to hurt him, but it sure made him mad.
Carefully scanning back and forth, waiting for the girl to reappear, he picked the small piece of machinery off the ground. He’d been briefed enough to know that this was a part of what he was after, maybe the most important piece even, but it wasn’t all of it, and his orders had said to bring it all back. He carefully stuffed the piece into one bloodied pocket.
Next he checked the old man’s body, but he didn’t have it on him. He must have given it to the girl… His remaining men caught up a moment later. “Have you found it?” he shouted. The men shook their heads. “Find it or I’ll kill you all!” he bellowed. “There’s a girl. She’s a Traveler too. Find her and put a bullet in her. What are you waiting for? Move!”
Terrified, the goons went back to searching. Better be afraid, fucking pussies.
One man hesitated. “You’re bleeding, Mr. Madi.”
The big man just growled at him. “Naw? Really?”
“Uh… what do you want me to do with the bodies.”
Madi scowled. He’d lost two men to that damn Portagee and one to his brat. “Drag ‘em inside. We’ll burn everything ‘fore we go. That’s what they get for being weak. Now quit jawin’ and find that girl.”
Frustrated, he stomped over to the dead Portagee, lifted his LeMat-Schofield and pumped the rest of the hot loaded slugs into the body. Then he thumb cocked the second hammer and gave the old man the 12 gauge barrel just to be sure. He rapidly broke open his empty gun The spent moon-clip kicked out automatically under spring pressure, and he stuffed in another moon-clip of cartridges into the cylinder and a single shotgun shell into the over-barrel, then snapped it shut and shoved the Beast back into his shoulder holster. The bloody mess he’d caused made him smile.
He sat on a bale of hay and waited for the bleeding to gradually stop. Travelin’ Joe was dead, but without all the goods, the Chairman wasn’t going to be happy.
Faye watched the one-eyed man from under the overturned trough halfway across the pasture. He yelled at his men, shot Grandpa a bunch more times, and then took a seat. Cows had sensed her, and always curious, were gathering around the trough. The metal was old and had rusted through in places, and she kept her eye against one of those holes, spying, until she could no longer see through all the Holsteins.
She couldn’t stop crying.
Her foot hurt. She’d Traveled without checking first. Grandpa had been gone for all of ten seconds before she had violated his first commandment. She knew that there was something stuck in her heel. Maybe a piece of straw, maybe a rock, and the pain was almost unbearable. Every pulse of her heart felt like somebody was driving a nail through her bones with a carpenter’s hammer.
But that wasn’t why she was crying.
Faye kept Grandpa’s leather bag clutched to her chest. It was splattered with his blood. The pain made her want to just close her eyes and curl up into a ball, but she didn’t know what time it was, and didn’t know how soon it would be until the rest of the family came back from town. If these men were still here, then she knew that she would have to try to stop them before they could hurt her family, but she didn’t know what to do, and she was so very afraid.
Finally, the pain had grown too much to bear. She kicked her filthy boot off, and drew her bare foot into a shaft of sunlight. Faye grimaced when she saw what it was. One of those big black crunchy beetles, the kind that was so tough that you could stomp on them and if the dirt was soft they would just pop back up alive. Its back half was fused into the flesh of her heel, its front legs and mandibles still thrashing.
There was no hesitation. She just wanted it out. Biting her lip, she unfolded her pocketknife, and started cutting. It hurt too bad, so she pulled off her bandanna, rolled it tight and stuck it in her mouth to bite down on so the one-eyed man wouldn’t hear her scream, and went back to digging. Tears poured from her eyes, but she forced herself to keep going. The beetle ruptured, squirting a thick white juice that quickly mixed with her own blood. She knew she had to be thorough. After a few seconds of carving, the beetle was gone, she had a hole that hurt so bad she could barely think, but she felt immensely better. She stuffed her bandanna into the wound and held it there.
The cows had moved enough for her to see again. The big man had stood, lit a cigar, and then used his lighter to casually set the haystacks on fire before wandering off. A minute later the barn was burning too, and she could see black smoke rising from where the house should be.
She waited until she saw the dust from the cars as they drove back up the road. Then she waited longer, just to make sure it wasn’t a trick. Finally Faye crawled out from under the trough and limped across the pasture to the burning ruins of the only real home she’d ever known.
The grey eyed girl vowed never to cry again.
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