Illustrated by Betsy Streeter
“Jonah. Get over here,” Jonah’s father said.
“Coming,” said the little boy, running through the tall grass to his father. The sun was shining brighter than normal, causing him to squint his eyes. Their barn could be seen in the distance. The only shadow on this sunny day was the woods behind Jonah.
“Go get your mother and tell her we are leaving,” his father said, placing his hand on Jonah’s shoulder.
“What’s wrong, Papa?” Jonah said, out of breath and dripping with sweat.
“Well, son, sometimes things don’t work out the way we think they will.”
Jonah scratched his head as he kicked a rock at his feet, “What does that mean? Where are we going?”
“Jonah, I will explain once you and your mother pack your bags.”
“Okay, Papa. I’ll go get mother. Is it going to be hot where we’re going?”
“Son, I don’t know.”
“What do you mean? You’re confusing me, Papa.” Jonah’s father knelt down and reached into his pocket.
“Son.” Jonah’s father took his hand and placed a small toy car in it. “It’s going to be alright. Just trust me.”
“I love you, Papa.” Jonah laughed as he ruffled his father’s hair. “I trust you with all my heart.”
“Good, son. Now, go help your mother.”
A gunshot rang through the trees, sending birds flying into the air. “What was that, Papa? I’m scared,” he said, hugging his father.
“Get down. Hide in the grass and whatever you do, don’t scream.” Jonah’s father pushed him down.
“What about Mama?” Jonah asked, turning around. “What’s gonna happen? Are we okay?”
“Just stay down. Don’t move.” His father stood up, but Jonah pulled on his leg.
“What are you doing, Papa?”
“I’m saving us. Just stay quiet and don’t move. I love you, son.”
“Papa, I’m scared.”
“I know son, me too.” The father ran into the woods.
“Papa, where are you going?” Jonah yelled.
“Quiet,” Jonah’s father yelled back. Another gunshot went off.
Jonah crouched into a ball, watching his father disappear into the woods. The father was halfway there when Jonah heard his mother’s screams.
“Mama,” Jonah yelled, running to his mother. “Mama, are you okay?”
Sweat dripped down his forehead while grass scratched his ankles as he ran. He was almost to the door when he slammed into a body.
“And who are you, boy?” said the stranger. Scars covered his arms and knuckles. He was missing his hair along with an eye.
“I’m-,” Jonah said. He was pulled up by the man, his feet dangling in the air.
“You must be the squatter’s son. It’s a shame. You look about eight.” The man shook his head and reached into his pocket.
“Stop. I just want to help my Mama,” Jonah said, sobbing.
“You should’ve stayed with your Pa. Where is he, anyway?”
Jonah stared at the man, who had taken a blade out of his pocket. “My Papa says not to play with knives.”
“Well, your Papa stole this farm from my boss.”
“Stole? Stealing is bad.”
The man laughed at Jonah. “I like you, boy. You’re pretty funny. What else has your Papa taught you?” Jonah shrugged, feeling uncomfortable in the man’s grip, his breath stinking of onions.
“Where’s my Mama?” Jonah said. No noise had come from the house since he had arrived.
“She is with Jerry. She is in good hands. What’s your name, boy?”
“I’m Mike. Now, if you tell me where your Pa is, I will let you go. Sound like a deal?”
Jonah nodded and fiddled with the toy car in his pocket. “He is in the woods. Can I see my Mama now?”
Mike stared at Jonah before setting him down. He paced for a moment as Jonah pulled out his toy car and reached for the door. “Wait a second, I said I would let you go — not see your mother. Come with me, kid. We are finding your father and ending this now.”
“Ending what?” Another gunshot went off, followed by a man screaming. “Papa?” Jonah said.
“Christ, Jones. I told you to wait,” Mike said, mostly to himself.
“That’s a bad word.” Jonah walked to the edge of the grass. It was almost time to cut it.
“Kid, get down.”
“What happened out there? Is my Papa okay?” A scream came from the house. Jonah turned around and ran to the door. Mike picked him up with one arm and held him against his chest.
“Let me go. I want my Mama,” Jonah said, struggling in Mike’s grip. The toy car slipped out of Jonah’s hand and broke on the ground.