No Mercy

I heard the scuff of feet and the muffled commands before I had fully woken. These sounds dragged me from my sleep and propelled me into my mother's bedroom as I hurriedly pulled my jacket over my nightdress. My brother was not there that night. It was his turn to stand by the roadblocks in case of a surprise attack.
When I entered the bedroom my mother was already partly dressed, and hushed me with a hand gesture. In the half light, her eyes seemed huge and I understood that the voices in the street were not those of the village men coming and going from the roadblocks.
Together we crept downstairs. The attack was escalating; people yelled or screamed in fright. A baby's cry suddenly stopped. Just like that. We looked at each other and our terror urged us to the secret hiding place under the stairs where we kept our cash and a handgun. In the predawn, it was only the gun that mattered.
We pulled on our boots, wet and still muddy from yesterday's downpour. While the sounds of the attack swelled, we ran from the back door into the forest. Ran and ran. We thought we heard footsteps behind us, and shots, but we dared not look back.
'Hurry,' I urged.
Mother's breathing, ragged and desperate, filled the chill morning air when we finally stopped between the hollow tree where a branch had fallen on my brother years before. He had been injured but not killed, perhaps saved for a time such as this. Now he was out there, facing an enemy who had chosen to slink into the village like the shadow of death itself. The sweat on our clothes grew cold, but the sense of dread that had left my mouth too dry to speak dissipated as we waited.
'We have to go back,' I said, wanting to atone for my earlier fear.
'No,' said mother. 'We will be no use captured.'
Huddling inside the tree's small protection, we struggled to hear what was happening. Jeers came from the forest nearby where, as the sky lightened, a group of men pushed a dishevelled village woman ahead of them. She was pleading and sobbing. Mother recognised the woman, and cried out involuntarily, but I covered her mouth.
'They will kill her,' mother whispered, weeping silently.
'Yes,' I replied. 'For her sake let's hope it's soon.'
When dawn was fully upon us, we picked our way carefully through the trees. The sunflowers flanking the village seemed to shake their heads in disbelief as we approached. A crow tapped staccato with a snail's shell; the only sound as we walked past stucco houses, making our way to the square.
In front of the church we found my brother, his face turned towards its spire, perhaps looking for a miracle that had not come. He lay amongst other village men and boys - all slain.
Anger replaced my fear and, fingering the gun in my jacket pocket, I knew that from then on, 'No mercy!' would be my refrain.