Suzanne Burke stimulates the imagination with her weekly Fiction in a Flash #Challenges!
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The Long Road Home
The creak of saddle leather and gentle sway of Maggie’s horse lulled her toward a long overdo nap. Two weeks and still no sign of the men she chased. The ruthless bastards had taken everything from her, she wouldn’t stop until they paid for what they’d done.
When she awoke, the sun had dropped behind the distant Texas hills coloring the sky in shades of magenta, burnt orange, and saffron. The air was cooler, whispering an early fall warning and she huddled into her loose-fitting jacket. She’d lost weight on this trek, lost some of her sanity, as well.
Images of her too-trusting husband swinging from a rope in the shed, face swollen, purple tongue protruding played a never-ending loop in her head. As did the attack from men they thought were friends. Men who’d dragged her to the floor and had their way with her in front of Sam and Jeff. Her boys.
The reason she couldn’t, wouldn’t, give up.
Grunting from stiff, aching, muscles, Maggie dislodged from the saddle and slid to the ground, her grip on the pommel the only thing holding her upright. Pins and needles in her feet assured her she was alive, as did the hunger gnawing at her belly. Didn’t matter though, nothing mattered except finding her sons and meting out the retribution they deserved.
A day and a half later, she came upon the cabin. Rough-hewn slats of gray wood made up the walls, smoke curled in a thin ribbon from the crooked chimney, and moss grew in a thick green blanket draping the eaves. A couple of beaten-down horses, she recognized as theirs, stood silently in a pen next to a dilapidated shed. She hurried to place a hand over the muzzles of her own mounts. They’d approached from downwind, but she didn’t want to take a chance on the animals announcing her arrival before she was ready.
It was dark by the time she had everything in place. The horses were tied in a ravine to the west, close enough to get to if she were injured, but far enough to keep them from panicking when the fireworks started. As she’d expected, Sam and Jeff were brought outside to use the latrine before bed. Her tired eyes feasted on their wiry frames. They looked so small next to the monsters shoving them forward. She ached to break cover and swoop them against her breasts, but reconciled herself to waiting until they were safe.
The moment the boys entered the outhouse and closed the door behind them, she set her plan in motion. Hefting a good-sized stone in her hand, Maggie sent it sailing through the air to smack the ground in the pen, startling the horses who reared up and danced away from the unseen threat. The men ducked, then ran for the nearest cover- the shed.
Next, she lit the fuses on the leftover fireworks Conrad had bought for the family to enjoy on the fourth of July. The sparks snaked across the ground and exploded, sending bright strobes of white, orange and red shrieking into the night sky. Not wasting a second, Maggie streaked across the uneven yard and dropped a heavy board over the door to the shed, sealing it closed.
The men realized they’d been tricked, and shouting obscenities, hammered the door with their fists trying to break free. Knowing she only had seconds before the flimsy structure gave way, Maggie turned to the pile of wood she’d carefully arranged near the wall of the building. A strike of a match and the oil-soaked cloth caught, the fire quickly spreading to the dry kindling. A moment later, the wall caught flame, driving her backward away from the heat and destruction. The shouts became screams, then coughing cries for mercy, echoing the weeping in her soul.
Instead of guilt, Maggie felt joy sweep through her chest, pushing all the hate and pain and anger away. A phoenix rising from the flames.
“Momma, Momma,” Jeff cried, his stubby little legs carrying him to her side, Sam following close behind, his eyes reflecting the funeral pyre in front of them.
Maggie wrapped shaking arms around her kids and pulled them close. “Let’s go home, my loves. Let’s go home.”