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original fiction by
Lene Lovich.

Corrie came closer to the fire.  She stood there awhile, then shivered.  Pa was watching.  Slowly, she stretched her thirteen-year-old fingers as far as she dared towards the warmth.

Pa stood up.  He lumbered towards her.  “The gal’s learnin’ good,” he grunted.  Pa squeezed Corrie hard, then shot a glance to the gaunt figure in the corner.  “We ain’t got much Ma,” he said.  “Least we’re alive.”

Sketch of hand reaching to fireCorrie gasped.  Pa released her and went over to the table.  She rubbed her shoulder and stared into the flames.  Sure is an ice-cold world, she reckoned.

Ma moved silently, setting out the rations.  The soup she presented was barely warm.  Corrie cradled the bowl in her hands just like her folks.  She was hoping that Pa would talk about the old days, when there was something called ‘seasons’; when there were all kinds of creatures about, even those that flew in the air.  But Pa wasn’t in the mood.  He hadn’t been in the mood since Grandpa passed away.

Corrie licked the spoon and put it down.  Ma scowled at her til she remembered to slide her finger round the edge of the bowl, scraping up any bits left stranded on the sides.  Ma was satisfied, but not Pa.  His hands clawed away from his bowl, drawing into fists.

Corrie quickly blurted out the blessing:  “Praise be to the North Wind, for its mercy.  Thanks to Ma an’ Pa for sustainin’ me.”

She felt Ma nudge her and swiftly added, “An’ may the traps be bountiful!”

Pa relaxed, but not for long.  There was no pleasure in it.  “C’mon,” he said to Corrie.  “Let’s check them traps.”

“I’ll go,” Ma said.  “Chores are done.  ‘Sides, we need that joint slicin’.”

No one was allowed to touch the knife, except Pa.  The blade had been handed down from father to son since anyone could remember.  Grandpa could make slices as thin as a whisper.  Now that he was gone.  It was Pa’s turn.

His eyes glinted, as he laid another precious stick on the fire. “Take the chopper Ma,” Pa said bluntly.  “An’ make sure you bring somethin’ back!”

Bundled against the freezing winds with layers of rags, Corrie and Ma edged out the door.  The snow had blown into knee-deep drifts across the mountainside.  Sometimes it was possible to see prints in the snow leading to the markers.  Now they could see little.  They would have to visit every trap to see if it was loaded.

Ma heaved the chopper onto her shoulder.  She took hold of Corrie’s hand.  It was warm.  Corrie didn’t feel the cold like other folks did.  She had to pretend to be vulnerable.  In these parts, mutants were always eliminated.

Something rustled in the bushes ahead.  Ma moved swiftly, followed by Corrie.  They raced towards the trap, then stopped a few yards away.  There was a youth on the ground.  The trap held him by the leg.  The jaws had bitten into his flesh.

Ma shook the chopper at him.  “Stand up,” she demanded.

The youth scrambled into a hunched position.

Corrie stared at the paleness of his skin.  His face was unblemished.  There were no weather cracks or birthmarks of any kind.  He must be from the valley, she reckoned.

Ma stepped closer with the chopper.

“Wait!” Corrie shrieked.  The sudden heat of her grasp halted Ma’s faultless swing.  “Let him speak,” Corrie begged.

Ma looked sideways at the youth.  He was shaking, but it wasn’t just from the cold.

“They’re bug-eyed crazy down there,” he gibbered at her.  “I had to cut loose!”

Ma’s eyes narrowed.  “You a mutant?”

He shook his head.  “No, ma’am!” he said firmly.

Ma bent down and released the trap.  The youth fell over, but staggered to his feet straight away, to prove he was worth saving.

“Ain’t your fault the world’s the way ’tis,” Ma said.  She gazed towards the valley and sighed.  “Ain’t my fault, neither.”

Ma turned to face Corrie.  “Take this young man as far as Adam’s Cross,” she said.  “Take him further, if you got a mind.”

Corrie cried out, “What’ll you tell Pa!”  She gripped Ma’s snow-covered form.  “How you gonna manage with nothin’ in the trap!”

Ma shrugged.  “We’ll get by · Grandpa ‘ll see us through a few more days.  ‘Sides, there’ll be one less mouth to feed.”

Corrie held on to the chopper Ma had left.  Tearfully, she watched her trudge home empty-handed.  She watched ’til her form became a blur in the freshly falling snow.

Corrie bit her lip, but it wouldn’t stop trembling.  She grasped the chopper and moved towards the injured youth.

His eyes darted from the chopper to Corrie.  He reached out to her, pleading for his life.

“Praise be,” Corrie murmured, as the youth’s fingers curled round hers.

“Praise be,” Corrie said out loud.  His hand was warm.

© Lene Lovich 1998