The Boy & His Ribbon Page 1

Author: Pepper Winters

Series: The Ribbon Duet #1

Genres: Romance



* * * * * *


“STOP! WILLEM, SHOOT him. Don’t let him get away!”

Bolting from the farmhouse with its broken paint-chipped shutters and rotten veranda, I swung the large backpack straps higher on my shoulders and leapt the small distance from hell to earth.

The weight on my back wasn’t balanced, sending me tripping forward.

I stumbled; my ankle threatened to roll. My useless ten-year-old legs already screamed it wasn’t possible to outrun a bullet from the wife of a killer and slaver, especially with such a cumbersome burden.

Even if it wasn’t possible, I had to try.

“Come back here, boy, and I won’t cut off another finger!” Mr. Mclary’s boom cut through the humidity of the night, chasing me with snapping teeth as I darted into the thicket of leaves and stalks, weaving like a worm around maize twice as tall as me.

My tiny fists clenched at the thought of living through that pain again.

His threat only gave me more incentive to escape—regardless if a bullet lodged in my spine and I died in the middle of their cornfield. At least this excruciating nightmare would be over.

“Kill him, Willem!” Mrs Mclary’s voice screeched like the crows she liked to shoot with her dirty rifle from the kitchen window. “Who knows what he’s got pilfered in that bag of his!”

A noise sounded behind me; a sudden cry jerked into silence.

An animal perhaps?

A cat?

I didn’t care.

I ran faster, putting my head down and using every remaining drop of energy, pain, and hope in my wasted, skinny body. The bulky backpack dragged me down. The weight far heavier than I remembered when I’d slung it over my shoulders during a test attempt two nights ago.

I’d planned this for weeks. I’d scratched my escape route into the dusty floorboards beneath my cot and memorised the location of canned beans and farmhouse churned cheese so I could grab it in the dark.

I’d been so careful. I’d believed I could vanish from this rank place I’d been sold to.

But I wasn’t careful enough, and I hadn’t vanished.


Corn stalks shivered in front of me, cracking in place where a bullet wedged at head height. The cry came again, short and sharp and close.

Gulping air, I leaned into the soupy skies and kicked my burning legs into a sprint. The backpack bounced and dug into my shoulders, whispering that I should just drop my supplies and run.

But unless I didn’t want to survive past a day or two of freedom, I needed it.

I had nowhere to go. No one to help me. No money. No direction. I needed the food and scant water I’d stolen so I didn’t perish a few measly miles away from the very farmhouse I’d flown from.


An ear of corn exploded in front of my face. Mr. Mclary’s voice warbled words with out-of-breath growls, giving chase in his precious field. My ears rang, blocking out another cry, amplifying my rapid heartbeat.

Just a little farther and I’d pop out on the road.

I’d find quicker escape on the sealed surface and hopefully flag down aid from some oblivious passer-by.

Perhaps one of the same people who drove past daily and smiled at the quaint rustic farmhouse and cooed at the diligent hardworking children would finally open their eyes to the rotten slave trade occurring in their very midst.


I ducked and fell to my knees.

The backpack crushed me to the earth with sharp edges and sloshing belongings, yet another noise chasing me. I was strong for my age, so why did I find such a thing exhausting to carry?

Shoving away such delays, I sprang up again, wheezing as my stupid little lungs failed to grant enough oxygen. My limbs burned and seized. My hope quickly dwindled. But I’d become well acquainted with pain and threw myself head first into it.

This was my one chance.

It was life or death.

And I chose life.

* * * * *

Dawn crested on the horizon, its pink and gold daring to creep under the bush where I’d slid a few hours ago.

The gunshots had stopped. The shouts had ceased. The sounds of vehicles or people long since vanished.

I shouldn’t have turned off the road and entered the forest. I knew that. I’d known it the minute I’d leapt off manmade pathways and traded it for dirt, but Mr. Mclary had chased longer than I’d expected, and I was starved, beaten, and not prepared to give up my life by running in full sight of his rifle scope.

Instead, I’d scrambled into the bushes of private, untended land and fought exhaustion until the hairs on the back of my neck no longer stood up in terror, and the thought of earning a bullet in the back of my head was no longer enough to keep me awake.

The bush had offered sanctuary, and I’d fallen asleep the moment I’d burrowed beneath it, but it wasn’t the dawn that had awoken me.