Janey locks the door, grasping Mordecai’s sweaty palm with one hand and gripping Papa’s Henry rifle in the other. Mama screeches again, her voice muffled by the walls. It morphs into a whimper and stops, but there is no gunshot this time. All Janey hears is her little brother crying as he holds her hand. Her throat closes up as she realizes the man has killed Mama, too.
The children are alone now.
The faint press of drunken footsteps on creaking floorboards grows louder. Janey whips around to look for an escape route. She tries to wipe away her tears with her trembling arm. Her burning eyes dart across the dimly lit room. The kerosene lamp hanging from the low ceiling illuminates the only two possible escape routes. The bed is too close to the ground. The window is always stuck. Even if she could break it, the glass would destroy their bare feet. Janey’s heart plops into the pit of her stomach.
A clanging noise pierces Janey’s ears and she whips back around. The doorknob twists back and forth. The door starts trying to jump out of its frame. Janey and Mordecai back up to the wall. She shakes Mordecai’s tiny hand out of her own and raises the gun. She feels a pair of arms envelop her leg through her dress. She tries to shove the stock through her shoulder, recalling Papa’s lessons. She tries to take a deep breath, but it still comes out shaky.
The door swings out of its frame, the sound of splintering wood forcing Janey’s eyes shut. She peels them open and looks at the figure standing in the doorway. He looks like one of those gunslingers Papa told her about, his colt and bottle seem extensions of his arms. As he enters the light, he holsters his gun and pulls a knife. The stench of whiskey and urine invades Janey’s nostrils. She pulls the trigger and all she hears is a click. She curses herself for being so silly. She struggles to cock the gun, forcing the lever forward and pinching herself when she pulls it back.
The man laughs at the state of her, twirling the knife in his hand. Janey aims at the man’s chest, telling herself to stop crying. She remembers Papa’s lessons; stare down the barrel, match up the sights, let out all air. She looks at the man again, his grin searing itself into her mind. She shuts her eyes and pulls the trigger. Sparks fly, smoke fills the room, the crack of the powder splits her ears, and the bottle shatters.
The smoke in Janey’s eyes dissipates, but the ringing in her ears does not.
She can see him clearly now.
The man stumbles backward, stopping underneath the lamp as his hat falls from his balding head. He is drenched in blood and whiskey.
He takes his hand off his chest and looks down at the blood. He looks back at Janey and his eyes infuriate her. They are shocked and pleading, begging her. She looks at the knife in his hand. That’s the same knife Mama tried to use on him. Then she looks at the shattered bottle at the man’s feet. She remembers that he wasn’t carrying any with him when he came in. That’s Papa’s whiskey. He stole from them. He took his time killing Mama on purpose. He was smiling earlier. He was enjoying it.
She glares at the pathetic drunk, the icy fear in her stomach morphing into a fiery hatred. His eyes are comically wide, his knees wobbling pitifully. Her jaw tightens and her nostrils flare as she exhales. She forces the lever forward and back into place. She points the gun at him again, but then raises it, aiming above him.
She shoots the lamp and hell descends. He screeches the way Mama did. She lowers the gun and stares at him. The flames engulf him as he places his hands on his searing face. He drops to his knees and rocks back and forth. The flames mystify her. It’s like looking at the deer again. The corners of her mouth begin to peak up.
Mordecai screams at her and she finally turns to look at him. He is still crying, his eyes begging her to run. She finally comes to her senses. Janey grabs Mordecai’s hand and starts moving around the writhing pillar of flames, forgetting to avoid the shards of glass on the floor.
They run through the doorway and back into the dinner room. Papa is still dead on the ground and Mama is now lying dead on the table, her head hanging off the edge. Janey looks away from the corpse and drags her little brother out of the house.
The screams continue as Janey leaves a trail of blood behind her. Her feet sting. She curses herself for being so silly.