A day after the American drones disappeared from the blue Albanian skies, the guerrillas began their recruiting season.
Fourteen-year-old Yanitza Sabah didn’t waste time looking out the bedroom window when she heard a woman’s high-pitched scream. She jumped from her warm bed onto the cold wooden floor, remembered her mother’s warning to take her wool blanket but not to bother with her shoes.
Before her mother disappeared she left other instructions too. Five in all. Number two: don’t turn on the lamp. No need, lights flickered through the window allowing her to avoid bumping into the gray shapes of furniture lurking in the dark.
Number three: wake up Stefan but don’t dawdle. Yanitza kicked Stefan’s metal cot, careful to avoid the arm in the cast hanging limp over the side of the bed. She raced past his snoring but didn’t shake him. Her job was to get the baby to the basement. The other kids were on their own.
Number four: put your hand over Jacob’s mouth to keep him from crying, but take care not to cover his nose. She picked the baby up. Jacob struggled against her palm, twisting his head from side to side. She held tight. One wail and the soldiers would storm the house. Wrapping him in the blanket would take too long so she held the soft covering against his wiggling body and raced barefooted down the old staircase. A reassuring squeak from the basement door told her the others hid in the cellar.
Number five: land dead center on the stair treads. Stefan’s warning, but her mother agreed to add it to the list. Despite Yanitza’s best efforts to be quiet, each stair gave a loud howl of protest as her weight shifted. Two stairs to go she jumped to the floor landing on the balls of her feet, clutching the baby in her arms, blanket fanning behind her like a long cape. Off balance she almost dropped Jacob. She caught herself on the stair newel with the hand she used to keep the baby silent. He let out a lusty cry. How stupid of her. Gathering the trailing blanket to avoid falling, she twirled on one foot intending to sprint for the cellar door.
A deafening boom shook the old house. The thick oak front door exploded into flying splinters.
Yanitza held the baby close to her chest as the blast threw her backwards onto the stairs. With a loud crack her head slammed against the edge of a stair post, knocking the wind out of her.
Get up. Hide. Stunned, she struggled to stand, but her legs wobbled, refusing to support her weight. Outside the shouting grew louder. A crowd of rebels scrambled into the house. Flashlights darted around the entryway. Thick, black smoke rose from the hand-made torches the guerrillas carried and the room filled with the acrid smell of kerosene. Everywhere Yanitza looked, gun barrels pointed at her.
Amid the chaos a calm voice said, “Lights.”
Note to editors: I would be happy to send a proposal and additional chapters if you are interested in reading more of Virgin Soldier.