It was time. Ariela reinforced her decision as she walked to the old corn crib. This needs to be done … now. It should have been done the night they arrived.
The corn crib had been built more than fifty years before. It was a sturdy wood-frame building with a concrete foundation and floor – built in a time before pre-fabricated corn cribs and grain bins. The white paint had peeled over the years exposing the wood to the elements and leaving a gray and white patina. The last remnants of dried corn had been carried off by rats and mice decades before. Now, the building offered protection from the elements as well as a way to secure the Schmidt family.
The Schmidts had fought it at first – being locked up at night – until they realized that it was useless. Ariela had even chimed in with her own experience of being under guard day and night until the Johnsons had come to the conclusion that they could trust her. Eventually, the Schmidts realized that they had come to Union Creek uninvited and were now bound by the rules of the Johnsons whether they liked it or not.
The door to the corn crib was locked with a padlock and hasp, but Ariela had a key. This family, that she had grown to care for as if they were her own flesh and blood, had trusted her with the key … the key to this corn crib where the Schmidts slept, as well as the key to virtually every other lock on the farm. The Johnsons, especially David, trusted her … as if she had grown up as a sister or a daughter.
Ariela sniffled as her nose started to run just a bit. Her good eye was itchy and watery too.
“Stupid allergies,” she whispered as she ran the back of her sleeve over her eye.
Someone inside the corn crib was snoring. Ariela slipped the key into the lock and turned it gently. The lock clicked. It seemed to echo across the farm in the silence of the night. The snoring stopped momentarily and then continued at the same pace.
“This is the most critical step,” Ariela reminded herself as she quietly swung the door open to reveal the sleeping family.
Ariela had oiled the hinges of the door the night before. The day’s openings and closings had worked the oil down onto the old pins so that now the door opened with barely a complaint. As Ariela stepped inside the building, she quickly scanned the sleeping shapes. The mother and father were in one corner. The three children occupied the other three corners.
Turning to her right, Ariela focused on the smallest sleeping lump. She pulled a strip of fabric from her right cargo pocket and wadded it into a small ball. Treading carefully, Ariela made her way to the southwest corner of the building where the younger of the two girls lay sleeping. Ariela’s vision had adjusted to the filtered moonlight. She could see that the little girl was sleeping on her side. Ariela reached out with her right hand while holding the balled up rag in her left. The girl muttered in her sleep. Ariela gently closed off the girl’s nostrils with her right hand while holding the cloth at the ready with her left. When the girl’s mouth opened, Ariela slid the piece of cloth into her mouth and then released her nostrils.
The little girl’s eyes opened wide. She tried to scream, but the gag muffled the sound. Ariela swept her up in her arms and sprinted to the door. As she jumped to the ground, Ariela tossed the girl over her shoulder, swung the door shut, slid the padlock into the hasp and locked it.
Even with the gag, the little girl’s screams made enough noise to rouse the four other members of the Schmidt family. Ariela quickly bound the girl’s wrists and ankles with duct tape and then placed a strip over her mouth further muffling the sound of her screams.
When the Schmidts rushed to the door of the corn crib Ariela was ready. The timing had been crucial and she’d pulled it off.
“What are you doing?” the girl’s father shouted.
“Mr. Schmidt,” Ariela spoke calmly, “you need to calm down.”
Schmidt’s eyes bugged as he strained against the locked door of the corn crib. His wife’s hands formed a tent and covered her mouth as she began to sob.
“No one has to get hurt,” Ariela continued. “You need to be quiet and you need to listen.”
The Schmidt parents nodded. Hatred burned in the eyes of the father and son. Mother and daughter fell to their knees and held one another, tears streaming down their faces.
“If you yell or scream, I will kill your daughter,” Ariela remained calm and matter of fact as she slid her knife from her pocket and flicked open the blade. “If you lie to me, I will take your little girl apart piece by piece.”
The sobbing rose in pitch and then died as Ariela shot the mother and daughter a withering look.
“Are we clear?” Ariela looked directly at Mr. Schmidt. “Nod your head to indicate the affirmative, shake it to indicate the negative.”
Schmidt nodded his head. His hatred was almost palpable.
“We need to clear up a few things,” Ariela began. “You came here uninvited. You arrived at a most unfortunate time – a time when a friend of ours was attacked not far from here. David has asked you about that regrettable coincidence … nicely … politely. He’s still not sure if you’re telling the truth or not. I’m here to ask you again. Unfortunately for you, I’m not nearly as nice as David.”
The Schmidt’s youngest daughter had gone quiet but she was squirming on the ground.
“Little girl,” Ariela addressed the gagged and trussed girl on the ground while looking directly into her father’s eyes, “if you don’t hold still, you’re going to get hurt.”
The girl stopped moving and looked up at her father. The distraught man looked down at his daughter and then back at Ariela.
“If you hurt her, I will kill you,” the man threatened.
“No you won’t,” Ariela was still as calm as if she was visiting with friends about the weather. “You may die trying, but you won’t kill me.”
The man swallowed hard realizing that his one-eyed tormentor was probably right.
Resigned, the man sighed, “What do you want?”
“I … we want to know how it came to be that you arrived here at our farm at nearly the same moment an attacking force arrived at our friends’ farm,” Ariela stated the problem plainly and simply.
Schmidt began to answer.
“Before you answer,” Ariela held up her left hand as her right dangled by her side, knife at the ready, “you should know two things. First, I’ll remind you that lies will result in pain for your daughter. And I can tell when someone is lying. Second, I think you and your family were sent here to probe our defenses and reconnoiter our strengths and weaknesses. You may be doing so under duress – perhaps someone else has threatened you or your children and that’s why you’re doing it – or you may be in league with the other attackers. I don’t really care which. I just need to know if I’m right or wrong.”
“You’re wrong,” Schmidt stated flatly.
“That’s what I thought,” Ariela knelt down next to the little girl on the ground and grabbed hold of her left ear.
The Strider SMF flashed, slicing a small nick out of the girl’s ear. The girl let out a squeal of pain as blood ran from her ear down over her face.
The girl’s mother let out a little shriek herself and then fell prostrate on the concrete floor of the corn crib.
The girl’s father roared, “You bit….”
Ariela cut him off with a venomous warning as she sprang upright from her position kneeling next to the girl, “I told you not to lie to me.”