Excerpt from Personal Enemy

     Lightning cracked the black of night and made the rain look like dragon tongues licking at the bedroom window. Daddy said the rain couldn't hurt her; she was safe inside the house. But Adria Kaholo didn't like it, especially when the bangers came. And bangers always came after lightning. She brought her pink blankie up to her mouth and sucked on the satin corner.
     The thunder came, low and growling, like an angry beast. She squeezed her eyes tight, but inside her lids, the black dragon still spit fire. She tried to shut her ears, but couldn't. The thunder came again, closer this time.
     I'm a big girl now. I'm six. I'm not afraid.
     The bangs came closer. Deeper. Louder.
     Then lightning ripped the sky and thunder rocked the house. She scrambled from beneath the covers and raced into her parents' bedroom, dragging her blankie behind.
     "Ma-ma, I'm sca-red!"
     Without a word, her mother lifted the sheet, inviting her daughter in. Adria snuggled near to her mother's warmth. The song of Mama's heart against her back lulled her. The sweet flower smell of Mama's skin made the monsters go away. The thunder lost its growl, the lightning its power.
     Safe in her mother's arms, on the edge of sleep, Adria thought nothing of the crash until her mother's body stiffened.
     "What was that, Lance?" her mother whispered quick like a knife chopping veggies.
     "Probably just the storm," her father said. "Stay here, I'll go check."
     As her father's weight eased off the bed with a squeak, her mother drew her closer. Adria wrapped her blankie's frayed edge around her thumb and stuck it in her mouth.
     She waited. Daddy told her he was her knight. Nothing could happen to her while he was around. He'd fight dragons and slay giants. He was Sir Lancelot and she was his princess. The blanket eased out of her mouth. Daddy would make it all right.
     Two pops burst from the living room, echoing like thunder in their small house. Then slow, sneaky footsteps on crushed glass.
     "Lance?" Her mother's voice shook. She gathered Adria in her arms and slipped out the far edge of the bed.
     Silence, except for the eerie whistling of wet wind through broken glass. Silence, heavy like being buried in the sand, except this was no fun.
     "No, oh, no!" Mama tightened her hold on Adria and ran toward the window.
     Her mother's heart beat hard and fast against Adria’s back. The tight arms around her chest made it hard to breathe. Mama threw open the glass and dropped her into the dark rainy night.
     "Mama!" Adria whimpered, lifting her arms to her frightened mother.
     "Shh, quiet, keiki. Run to Grandpa's. Hurry. It's a race. See if you can beat me there."
     Mama's mouth smiled, but her eyes didn't.
     "'Awiwi, keiki. Hurry!"
     Her mother gave her a shove in the direction of Grandpa's house down the beach. But Adria couldn't run. Her legs froze like popsicles. Why didn't Mama come with her? Mama knew she didn't like the night.
     The thunder rumbled in the distance and everything was wet. Hot tears slid down her cheeks. Mama said quiet. Adria stuffed more blanket into her mouth.
     On the beach, the waves crashed high and loud, the palm trees whipped about like mad monsters in the wind and shadows swirled all around waiting to swallow her whole. She took shaky steps forward. Mama! Daddy! She wanted Mama and Daddy to come with her. She didn't want to race alone in the dark.
     Mama screamed. Adria spun toward the window, her heart stopping, then booming inside her. Mama's terrified shriek echoed in the night. Then she cried.
     No, no, Mama, no! Don't cry!
     Adria ran back to the window. Holding on to the edge, she peered over the sill into the room. One man dragged Mama to the middle of the room. Another man and a boy waited by the door.
     "Kill her," the fat one said. The one holding Mama raised a gun to her head.
     "Please, no, please..." Mama fought. But the man put the gun snug against her long brown hair.
     Mama fell back, limp like the rag doll on the dresser in Adria's room.
     The blankie, still in her mouth, muffled Adria's shrill of terror.
     Mama, Mama, Mama!
     Her icy fingers gripped the window, her toes scuffed on the wall's rough surface, but she couldn't climb, the ledge was too high. The man with the gun shoved Mama back onto the bed, and left.
     The boy's rounded eyes stared at Mama. The fat man grabbed the boy and pulled him along toward the bed.
     "Why?" the boy mumbled.
     The fat man paused and smiled as he looked at Mama. "This is power, son. These people defied my power. They thought they didn't need my protection. Now they'll serve as an example to the other merchants on the strip. I wanted you to see my power firsthand. Power is everything. Life, nothing. Do you understand?"
     The boy nodded, then put a hand over his mouth and gagged. The fat man shook his head in disgust. "Good God, what did I ever do to deserve a gutless brat like you?"
     The boy ran toward her. She let go of the window's edge and crouched in the nearby hibiscus bush. Rain-heavy leaves soaked her nightgown. She shivered. The boy poked his head through the open window and threw up. When he was finished, their gazes met through the black of the night.
     Would he tell the fat man? Would she get popped and fall like Mama?
     She waited, shivering. The boy stared.
     "I'm sorry," he said finally. She wasn't sure if he was talking to her or the fat man. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and disappeared.
     She waited still and silent for a long, long time, cold and wet in the noisy dark, afraid they would come back for her. She rocked back and forth in the bush with the hot pink flowers. Sobs racked her chest. As the sun peeked like peach fire over the ocean, she stirred. When she stood, her legs wobbled. Everything looked hazy through the shimmer of tears.
     "Mama! Daddy!" Even when the blankie fell from her mouth, her parents didn't answer.
     On bare feet she padded through the wet grass. As she walked through the smashed lanai door, broken glass cut into her soles. Daddy lay in the middle of the living room floor. She knelt beside him and shook his shoulder.
     "Daddy, Daddy, wake up!"
     But her knight didn't move.
     She continued to her parents' bedroom and climbed into bed beside Mama. Mama was so cold. Adria lay down next to her anyway and wrapped her wet blankie around them both. She snuggled into Mama's curves. So cold. She tried to fill her nostrils with Mama's sweet scent, but all she could smell was something yucky in the air. When she put her hand over Mama's heart, it was still.
     As Adria closed her eyes and tried to pretend everything was all right, she knew she would never again feel good.
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