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Josslyn Ervin: The Markswoman

As a carefree little girl with a fondness for gargantuan hairbows, I didn’t used to worry

about desperate thieves or madmen. But that was before I visited the Maverick County Fair of 2015. At first, it was wonderful. Children laughed, vendors smiled, and balloons bobbed in the breeze. My Mom and Dad bought me pink cotton candy, and I savored every lick while I watched the other fair goers. I still remember noticing for the first time that strangely enough, some people looked unhappy. They didn’t smile. They didn’t laugh. They didn’t chat. I found it hard to comprehend, this despairing darkness that blinded their eyes to the wonder and light of my favorite place in the world. I scrunched my eyebrows together, hid behind my curly brown hair, and buried my hands in the pocket of my blue sweatshirt. It was best not to think about it.

I loved the fair. Everything about it – the colorful displays, the bouncy music, the food –

appealed to me and had made me look forward to it every year for as long as I could remember. Only one thing dimmed my happiness – the fact that Mom and Dad never allowed me to go off with Bella and Lilac (my old friends who I haven’t spoken to since 6th grade) when they visited the bouncy house, petting zoo, or any other attraction that glowed in my innocent, unrealistic sight. Every time I asked why I couldn’t go, my parents would say,

“Lauren, there are a lot of people here, and we want to keep you safe.”

Of course, I didn’t know what they meant by that, but I said, “Okay” anyway. I had no idea that they were thinking something bad could happen to me. It was pointless, of course, because it still happened. But that’s later on in the story.

I stood by my parents as they surveyed the rainbow of produce and canned goods in

mason jars for sale by the denim-clad farmers. My mom carried a wicker basket for her

purchases and she was wearing a pretty wide brimmed hat encircled by a yellow ribbon to

protect her from the hot afternoon sun. Sure, it was near the end of September, but in the South the weather does whatever it wants to do, no matter what the calendar says. My dad had red Converse sneakers that shone in my peripheral so brightly that it seemed like I was continuously looking at them. I fascinatedly watched a brightly colored beetle climb a blade of grass like a lumberjack scaling a massive cedar.

“Daddy, what do you call a boy ladybug?”

He turned around.

“What did you say, Lauren Lark?”

I giggled at the sound of what used to be my favorite nickname and repeated my question,

“What do you call a boy ladybug?”

“I don’t know. Maybe a gentleman bug?”

I looked back down at the insect on the grass. Bending over, I said quietly,

“Hello, gentleman bug.”

The bug gave no answer, but reached the peak of his blade of grass, turned around, and began struggling back down.

My mom completed her examination of the fruit salsas upon the nearest table.

“I’m going to go check out the honeybees over there, you wanna come?”

She gestured to the tent sheltering a glass box full of yellow and black bustling insects.


I delightedly darted away. As she followed, she told Dad,

“We’re going to see some bees.”

“Alright,” he answered,” I’ll be in that antiques booth over there. I think they might have the

perfect ottoman for the reading nook.”

“Good idea.”

As we made our way towards the beekeeper’s display, a man burst into the aisle. His face

was dirty and his eyes were wide. Three sweaty Maverick County Fair volunteers in orange tee shirts followed, shouting, “Stop, thief!” The desperate man’s stare pierced like a knife. Suddenly, he changed course and bolted straight towards me.

I froze. My parents were too far away to help, and a wanted criminal was barreling down

the row. He seized me roughly by the shoulder, shaking and breathing heavily. I regained the ability to move, but it was too late to get away on my own. I shouted and kicked and hit, but it was no use. The fair volunteers fled, saying something about calling the police. Cowards.

I heard a click in the sudden stillness – the thief had cocked a gun. I squeezed my eyes

shut and prayed like never before, Please, God, save me! I’m only six!

“Don’t come any closer,” The thief snarled, “Get away from me, or she dies!”

I heard muffled footsteps on the grass. I opened my eyes. Three angels slowly

approached: a short, stocky man with a mustache, a tall teenager, and a large man in overalls.

“Get back!” My captor screamed in an insane, throaty voice, “Get back, or I’ll shoot her! Instead of being consumed by fear like I logically should have been in that terrifying moment, somehow, I made a joke. In my head, I nicknamed him Crazy Guy, for surely he was out of his mind.

“Alright,” said Overall Man. He pulled a Glock out of a concealed holster and casually

aimed it at Crazy Guy, nodding at the teenager, who did the same.

“Let her go. You don’t want to have the blood of an innocent little girl on your hands.”

“No! Get back!” Crazy Guy cried.

“Look, buddy, we are back.” Although his voice was calm, the teenage boy’s knees shook like treetops in a thunderstorm. “We don’t want to hurt you, and I’m sure you don’t want to hurt the girl. Just let her go, please.”

I heard my mom whimper as she cowered with my dad across the way.


With firearms involved, there was nothing they could do. Neither of my parents had ever touched a gun, and they feared them like the plague.

Mustache Man stood in a martial art fighting stance as the teenager and Overall Man

carefully aimed their weapons at Crazy Guy. They looked like two versions of the same person at different ages. A faint trace of an idea floated past in my mind, but I was too absorbed in whether or not I was about to get shot to grab and examine it.

If the good guys came any closer, then I would quite possibly die. If Crazy Guy moved,

he would quite possibly die. We were at a standoff, and unless a major factor entered the

situation any time soon, we might stay there forever, becoming upright fossils as the fair grounds were deserted, forgotten, and sold to the highest bidder for profit. Maybe we would become a decoration, an assembly of statues at a vacation resort in the distant future. Look, visitors would say as they strolled by, the esteemed work, The Peril of Lauren Fields! What a lifelike masterpiece!

Oh, how I longed for home. Home was safe, home was comfy, home was cozy. The night

before at bedtime, Mom had read Madeline to me as I lay in a nest of blankets and pillows,

holding my one-eyed teddy bear, Winky. The blankets were as soft as bunny rabbits, the pillows as fluffy as cotton candy, and Winky as comforting as Mom’s hug before she turned out the light. I would be totally, perfectly, completely happy if I were back there, instead of here, in the grasp of a possible murderer-to-be with a gun pointed at my head.

A click echoed in the tense silence. A young woman with flaming red hair rose up from

behind a fruit stand and held a gleaming pistol out over a basket of muscadines. Her face was as hard as a stone carving.

“Let her go, jerk,” she commanded. “You can’t win this.”

I felt Crazy Guy’s grip loosen. If I made a run for my parents, would he shoot me in the back as I raced for safety? Was it possible to get out of this?

Beads of sweat stood on Overall Man’s forehead, the teenager was still quivering, and

Mustache Man looked ready to snap like a Kit-Kat candy bar.

That was it for me. How dare this guy pretend he held the power of life and death over all

of us! If someone distracted Crazy Guy, I would go for it, and make a dash for my parents.

They reminded me of a National Geographic documentary about the Arctic, staring at me like a pair of penguins watching their chick go down an elephant seal’s gullet. Well, this chick was going to climb out again! Down with the elephant seal!

“Please, sir,” The teenager was talking again. “Let her go.”

“How do I know you people won’t kill me if I do?” Crazy Guy demanded.

“Look,” said Overall Man, “I promise that we will not hurt you if you don’t hurt that little girl.

Just let her go, and everyone will be alright.”

“Why should I believe you? I’ve never seen you before! For all I know, you’ll shoot me as soon as she’s out of range.”

I cringed. Where were the police? Overall Man was going to get me shot! Not sensing

what dangerous waters he had entered, or rather, pushed me into, he took a deep breath and tried again.

“You should believe me because I want the best for everybody.”

The teenager nodded encouragingly. Smirking, Crazy Guy opened his mouth to interrupt.

“Wait,” said Overall Man, “Let me finish. I want you to live, and her, and us too. But we can’t

work this out in such an uncomfortable position, sir. So how about you just let her go and we can have a seat and talk about it?”

“How dare you tell me what to do!” Crazy Guy raged, “You aren’t the boss of me, I am! I

am in charge right now. If I want you dead, you will be, and if I want her dead, she will be. Now quit talking to me like I’m a child before I do something you don’t like!”

He quaked like an erupting volcano, spewing angry red words all around him. But he

still didn’t shoot me.

“Hey,” said Mustache Man. It was the first time he had spoken. “She’s just a little girl. Don’t

ruin her life because you’ve already ruined yours.”

Crazy Guy fell silent. My heart pounded. No one spoke. No one moved. This was the deciding moment.

“Go on.” He pushed me away.

In a daze, I stumbled over to my parents. They scooped me up and cried over me like two

children rejoicing over a found puppy.

With a quick nod, Mustache Man rushed forward and pinned Crazy Guy’s arms as the

teenager wrested the gun from his hand with a practiced twist. I couldn’t hear their words, I was crying too hard, but when the police showed up a few minutes later, Crazy Guy got into their car willingly.

All my mother wanted to do was get me home, but the police had some questions for her

and Dad, so I sat in a camp chair behind the Red-Haired Lady’s fruit stand and waited. She told me her name was Wilma Otis and let me pet her golden retriever, Cheyenne. I didn’t say much, so soon she just let me be. When my parents came for me, I was asleep on the ground with Cheyenne, holding a half-eaten apple.

I’m sixteen now. I stand between two narrow walls separating me from the other

marksmen and hold a pistol straight out in front of me. My grip is sure and relaxed and my arms are strong and steady. My hair lies behind me in a long brown braid. I watch the paper target bounce softly on the wire and cock my weapon. When I squeeze the trigger, a powerful sound rockets around the room. Round round, I empty the barrel, and shells fall all around me. I am surrounded by a storm of sound, unconscious of everything but the red bullseye, riddled with holes, and the power I hold in my hands, the power to protect those I love. When my ammunition runs out, I stop and observe my target. I’m a good shot.

About the Author:

Josslyn Ervin is a homeschooled high school senior from rural South Carolina. Her interests include classic literature, music, and thunderstorms. She's seventeen years old, and this is her first published story.


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