Aurora stared into the dying fire trying hard not to let her long blinks turn into sleep. It had been two days since the sounds of the war first reached her backyard and she was terrified. Her husband left the year before to join “the cause” leaving her alone in the house with nothing but the many walls to keep her company.
She hadn’t heard from him in over two months. She hadn’t heard from anyone in at least a week. The servants left just before the money ran out.
Aurora rubbed her face; her eyes dry, burning from exhaustion. She hadn’t slept since she first heard the sounds of gunfire. She wondered how long it would take them to find her house and why it was taking them so long in the first place.
She stroked the wooden handle of the Remington revolver that her husband left with her with her thumb. She had hid four more of the guns that he had left in different places of the house, but the revolver always stayed with her.
She didn’t mind guns as most of the women that she knew did. Growing up with older and younger brothers she was surrounded by such things. So from an early age she knew how to shoot and reload several different kinds of guns, including rifles. She was no stranger to any of them. She was prepared for a home invasion.
Her stomach growled and she sighed and rubbed at it with her other hand. She hadn’t left the house since the other day and the only thing that she had left to eat were a few potatoes and an onion. She was a terrible gardener; only able to grow a week’s worth of green beans and a handful of little tomatoes. Her squash failed, all but one pathetic plant. And the corn she attempted to grow was eaten by deer as soon as it sprouted.
The town, a short mile and a half from her house, was sure to have the supplies that she needed but she hated the melancholy affair. She dreaded the news of the enemy’s advancement or of the deaths of the young men that she knew. More than anything she hated the disgusting tales of male savagery upon finding women quite alone and unprotected. She frowned and squeezed the handle of the revolver as she thought about it. She will not be one of those tales.
As much as she resented her husband for leaving her in this pitiable state, she missed him. Her heart ached at the thought of his demise and on several occasions she was so anxious at the thought that she cried herself to sleep. But she was far beyond tears tonight. No. She couldn’t think of showing any signs of female weakness now. She had to be ready.
The fire was nothing but embers at this point but she dare not start another one. She only had a small one to begin with but still didn’t want the smoke to stir any of the soldier’s suspicions. She shivered and got up to pull a blanket from one of the other chairs. She then crouched in front of what was left of the fire and placed her hands as close to the embers as she could without touching them. The revolver by her side on the floor. She then used what little heat left to light a couple of candles so that she could stay up and read.
Sitting back up on the couch bundling herself trying to stay warm but allowing the cold to hit her enough to keep her awake, she sat close enough to the candle to allow light to float onto her book.
She must have drifted off to sleep because she jumped in her seat out of alarm. The candle was worn down a bit and her book lay sprawled on the floor. Her heart raced in her chest and she breathed as if she had just been running. She pressed her hand to her chest and tried to take several calming breaths before she picked her book off of the floor and placed it on the cushion next to her.
Aurora yawned and rubbed her face again trying to fight off the sleep that has looming over her. She was just about to give in when a noise outside made her go into full alert. Her hair on the back of her neck stood up and she quickly blew out the candles and crept towards the back door of her house where she was sure the noise came from.
She crouched down next to the door and listened. The sound of someone running, panting penetrated her ears, throwing her body into overdrive. She cocked the revolver holding it close to her and took as calm of breaths as she could.
The sound of footsteps running up the wooden stairs of her pack porch increased her alarm and the small cries of her intruder made her hand tremble. It seemed like she waited for an eternity for the intruder to enter but after a moment’s pause the door swung open and in flew a white, female figure fumbling into the room.
Aurora immediately sprung up from her spot, shut the door and wrapped one arm around the intruder’s waist and the other hand over mouth and shushed her.
The girl squealed through her hand and she struggled against her but Aurora held onto her.
“Samantha,” she whispered in her ear. “Calm down.”
Samantha, the youngest girl of the prominent family down the lane, finally ceased to struggle and gave way to sobbing and, from loss of strength, fell to her knees.
“What are you doing here?” Aurora asked kneeling on the floor beside her.
The girl took in deep breaths, exhausted from her run. “They have come,” she finally said through her tears. “They came into our house,” she continued. “They ransacked it, tore it apart. My sister,” she cried. “They,” she shakily covered her mouth with her hands and lost herself once again in sobs.
Aurora pulled the young girl into her arms and cradled her. “Did they see you?” she asked after a moment. “Did you they see you running this way?”
The girl, breathing erratically through her nose, slowly pulled herself away from Aurora and gave her a serious look.
Aurora shook her head. “How could you?” she said standing up. “You lead them here!” She ran to the back window and pulled back a drawn curtain just enough so she could she outside of it. She gasped when she saw from a couple of torches making their way to her house and beyond that the rising smoke that foreshadowed the event that was about to take place.
Aurora felt her heart catch in her throat and her eyes fill with tears. She grabbed the still sobbing Samantha by the hand and pulled her off of the ground.
“Do you know how to wield a gun?” she asked hurriedly.
Samantha wiped her face with her hands and shook her head. “Why should I? I have never had the need to learn. I am not a ruffian.”
Aurora frowned and placed the revolver in her hand. “Point and shoot,” she said and then going on to explain how to reload and pull back the hammer as quickly as she could.
She shook her head. “I can’t,” she started to say tears beginning to form in her eyes again. “We are doomed! There is no one left to save us-”
Aurora slapped her across the face. “This is not the time to be breaking down,” she said. “Grow a backbone and stand up for yourself.” She gave her a slight shake. “I understand you’re frightened but we have to keep our heads. Do not let them do to you what they did to your sister.”
Samantha nodded through her tears rubbing the spot on her face where Aurora struck her.
“Now, go and hide upstairs in my bedroom. It’s the last door on the left going up the main stairs. There is a door to an attic,” Aurora said leading her to the stairs. “Hide in it. Keep your eye on the door and your gun ready to fire. Do you understand?”
Samantha nodded with a quivering lip. “Yes.”
Aurora ran to the next room where she had stored a colt and then ran to the kitchen to pull out a knife. She then took her place by the back door again. She closed her eyes and steadied her breathing ready from the inevitable. Finally, she heard the whispering of the men outside and saw the light glow of the torches from a crack in the curtain.
Aurora gave a hard swallow and quiet prayer as she readied herself. “I will not be one of those tales,” she whispered to herself repeatedly each time giving her more fire to her fight.
The sound of several pairs of boots on her back porch made her lip quiver but she bit it and held herself steady. The door once again opened and Aurora froze. She slowed her breathing and waited.
The men slowly entered the house laughing amongst themselves. In the dark of the night she couldn’t tell if their uniforms were navy or grey but at this point Aurora didn’t care. She will not let anyone take what is hers.
“Leave the torches outside,” one of them said. “The moon is bright enough to let us see and I don’t want to scare her into running away.”
“Where do you think that little angel went?” another one of them said laughingly.
“The house isn’t so large that we can’t find her but I am going to give her an extra good beating for making us chase her so far,” another one replied.
A couple of them snickered and Aurora felt her hands tighten around the knife and gun.
“I just hope that this one puts up more of a fight. Her sister did nothing but cry.”
Anger made Aurora’s body shake but she waited and watched as all five of them entered her house leaving the door that she was now hiding behind open.
One of the men lifted his nose up and sniffed the air. “Someone else is here,” he said. “I can smell smoke. “
Aurora’s eyes grew wide. The candles she blew out!
“Let’s split up,” the obvious leader of the group said. “Wilkins, Stepson, and Burke stay down here. Martin and I will check around upstairs. Take what you can get but holler if you find anyone. Chances are if that girl ran to this house it’s because she knew someone would be here.”
Aurora sat and listened to sounds of the footsteps. She heard them spilt up in the hallway, two turned off into the first rooms on the left and right, another set a few steps after that and then the last two ascending the stairs. Aurora pulled off her house shoes and set them aside before she slowly pushed away the door and crept in the direction of the men. Slowly she crept down into the hallway and listened to the men ransacking through her rooms. She pressed her back against the wall and took in a deep breath before she twirled into the first room on the right.
The soldier was still going through drawers when Aurora came up from behind him and clubbed him with the handle of her pistol. The sound that the pistol made when it hit his skull made her stomach lurch. She watched him fall to the ground and in the little light that the moon let in she could see the shimmering pool of blood forming on the floor.
She stared into the blood and felt her eyes grow wide and her chest rise and fall as her breath quickened. She felt a new sense of strength and energy run through her veins and in the few seconds that she stood there she could feel herself change. She could feel the change spread throughout her body from her head down to her feet and she shivered.
The man on the ground stirred and began to groan when Aurora without giving it a second thought she grabbed a fist full of dark hair, took the knife and slipped it into the back of his neck. He made a strange gurgling noise and twitched before he remained silent.
Aurora pulled the knife back out of his throat and wiped it on her dress. A noise in the hall stirred her and she quickly turned around to see another soldier starring at her. He started at the dead body of his comrade on the floor. He took a few steps backwards and stumbled.
He opened his mouth to yell but before he could raise his voice to scream Aurora jumped on him and pressed her hand over his mouth. He struggled against her but with surprising strength she pushed her knee deeper in her chest and pressed the knife against his throat. He screamed into her hand, his eyes wide from fear.
Her eyes narrowed, angry at finding that he would be able to show such an emotion.
She got closer to his face and whispered, “You meant to strike fear in my heart but in the end it was I that struck fear into you.”
He looked confused for the split second before she raked the blade across his throat. She once again wiped the knife on her dress and then stood making her way to where the third soldier that was. She could hear the two that went upstairs walking about, throwing things to the floor in the first couple of rooms. Samantha was in the back bedroom, Aurora thought, if she listened to her.
The third soldier was poking around in the sitting room where Aurora was sitting just a few minutes ago. She peered into the room through the crack where the door is hinged to the doorframe. She could just make out his figure picking up things and tossing them around.
She took a step forward and the floorboards beneath her feet creaked. She froze, her heart pounding wildly.
“Wilkins, Stepson,” the soldier whispered. “Is that you guys?”
Aurora wasn’t sure what to do so she remained frozen in silence.
The soldier took a few steps towards her and she could hear him lift up the wooden barrel of his rifle. Aurora crouched again placing the back of her hand against her mouth to stifle the noise of her breathing.
The man approached, his shadow just visible. She waited just until the barrel of his gun made it halfway out of the door when she jumped, pushing the barrel of the gun up into the air and in the same motion jamming the blade of the knife up through the soldier’s chin.
The gun went off into the corner of where the wall and ceiling meet sending wood splinters flying. Aurora cursed and startled she ran back towards the kitchen leaving the knife where she had thrust it. She heard the shouts of the men upstairs and then the thumping of boots as they ran back down the stairs.
The sound of the shot going off undid every feeling of power that she had, that had excited her, when she hit the first soldier over the head. The sound bringing forth the reality of the situation. Her body trembled, her breathing was choppy. She held on tighter to the pistol in her hand and fumbled around for another knife.
“Holy shit!” she heard one of the men say upon reaching one of the bodies. “Burke.”
She heard one of them run further down the hall towards the second body and she backed up deeper into the kitchen.
“Wilkins is dead, too,” the one loudly whispered to other.
She listened to him enter the first room where the third body lay and then walk back out. She didn’t hear anything after that. The two men stopped talking and for a moment the house was void of all sounds except for her breathing.
She stood with her back against the wall and waited. Eternity seemed to have come and gone before the sounds of the men started back up again. She could hear them walk towards the kitchen slowly. She walked with her back against the wall, her gun raised with one hand and then with the free one searched the wall for the knob to the service entrance door.
She felt her hand wrap around it just as the first man walked into the door. She pulled back the hammer of the gun, the sound of it causing him to look in her direction. She could see the whites of his eyes grow as he fumbled for his own gun but she pulled the trigger of hers before he had a chance to lift it.
The spark of the gun sent a wave of light through the room and Aurora, for the split second that it illuminated, felt that she was seeing everything for the first time. The man gave a shout as he fell backwards into the other man, his hand covering the hole that the bullet made in his shoulder. The second man poked his gun from around the corner of the hall and blindly shot in her direction.
Aurora fell back into the service entrance door at the foot of the steps. She shot back from where she fell splintering the door frame at the men’s heads. He returned fire just the same forcing Aurora to empty the bullets she had left. She then kicked the door shut with her foot and then jumped back up onto her feet, running up the stairs. She heard the last man scramble after her, creating a new panic rushing through her.
She could hear him shouting after her as she ran up the wooden, curving stairs. Tears rolled down her face as she ran down the second floor hall. She ran to the third room and slammed the already opened door shut before she gently opened her bedroom door and whipped in closing the door just as tenderly behind her. She pressed her back against the door and slid down.
“Samantha?” she whispered.
She received no answer.
Aurora crawled over to the far corner where her bed sat and looked under it. There was no one there.
“Samantha!” She said again.
Again she was met with silence.
She was about to walk towards the attic door when she heard the last soldier moving about the hall. Too scared to hide behind the door again to wait for an ambush, Aurora slid under the bed and lay on her stomach. She gripped the knife and now empty gun in her hands and waited.
She heard his boots slowly hit the wooden floor with deafening clarity. Each step that he took seemed to stop her heart and she bit her lip to keep it from quivering. She heard him open the door that she closed to throw him off and to give herself time but in the moment that she threw her plan together she just as quickly forgot it in fear and panic.
She whimpered and closed her eyes replaying the events of the eternity that she had just lived through. The images of the men walking through her house, their voices calm and indifferent, the blood all flashed through her mind. A sense of amazement of what she had just lived through surged through her body.
“I will not be one of those stories,” she said to herself once again.
The handle of the door began to turn and the man entered.
Aurora waited in silence under the bed watching the boots walk around the room. She furred her brows and narrowed her eyes as she lay there in anticipation.
The boots approached the bed and paused. For several seconds the boots stayed pointed towards the bed. He took another half step towards the bed but after taking another pause, his foot not fully on the floor, he turned and walked back out of the room.
Aurora watched as the boots disappeared out of the room before she pulled herself from under the bed and charged. She was just in within a couple of feet of him when he swung around wielding a revolver. She ducked just before he fired, the air from the bullet lightly brushing her hair. She swiped at his leg with the knife but he quickly jumped back and re-aimed his gun. She pushed off the ground and lunged forward pushing his gun hand away while trying to stab him with the knife. He grabbed her by the wrist and slapped her across the face with his gun hand.
Aurora fell to the ground in a daze, her face burning.
“You have cost me four of my men,” the soldier said taking a step forward.
Aurora shook her head and wiped away the blood that was starting to trickle down her cheek.
The man walked around and took hold of her hair, dragging her back into the bedroom.
Aurora screamed and kicked her feet. She let the gun drop from her hand and taking hold of his wrist she slashed at the hand holding her hair.
The man let go and yelled. “You bitch!”
Aurora scrambled away from him on her hands and knees. He grabbed one of her feet and pulled her back. She slipped on the ground but she landed a kick to his face allowing her time to get up and run. He yelled again and shot blindly just missing her.
Aurora ran into the upstairs study and pulled a rifle from behind the bookshelf. She ran back into the hall and aimed the gun towards her bedroom. The soldier poked his head through long enough for her to aim but he ducked back in before she fired. She cursed and ran back into the study to reload the gun but her hands trembled from excitement so much that the bullets slipped through her fingers and bounced around on the floor.
The sound of boots running down the hall did not calm her hands enough to reload the gun before he was on her. The two of them wrestled over the rifle. He threw her to the floor, wrenching the gun from her hands.
“You’re more trouble than you’re worth,” he said as he straddled her pinning her arms with his knees. She screamed as he slapped her across the face. He then squeezed her face in his hand and stroked her hair with his other.
Aurora pulled and struggled against him, her eyes narrowed and her face red with anger.
“You’re a feisty little thing, aren’t you?” he asked smiling at her, his nose bleeding. “Oh, you’ll do just fine.” He moved one of his hands down her face caressing her skin.
She continued to fight with him but she was no match for his strength and tears filled her eyes as a sense of helplessness swept over her.
“Shh! Don’t cry,” he said in a mockingly sweet tone and wiping away a tear.
Aurora spit in his face in an act of defiance.
The soldier drew his lip up in a sneer, his eyes narrowing. “You bitch,” he said slapping her again. Then in one swift movement he held her down with his hands and pushed apart her legs with his feet.
Aurora screamed and struggled harder.
He laughed at her as he fought to take off her bloomers. He removed his one good hand from her arm and pushed up her dress.
Aurora looked around her for something that she could use. The knife that she had was well out of reach. But just a few inches away was her husband’s walking stick. Her eyes grew wide with hope and she reached and reached with her free arm until her fingers wrapped around it. She swung the cane with all her might taking the man by surprise.
He held his head where she hit him and yelled. Aurora then pushed off the floor with her hips forcing him to tumble to the ground. He reached for her but not before she pulled out of the handle a concealed dagger in the cane and thrust it into his leg.
The soldier roared pressing a hand over the wound. Aurora jumped up and went to run but he grabbed her foot and pulled; Aurora fell on her face but quickly scrambled away on her hands and knees. Her entire body burned from pain and panic. She crawled over to the desk and pulled herself up grabbing the rifle once again and plucked a single bullet from the floor. She took a deep breath as she slipped it into the barrel and cocked it.
Aurora walked over to the soldier, the gun raised.
He looked at her, his face riddled with pain and shook his head. “You don’t have to do this,” he said. “If you let me leave I swear I will never-”
Aurora didn’t care enough to let him finish. Once again the room lit up from the spark of the gun and in that split second Aurora noted the fear of death on the man’s face. She felt herself smirk. She dropped the gun on the ground and walked out into the hallway towards her room.
Dawn was approaching, letting light leak into the room brighter than Aurora could ever have imagined. Her head ached from exhaustion but she had to make sure Samantha was alright. Her floor was speckled with several drops and a couple of small pools of blood from the scuffle with the soldier and a few bloody boot prints. She lethargically reached her hand out and placed her hand on the knob of the attic door and slowly opened it just a bit when she finally realized that something didn’t match up. The direction of the bloody boot prints were coming into the room, not out.
She swung back around just as the soldier came up behind her. She gave a pathetic, tired slap in his face causing a smile to spread across his lips.
“If that is the best you can do I am ashamed for my friends that you managed to over power.” The two of them stood arm’s length apart staring at each other, one smiling, the other an emotionless look on her face. After a moment the soldier winced as he was reminded of the open wound in his arm. His good hand covered the still bleeding wound. Aurora noticed the lack of color in his face, the subtle beads of sweat forming over his brow and how drenched the sleeve of his coat was from all of the blood.
Aurora allowed herself to smile. “You don’t seem to have a lot of time left,” she said giving a slight nod towards his arm.
He chuckled. “It’s just a flesh wound.”
The man tried to stand up tall, but Aurora could tell that he was struggling. His breathing was a little ragged. He took a step forward and winced, throwing himself into a fit of coughing. He walked off to the side and placed a hand on the wall for support as he vomited on the floor.
Aurora laughed. “A flesh wound indeed,” she said walking away from the door and circling to the backside of the man. “Flesh wounds often leave men of your size sick and weak as you are now. Forgive me for thinking otherwise,” she taunted.
The man stood up straight again and slowly turned around, a pistol in his hand. “You shouldn’t laugh at a dying man’s pain,” he said looking paler than he did before.
Aurora froze and stared down the barrel of the gun before locking cold eyes on him. “You must be the epitome of a man to use a gun on a helpless woman such as myself.”
His lip curled into what could have been a snarl. “You are a problem, a disease, an insect, but you are not a woman.” He took a couple steps towards her. “Take off your dress,” he said.
Aurora didn’t move. “You’re not even going to ask me my name first? That’s rather rude.”
“I don’t care about your name,” he replied waving the gun slightly around. “Do as I say or I will kill you.”
Aurora took in a deep breath. “I would rather die than succumb to such embarrassment.”
“You think you’re brave?” he said and laughed causing him to go into another fit of coughing.
“You can barely stand on your own feet. What do you really expect to do to me?” she asked standing a little straighter.
“I will make the last moments of your life miserable as you have made mine. So take off your clothes!” he yelled pulling back the hammer of his pistol.
Aurora jumped but stood her ground. “No.”
The man came closer, his gun raised. “Then it’s a shame.”
His took aim with his gun and Aurora stood, her eyes closed.
She gave one last prayer before she heard the sound of the gun go off and the searing pain of the bullet piercing her. She fell to the ground and pressed a hand to her side warm and wet with blood. The man stared down at her a look of surprise on his face.
He took a staggering step forward before falling to his knees and then on his face with a dull thud.
Aurora moved to sit up and winced from the pain. She heard a noise that roused her and saw Samantha standing in the doorway to her attic, the gun in her hand, smoke still rising from the barrel.
The young girl dropped the gun and then ran towards Aurora. “I have shot you!” she said crying.
Aurora lifted her hand just enough to see that the bullet had barely grazed her side and laughed. She slowly lay back on the hardwood floor and stared at the ceiling as she laughed. “I thought I was dead,” she said.
Samantha looked down at her, a confused look on her face. “Why are you laughing?” she asked.
“Because I am still alive! Why shouldn’t I laugh?”
“You laugh as if you have gone mad,” Samantha replied.
Aurora winced as she sat back up. “And perhaps I have,” she replied thinking of the things she had done. “War makes all of us a little mad.”
Samantha’s eyes filled with tears. “What am I to do?” she cried. “My family has been murdered and they have burned my house. I have nothing left.”
Aurora took Samantha’s hands in her own and squeezed them gently. “As dark as it was last night, the dawn has broken through and is now starting to shed light,” she said pointing to the sunlight breaking through the window. “We have survived last night. We have beaten the odds and came out on top. We shall survive tomorrow.”
The young girl threw her arms around Aurora’s neck causing her to wince. “Sorry,” she said pulling back. She stood and held her hand out for Aurora to take. “Come,” she said. “We should dress that wound.”
Aurora paused and slowly reached out her hand taking in a painful breath as she stood. “The war is not over out there, Samantha,” she said as she put her arm around the girl’s shoulder and began to walk with her for support. “But it cannot last forever.”
“But why would we have to be involved?” Samantha asked. “We are not soldiers. We did not join the fight. Why would they attack us?”
“Survival is everyone’s war,” Aurora said glancing back briefly at the soldier on the floor. “It’s a war all of us will eventually lose but it is a battle that not everyone can win.”
The sun rose higher in the sky and Aurora smiled at the beginning of a new day.
“This will be a story worth being a part of.”