The First Wave
Ariela woke with a start – her remaining eye open wide. Her body tingled.
Had it been a part of a half-waking dream or had she actually heard something outside her cabin? She slowly and quietly swung her feet to the floor. Vertigo was still an occasional problem for her, especially first thing in the morning. Ariela touched the left side of her skull and decided not to bother with her eye patch.
Slipping from between the sheets, Ariela padded as quietly as she could across the floor of the cabin’s loft. The ladder creaked as she rested her weight on the second rung down beneath the loft level. Mandy, Ariela’s roommate, sighed in her sleep and rolled over. Ariela used the sound of Mandy’s movements to climb down three of the rungs toward the concrete floor below. With three rungs remaining, Ariela dropped noiselessly onto the rug at the base of the wooden ladder and paused to listen to the sounds outside.
About five miles away, Pete Olsen was also listening. He’d heard one of his dogs bark three or four times and then silence.
“That dog never barks for less than a full minute,” Pete mumbled as he shuffled across the kitchen floor of his aging farmhouse.
Pete caught the time on the old Cuckoo clock hanging on the kitchen wall as the light of the moon highlighted its face.
“Three-twenty,” Pete unconsciously thumbed the jimping on the back edge of the blade of his knife.
The knife had been a Christmas present from Pete’s sons back in better times. The carbon steel of the four and a half-inch blade had proven nearly indestructible over the years. Made in the USA, the ESEE Model 4 had been Pete’s constant companion since the December morning when he opened the package from his boys. The black powder coating was scarred. The scales were worn, stained and weathered by scrapes and gouges.
Pete remembered opening the present. He’d carried the same Buck knife for nearly two decades but had somehow managed to lose it a few weeks before. The old knife had been like a part of him. Pete recalled going through a literal mourning period after the loss. When he opened the brightly wrapped box that Christmas morning seven years ago a sudden bout of “allergies” hit him. His eyes welled with tears and his nose began to run. Sniffling, Pete had hugged his sons.
A noise outside the house brought Pete back to the present day.
Ariela had crossed to the kitchen window to look out into the yard. The moon was nearly full and the clouds were sparse. Ariela watched for movement in the shadows created by the moon’s silvery light.
“My mind must be playing tricks on me,” Ariela decided.
A few more minutes of watching … still nothing. And then, just a hint of movement near the barn. Ariela squinted trying to focus on the movement. Since the loss of her left eye, her night vision had eroded considerably. She’d also fought with adjusting her depth perception for the first week or so but that battle had eventually been won.
Gradually, Ariela sorted out the shapes and shadows near the barn. She was nearly 50 yards away but her good eye fed her brain the information it needed. Something wasn’t quite right. The cattle and horses in the corral were restless.
On the Olsen farm, Pete was nearly in lock-step with Ariela. Things didn’t seem quite right. The livestock were restless and it seemed that something was moving near one of the old machine sheds … where nothing should be moving.
Pete slipped silently out the back door. His home-made moccasins glided noiselessly over the dew-covered grass. He became a shadow, blending with the light and dark cast by the beams of the moon. As he approached the machine shed, Pete could make out the forms of humans. Pete circled the machine shed to flank the people he was following. He could hear whispers as he drew closer.
The Olsens had chosen to utilize their dogs as guards rather than posting family members around the farm. The barking of one of the dogs had served its purpose. Pete had been woken from his sleep. As he worked his way around the machine shed, however, Pete found the body of the barking dog. Its throat had been cut. Warm blood pooled on the ground around it. Pete felt anger rising inside of him. To kill a man’s dog ….
Ariela picked up her radio from the charger near the back door of her cabin and rotated the power/volume switch with her thumb. The radio came to life with a quiet tone. Ariela thumbed the talk switch and reported in to the Yard Guard and Remote Guard.
“Ariela. I’ve spotted movement out by the barn. Going to investigate.”
“Roger. Got it,” came the dual response.
Anders was on Yard Guard. Joseph was pulling Remote Guard. Neither one had seen anything unusual from their post. There was moonlight, but clouds obscured the illumination from time to time. A gentle breeze blew, rustling the new leaves in the trees.
Ariela used the sound of the rustling leaves and the darkness, when the clouds crossed over the moon, to cover her advance toward the barn. As she maneuvered into position, she spotted a small group of people. They were clustered together, heads bent. It seemed as though they were conferring in advance of a decision or movement of some sort. Ariela counted five in the group. It appeared that there were three adults and two children.
A few yards from the first dog, Pete found the second. It had been killed in a similar fashion as the first dog – throat slit. Quiet and effective. Pete’s anger welled up until he recognized that it was clouding his judgment. He had begun to move more carelessly looking for vengeance and forgetting to cover the sight and sound of his movements. Pete stopped behind a bush and focused his thoughts. He brought his breathing under control and pushed thoughts of the dogs from his mind. He allowed only thoughts of silence and stealth in his focused state.
Once again, Pete began to move … without a sound. As he peered around the corner of the machine shed, he spotted a cluster of six people. Each appeared to be carrying a rifle. They were spread out over an area of about ten yards. The group formed a circle facing outward. They used concealment well. Each individual seemed to have a role in the structure. Their movements were coordinated and efficient.
Uncharacteristically, Pete began to worry.
Two of the adults ushered the two children into a side door of the Johnsons’ barn. The third adult followed behind. As the door creaked open and then closed, Ariela navigated around to the tack room. The tack room was a small addition to the barn with its own entry door. Once inside, Ariela stole a look through the crack in the door between the tack room and the barn. The inside of the barn was as black as ink. Ariela saw nothing but was certain that she heard the ladder to the haymow creak.
Moments later, dust sifted down into the tack room tickling Ariela’s nose. She stifled a sneeze and blinked to clear the dust from her eye. Another sneeze irritated Ariela’s sinuses. She tried to suppress it … unsuccessfully. A small squeak emerged from her nose and lips.
Ariela looked up at the ceiling of the tack room just as more dust filtered down between the boards.