Daylight stretches across the cloudy sky, matching the snow covered ground in a white so bright I have to shield my eyes as I stagger across the field. The biting cold shoves past my knit gloves and faux leather boots. Another hour and I won’t have sensations in my hands and feet. It’s then that I notice the small red shack up ahead. A barren tree stands yards before. Its branches extend wide, like outstretched arms waiting for a hug.
I hurry forward, eager to get out of the freezing temps. When I arrive at the door, it creaks open before I knock.
An old woman with hunched shoulders and a wooden cane widens her eyes. “May I help you, dear?” Her voice is frail and deep.
I push my hood down and try to smile, but my face feels frozen. “I’m sorry to bother you so early. I’m lost and it’s so cold,” I lie. “Can I please use your bathroom?”
Her features soften. Her mouth lifts at the corners, but she doesn’t open it, so the grin comes across as eerie. “Of course, dearie.” She steps back to allow me through.
I hesitate and glance back at the icy, deserted road. This is the first house I’ve seen for miles. It has to be safer inside, at least until I regain feeling in my toes, right?
“Well hurry, dear. You’re letting all the cold in.” She walks into the house, leaving me to shut the door.
The front room is dim but oh so warm, and I rush to the stone fireplace in the center of the far wall. The heat from the roaring flames tickles my fingertips.
“Would you like some soup, dear?” The woman is standing in a small kitchenette filling a bowl with steaming vegetables and broth.
For breakfast? I shrug and walk to the small round table. “I’d love some. Thank you.”
She sets them down, with a chunk of crusty bread. “So tell me, dear, why did you run away from home?”
I stop raising the spoon to my mouth midway and try to act nonchalant. “What do you mean?” How does she know?
She doesn’t meet my gaze. Instead she rips off a hunk of bread. “There’s no other reason a girl your age would be out alone, nearly frozen to death in these parts.”
I put a bite of tender carrots, corn and potato into my mouth. Maybe if I keep chewing I won’t have to answer her questions.
She leans across the table and pats my hand. Her flesh feels dry and scratchy. “It’s okay, dear. You don’t have to tell me why. You aren’t the first young girl to end up on my doorstep.”
I bite into a succulent chunk of chicken. “I’m not?
“No, the last one is quite delicious, isn’t she? I’m sure you will be too.”
© 2010, Jennifer Fischetto