The Pinto lurched and creaked as it trudged through the marsh, the watery mud darkening the brown of the hull. The trailing wind swept through in short, lingering passages, a faint scent of lavender and pine accompanying each burst of nightly air. The rounded body swayed gently, whirring loudly beneath the trembling metal hood, the light drizzle of rain only seen through the tame flicker of the headlight, only heard from the light tapping on the glass. Half-sunken rocks littered the pathway, bobbing and weaving in odd patterns as they led up the hillside, matted by bristling sagebrush and blanketed by fiery stars. As the wind fluttered against a faceless row of sternly-fixed flatwoods, scattering and passing through the short tufts of leaves, a soft whistle echoed out across the Sun Belt, dancing above the crackling wind before vanishing in the darkness.

***

Dashing across the carpeted floor, and narrowly avoiding the blackwood drawer sitting near, Anya stood straight and eager before the door, beyond which came the rustling of feet, one pair sturdy and powerful, the other smaller and nervous. Ellie and William clambered down the winding staircase, bouncing little fists against the wall as they made their way to Anya’s side. Will tugged at his collar, tightened over the buttons of his striped jumper, and Ellie wore her hair like her foster sister, the back fixed into a tightly-packed bun, with thin strands loosely poking out over the wide, honey-gold eyes.

“Is he here yet?” said Will, jumping excitedly and turning on the spot, the loose fabric of his socks swiftly gliding on the patterned wood.

“We don’t know if it’s a he,” Ellie said firmly, twiddling her fingers as she watched her brother bouncing about. Will stuck his tongue out and aimed a kick at her shins, missing and nearly slipping against the wall. Ellie laughed pointedly.

“Enough,” Anya stepped forward and separated the two, straightening Will and brushing out the wrinkles in his coat. Anya placed her finger above her lips and motioned to the door, listening carefully to the tinkling of keys, the twisting of the lock, and felt the brief gust of air as the door swung open. Silhouetted against the low, creamy-brown light of the hallway stood a small figure, topped by a woolen golf hat, crouched behind Father’s towering form. Father stepped forward and knelt before the children, the light glistening over his broad shoulders, giving accent to the short patches of gray lumped in black, and Anya sniffed at the familiar tang of woodwork. Father retracted his hands from his pockets and pressed them against each of the children’s faces, the gritty tips of his fingers cold and numb against the skin. As he reached Anya, he paused and stroked a loose strand of hair, tickling it against his thumb before laying it over the crook of her ear. Anya felt a light chill trickle down from the place he touched her, and gazed silently at Father’s sunken features, the twitching lines smoothed into a long, solitary grin. Anya looked past and squinted to make out the boy’s face, but as her Father lifted the hat and led him closer, she could see him in full. He had a gentle nature about him; a small bow-tie strapped against the collar of a tight dress shirt, poking out from beneath a checkered threadbare vest. His eyes were wide and glinting, the lamplight draped over the baby-blue, and his shoulder-length hair was neatly gelled into orderly spikes. Anya stepped forward and placed her palm against the boy’s shoulder, the loose fabric prickly and soft.

“I’m Anya,” she said tenderly, extracting the suitcase from his grip and placing it down near the staircase. “It’s nice to meet you.”

The little boy lifted his gaze, the blue of his eyes a dazzling shade. He spoke in a rather hushed whisper. “I-I’m..Noah.”

Father placed his hand firmly against Noah’s other shoulder, pressing into the thin layer of skin blanketed over the long, protruding bone. He smiled once more.

“Welcome home.”

***

Anya felt the headrest press firmly against the edges of her skull, and fought the urge to close her eyes. The constant creaking of the wipers, shuffling the raindrops to either side of the glass, rang loudly throughout the quivering vehicle. Anya felt her grip over the long, polished leather of the steering wheel loosen, her palm grazing the glossy surface as it tucked underneath. The pelting drops cracked and vanished beneath the dim glow of the light, resting a dull, pallid gleam over the unbroken sheet of black. As she pressed the pedal down with dirt-ridden boots, she glanced at the top view mirror, occupied by small, shifting shadows tucked in the trunk. Beside her, a blanketed mass stirred and muttered, the cloth pulled down over the glinting blue eyes. Anya reached for the seams of the sheet and pulled it over the shoulders, laying a consoling arm around Noah’s neck as he tilted his head and began to tremble.

***

“Stand straight, or else I can’t do it properly!”

Noah giggled as he straightened himself against the edge of the doorway, his long hair tamed into a frizzy bun. Anya hunched slightly, slowly dropping the pencil until she felt his scalp, and dotted a small line on the timber. Noah ran out from beneath, tracing his fingers against the marking, and the one a few centimeters beneath it. A wide, toothy grin spread across his pale complexion before he dashed through the bedroom door, ensuring his fingers remained locked in their position, and Anya heard the soft thumping as he clambered excitedly to tell Will in the dining room.

Nestling herself on the wilted mat at the edge of the room, Anya felt the bristling air as it tumbled through the windowsill, laden with the peppery scent of grass. Across the front lawn, a rectangular stretch of sterile weeds and thistles, the slanted image of the chained fence floated high and fierce, the metal clinking as fragments of light drizzled through the swirling barbed wire. The fence was scrawny and tall, rounding the corners of the landing and stretching far into the shadowed edges of the cement. Behind it was a lengthy patch of scattered birch and oak, showered by hefty curtains of green, the long trunks bent and weathered. Anya watched the trees sway wistfully through the chains, the bark peeling and chipped, and wondered silently, as the sweeping wind tickled the paneled glass, what the world looked like beyond it.

After dinner had wound down, and Ellie and Will had gone upstairs to finish their studies for the day, Anya and Noah cleared the table and piled the saucers into the sink, scrubbing away at loose pieces of parsley and quiche. As Noah placed the stack near the cupboard and fled upstairs, Anya turned to the open window and wiped her hands against the prickly fiber of the overhead towel. Across the patched metal in the distance, a light orange seared the brown-white of the glowing bark, stumbling onto the dirt in long, triangular streaks of evening glare. The departing sun coloured the folded dirt a thick, gummy yellow, and the silent whistle of wind floated placidly near the leaves. Anya lifted her arm and stretched it out far, her eyes fixed on the darkening line, grasping at the outside air as the light trickled and spun.

Suddenly, Anya felt her hand swing to the side, and found Father raising her wrist near his chest, his hand wrapped tightly around her fingers. Anya struggled as she was lifted slightly from the ground, her feet slanted against the floor. She winced and pulled back, but Father gripped her wrist and held it there. Anya swallowed a lump in her throat as she reluctantly stared up at his face. Between the oily strands layered over the reddening temple, his brow nested by clenched wrinkles, Father stood and stared blankly at her through glassy eyes, twitching repeatedly between the window and her arm. After a moment’s hesitation, a short gasp left Anya’s trembling mouth.

“F-father, I-I’m sorry!” she said quickly, stuttering as she recoiled from the bleakness of his glare, her wrist turning white as her father’s grip tightened. “I w-was only l-looking outside..”

She sobbed as her arm ached and pained, her back arched upwards and her feet shuffled helplessly. Father seemed to realize what he was doing, and he released her hand and watched as Anya stumbled to the ground, clutching her wrist and cradling herself as hot tears spilt out of her eyes. He lifted a small handkerchief to her nose, and Anya tasted the saltiness of her tears as they slipped onto her upper lip. Placing a cold palm against her cheekbone, Father slowly lifted Anya’s face, and peered tenderly into her eyes.

“Remember,” said Father, pocketing the dripping handkerchief and smiling brightly. “We must never…” He raised his eyebrows in an imploring manner.

Anya coughed back a sob, feeling her eyes burn, and responded in a sniffly tone. “We must never go beyond the fence.”

***

Noah groggily pulled the blanket down, rubbing the crumbs out of his eyes as shivering masses stirred and darted through the patchy darkness. “Anya…where are we going?”

Anya pressed her feet tightly against the pedal, feeling the Pinto rattle underfoot. “I don’t know. Anywhere but back there.”

A small tinge of pain seared against Noah’s temple, growing with every crack and splinter that erupted through the stillness. “But….we can’t. F-Father said that if we left the home, he would find us and….” Noah felt his breathing slow, a small burn encasing his legs, and he gripped the edges of the cloth. His throat was sore and scratchy from slumber. “Father said to stay so we could be safe, that whatever’s out there is dangerous and bad.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Anya twisted the steering wheel and crossed through a narrow stretch of land, a small patch of light glistened across the bloodied mark, thin and trailing, down her left forearm. “Even if it’s dangerous, at least we’re together. That man can’t come after us anymore. He can’t hurt us.”

***

The blinding crash reverberated across the darkening hallway, light flakes of timber floated in midair as the aftershock enshrined the sound onto the nearby wardrobe. It was followed by a series of agitated outbursts and the tinkling of glass, the draining of the liquid and the shuffling of torn workman boots, stomping against the crippled floorboards. Beneath the incongruent popping, levelled by the shattering of china and portrait frames, was the light muttering and gasping as the towering form leapt and spun across the dining room. The shadowed mass lifted off the ground and thumped large, hammering fists against the wall, as a piercing yell rang out of the blanketed lips. The figure pressed against the door and slid down, an extended hand gripping and twisting the knob in a rough, back-and-forth motion, the other clamped firmly around the glinting hilt of a loosened belt. Sharp and shallow breaths rang out on either side of the veil, and a number of smaller shadows lifted their heads over the cloth of the table, watching silently over smudged cheeks and reddened legs, as twinkling tears rinsed the bloodied stains.

***

The Pinto whirred and shook as it reached a shallow incline. Thickets of winding thorns and underbrush lifted in showering bursts of crumbling dirt, and jumbles of lightly-grazed stones shone brilliantly above, the silver wisp illuminating whatever lay ahead.

***

The blood oozed and gushed as it piled over Father’s relaxed head, small pieces of powdery dough mixed in with the blushing red. Anya felt her chest strain and clench, her breathing pulsing and sharp, and her hands shook against the grainy surface of the rolling pin. She raised it over her head and brought it down once more, closing her eyes as the tapered baton crashed against the skull, a loud squelching rush of dust and blood splattering over the carpeted fringe. Anya lifted and whacked again, once more, another afterwards until shabby pieces of bone and lines of snot washed over the spilling current, brimming with a wistful rage. The trailing red climbed over crumpled papers strewn over the painted floorboards, the inky black of the text covered and lost with each shattering crash.

Steven K. Pierce – Position: Infantryman I First Cavalry Division – Past Deployment: Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam

Anya darted over the growing puddle, twisting and turning over the loose shards as she pushed her way towards the blackwood drawer. Clicking a small key into place, the drawer swung open, piled high with sealed files, narrow bottles, and a long black revolver with a retracted barrel. Shuffling through, Anya felt around in the mass of paper and metal until her fingers closed around the patterned clip of the keys, and raised them into the light. Ford Pinto was etched in small engravings across the shiny surface, and was one half of what Father would always call his ‘first child.’

***

The Pinto sputtered as it made its way to the top of the hill, sawgrass dripping out of the flattened edges of the tires as the body screeched to a definite halt at the narrow summit. Anya could feel the breeze lightly prodding against the metal front, and even within, it smelt strongly of a steaming sweetness. In the back, Will and Ellie pressed themselves together sleepily and reclined against the sleek arch of the trunk, Ellie’s extended arm wrapped tightly around the pair, the red marks now faded and plain. Noah pressed his cheek against the side to gawk at the triangular mounds of dirt and rock seeping over the hillside, their jagged points lifting and dropping in a long, sinuous movement. As Anya pulled the handle back and heard the click as the door unfastened and turnt, a familiar tinge laced itself around her neck, the gentle trail of blood on her arm seared, the dull gray of those eyes distant and somber, and the pale marks on her wrist prickled and stung at the thought of them.

Anya felt the dirt crawl through her boots and soften her feet, as the bloodshot horizon curved and retreated overhead. Along the sides of the crumbling incline, a patch of shadowed glimmer showed open water, the glossy-black streams obscured by the rounded land mass. The leftover patches of darkness washed off in the morning shine, and the winding river tinkled and leaped as it dove in and around the neighbouring hills. Above, cascades of luminance tumbled through invisible crags into thick, swirling pools and vaporous bunches, and Anya felt the wind ring in her ears, now numb and red, as she caught fragments of a low whistling echo in the gale. As the current fluttered around her, dashing through the open-neck of her blouse and lightly caressing the wounds, she realized, closing her eyes and embracing it, that it wasn’t a whistle at all.

It was a song.