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They came in the morning with shouts and the rumble of engines.
My first thought went to the neighbors with their jeeps and trucks, ready to go camping for the weekend like they usually do. But as I lay there in bed, as I had been for the last half hour, something unknown warned me this was different. The trucks sounded different and the shouts weren’t from the friendly faces I’ve come to know.
That’s when I heard the first door being kicked in. Splintering wood and the locks being broken. I was out of bed before sleep could leave my legs, ignoring the pain in my ankle as I stumbled to the window. My palm dug into the windowsill and my breath fogged the window.
In those first few seconds, I thought of nothing. Not able to process what I saw or maybe hoping it was a dream and I was still asleep in bed.
But no. This was real. As much as my heart wanted it not to be.
With our house sitting on a dead end road, I had a view of the whole street. Where unmarked military trucks lined the curbs and men with guns were making their way from house to house, kicking in doors and dragging people from their homes. They loaded my neighbors and friends into a transport truck and started towards the next house.
I quickly counted.
There were ten houses between mine and theirs. I counted because this wasn’t our army, but the United from across the ocean and have no reason to be here except for one reason: War.
I slowly backed away from the window, barely able to breathe with my heart not sure of how hard it should beat. Then all I could hear was how quiet the house was. Ethan wasn’t laughing and mom wasn’t talking to someone on the phone. I was out my door and stumbling down the stairs before I let myself think the worst. I stop at the foot of the stairs, my head spinning from breathing too fast.
Nothing. Nothing but the clock ticking and men shouting down the road, coming through the cracks of the house like they were canyons. Then I saw a note on the counter. With brief hesitation, I took the final steps into the kitchen, recognizing Dad’s handwriting when I got close.
Reese, we’ll be in the city until tonight. Love you.
They weren’t here.
I was alone.
This was the point when I wanted to give up and freak out. Maybe start crying because I knew in about five minutes, strange men would come inside and take me away. They would put me in the truck with my neighbors and my life would be in their hands, not knowing what they planned to do with us or where I would end up.
I only knew one thing—I couldn’t let that happen.
When a gun shot went off somewhere close, I flinched. Every instinct inside me wanted to panic, or go hide in the closest. Wait for everything to blow over and pretend nothing was wrong. Be a little girl again with no worries, knowing someone was always there to keep me safe.
But my father taught me better than that. He taught me to be strong and use my head in times of panic. To take it one step at a time. He taught us to survive in the woods for a reason. In case anything like this ever happened. That would be the first thing he would tell us to do. Get out of danger.
Get out before it was too late.
I would figure out the rest later.
“I have to move now,” I whispered.
And I did.
The note fell from my hands and I ran upstairs, mentally making a list of things I needed. I threw open my closet and dresser drawers, pulling on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt while stuffing others into my backpack—only one change of clothes and a hooded sweatshirt for nights. Lucky for me, it was summer. My supplies needed to be sparse and light. Light enough for me to be able to run.
A gunshot echoed outside. Close.
After grabbing a few more things, I ran back downstairs, almost tripping over my unlaced shoes. The only things I needed from the kitchen was my filter bottle and food to get me through the next day.
When everything was in my bag, zipped open on the island counter, I took a moment to just breathe.
Our next door neighbor’s door splintered as they forced themselves inside.
The clock in the hallway chimed with the new hour like nothing was going on.
There was one last thing I needed—the most important.
And I had less than a minute.
I grabbed my bag and headed for the basement—the door that always got mistaken for a bathroom, situated between the kitchen and dining room. Mom hated the basement. Too dirty and cold to do anything with it except use it for the storage of things that wouldn’t be missed if it flooded. Christmas detractions, old tools, and leftover ceramic tile from the upstairs bathroom. And the gun safe.
From the top of the stairs, across the cement floor, and to the metal dial, I never paused in step. I had to force myself not to. I’d never been down here without Dad. Not once in the dozens of times he took us shooting or hunting, or taught us how to clean each one. I’d never had to.
My fingers spun the dial back and forth until the safe opened with a soft click. I’d left room in my pack for a hand pistol and extra ammo, which outweighed everything else I had, but I’d be thankful later. And the last thing I took was my shotgun, slinging it over my chest to it lay against my backpack so I could run without it slamming into me with every step.
And that’s when a fist pounded on our front door. A voice yelled and pounded harder. Going back upstairs wasn’t an option anymore.
Then they broke in. Heavy boots flooded our house and I was just standing there, staring at the ceiling, letting fear keep me in place and slowing my thoughts of escape. I imagine them now, some of them searching the ground floor and others going upstairs. Then they’ll find the door to the basement.
“Stop.” I shut my eyes and commanded myself to stop thinking about them. I was the only thing I needed to focus on. Then I had it. “The cellar door.”
The moment I made a break for it, the basement door opened and someone caught sight of me, shouting to give warning to the rest. My hands fumbled with the rusted lock that hadn’t been used in years, and I couldn’t waste anymore time with it. They were coming downstairs and I needed out. I grabbed the first heavy thing I saw—an axe. I brought it down on the lock and it snapped off, causing the voices to close in on me.
A soldier rounded the corner with his rifle raised and I bolted out the door. I almost tripped on the last step, making me fumble into the yard, making my escape not too perfect.
Then I was running.
Glass shattered behind me and someone yelled orders for a chase.
If I wasn’t scared for my life, I would’ve smiled. Because I once I broke into the woods, I knew they would never find me.