Dressed in black from head to foot, their faces shadowed by wide-brimmed hats, they stood about a dozen feet apart, all the way around the house. I knew they did because I'd gone to every window and checked. For days they had stood, not moving a muscle. I estimated they were maybe 50 yards from the house. It was as if someone had drawn a circle around the building and they stood on the line. Initially, I'd been puzzled by it but that wore off and I only felt relief that they approached no closer. And curiosity.
Why didn't they move? What did they want?
I removed my glasses and shoved them into my skirt pocket and smothered a sob, swiping at my face with the tattered rag I held in my hand. It was barely larger than my hand. I'd have to wash it soon. It was the only thing I'd brought with me when I ran away. I shook my head. I had nothing else to replace it with and so I clung to it, a filthy scrap that held all the tears I'd cried for weeks.
There wasn't much left in the house. I'd boarded myself in days ago. I'd run as far as I could and when I'd stumbled across this refuge, I'd slammed the door and used everything I could to block the exits. My body ached and I was so very tired of running and hiding. I wanted to rest. My throat hurt from my sobs and breathing through my stuffy nose was difficult. I sniffed and wiped the cloth over it again, wincing at the rawness.
I knew blocked doors wouldn't really stop them. Nothing could. They'd eventually capture me and devour me. Day and night, for so long I couldn't remember when it started they'd stalked me. I sighed. I had no place to run, now. I just wanted to sleep. I didn't dare. They'd gain entry and be on me in a second. I had to stay awake, stay vigilant.
With burning eyes, I sought out the tightest corner of the room and backed into it, sliding down the wall until I sat, pressed into the floor and wall. I pulled my knees up and wrapped my arms tightly around them and buried my head in my arms. I clutched the now sodden rag tightly in my fist and the last of my strength drained away with my tears. Here is where I would stop. I could go no further.
I heard the door as it gave way, the windows as they shattered. I looked up and screamed as they rushed at me, a cloud of black with hate contorted visages. In one final feeble attempt as salvation, I threw up my hand with its dirty, tattered rag waving like a small, battle-worn flag.
An explosion shook the house to its foundation and spread into my bones. I clutched at the walls. Instantly, the figures turned and literally clambered over one another in their haste to escape. A second explosion caused dust and bits of plaster to shower around me. My heart beat so hard I thought it would rip through my chest. I covered my head with my arms and waited for my destruction.
It never came. Instead, a deep silence fell around me. Not a bird, a cricket, or a squirrel could be heard. There was no wind and not even the house creaked.
I don't know how long I waited. Slowly I pushed myself up, my back still pressing into the corner. I waited, but all was still. I sensed no sound, no movement. Were they waiting until I stepped outside? My body shook so hard I was afraid to move, but I couldn't stay here. I had to leave. I knew that, but I took my time and went to the window. After a moment's hesitation, I peeked around the frame.
There was no one there. The yard was empty. I frowned. Where were they? I moved to each window and it was the same. The yard as far as I could see was vacant. A huge sigh of relief flowed from me and I closed my eyes. Thank, God.
But why? Why had they run? What had driven them out? They were nasty, horrible things with droning voices that never ceased their harassment. And yet, they'd run as if something pursued them.
I rubbed my forehead and the rag slapped me in the eye. My frown deepened. I'd been running for weeks to evade them. Then, when I'm backed into a corner and waiting to be eaten alive, they run like cowards. I'd even raised a white flag.
I smiled as I looked at the nasty piece of cloth. Well, sort of white. I turned it over and studied it. The hem was gone, most of the fabric worn into shreds, threads dangled here and there. It was filthy from my repeated use. I wrinkled my nose. It smelled of dirt, sweat, and tears. I flipped it over to examine the opposite side and stared.
Someone had embroidered something... no, it was a word into the fabric with a glossy white thread. Originally it probably had been virtually undetectable. Now, against the dingy fabric, the thread stood in stark contrast. I squinted at it. Such tiny stitches, perfectly formed but so small I could not make out what it said.
I pulled my glasses from my pocket and slipped them on as the letters sprang into view, my vision blurred and tears splashed against my lens. In beautiful, swirling letters I read the single word that had sent my tormenters to flight.