Cheddar whose tiny hand clutched mine shook my arm and looked up at me with his big brown eyes. He didn’t speak, yet instantly I understood him. He was hungry.
“Not yet,” I replied. A few days ago, I had to remove lunch from our daily rations. The disappointment on his innocent little face was instant but he looked away and didn’t complain.
The birds and squirrels were active in the trees today, snapping branches and crackling leaves as they scurried about. Their distraction could be then reason I didn’t notice the cabin in time. Or it could be the mugginess of the forest with warm fog rising and hovering around us, the visibility was low. Or maybe it was my exhaustion, having been traversing this forest for months dehydrated, sleep deprived, and nearly starved its possible I'm delirious.
Whatever the reason by the time I noticed the cabin, a man on the porch in a red shirt and a baseball cap had already noticed me. The situation became dire when he called out to another man who stood up behind him wearing a dirty white shirt and blue jeans. They spoke to each other in hushed voices that I couldn’t hear as they stared in our direction. They see us for sure. Cheddar’s grip tightened as we stood frozen to the spot. What am I going to do?
A third man emerged from the cabin. He was older with a potbelly, a long graying beard, and bald head. He was shirtless wearing only overalls and heavy looking black combat boots. He staggered across the porch with heavy thuds towards the other men waving an empty liquor bottle and shouting intelligible blabber. This is the distraction I need! I crouched down and whispered in Cheddar’s ear, “climb.” He nodded then turned and dashed to a nearby tree snapping branches and crunching leaves on his way. He’s too loud! His quick hands reached into his pocket retrieved his shoe clips and attached them within seconds.
As he began slowly climbing, I looked back at the cabin. The man in the dirty white shirt had started advancing. Panic sent adrenalin pulsating through my veins as my mother’s last words rang out in my head. Trust no one! Run! Fight! Stay together! No more thinking! Time to move. I ran. I ran towards the far side of the cabin, drawing them away from Cheddar. I was careful to stay within the wood line. Branches slapped into my face and body; I couldn’t feel them. I ran faster. I could hear the men shout something, I didn’t listen, I ran harder. Once I reached the side of the house, I formulated a plan to run in a wide circle around the cabin and end up hopefully near Cheddar and out of sight of these men. Fighting them was an impossibility so I ran with everything in me not looking back. I jumped over a patch of thick brush, nearly falling I pushed off of a tree and continued running. I can do this! I’m faster than them! I breathed in and out, heavily and strained. I haven’t run this hard in a long time. Not since the fire. I pushed forward. I am faster than them, just keep running! I rounded the house when out of the corner of my eye I saw the black combat boots lunge at me.
I hit the ground hard losing my breath. Get up! Mimi, get up! I fought my way out of my attacker’s clutches and tried to stand up, he was out of breath too but managed to grab my leg. I fell to the ground again. This time I whirled around raised my free foot and kicked him in the face as hard as I could. It worked. He let go of my leg, grabbed his bleeding nose, and let out a rageful shout. “The bitch broke my nose!”
I was on my feet in seconds but when I turned to run the man in the dirty white shirt was there and wasted no time grabbing me. Up this close it was easy to tell the dirt on his shirt wasn’t dirt at all, it was blood. The man held me tightly against his chest, I gagged from his stench, a combination of garbage, dead things, and urine. I kicked my legs wildly, desperately trying to escape his grasp. Behind me the man in the baseball cap had caught up, he yanked at my backpack which jostled me whiplashing my neck. The clasp in the front was holding firm until he reached around and unsnapped it. When he yanked again my backpack slid right off my back. Oh no! I fought back but the two men were stronger than me. They pulled on my shirt ripping in and grabbed at my breast.
“No! Get off of me!” I screamed.
“I’m gonna enjoy you.” The man in the bloody shirt said sniffing my hair with his gross face way too close to mine. Ugh! God, please no! This can’t be happening! Please God no! The potbelly man was up now.
“Let me Go!” They laughed at my pleas. The men faced me to potbelly man both of them holding one of my arms. I struggled against them. “No! Let go of me!”
The man with the potbelly raised his hand and slapped me right across my face. I winced from the pain feeling dizzy, wanting to fall down but the men held me up, laughing. Horrifyingly the potbelly man began undoing his overalls and pulling his pants down.
“No! Let me go!” I fought back frantically trying to free my arms. The men ignored my cries and futile attempts to escape. “No!” My panic at an all-time high. Please God. Please help me. “No! Don’t you touch me!” I pulled on my limbs desperate to get out of their grip.
Suddenly the pot belly man stopped moving, his eyes popped out of his head, and he grabbed at his neck where a tree branch arrow had pierced right through. Blood leaked from his wounds, his mouth, his eyes. I didn't move or even blink. What is happening? What am I seeing?
“What the hell!” yelled the man in the bloody shirt. He dropped my arm and ran in the potbelly man’s direction. The man still holding my other arm stood in stunned silence with me as we tried to understand what just happened. That's when another tree branch arrow whizzed through the air right in front of me piercing the heart of the man in the baseball cap. It was as if I saw it in slow motion. The arrow had a long sharp point carved on the front. The shaft had been stripped of bark and the back end had leaves, actual green leaves, sticking out. It spun rapidly as it flew by. Beautiful, graceful. Before the man could even react to what just happen to him, another arrow just like the first one came whizzing by hitting him in the same spot. As he fell his arm slid away from me. I was free. I dropped to the ground as another arrow flew straight at the bloody shirt man. I grabbed my backpack and clutched it to my chest anticipating a second arrow, preparing myself to run.