Through the school door, Beneda looks for someone in authority. Seeing a young man at a desk, she hurries over.
“There is fighting at the library. You have to evacuate the children!”
Giving her a shocked look, he blurts, “Yes Ma’am! I’ll tell the class down here. There’s another upstairs.” He points to the stairway.
“I’ll get them.” She shouts as she runs to the stairs, “Use the back door,” knowing that will lead still farther away from the library.
Taking the steps two at a time she reaches the top floor in moments. As she looks for the right room, she tries to think what a fight between her farmers and Cootuh’s thugs will mean for the locals.
She tells herself, Cootuh doesn’t want to hurt people. But, still she worries.
Her stomach makes a growling noise, loud in the empty hallway. More than a day since the last real meal. Stopping to listen, she hears children’s voices.
Following the sound she reaches a closed door. Twenty young faces greet her after she pulls it open. Some children have crackers in their hands. Her stomach growls again. She gestures the teacher over.
As the young woman reaches her, Beneda whispers.
“There is fighting across at the library.” Taking in the teacher’s shock, she continues, “Lead your students out the back door. I’ll follow behind.”
Taking a breath and standing tall, the woman nods to Beneda, turns, clapping her hands, she announces. “Children. Stand and pickup your bags. We are going to have a fire drill.” As the noise level rises, she speaks louder, “Alicia you are front of the line. Doug, you are at the end. Let’s go.”
Opening the door wide, Beneda and the teacher step out of the room, as the children’s voices rise with questions.
“Quietly! Join hands with the one behind you and in front.” She waits until a long twisty snake has formed in the room. “Alicia, everyone, start.”
The line dances out of the room and down the hallway. Beneda falls in behind the little boy, Doug.
Following the group down the stairs again, she tries to look in every direction.
At the back door, she waves to Doug and the teacher at the front of the line. Closing the door, she listens in the quiet.
Making her way to the front door, she takes out Savannah’s mirror, Thank goodness for small favors, and vain women. As she opens the door, she hears sounds outside, men walking in front of the school. Crouching down behind the door, she angles the mirror to see out the crack of door against doorframe. She counts seven, but there may be more.
Cootuh! A shiver goes down her back seeing him motion, calling for the others to stop.
His voice come to her, “There’s the library. We’ll station some to guard the front. Then look for Malcolm in back.”
Beneda tries to keep from shaking as the group marches off. Sitting on the floor she crawls to the window, keeps an eye on the front of the library in the distance. Luckily, no sign of Savannah and Zenobia.
What to do?
From her spying spot, she waits a few minutes, but sees only two of Cootuh’s men in front of the library. One holds a sword, the other paces with a thick club on his shoulder. Rising to her feet, she determines her path.
Throwing open the door, she steps out and unslings her bow and starts running. It’s surprisingly easier than she expects. Fear has left her. No need for worrying
Loosing an arrow when close enough, she aims for the swordsman first. Hits him. But as the men run for safety to the side of the building, all her remaining arrows miss their mark.
Halting, breathing heavy, notching another arrow, she looks around. It’s quiet. Except she sees Savannah and Zenobia stepping out the trees to the side. Their mouths open.
“My!” Zenobia exclaims, as she runs close, Beneda grips the bow. “Remind me not to offend you.”
Shaking her head, Savannah says, “Yeah. And remind me I want to it down with you when all this is over, Beneda.”
Still looking around for danger, mouth dry, Beneda asks, “Where’re the others?”
Zenobia points right, sure of herself. “Headed around back.”
Looking that way, the women are surprised by sound from the other side.
Cracking noises of branches announces Willy leading Eli around the side of the building.
Beneda swivels her bow and looks for the missing man.
“Where’s Tyrone?” she asks, as soon as Willy is close enough.
Willy pats a hand down. “I set him on a task. He be here in a lil’ bit.”
Beneda’s attention goes to the bundle of sticks both Willy and Eli carry.
“Miss Zenobia.” Willy looks to the librarian. “Your back door seem very solid.”
Nodding, she answers, “Yes. Heavy metal, and Pete and Owen have it barricaded from the inside.”
“Good.” He says, “And it would take monkeys to get to the little windows back there.”
Beneda can't wait any longer, she’s worried about what Cootuh will do next. “What are those for?”
Willy gives her a chilly smile. “We funnel them here to the front. I gots some surprises for them.” He sits and starts whittling a sharp point on the first stick, Beneda hadn’t known about this skill. “I learned some things when a little boy. Beside your M’Deah, defending the farms.”
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