It was the coldest & snowiest Wyoming winter in 100 years. At least that's what the radio said, but Jack & Anna didn't know how much longer the radio would hold out. They had made it through November, December & January only because the weather had broken long enough for them to dig out and send Jack into town to get supplies right after Thanksgiving. It had taken him a day and a half to get back to the ranch that their parents had left them in their will over three years before.
When the second week of February came around, supplies were dwindling. Their milk cow had gone missing the week before and Anna half-wondered if one of their neighbors had taken it during the night. She had reluctantly slaughtered the laying hens for meat, but told herself that was a piece of mercy. It was too cold in the coop and those hens wouldn't be any use to anyone if they froze. She comforted herself by thinking that if they could just hold out a few more weeks, she'd make it into town and get some new chicks from the feed store. But as the days wore on and the snow drifted and half-covered the front window, Anna began to secretly wonder if they would make it to see the spring thaw.
On February 28th, Anna woke to find the little Benjamin Franklin stove in the kitchen had stopped working in the middle of the night and she could see her breath in the air as she made her way downstairs & poked around trying to figure out what was wrong with it. When her brother finally woke up, she told him about the stove with an audible hint of panic in her voice. After looking the stove over, Jack calmly told her they couldn't stay at the ranch without supplies, but especially without heat. Anna was thankful for his calm demeanor & listened quietly as he told her that they needed to get to their nearest neighbors house, over two miles away. She immediately started packing a bag and the meager supplies they had left when Jack told her they would head out after sundown. Anna was so thankful to have a plan that she didn't think about what an odd idea that was.
At 6pm Anna stood in front of the snow-covered window, looking up at the sky and said, "The sun's almost down".
Jack sat in a rocker by the cold stove and said, "Won't be long now".
Jack's voice chilled Anna to the bone. It was at this moment that Anna started thinking how quiet her brother had been since he returned from his trip to town in November. How unruffled he had been after being gone in the the snow & the cold for a day & a half. How calm & collected he had seemed when she told him about the missing milk cow. As if he wasn't a bit surprised. So out of character for him to leave the sad business of the chickens up to her.
He hadn't eaten any meat after she slaughtered and cooked up the hens, did he? No, he didn't and she was sure of it. She had chalked it up to him leaving more for her, but now....
"Why do we have to wait for the sun to go down?", asked Anna with only a hint of trembling in her voice. She did not turn to face her brother.
The only noise in the house was the persistent creak of Jack's rocking chair when he finally replied, "Ask him when he gets here".
|Art by Drinkdecaf|