For your Halloween reading pleasure…
* * *
After preparing and eating her dinner of squirrel stew, spoon bread and baked apples, she worked on her mending until her fingers tired, then settled into the rocker by the fire to read.
Somewhere in the English countryside, beneath a cascading willow in a flowering spring meadow, a pair of young lovers sat on a blanket plotting their elopement, but it was next to impossible for her to eavesdrop on them for more than a few sentences as the winds had begun to tear at the cabin’s eaves and to test the shutters’ latches. She laid the book aside, pulled her knees up to her chin and wrapped herself in the quilt her grandmother had made. As the minutes and hours ticked away on the clock on the mantel, she rocked, watching the fire.
The wood seemed to be burning more drily and quickly than usual. At this rate, the provision next to the hearth would be depleted by sometime the next morning, and there was less than a quarter of a cord remaining on the porch. After watching the fire awhile longer, she reluctantly extricated herself from her cocoon, donned her coat and boots, lit the lantern, and lifted the bar from the door.
The wind ripped the door from her hand and slammed it against the wall as a sheet of stinging snow whipped around her and into the house. Slinging the rifle over her shoulder, she pushed her way out, succeeding in pulling the door shut only when the wind slackened momentarily.
There was over a foot of snow on the ground already, and it had drifted twice as high against the side of the cabin. Leaning into the gale, she waded out across the yard, the driving whiteness within the sphere of her lantern’s light stinging her eyes. She brushed the accumulation from the top of the wood stack with her coat sleeve, chiding herself for not having thought to move more wood to the porch earlier in the day. One couldn’t afford to make such mistakes, living alone in the country. As she struggled to carry a dozen high armloads back to the porch, she found herself angry with the sheriff for having distracted her from her preparations, angry that he had brought Caleb along, angry with Caleb for existing—and for being possum-ugly to boot—angry with herself for allowing herself to be distracted, angry with herself for being angry. From the improved supply on the porch, she replenished the stock by the hearth and, using what strength was left in her legs, forced the door closed again. Sinking back against it, she shuddered, thoroughly soaked and chilled to the bone.
Once she had recovered sufficiently to strip out of her wet clothes and hang them from the mantle to dry, she bundled herself in the quilt and brewed a cup of sassafras tea. With the rocking chair pulled as close to the fire as she could bear, her hair dried quickly, but even after her body was warmed through, the rim of the teacup chattered against her teeth. She picked up her sewing, but her fingers wouldn’t hold steady. The wind wailed against the shutters, pressing, tugging, probing unrelentingly. She tried her book again but found her eyes drifting over and over to the beginning of the same paragraph.
There was a thudding bang from somewhere outside—from the direction of the barn perhaps. It could have been anything, a falling branch hitting the chicken coop roof or one of the horses kicking something over. She thought she had heard a whinny. Hopefully, the animals were okay, but she wasn’t going back outside, not tonight. It helped to watch the shifting patterns in the coals. The lick of the yellow and orange flames helped warm her soul as the tea warmed her bones. She needed a dog. Maybe in the springtime she could find a puppy. It would need to be a large breed, a good farm dog, maybe a shepherd or a retriever or a hound. A big cuddly mongrel would be fine.
Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock.
The tea spilled over her lap and the cup burst into pieces, scattering across the stone hearth….
* * *
From “April’s Justice,” just one of the short stories and poems included in my Lunch Break collection, now available on Amazon.