A single egg…

A single egg waited in the pottery bowl beside the cast iron skillet, but Leah Frakes wouldn’t go out until the dark had gone from the yard. She waited in the rocker, moving back and forth. The Blur liked to spit insanity at them, and the cabin was easier to defend than the open yard. It would take a tank to overcome their defenses.

Sometimes an egg had been the only thing that kept them from being swallowed up by the hunger that the Apocalypse left behind or forced them out into the wilds of the Blur for supplies. To her, the Blur would have been a worse fate than freezing to death in the family cabin.

The rooster crowed a third time, and the crisp scent of frost slipped through the crack in the glass from when a cardinal had slammed into it last fall. Dog waited for her, but the vicious—creatures and men—attacked at night, so Leah stayed put.

A fool never lived long, and she planned to live another seventy years, long enough to see her centennial. Little Benjamin needed her—the way she had needed her father. She would protect him until the end.

Over winter, that had been their reality more often than Leah liked. Even with the onset of spring and the return of the foraging greens in the forest behind them, they needed protein. In their hideaway life, a single egg could mean the difference between life and death. At one time their lifestyle, the old-fashioned tableau, had been a quaint exercise in hippie weirdness. In her teens, the unconventional lifestyle had evolved into survival as mankind lost its grip on whatever humanity it’d had.

Outside, the guineas issued alarm calls. Their repeating “squeaky-gate” ruckus shattered the peace and set chickens to complaining. Even the turkey squawked, and Sweet Pea, the milking goat, added her two cents. Her mate, Chunk, just watched from his pen.

Leah abandoned the rocking chair, placed her leather-bound book on the mantel beside the hunting rifle and her father’s shotgun. She crossed to the window. First, she peered through the break between the curtains. Seeing nothing, she moved one panel and settled the weight on the corner of the lace fabric, effectively pinning it to windowsill. The slender cell phone had been all the rage on the day it premiered, but now it was as dead as all the others, working only as a weight to hold open the tattered lace curtain.

Despite the cold snap, early-spring honeysuckle already scented the breeze. Benjamin had just turned six; he was finally big enough to learn how to lick the nectar from the bottom of the yellow blooms that grew along the high fence.

Except for one spot that was ruined by a falling tree, high fences marked their property line. The barrier might have resembled a prison to some, but to her it had always meant three acres of safety. No angry faces appeared on the other side of the razor wire, demanding their piece of Leah’s bounty or their piece of Benjamin. Everything was as it should be. Her shoulders relaxed.

All’s well. Leah returned to the task at hand: breakfast.

She stirred the glowing embers in the belly of the wood stove, taking a moment to warm her fingers and toes before she placed another log on top. She picked a handful of tiny leaves from the planter in the south-facing window, crushed them between her fingers, and dropped them in the bottom of her stainless steel cup. She inhaled the spicy scent and turned the spigot on the filter that purified creek water while they slept.

Mint tea wasn’t coffee, but it was always the first plant to spring up from seeds saved from the previous year. They hadn’t had coffee beans in ages, and she hadn’t figured out how to grow it in the garden—wrong climate—but the minty brew had become a daily ritual. At least until she could find a raw bean and start the plant indoors.

Behind her, Benjamin still snored, wrapped in her grandmother’s quilt and tucked in the bed they shared. He’d be ravenous when he woke. Today, that meant more than one egg.

She slipped into her clogs and stepped onto the front porch of their mountain cabin, the wood creaking beneath her weight. She used her toe to tuck the loose board back into place. No matter how often she’d walked the same path, she always managed to forget to avoid it. Lounging at the top of the steps, their collie, Dog, wagged her tail. Longer days meant more eggs, so maybe they could even spare one for their four-legged guardian, too.

In the dim light, Leah scanned the yard where the chickens already scratched at the dark soil, picking insects and bits of seed from the earth. A cool breeze tickled the back of her neck and sent a shiver down her spine. She counted and then counted again.

She couldn’t tell what, but Sweet Pea stared at something behind her. From that angle, helpful reflections weren’t visible in the cabin’s glass panes. She glanced at Dog, hoping for a clue. Nope. Dog had moved, but the canine wasn’t watching her either.

Only five.

One of them was still missing. It had been several days since she’d seen the little red hen. That meant she’d been kidnapped by a hawk, or maybe she had a nest somewhere. The chicken house would be the first place to check.

The sun glanced over the horizon to kiss the frosted blades of grass and warm Leah’s cheeks. Dawn came like clockwork and brought the comfort of normalcy. Wispy clouds spotted the blue gradient overhead.

It was a good day to reintroduce their nanny, Sweet Pea, to their billy goat, Chunk. They hadn’t had milk in months. She would use the extra to make enough soap for the coming year.

Leah crossed the yard to the small lean-to, situated behind the junk pile and tucked under the eaves of the barn. It had a hole cut in the side for chickens to go in and out of. She unlocked the door to the henhouse and leaned inside.

To the right of the door, beneath the pistol in the holster that was fastened to the wall, a chicken sat, hunkered down on a pile of aged straw and old leaves. Leah chuckled and crouched down. The hen puffed up as big as she could, pecking at Leah as she slipped her hand into the nest.

Leah moved her hands between the feathery down and lightly over the curves of the warm surfaces, counting. The little red hen had gone broody on eight eggs.

Leah beamed. They had eight chances at a bigger flock. If they were lucky, in a few months, they’d have a rooster or two for eating and whatever else hatched would turn into new mamas by the time autumn came around. It was a deposit in their survival savings account.

She backed away and refastened the door. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied another egg by the ramp. Benjamin would appreciate that one.

A hush settled over the barnyard, the calm before a twister. Leah’s spine tingled, and she caught a whiff of…

A twig snapped, and she froze.

She couldn’t tell what, but Sweet Pea stared at something behind her. From that angle, helpful reflections weren’t visible in the cabin’s glass panes. She glanced at Dog, hoping for a clue. Nope. Dog had moved, but the canine wasn’t watching her either. Her pulse throbbed in her ear, and her heart thumped against her sternum. Her throat dried.

Leah cursed her carelessness. Even with the guineas raising an alarm, she’d left her favorite weapon over the mantel. In ten years, she’d never had to shoot a trespasser, but nothing sent a fool on his way faster than a woman with a shotgun and grit enough to use it.

She couldn’t do much in an attack, but she wouldn’t go down without trying. She could shove her thumbs in some eyeballs.

Stay in bed, Benjamin. She didn’t want him to see whatever came next.

Hands clenched, Leah spun around to an unexpected view.

Wavering on bare feet, a man stood at the edge of the yard. A dark beard hid half his face.

Angry red scratches marred his cheeks, his face complete with a split and swollen lip. Congealed blood fanned out from a wound on his temple and collected on the other side of his face. The skin across the bridge of his nose had already purpled, and dirt covered him from head to toe. An older lightning bolt scar marked the man’s forehead and interrupted one of his eyebrows.

His blue eyes were made brighter by the grease on his skin. They were…striking. And he was wild. He too closely resembled the saying “beaten and left for dead.”

“Dog,” Leah said. The collie launched to her feet, bared her teeth, and the tricolored strip of hair down her spine stood up. Dog might be the only defense Leah had.

The stranger put up his hands. “Don’t sic the dog on me, ma’am.” His voice came rumbling out from somewhere in the middle of him like thunder preceding a storm.

The flock went back to scratching as though visits by strange men were a normal occurrence.

“Why shouldn’t I?” Leah crossed her arms, irritated by the gooseflesh that had risen. From fear, she hoped.

“I have a strong back, and,” he waved at the house, “maybe I could do something around here.”

He wore blue jeans and a T-shirt from an old slasher flick Leah had seen in high school.

She frowned. “How did you get in here?”

“The break in the fence.”

“Is he a Blur-man?” Benjamin’s voice ricocheted in the barnyard clearing. He stood on the threshold. His face obscured by the shadow of the roof.

From where Leah stood, she could see one of her father’s guns in his hands. “He…” Leah’s words trailed away. She didn’t know what he was or where he’d come from or how he’d found the hidden cabin trail. She turned back to the stranger. “Well?”

Benjamin stomped across the porch, clutching the weapon and wearing a fierce scowl, the effect upended by his cotton top and the roundness of his baby-faced cheeks. He leaned on the crumbling column. “Are you from the Blur?”

Leah took the shotgun Benjamin offered, and she tucked the breech in the crook of her arm.

“The Blur?” the man repeated. He didn’t look at her, focusing instead on the boy.

“Out there.” Benjamin jutted his chin. “The Blur.”

The man swayed back and forth, and his icy blue gaze darted to Leah. He flinched when he noticed the gun pointed at him. “Is that what you call it?”

She nodded but didn’t lower the barrel an inch. One way or another, the Blur always ate people.

The method was the only thing that had changed since the Apocalypse.

“I’ve lived out there—in the Blur—a long time,” he said. “But I’m not of that world. I just had to live in it…survive in it.”

He murmured the last few words, and Leah had to strain to hear them.

“What’s your name?” she asked. The words came out unbidden. She pressed her lips together.

Her daddy always said the minute something got named, it found a way to stay.

His posture relaxed slightly. “Samuel,” he said. “I probably used to have a last name, but I got hit on the head a long time ago, and it made me forget some things.” He gestured toward the scar on his face. “Leftovers.”

“How’d you get it?” Benjamin scowled, but his eyes lit up a little, too.

“I tried to save someone,” he said.

“Did it work?”

“No.” Samuel added nothing else. No explanation and no apology for his failing, but his eyes took on a dangerous glint. The someone he’d tried to save must have been important to him.

Samuel’s answer visibly disappointed Benjamin, and he disappeared inside the cabin.

The need to be hospitable warred with the need to be safe. It had been a long time since they’d had a visitor. A part of her longed for adult conversation, but the last time they shared…

“If I have to, I’ll blow your brains out,” she said, finally. For Benjamin. She didn’t have to say it out loud. Benjamin didn’t have to be born of her body. She’d do almost anything for that kid. Samuel could probably already guess it.

“I don’t doubt it, ma’am,” he said. “I expect nothing less.”

“I’ll feed you to my chickens. It didn’t take them long to finish the last intruder.”

“Is trespasser often on the menu? Is that how you’ve kept this place a secret?” Samuel wasn’t perturbed by her threat or her bluff.

She ignored his tease. “Do you like eggs?”

“I have four in my pocket.” He looked like a kid admitting to cheating on a test.

Leah’s smile broke then, and she lowered the barrel. “I won’t invite you inside, but we’ll share what we have.” Samuel might be charming, but he wasn’t safe.

“That’s all I could ask for and more,” he started.

She stopped him with a shake of her head. “Don’t thank me yet,” she said. “I could still shoot you. If I don’t have to kill you by the end of the day, you can sleep in the barn.”

Benjamin appeared with a cake of goat milk soap and a towel. He handed them to Samuel.

The corner of Samuel’s mouth twitched, but he tendered a wan smile.

Five Months Later

In the middle of the yard, Leah stopped short. The mint tea sloshed over the edge of the mug and dripped down her knuckles, and she bit her lip. She hadn’t expected that.

Nearby, a shirtless Samuel lifted a roll of welded wire over his shoulder and moved toward the hole in the exterior fencing.

He’d decided to fix it for Sweet Pea, to widen her grazing area. If they were going to milk, they’d have to keep her fed well.

“In exchange for more food,” he’d said when Leah argued that she could do it.

“More eggs,” he’d added, and then he’d winked at her. They’d have more than they knew what to do with when the new hens started laying. It had been an ongoing joke between them. She hurried inside then to avoid the warmth that spread through her.

He didn’t know she was there, studying the sheen of sweat on the musculature of his back, enjoying the spring, the sunshine and…the him-ness of him.

Leering. She was ogling Samuel. She stepped backward, sloshing more tea.

She should have run him off. She couldn’t have a shirtless man running around.… It wasn’t.… It wasn’t.… A choking sound slipped out.

He froze but didn’t turn around. “Leah?”

A flush crept over her face. “I brought you some tea.… I thought you might…” She set the mostly empty cup on a rusted-out can in the junk pile. “I had to check on the goat anyway. Her ligaments were gone this morning. She’s gone in the hips.” She rushed past him and into the barn.

“What does that even mean? I don’t understand goat lingo,” he called after her.

In the stall, Leah trembled as she moved her hands over Sweet Pea’s hips. Her udder was tight, already filling with milk. It wouldn’t be long. Another hen had gone broody in the corner of her stall.

“Soon?” Leah asked.

Sweet Pea nickered and then stomped her foot, her ears swiveling back and forth. She cringed when heavy footsteps followed.

Goats, she knew. Men, she didn’t.

His shadow fell over the stall. “Leah?”

“How did you find us?” The words came out in a rush, but the question had been bothering her since he’d arrived, and he always managed to avoid answering it.

For the past five months. It had gone on long enough.

She stood and faced him, her hands on her hips. It seemed a better choice than staring at him. At least he had a shirt on now.

He grasped the pitchfork beside the entrance and moved to the stall next to her. “Why are you here?”

She scowled at him. “How is that your business?”

“A question for a question. We’ve not had many of them.” He lifted a pile of dried prairie grasses and placed it in Sweet Pea’s feeder. “I’ll answer yours after you answer mine.”

This installment of Lost in the Blur is the first in a four-part series. Download the app Cinder Quarterly Magazine to have the earliest access to the rest of the story.

Leah dropped her hands and turned away. “My mother and father had a dream together. They wanted to live off the land and remember the old ways. When my mother died, my father stayed. He believed that the house of cards out there wasn’t far from toppling. I’m probably boring you.”

He leaned on the pitchfork. “Not really.” He tilted his head. “Go on.”

“They believed that if you were free in all things, then you were responsible in all things. That meant they had a lot to learn and teach me. So we did it all together. They didn’t want me to become the next victim of the Blur.”

Leah smiled and scratched Sweet Pea’s chin. “He called everything outside our life the Blur. First because every person out there was so busy rushing from one place to another, automating and programming anything and everything just so they could turn around and rush more. Nobody enjoyed anything, and everyone lived life in a blur.

“After the government collapsed, the name stuck. People became something else, a blur of unhappiness and filled with the kind of want that nothing satisfies.” Memories crept in, and Leah shuddered.

“Why don’t you share what you know with others?” He put another forkful in the feeder. “You have so much to teach.”

Leah moved to the stall door. She crossed her arms and hooked her elbows over, resting her chin on her forearms. “We tried.”

“What happened?”

Leah pressed her lips together. Benjamin didn’t even know what happened back then. It was too ugly. She found him after her father died.

For a long moment, she considered Samuel. He’d slipped into their way of life easily, like he belonged there. He carried so much of the burden, fixing things without being asked. Hinges didn’t squeak, stall doors closed easily, and the cabin roof no longer leaked.

And the laughter.… Benjamin hadn’t laughed so much in all of his life.

He was a good man to have around. Benjamin needed that. She hadn’t been able to give him that freeness of soul that Samuel had.

Samuel’s eyes widened as her hand moved to the top button of her shirt. He didn’t turn away, his gaze riveted to her trembling fingers.

Maybe she wanted to warn him. Maybe she wanted him to know she wasn’t the way she was without reason. Maybe she wanted him to know why she couldn’t be soft.

Three buttons were a tension-filled eternity between them.

“They killed me,” she said, and pulled the sides of her shirt wide, curtains that hid a history that still gave her nightmares that terrified Benjamin.

“They killed you?” Samuel’s hand inched toward her, but she didn’t retreat. She flinched beneath his hands; his fingertips were rough as he traced the scars over her chest, and her breath left her in a shuddering sigh.

“They tried, but my body didn’t die.” She willed him to understand.

He licked his lips. “What happened to your father?”

“He found them on top of me in the barn and killed two of them before the third stabbed him with the pitchfork.” She glanced toward the pitchfork Samuel still held, and his hand tightened around the handle until his knuckles turned white.

“What happened to the third?”

“While he murdered my father, I dragged myself into Sweet Pea’s stall and shot him with one of the guns my father hid all over the farm.” Moisture flooded her eyes and spilled over her cheeks, dripping from her chin to her chest. “But I couldn’t save him. It was the one thing I didn’t know how to do.”

And then Leah was there, trying to stop the bleeding, the metallic stench filling her nose, dry heaving from the dark red gore. Blood dripped from the corner of her father’s mouth as he told her how proud he was of her, how much he loved her. He whispered her mother’s name, sighed, and surrendered to his end.

Samuel placed his hand on her arm.

Leah leaned into the warmth, the strength. “I loved our life,” she said, “and the Blur took it. He made me promise to survive. I think he knew I wouldn’t care to go on alone.” She glanced up, expecting to see pity on Samuel’s face.

Instead, he scowled, and the muscle worked in his cheek, and his mouth was a flat line. Tears pooled in the corner of his eyes, and his beard quivered.

“Your eyes are the same color as his,” she whispered before refastening her blouse.

“Benjamin?” His voice was deeper than usual, raspy in the quiet. Of course he would wonder that. His hand fell away.

“Six years ago, the stress of surviving alone had dried out my insides. I was a husk of a person, waiting on an excuse good enough to break my promise to my father, but then I found Benjamin tucked inside an ammunition crate in the back seat of a burned-out car. And surviving became an adventure in stubbornness rather than an unshakeable curse.”

“He’s not yours?” Samuel moved away, returning the pitchfork he held.

Leah chuckled, partly out of the relief that the larger space between them brought. “He’s mine. He’s just not from my body.”

Samuel ducked his chin. “True enough. I’m sorry about your father. He must have been an amazing man.” He winked at her then, a bookend to the heavy moment they’d shared. “I’d better get back to work.”

Leah took a deep breath. “It’s been three thousand seven hundred twenty-two days since we’ve had a guest in our hidden valley.” She moved out of the stall and latched the gate behind her, confident that Sweet Pea would kid within twenty-four hours. She hoped the broody chicken wouldn’t mind the new tenants too much. Goat babies were rambunctious.

“Until you came.” Sweet Pea pushed her nose through the slats. “I’m glad you’re here, Samuel.”

At her words, he halted on the threshold. “Why didn’t you shoot me?”

Without turning to look, Leah scratched Sweet Pea’s forehead one more time. “I don’t know.” Samuel had gone before she realized she hadn’t gotten an answer to her question.

“Leah!” Benjamin’s scream filled the air and curdled her blood.

“Where are you?” She sprinted from the house, heart pounding in her chest. Flashbacks nipped at her heels.

“In the stalls,” he answered. “Come quick.”

By the time she made it into the barn, Samuel was already there, helping Benjamin dry off Sweet Pea’s kid. Still on her side and breathing hard, Sweet Pea looked on from the corner of the stall.

“Oh, thank God.” Leah pressed her hands over her mouth to catch a sob of relief.

“Look, Leah,” Benjamin said, holding up a tiny, furry four-legged body. He beamed up at her from the bed of grass and dried leaves.

She kneeled beside her boy. “It’s beautiful. Buck or doe?”

“Doeling,” he said. “I prayed for one we didn’t have to eat.”

Samuel’s laughter echoed around the barn. “Don’t give up yet. I think there’s another one in there.”

Minutes later, a second goat kid joined the first, and Sweet Pea stood up, head-butting Samuel out of the way so she could get to work on cleaning up her babies.

The human trio took their cue and exited the stall but watched the babies as they climbed to their feet and tried to nurse for the first time.

Samuel lifted Benjamin onto his shoulders. The completeness of the moment seeped into Leah’s bones.

“I better check the chicken,” Leah said. “Coming?”

“We’re going to watch a little longer,” Samuel said. His smile made his eyes twinkle.

From far away, a rumble rolled through the air. It sounded far away.

It came again, but that time the floor vibrated beneath her feet.

Leah tilted her head. “Do you hear something?”

Samuel raised an eyebrow. “A storm?”

Leah shook her head. “It’s something else.” She jogged outside. “Something unnatural.”

A gamut of sounds assaulted her ears.

Engines revved, and men shouted back and forth. Her throat dried and her pulse pounded in her ears. She ran to the edge of the yard and peered down the path. Her stomach twisted.

A whole army marched toward them. Men astride motorcycles and four-wheelers, hacking and cutting years of underbrush camouflage. She counted thirty of them and a tank coming along beside. A tank. A tank was coming up her front path.Samuel appeared at the entrance to the barn, Benjamin still on his shoulders.

“What did you do?” She didn’t wait for the answer but dashed into the cabin and swiped the rifle from the mantel. She met Samuel at the door. “Get back, Benjamin.” Benjamin pushed Samuel’s hand off his and took off running. He rounded the corner toward the back of the cabin. Like she’d taught him. God, she hoped he was hiding exactly like she’d taught him. She couldn’t stand to lose him, too.

“Who are they?” Leah shook from head to toe. It was the only explanation. Samuel had to know who they were.

“I made my peace with God a long time ago,” he said. “Shoot me or let me help, but be quick about deciding. The fat man is on his way.”

“Who did you bring here?” Leah pointed the barrel at Samuel’s head.

“I brought no one,” he said. The muscle in his cheek flexed. Sweat beaded on his upper lip. “Somehow, they figured out I’m here.”

“Who are you?”

“Samuel,” he said as though it were enough of an answer.

They stood like that until the tank shook the pines by the hole in the fence that Samuel had patched for Sweet Pea, and the clank-clank-clank of the treads vibrated the ground. The smell of diesel and smoke replaced the scent of honeysuckle.

“Why should I trust you?” She gritted her teeth. She couldn’t let them take Benjamin.

“Because you have to.”

He was right. She had no choice. Not if she wanted to keep Benjamin safe. Leah lowered the weapon, and Samuel wasted no time. He raced into the kitchen, opening drawers and cabinets, piling every weapon he found on the counter. Once done, he scooped up two.

“Stall ’em.” He ran toward the back.

Leah moved to the window. She straightened her spine and strolled out onto the porch, waving the rifle in front of her. The tank stopped on the perimeter fence, crushing it beneath its tracks, but it didn’t come any farther into the yard. The hinges on the top hatch complained as it opened, and the lid clanged against the metal. A fat man shimmied up through the hole and onto the surface.

Sweat stained the material beneath his arms and formed a sweaty “V.” Double belts crisscrossed his torso, accentuating pectoral muscles that had long since turned into breasts large enough to make any whore jealous. He began the long march toward the porch. Each leather strip held hundreds of copper-ended rounds, but Leah spied no weapon…besides the tank he rode in.

“How do, ma’am?” he said, as though politeness could save the day.

“Get off my land,” Leah said, and pointed the gun at his head.

“Give me what I came to get, and I’ll do just that.” He pulled a small metal box from somewhere on his person and opened it. He sniffed a pinch of whatever was in the pocket-sized case and sniffed it up each nostril.

“What could you possibly want from me?”

The fat man’s grin turned lecherous. “I could think of all sorts of things I could get from you.” Leah glared at him, her lip curled in a snarl. “I’ll bite off whatever part you put near me.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Why, I do believe you would.”

“Try me.”

“As tantalizing an offer as that is, you are right. We have business to tend to,” he said. “Let’s get right down to it then. Samuel. You in there?”

“What could you possibly want with my hired help?” Samuel better have a decent plan, or they were all going to wind up dead.

The fat man threw his head back and laughed. “He didn’t tell you he got his woman killed, did he? He’s a thief. Did he tell you that part?”

Thief. His woman…killed.

Questions circled her thoughts. He hadn’t answered when she asked where he came from. The accusations didn’t jibe with what she’d learned by living beside him for the past five months. Those things weren’t who Samuel was.

Stall him. That’s what she had to do. She lowered the rifle.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Eglon,” he said, and then he spat as if his own name were a curse. The stream of vile, black spittle landed in a puddle beside Leah’s foot. She didn’t flinch, and fought the urge to wrinkle her nose. She lifted her chin. “That name means nothing to me.” Benjamin had better be hidden away.

“That’s because I’ve left you tucked away in this pretty little valley of yours, Miss Leah Frakes.” Eglon climbed down the side of the tank and stepped onto the porch. He knew who she was. The realization made her knees go weak. Her eyes jumped to his face. “How do you know my name?”

“It’s my business to know things, and our purposes didn’t cross paths until you decided to harbor a thief. Samuel owes me a great many things.”

Leah eyed the loose board on the porch. Ten steps, and she’d have it. A warrior cry echoed over the clearing, and Samuel leapt onto the tank. Amid a rain of bullets, he slipped into the panzer. She dove toward the board, stomped her heel on one end, and crammed her hand inside the small compartment to retrieve a grenade. Samuel spun the barrel until it pointed straight at Eglon, and Leah held up the grenade. The loudspeaker squealed, and Samuel’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “Everyone leave now. Or I’ll blow your boss to bits.”

Nobody moved.

Eglon studied his fingernails, wiped them on his shirt, and then bellowed, “Bring out the boy.” A hooded man stepped out from around the tank, dragging Benjamin behind him. Leah crumpled to the ground. “Please. Have mercy.”

“Don’t test me, Samuel. I’ll kill him, but I promise his death won’t come as swiftly or easily as your wife’s. He’ll die for your sins just like she did.” Eglon pointed to Leah. “Then see if she loves you.”

Minutes stretched. Samuel appeared at the hatch and crawled out of the tank.

“What are you doing? Blow him to bits. Give me my boy.” Leah’s words ran together. She reached for the pin on the grenade.

“Live to fight another day, Leah,” Samuel said. “We’ll get him back.”

Eglon rolled his eyes. “Samuel knows what he has. Bring it to my compound, and I may choose to give you back your boy.” He returned to the tank and climbed aboard.

“Listen to him, Leah,” he yelled. Benjamin kicked the shin of his captor, slapping and scratching anything within his reach. “Listen to Samuel.”

Leah cried out. “If you hurt him, I’ll kill you.”

“We all die eventually.” Eglon disappeared inside. He pointed at Benjamin. The henchman made a fist and punched Benjamin in the jaw.

The boy went limp, and they shoved him down into the tank. They left as quickly as they had come, leaving destruction in their wake. Samuel appeared at Leah’s side, a machete in one hand and the pistol from the chicken house in the other.

She glared at him. “I won’t forget this,” she said.

“I wouldn’t ask you to.” The corners of his mouth turned down.

“Who are you that they brought a tank to get you?”

“A fair question.” He sighed. “But, for Benjamin’s sake, I want you to forget it for a little while. I won’t leave until you two are safe.”

“Will you help me bring him home?” She grasped the shotgun. She would go with or without him.

“I promise.” He touched her arm, but he withdrew when she flinched.

“What did you steal?”

“My wife,” he said.

She frowned. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“It’s a long story.”

“We have a journey ahead and the time for you to tell it.” And she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She had to know why a man with a tank knew her name and her home, and kidnapped her son.

An hour later, they finished their preparations.

“Are you ready?” Samuel asked.

Leah nodded, unable to speak around the knot of emotions lodged in her throat. They worked so long to be free of the Blur, but it rolled right into her front yard and took the one thing she lived for. She loaded the shotgun, relishing the sound of just and coming retribution by her hand.

She hadn’t been out in the Blur since her father died, but Eglon had stolen Benjamin. And Benjamin belonged to her. She fingered the trigger, imagining the head of the maniac who had dared to take her boy.

Even mothers went to war.

To be continued....

For more of Lost in the Blur, look for Issue No 2 of CinderQ.

Bokerah Brumley is a speculative fiction writer, making stuff up on a trampoline in West Texas. She lives on ten permaculture acres with sheep, goats, turkeys, pea-fowl, guineas, geese, ducks, chickens, dogs, cats, five home-educated children, and one husband.