Sun, 27 December 2009 - 9:59 pm

Ownership

Somewhere in the dark hours of last night, I fell asleep. I curled up with Matt and we tried to find some comfort in each other. Even the blinding passion couldn’t blot everything out, though it managed to exhaust us enough to get a little rest.

It felt like I had barely closed my eyes before there was a fist banging on our door. I jerked awake and stumbled into my clothes, swearing when a sleeve got caught on my bandaged forearm. Matt snagged me by the shoulders and made me look at him.

“Take a breath,” he told me. “We can get through this.”

I sucked in air and let it out again, and nodded to him. It was going to be okay.

On the way down to the yard, I couldn’t get Mira and Janice’s faces out of my head. It wasn’t okay for them. They had staring eyes that saw nothing any more.

Everyone was gathering down there. I caught sight of Iona on the way – she was standing in the kitchen doorway, plucking at people as they passed her.

“Don’t,” she kept saying. “Don’t go. They’ll take the flowers, take everything. Take it all.”

Her warnings were so desperate that I hesitated and caught her eye. I remembered her previous rantings about this place, about what might have happened here. It’s hard to know what’s real with her, but there was no doubt about her fear.

“Do you know these people?” I asked. She stared at me and her hair trembled. “We won’t let them hurt you, Iona. Do you know them?”

“Can’t look,” she whispered. “Won’t look.”

So she hadn’t even seen these strangers and didn’t know if she knew them. I wasn’t going to force her. I could hear voices raised outside; I didn’t want to miss what was happening. I had to be there in case it started to escalate into violence again. We couldn’t afford any more injuries – the ones we had were already stretching our medical supplies past safe limits.

“All right. We won’t let them hurt you.”

She didn’t say anything, just nodded, so I tore off to join the others. There was a gulf running down the middle of the yard between the main house and the barn, between Seekers and intruders. Everyone was armed, rifles on our side and machetes on theirs. There was only five of them – they had been forced to leave two of their number in the barn. Despite being outnumbered and quite literally outgunned, they were still grinning cockily. There was something off about the brightness of their eyes that I didn’t like.

“…place was ours and we want it back,” one of them was saying.

“Well, you can’t have it.” Jersey had stepped up to speak to them. I hurried forward as she started to swear at them.

“C’mon, let’s just get ’em,” another of them said to his friends. “Bet they haven’t got bullets anyway.”

They laughed and waggled their blades meaningfully. Bobby tensed and took aim at the speaker. “You really wanna test that?”

“We don’t do that,” I said, joining the front rank. The kids were lingering near the door and Bree was standing near them. She looked like she had been crying all night.

“We just want what’s ours,” the first one said, his attention swinging around to me. Matt’s weight shifted to put an arm in front of me protectively.

“Nothin’ here belongs to you,” Jersey said.

They laughed again and one of them gestured at her suggestively with his weapon. For a sickening moment, I thought she was going to fire on reflex. They had killed Mira and Janice. They had hurt so many of our people. We don’t know what damage they might have been doing in the barn – Kostoya spent the night worrying about the equipment in there. We had so many reasons to kill them and be rid of their threat. So many reasons, and only one to stop us: we don’t do that. We’re Seekers, and we don’t kill unless we have no other choice. This was still a choice.

Then the intruders’ attention shifted past us, back towards the house. I glanced over: someone was walking out and through the gathered Seekers. At first, I thought it was Sally because of the floaty way she was moving, but the hair colour was wrong. Auburn, not dark – Iona. I caught glimpses of her face: her jaw was set and there was a glazed look in her eyes. She stopped half a pace in front of the line of Seekers.

The intruders grinned, looking pleased with this line of events. Worse: they recognised her. Their frontrunner, who had dark hair twisted into dreadlocks, licked his teeth as he looked her over.

“Didn’t think we’d be seeing you again, Chrissy,” he said. His gaze flicked to Jersey. “Thought you said you didn’t have anything that belongs to us.”

Jersey looked like she was about to explode, so I jumped in. “Her name is Iona.”

The guy with the dreads looked puzzled for a moment, then exchanged grinning glances with his friends. Their amusement set my teeth on edge and for a second, I felt like shooting at them too.

“You see?” he said, gesturing widely with his weapon. “That just proves it. Iona isn’t her name – it’s something I used to say about her.” He said the name again, slower, and it hit my ears with a sick kind of sense. I own her. That’s what he had called her. She had been too broken to give any other name when Haven picked her up.

The Seekers’ shock had a palpable impact. I stared at the girl we knew as Iona; we were reeling, but she was perfectly calm. She smiled at them, almost sweetly, and she said something as she lifted her hand to point at them. I struggled to make out the words. I realised what she said in the moment I recognised what she was holding. A handgun.

“Won’t let them hurt.”

I shouted but she was already firing. The intruders didn’t react until the guy with the dreads fell back a step. Blood blossomed on his shirt once, twice, and he looked stunned when his legs crumpled. He coughed and touched his chest, and was bewildered by his own blood. His friends laughed at first, and then sobered when they realised he wasn’t getting up.

By then, Dale had grabbed the gun, yanked it out of her fingers. She didn’t fight him, just let him have it. She stared at the guy with his dreads as he died in our yard. She couldn’t hear us. Jersey was losing it, waving her rifle and shouting at the intruders to go, just go, get out of here. A bullet punched the air over their heads and they flinched. Whatever drug haze had carried them out here to face us was fast deserting them. Feet stumbled towards the driveway and more of us joined in. Go, don’t come back, go on, leave already. This place is ours and you’re not welcome.

A few Seekers followed them, chasing them down enough to be sure that they were really going and watching them until they were out of sight.

I wasn’t the only one to turn to the shooter in our midst. True to form, I was the first to find my tongue.

“Chrissy? Is that your name: Chrissy?”

She blinked and looked at me. It’s one of the few times she’s ever truly seen me. She smiled, looking so serene as if there wasn’t a man choking on his own blood just a few steps away.

“Better now,” she said. Then she turned and walked inside, leaving the rest of us to clean up the mess.

I didn’t know what to feel. No-one wanted to treat the guy with the dreads, but the awkwardness was taken out of our hands when he expired after a few minutes. Blood stained the dirt in another puddle we all stepped carefully around.

We found two bodies in the barn – the last intruders, the ones that didn’t make it outside again. Kostoya saw the mess and looked like he was going to weep. There was glass on the ground, equipment had been pushed off counters and benches to lie haphazardly on the floor. He hurried around with increasing dismay, calling for Conroy. I helped Bobby and Dale get the bodies out of there; it seemed like the most helpful thing I could do while the professor and his assistant assessed the damage.

A few of us helped to clean up the mess. Everyone stayed at the Farm today, in case the intruders came back. We didn’t talk much – for me, the dead were playing on my mind too much. We put them all out in one of the back areas this afternoon and gathered together while the clouds thickened overhead. We sang for them, for our dead, and then retreated back inside so that the rain could take them.

I wish it was as easy to wash clean my memory.

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