Wood-smoke and Goat
Mr Ishelwood left before sun-up. That was three suns ago. Dr Usui said to forget him, she was sure he’d be long gone by now.
‘But he took the rifle,’ I say.
Dr Usui embraces me. Her furs smell of wood-smoke and goat. She spits into a callused hand and smooths my hair over my scalp. I close my eyes. She sings in a tongue I don’t understand, but it makes me feel less frightened.
I can’t sleep when nights are so cold. I lie staring into black, and shiver, wondering why the train tracks ended here – in the middle of nowhere – and why we can’t go back.
Mr Ishelwood told us of dangers back there far worse than freezing to death. To escape his thoughts he would set off alone in search of wood and food. He was a big strong man, but always his eyes were full of fear.
I heard the rifle shot twice, when five of us became three. I didn’t need to ask Dr Usui, and she didn’t need to tell. I preferred not to speak to Mr Ishelwood from then on.
Now we are two.
The days have grown shorter; the firewood damper, and soon there will be just berries to eat and melted snow to drink. We share a bed, Dr Usui and I; it’s not so cold this way.
On a day we think near our last, we hear a rifle shot; the same sound as before. Dr Usui wipes a window free of mist, and through a circle we search the horizon. The light is strong, blinding and painful. We blink it better.
They are coming, four of them – on horses – galloping through the snow, kicking up a veil of white.
I smell wood-smoke and goat, and hear a familiar song.
Delighted that this piece was placed third by judge Jan Kaneen in Zero Flash’s May competition. It’s a good job we’re not a competitive household, as Bibi, (Mrs H) was the winner!