Sanctuary: Six

Before the typical soothing of fears could wash any paranoia from his brain, Emmett was up and pulling the revolver from between the couch cushions. He snapped the cylinder out to assure himself it was loaded and ready for action. The flashlight on the nightstand had just been reloaded with fresh batteries a week prior, that concern he did not think twice on. In another moment, without bothering to don more proper clothes than the stained Kool-Aid sweatpants he was wearing, Emmett charged into the yard.
Despite the dark of night, he did not immediately throw on the flashlight. The barns both had motion sensors that were extremely sensitive. Neither were lit, which almost calmed Emmett and lulled him into retreat, but the sound of glass raining not far from the porch kept him outside. Creeping slowly up to the green barn with its broken window, Emmett ensured the light would only come on as he went for the lock. He pressed his ear to the wall and could make out indistinct but definite chatter of people.
Creeping low, Emmett thought he might cheat the light, but no sooner did he reach out for the lock did the lightning blue bloom illuminated the front of the barn. He worked the key quickly and flung the door open. The sorry excuse for a chair, once held and crafted by his grandfather, fell over and clattered against the hay with a hollow sound. Whoever had entered clearly wasn’t aware the doors opened outward. Stepping past the chair, Emmett flicked on the flashlight and cast one skeletal figure in a sky mask in a brilliant golden ray.
Just as the light touched him, the intruder reacted, charging forward despite the gun in Emmett’s hand. He didn’t dare fire a warning shot, the animals were likely already spooked, and the sound would send every last one that might have escaped their cages running. Instead, he took aim, and as he saw the boy, as only a juvenile could make such a pathetic battle cry, was completely unarmed, Emmett realized lethal force would be overkill. As the boy came within reach, Emmett jolted forward with an elbow towards the chest and the handle of the revolver firm in his grip raised to face height. A single impact rocked the barn, but before it could set in, there was the click of the hammer and Emmett’s stern and solid command, “Come out! I know this isn’t a one-man job, and you’re about to have your friend’s blood on your hands.”
Four more children, close as they were to adults, they would be children for an indefinite time still, crept out from various positions in the barn. As they did, and Emmett saw that the most dangerous thing anyone of them carried was a bolt cutter or crowbar, he let up on the first invader. He pulled the man’s mask as he rose and gestured for him to get in line with his fellows. Emmett tossed the mask to the ground before putting his boot on it, “You parents, I’m sure at least one of you have parents that know me. They might not like me; they might think I’m crazy to turn down the money I’m being offered for my family’s land. They might spit on me and curse my name and all those nice things quiet, small-town folk do when they have a problem with someone. But when they do these things, it doesn’t matter what, they do it in daylight and without masks. So which of you wants to explain what you’re doing in my barn in the middle of the night with wire cutters and all this hardware?”
“We’re liberating these animals! Stopping us tonight doesn’t matter. We know all the details of your illegal animal market, and we’re going to the press about it,” cried one of the girls in the group.
Against his better judgment, Emmett lowered the pistol, “You’re not here to kill them? Sabotage my medications for them or poison their food?”
“Never. We want these beautiful creatures to run free, not live their lives in cages and in private zoos,” another boy called.
For a minute, Emmett caught himself grinning, almost chuckling, “You got the wrong place. This is an animal rehabilitation clinic. I have all the paperwork needed through the state. Every last one of these animals that can safely return to the wild will be returned once they’re well. Those that can’t… well, the free zoo a few towns over takes in a lot of rescues that can’t.”
The teens held quiet in the wake of the revelation as though they hadn’t expected their operation to go any other way than planned. Emmett couldn’t help but notice one of the girls fidgeting and continuously inspecting and toying with her arm in the dark. Keeping an eye on the children, Emmett moved to the side of the door and flicked on the main lights, knowing full well that it might upset the animals as much as the intruders. As pale yellow light obscured the blue from outside and lifted the gloom, Emmett could smell as much see the blood trickling down the girl’s arm.
He moved closer, not within arms reach but near enough to get the best idea of the scratch without cleaning it himself. Sternness set into his eyes like the stone glare of a gargoyle as he asked, “What scrapped you?”
“Nothing? Is that what you’ll tell the sheriff when he shows up? I’m not stupid, kid. I’ve had my fair share of scratches, so where did you get it?” Emmett could only hope the bluff was enough for these children. Without meeting the man’s gaze, the girl gestured to a cage in the back of the barn. Using his head instead of the gun, Emmett indicated they should lead the way down to the enclosure.
As they came to the end of the row, Emmett felt the well of misery growing deeper in his guts. There was blood, but more than what the girl could have leaked out on her own. He gave a once-over of the intruders to assure himself that he hadn’t missed another injury. Emmett had not missed a thing. Coming to the cage’s opening, its door only shut with one of the two bolts, he saw the animal inside. The orphaned puma cub was tucked away in the back corner of the cage, hissing more than she had when first placed in Emmett’s care. There was the source of the blood and the means of clawing for the girl.
Rising from a squat, Emmett kept the revolver aimed at hip level, “What happened?”
“It scratched me, so I tossed it back in. It can’t be that hurt. My cat falls from worse and is fine in a second.”
“Well, sweetheart, this isn’t some tabby with an extra ten pounds of cushion. Blossom is exactly the kind of creature I take in, a rescue. She barely had meat on her bones when she came to me and only started packing weight back on in the past month. But I know an injury when I see one, and that’s not from a fall.”
“She might have stuck her paw in the way when I tried to shut it, but it’s your own fault, and hers. You surprised us when I was trying to get her out, and she should know better than to be in the way of a door,” the teen grumbled, facing anywhere but the direction of Emmett. The disgust Emmett felt then was near enough to what ran through his head when seeing the coyote the other day. With the revolver, he gestured for the kids to return to the entrance before securing Blossom’s cage.
At the entrance to the barn, he held four of them while sending the boy who tried to attack him to bring their van around. The teens loaded into the panel van with huffs, subdued threats, and curses. Emmett came astride the passenger door once they were all inside and faced the cocksure girl once more. Rage still rumbled in his chest, but he didn’t let it seep through, “If I see a single one of you back here, and I mean if I ever see you come a pace into this yard again, I will shoot first and call the sheriff when I so please. I could respect your cause, you could have come to me and talked, and I would have walked you through the whole works. Instead, you hurt one of the animals in my care. It’s unforgivable. Now get lost.”
The van faded from a white blob into a speck into complete darkness in seconds, leaving Emmett to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. He turned and regarded the barn, seeing the cardboard had been used to blunt the remaining glass in the now empty frame. Emmett could see now he would need to step up security, and it started with boarding up that window instead of replacing the cardboard. However, before he could even go in search of his hammer, he knew there was a more pressing matter. Blossom had gone quiet, likely busy enough licking her wounds. There could be no time wasted. Emmett wanted and needed to give the poor cub every chance possible to survive and succeed.
As Emmett went to work, he had to respect the boldness of the teens for having done what they did. It was the kind of rouge, fly-by-night animal rescuing he wished he could do without issue. However, with all the animals he had to take care of, leaving to steal another from a less-than-reputable party wasn’t a responsible or respectable thing. If they had come on the opposite end of that business, looking to place an animal in his care that would otherwise be auctioned and sold to sit in the front yard of some celebrity’s resort home, he might have felt more respect for them. Yet, as it stood, they had injured an already hurting animal in their attempt at altruism.
Further, not a single one of them seemed concerned for the puma. Emmett had seen it before. They weren’t worried about the animals, at least not those that weren’t always cute and cuddly. Their mission tonight, botched as it was, was without question urged on by spite, be it for parents or authority or some faceless millionaire they thought they were getting the better of. Emmett could respect what they attempted but seeing it as so disingenuous, he had difficulty letting their mistakes slide.

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