I'm not a graphic designer. Hell, I put this together using freaking Powerpoint and Paint because, even though I have really cool programs available, I don't know how to use them and it would take a few days to learn enough. During that time I'd beat myself up to the point where I'd give up. Instant gratification is sometimes just rolling while I have the power. I wanted a picture, so I made a picture.
I'm posting little snippets of the story I'm revising right now, with this picture because I am.
Don't make me explain everything.
“Ma! Ma! They’re comin’!” I grabbed little Letty as I scooted across the dusty yard toward the house, yelling my head off. “They’re coming’!”
Letty squirmed in my arms, her dirty pink shoes kicking at my thigh. "No! Amber, no!" she squealed. She was almost too big to carry and her legs hung down because she was too mad to wrap them around my hips. “No!” She kicked me hard and I almost dropped her.
Ma Deuce strolled onto the porch, her whipsword wrapped around her waist, the pommel under her right hand. She was such a little woman, sort of squat and dark, grey streaks in her braided black hair, but she always seemed bigger than me. Behind her, taller but so slight she practically faded, Kelly Ann peeked over Ma's shoulder. She had Princess on her hip and she looked scared.
"Get the babies inside, Amber, and see to The Mister." Ma's voice didn't match her appearance, either. The Tamil she'd talked as a baby was paved over with the clips and stretches of the mountain people's speech. My own speech had taken on that flavor, too, since I'd found refuge here in the old mountains.
"Yes, ma'am." I snagged Hunter's arm and pulled him with me. "Come on, we gotta go in now." Hunter dragged on my arm and Letty kicked me again. "Stop it now. You want a spankin' from Ma? We got to go inside." Tag followed without being pushed or told. Letty stopped kicking and just cried her frustration. We hurried into the house behind Ma's shadow.
"How many?" Ma asked, voice low, as I scuttled passed her.
"Two trucks. Maybe five or six." I dropped Letty to the floor and pushed her toward Kelly Ann. "Taylor saw 'em first and took off to the blind."
She nodded once, sharp and definite. "Good. Where're Tony and Skye?"
I shook my head as I untwisted Hunter's hand from his grip on my shirt sleeve. "Didn't see 'em."
She nodded again, just once, and I pushed the two little boys in front of me before they could stop being scared and start being curious.
Kelly Ann gave me her wide eyed stare and slowly pulled Letty back into the dimness of the house. "Amber, " she whispered, "Was Prentiss Waine there?"
I shrugged, herding the boys toward the kitchen. "I didn't see. Check the back door and the windows. Get Lilly to help." She stared at me for a few more breaths and my impatience got the better of me. "Kelly Ann! Move it!" Shaken, she hitched up the baby on her hip, tightened her hand on Letty's arm, and moved down the hall after the boys.
I turned the other way to the big bedroom. The Mister lay sprawled on the bed, a sheet carefully laid over him so that only his face showed in the lamp light. It hardly looked like a human face, it had been beaten so hard. Swollen eyes, swollen nose, swollen lips, little bloody lines of cuts every which way, and some of his hair shaved off so Ma could stitch his scalp. I wasn't sure he could see me when I crept in to close the window and put the wooden shades in place.
"Whus habbnin?" he murmured at me, making me jump just a little. He'd left us yesterday morning, saying he intended to get what he was owed, and we'd all slunk around the whole day wondering if he'd ever come back. Except Ma. Ma told us that The Mister would do what he said he would do, no matter. He'd crawled his way to the back door late last night, scaring Kelly Ann near to death. Taylor and I carried him inside.
"Two pick up trucks comin'. " I didn't have to tell him who was in those trucks. He knew better than I did.
I carefully lifted the cold pack against his jaw and examined the red and blue bruises underneath it. "On the porch." I reached for the clean rag resting in a bowl of water and squeezed a few drops into his mouth.
"Good." He moved one hand under the sheet, the one that wasn't wrapped in tight bandages. He was hurt, but not near killed. They wanted to teach a lesson, not murder a useful man. Still, it bothered me to see his big muscled body so battered and broken. It scared me. "'Ey won find it."
"You be still, Mister. Ma will skin us both if you mess up her work." He chuckled soft in his throat. I turned down the lamp so it barely flickered and put it on the floor between the table and the wall. I didn't want anything to hit it and catch the house on fire. At least the house was cinder block. I closed the door behind me, knowing full well that The Mister wouldn't be resting even in the dark, not until this was over.
"Amber?" Kelly Ann, now without her baby, shuffled down the hall. "The trucks just pulled up. Amber, I'm scared."
I took her arm and turned her around. "Then go in with the babies and keep them quiet. All the windows locked?"
She nodded. "Lilly is double checking and turning off the lamps. Amber, what's gonna happen?"
I shrugged as I pushed her back to the kitchen. "Ma will take care of it. Go on." I glanced into the large room to see Lilly mounting the last shutter over the windows. "Here, help me." Together we wrestled the heavy door — taken from one of the abandoned houses in the derelict neighborhood — into place in the doorway. The Mister had added a lot of doors where the house didn't have them before. I slid bolts into the hinges on the outside. Kelly stopped it as it swung toward her, looking at me in an excited, scared, eager way. I pushed the steel and wood veneer toward her. "Ma will take care of it. Lock this." The door had to be shimmied and shoved to fit into the frame. I heard the chunk of the thick plank as Kelly Ann dropped it into place.
I wondered if I should put up the other door to block the hallways when voices pierced the glass windows at the front of the house. I slowed down, trying to remember that the bright sun outside made the inside of the house too dark for anyone to see me, but not quite trusting that, and eased open the front hall closet door. Just inside, behind a well fitted drywall piece that I could unlatch by feel, I groped for the double barrel and a box of shells. The Mister had taught me to shoot that one and the handgun, making me practice over and over so that I could hunt nearly as well as Taylor and not jump at the boom or flinch from the recoil. I didn't like guns, but I understood them. I wished Taylor and Tony where here — Kelly Ann wouldn't touch a gun and Lilly wasn't yet practiced enough, so it was up to me to back up Ma. I hoped that I wouldn't have to as I cracked the shotgun and loaded the buckshot shells. I could have used the birdshot, but Ma's tone told me