Excerpt from The Removes by Tatjana Soli, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Removes

by Tatjana Soli

The Removes by Tatjana Soli X
The Removes by Tatjana Soli
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  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 384 pages

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Kim Kovacs

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Her father, manning the window, motioned for Anne to rise and travel between the shooters along the front of the house, resupplying them with ammunition. The neighbor whose task it had been now lay facedown in the doorway, blood pooling under him, and Anne had no choice but to step over his legs each time she must hand out bullets. She would never be able to explain it, but with the duty to attend her fear went away. Her greatest preoccupation was to lift her skirts clear so that they should not sop the blood. If she accomplished that, it seemed everything else would be okay. She stayed dry-eyed and calm as yet another man slumped over the window frame, and she must pull him back inside and lay up his rifle against the wall. One man who raised dairy cows cried as he shot blindly, and another who tenant-farmed wheat soiled himself, yet Anne glided between them as if serving cakes at one of her mother's teas. There were five dead inside the house when she finally glanced at the clock and realized two hours had passed. Outside the number of Indians had grown so that they appeared a hive of angry bees.

"Take up the rifle!" her father yelled, and realizing his daughter's impairment he pointed his chin at a gun.

It had come down to her father, an elderly neighbor with poor eyesight, and herself as defense for her mother and siblings. Without hesitation she crawled to the window and pointed the weapon's barrel out.

Several homesteads were burning, and the sunny morning had grayed in the thickening smoke. She fired as best she could, the recoil paining her shoulder, but as far as she could tell the bullets did not come close to a single target. As she watched, the blacksmith's family attempted escape across the fields. First the father was shot and fell down. The mother and children continued running, but they seemed to have lost compass and moved in an arc that they retraced like chickens in the farmyard running from the approach of the axe. Warriors on foot trotted after them, easily nabbing all three. When the mother begged to have her children back and offered money, the warriors knocked her on the head, then proceeded to strip off her clothes and scalp her. Her long reddish gold hair had been the envy of all the women. Anne would not talk of the other things they did to the body. She whispered a prayer, entrusting the woman's immortal soul to the Lord. After the mutilation was over, Anne turned away and daintily vomited onto the dining room floor.

Her head throbbed, a mix of fear, noise, and smoke making her dry-heave the contents of her empty stomach. Dully she wondered where Michael was, and why had he not come to save her? She had allowed him to kiss her and touch underneath her blouse. Had he run away and left her behind? If he was such a coward she would not marry him after all. Her heart quaked at the thought she might not survive long enough to reject a suitor.

Now the warriors on horseback turned their attention on Anne's house, which was the last left standing. They rode full speed circling it, throwing up a cloud of dust that mingled with the heavy burning smoke from the other buildings and the crop fields farther on that had been set aflame. She could not hear the terrifying shrill of their cries, nor the beating of the horses' hooves, although she imagined she felt their percussion through the floor, the rumble and awful pound of danger, unless it was simply the thud of her own despairing heart.

Anne fired in a haphazard way, slowed down both by fatigue and inaccuracy. She had only practiced still targets while shooting with her father, never at anything moving, definitely never anything threatening to shoot back at her. Even that limited practice had been grudged by her father, who thought it unbecoming for a fifteen-year-old girl to learn such. Strange that now she was the one tasked with defending them.

Two young men, friends of her Michael, fearful of Indians surrounding their barn in the northwest corner of the settlement, tried to flee along the south field and were shot down as easily as quail. So taken up was she by the plight of their neighbors, Anne at first did not notice Indians had climbed on her own roof. Soon flames could be seen licking the corner of the ceiling, smoke thickening the air so that her father had to set down his gun and beat out the nascent fire with a blanket. It was at that moment that a bullet fired through the doorway caught him in the throat. Surprised, angered, he could offer her no last words, but she read in his eyes how sorry he was to leave them in such danger. A moment later, he was no more.

Excerpted from The Removes by Tatjana Soli. Copyright © 2018 by Tatjana Soli. Excerpted by permission of Sarah Crichton Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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