Marcelina kicked the front door.
She sighed as loud as she was able.
She kicked the door again.
Someone was home. She heard people talking. The doorbell was not to be used. Her parents had made that clear after last summer when her and Jory had rung it in a never ending cacophony of annoying jingles. Still, she’d been out here for at least an hour. Maybe longer!
So, she rang the bell.
No one came to the door.
She rang it again.
On the fifth ring the front door swung open. Herbert stood there, shaking and pale. Something was wrong.
“Herbie, is it ok?”
He stood blocking the door, but she was slender and slid right past him. He grabbed the back of her hoodie and she jerked backwards. If he was keeping her away she wanted to know why. So, she slid her arms free and he was left holding her backpack and hoodie as she raced further into the house.
She heard him running after her, but she ignored him. The voices, the weeping, it was all coming from her parents’ room. Siemowit’s bedroom door was open a crack and he peeked out when she thudded past. Well, he would do as he’s told!
Marcelina skidded to a stop in her parents’ room and saw her Tata and Mama on their bed. They held each other and wept. For the first time, she didn’t want to know what was wrong.
“Marcelina, come away.” Natalia was behind her. She was not family. Why was she here if something was wrong?
“No. Tata? What is it? Is it dziadzio? Did he die?” Her dziadzio had been in the hospital for two weeks now. Her parents had explained he was very old and would go to Heaven soon. Where Zuza would be waiting for him. Because Zuza got everything Marcelina wanted.
“Please, Marcelina,” her mama said.
“What is it?”
“Marcelina!” Her tata only used that tone when it was truly bad so Marcelina backed out of the doorway. She darted past Natalia and shoved open Siemowit’s door. Her brother would know something. More importantly, she could make him tell her. She’d caught him with their dziadzio’s private magazines.
“I’m not saying a word.”
Siemowit sat on his bed leafing through a comic book. Ranger One was on the cover, but so was Angel. Marcelina hated when Angel was in the comics. She was not nice. Not like the villains. The villains were supposed to be not nice, but Angel was supposed to be a good guy and she was not.
“You will to!”
Normally, Marcelina would never have listened to him, but he didn’t sound mad or bossy. He sounded scared. She’d never heard him scared.
Marcelina fled to her room.
Under her mattress her phone buzzed. Her family didn’t know she had one. Jory had given her his old one. His family had more money. They’d not even cared! Her family would be mad.
“Hello?” she whispered.
“Marcelina? Are you ok? I’ve been calling. Is Herbert ok?”
“Herbert? He’s fine. Why wouldn’t he be? What’s going on?” Her voice rose in worried anger, but she dropped it down to whisper, “What’s wrong with Herbert?”
“No one told you?”
“No one tells me anything.”
“The government, Marcelina. They will be coming for him. The government has said all seniors in high school will be picked up for conscription.”
Marcelina dropped the phone on the floor and raced from her room. She found Herbert sitting on the couch with Natalia trying not to weep. Shoving his girlfriend aside she climbed into her brother’s lap.
“Marcelina, go to your room.”
“No! Herbert, they can’t take you! I won’t let them!”
He gently pushed her from his lap. She glared at him, but spun around. Without a word she raced to her room. Jory was still on the phone.
“Will you come over and help me protect him?”
“Marcelina, I don’t think that’s a good idea. It’s the government. They’ll be mad. My parents say we have to do as they say.”
“Fine! I’ll do it myself!”
In her mind she flung the phone across the room. It shattered. She felt better. What she actually did was hang up and hide the phone again. Maybe it would feel better to break it, but if she couldn’t stop the soldiers she would want Jory again. When she was not mad at his being a coward.
The costume almost didn’t fit. It was a year old, but she would never get rid of it. Marcelina locked her bedroom door before she took it out. Looking in the mirror she righted her hat and put on her goggles. The cape only hit her mid-calf. She’d grown a lot, especially over the last summer.
“I am The Claw,” she whispered to herself.
Then she climbed out of her window and walked around the house to the front door. The plastic sword sat in her lap and she swiped her plastic, glitter covered claw through the hair. No one would take Herbert. She’d promised dziadzio she would never let anyone come for her family.
Down the street she saw the trucks come. White trucks with the government symbol painted on them in bright red and blue. Marcelina stood as they drew closer. There were three, but the other two stopped at either end of the street. They would go along, one side and the other, and take people. She would not let it happen! Not here.
Two soldiers walked up the cracked sidewalk towards her porch.
“We are here for Herbert Mencher,” the shorter one said.
“He is not here. You go away.”
The sword in her hand felt light, but it didn’t matter. She had her claw and her sword. She swiped them both in front of her.
The taller soldier stepped closer to her, but she didn’t back up.
“We are here for Herbert Mencher,” he said more quietly. A perfectly reasonable voice.
She saw his insignia. A captain. Why was a captain here? There had been conscriptions not long after she’d started school. She remembered them, but only as something for others to worry over. Her dziadzio had taught her to read rank. None of them had been above corporal.
They must have known The Claw would be here.
“I am The Claw and this house is under my protection.”
“Is it now, Marcelina?”
How did he know her name? The shine in his blue eyes made her knees tremble. She would not back down. The Claw would not!
“I am not Marcelina! She is not here. I am The Claw and you will not take Herbert Mencher! Not even Siemowit and he’s an idiot!”
The short soldier rolled his eyes and pushed past her to ring the bell.
Marcelina screamed and whacked him with her sword. It broke against his armor. So, she raised her claw to swipe at him, but the taller soldier grabbed her as the door opened. Despite her shrieks he would not let her go.
Her red and silver boots kicked back against him, but he only laughed.
Herbert stood in the door and Marcelina screamed. They could not take him. Not her brother. Only, they didn’t say anything. He didn’t say anything. Her parents clutched each other in the living room. Natalia sat crumbled in the chair, sobbing silently. Siemowit was nowhere to be seen.
Someone had to stop them.
The tall soldier’s arms tightened around her until she couldn’t scream because she had no breath.
“I could kill you. No one would stop me.” His voice wasn’t angry. It was nothing. Marcelina quieted her screams.
“I’ll come for you personally when you’re old enough to be conscripted.” The promise made her shiver. He dropped her and she fell to the concrete as Herbert was marched away.
No one came from the house for her. They left her there to stand and walk inside. They were scared. She was angry.
Marcelina walked around the house instead to climb back in her window. She locked it and pushed her desk against the door. Her family was awful.
The phone buzzed.
“Jory. I will never let them take you.”
“Marcelina? My parents said the soldiers said there was trouble at your place.”
“The Claw did what Ranger One would not. She defended her home. Jory? I am going to grow up and get bigger and stronger and I will do what I promised my dziadzio.”
“I won’t always be seven years old, Jory Chance. And I will never ever forget today ever.”