It always happened in the dark.
Kari Stewart bolted upright, blinking. She shoved her fingers in her ears trying to drown out the familiar yelling.
Not again. The eight–year-old climbed down to her younger sister on the bottom bunk.
It was a stifling July night in rural Kansas. The small house didn't have the luxury of an air conditioner, so the girls sweated under the blanket Kari had pulled over their heads. In the glow from the flashlight she kept hidden under her pillow, Kari soothed her five-year-old half sister, Marie Milton—it was what a big sister was supposed to do.
Tonight the screaming was worse than usual, so with
her arms wrapped around Marie, Kari whispered the Twenty-Third Psalm.
"I…I'm scared Kari."
"Shhh," Kari squeezed Marie's shoulder. "It will be over soon."
Huddled under the makeshift tent, Marie clinging tightly to her, Kari closed her eyes and prayed for the fighting to stop.
"It's never been this bad," Marie sniffed as glass shattered while their mother screamed words not intended for children's ears.
The slamming of the front door had Marie letting out a high pitched yelp. Kari had just managed to cover Marie's mouth when the bedroom door crashed open.
Towering over them was a man both girls feared more than anything else in life.
He stood inches from them, illuminated by the eerie glow from the blanket-covered flashlight Kari saw the shotgun held at his side.
A squeal escaped from her quivering lips before she begged, "Pleeease God… oh please help us..."
"SHUT UP!" He shouted while making his way to the tiny bedroom window.
Kari silently thanked God for the wail of sirens coming towards them. He had sent them to save her and Marie.
After what seemed like forever, someone was pounding on the front door. When the shouting began, Kari held her breath.
The butt of the shotgun slammed against the bedroom window; glass shards rained over the blanket.
"I've got a gun," he yelled. "Stay out or I'll kill her fucking brats! I swear to God I'll kill them."
As he spun around to face the girls, his eyes caught in the glow from the police car lights streaming through the broken window—devil's eyes eyes that would forever burn in her nightmares.
He placed the shotgun's barrel against the side of her head and the distinct cocking sound, She screamed.