The Wild

That Which Wills Thee [Chapter 12]

“I saw it before,” James muttered lowly.

Bryna was bouncing Marie on her hip, attempting to make the little girl stop crying. Jane prodded at the fire, or what remained of it, in search of any warmth in the barely glowing embers. The clothing up to her ankles was soaked with freezing water. Prying off her socks, she found herself caught between the cold of the air and the radiant heat of the fire pit. She laid the damp stockings on the nearby rocks to let them dry while the rest of her body shivered.

James’ gaze was still tracking about the dark forest, looking for the low glow shifting about his vision. “The wisp…” He spoke again, but the others were distracted by their own worries.

“Bryna, what are we going to do?”

“Shh-“ The old woman hummed, putting Marie back to sleep in her arms. “We’ll be fine. Not much further to the town, I think.”

“How sure are you?”

James finally felt the cold night air. He closed in on his mother and wrapped his arms around her neck and shoulders. She pulled him closer and shifted him onto her lap. “That light…” she spoke to herself.

“Saw it before…” James spoke up.

“Bryna, tell me you saw it too, that I wasn’t just imagining things?”

The old woman used her free arm to gather up the damp blanket and pull it over Jane’s and her own shoulder. “A wisp…”

“Wisp, wisp-“

“Just sleep now, James.”

“It’s nice,” The little boy insisted, fidgeting in Jane’s lap.

“The boy spoke of it the night before too, Jane,” the old woman said back.

Jane bit at her lip and looked up and about at the dark forest. “What does it want?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea.”

James tugged on the front of his mother’s clothing. “Follow it.”

“It’s gone now,” Jane sighed. “It… it spooked the horse. We’ll have to make it on foot.”

“The woods will be easier than going it along the road. The pines are keeping the snow at bay.”

“Let’s hope we’re near…”

The next morning, with all their belongings strapped to the women’s backs, they departed the cold fire pit. They followed, at first, the path marked by the tracks of the horse, left behind when it had fled the night before. Not far from where they had stopped, they came across the stream, fresh with the shards of ice from where Jane had crashed through. In the light of day, they found a crossing able to be made with a determined jump.

The road still ran parallel to their path, the clearing of trees marking their way. The nearly naked canopies above blocked out some of the snow from the ground, allowing them to traverse forward slightly more easily. Among the undergrowth and rocky ground, they lost the horse’s tracks and were forced to continue along the known path, hoping that they were as close to the village as they believed.

James walked for short distances while Bryna and Jane exchanged the little girl back and forth, resting their arms. He continued taking glances between the back of his mother and the seemingly endless forest about them. The sun piercing the clouds above mimicked the glow of the wisp he had seen the night before, but it wasn’t quite the same.

His little legs constantly felt the pull of the snow against them. When possible, he held to the back of his mother’s clothing to help pull him along. “I bet papa would be able to kick through the deepest snow,” he spoke up.

“I’m… I’m sure he would,” Jane said back breathily, eyes still to her front.

“Let’s take a break, shall we?” Bryna asked from a few steps behind. She motioned to a sheltered hillside of rock.

They settled down for that moment, passing about the remaining crumbs of hardtack. Jane looked at the little boy, then six years of age, in what felt to be the first time in a long while. “You probably don’t remember your grandpa David, papa’s papa. But you met him when you were a baby. He said you were going to grow up like your father. Big and strong like him. You’re already halfway up on me.”

James looked on blankly, taking in the words. “I wonder how papa is doing…”

Thinking about his father and the words passed on from his mother, James was able to march on foot with his mother and the old woman. The two women had often spoken together when they had been back at their home, but they seemed silent in their march at either side of him. His stomach rumbled, but in the back of his mind, he didn’t wish to ask either of them to stop to eat. They traded his little sister a few times, while the other rested their arms. James wished silently that his father were there, able to carry him on his shoulders.

The little boy continued to look about their surroundings, noticing the road, and the rocks, and the bare trees, and the trees that still held to their long, green needles. He kept watch for something, but he couldn’t picture whatever it was in his mind. He felt a sudden touch at his back as his mother caught him slowing and wandering.

“Pay attention,” she said coldly.

The old woman paused and rubbed at his leather cap with her gloved hand. “Getting tired, boy? I can let you up on my back.”

“That’s okay, Bryna,” Jane butted in. “You mustn’t strain yourself. Take Marie, and I’ll carry James.”

James’ mother crouched down and intertwined her hands behind her back, allowing the boy to find purchase on her shoulders and against her back. His fingers locked tight onto the cloth beside her collar bones, and she stood with a slight struggle. Her reddish hair was cold, but underneath, her back and neck were warm. Exhausted, James fell into a light sleep very soon after.

The boy dreamed. He saw a path of pure white. It seemed to have no end, save a bright glow of yellow, like the summer sun, continually out of reach. He heard his name.

James.

James.

He awoke again, feeling his mother tension her arms to keep him suspended upon her back. “What, mama?”

“What now?”

“James,” the little boy echoed.

“I think you were dreaming,” Jane said tiredly.

James attempted to shove his head back against her neck, but he felt something different than before. He looked up, glancing about. It was brighter than when he had come to rest on his mother’s back. Out of the corner of his eyes, he spotted the bright aura. Every way he turned, it was still only in his peripheral vision, but never in the direction the four of them were headed.

“Stop…” James said suddenly.

“Bathroom?”

“Wrong way.”

“You’re dreaming, love.”

James pulled on his mother’s shoulders more forcibly. “This not the way!”

“Ouch,” Jane complained. “Bryna, hold up.”

Resting her shoulder and arms, she knelt back down and let James stand once again on his own two feet. He glanced about, looking for the light. “Bad way…”

Bryna caught wind of the conversation. She looked in the same ways the little boy glanced, but couldn’t see anything in particular.

“Bryna, how much longer do you think?” Jane asked, rubbing her wrists and fingers to stretch and warm them.

“I assumed…” The old woman hesitated. She stepped out over the old leaves encrusted in old snow, a few meters, until she came across the clearing where the road ran through. “I’m positive, we just have to keep going…”

“I can’t sleep out here in the cold another night,” Jane said hopelessly, gritting her teeth. “None of us can.”

“I know that.”

“C’mon, boy,” Jane said, reaching down for James’ hand.

The boy followed absentmindedly, watching his mother by his side, and the old woman a few treads ahead. He spotted the light again, dancing about the trees to the south of them. He pulled on his mother’s hand suddenly, yanking her violently to the side and through the slippery snow.

“You can’t do this to me, James.”

“Wrong way. Follow him.” The little boy pointed at the wisp. Jane caught sight of it in a single blink before it disappeared again.

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The Wisp

That Which Wills Thee [Chapter 11]

The wind blew that night, but the snow held off. The four of them camped against the face of an old eroded hillside, back to the cold rock and facing a cramped, licking fire. Bryna and James had managed to gather up the meager amount of wood and light it with the flint rock and scraps of old rag from their home.

Jane found the energy to nurse Marie on what little left she was producing, but exposing herself to the cold reminded them of the long night ahead of them. The rest of them ate potatoes cooked deep in the embers of the fire and bits of old, hard bread softened by their own saliva. In the sole pan they had brought with them, they melted snow for water, offering them the reminder of warmth in their stomachs. Even the horse, tied up to a tree not far from the fire, managed to find a few old sprouts underneath the thin layers of icy snow.

As the fire died down with no means to secure more wood to stoke it, the darkness and cold of the night crept upon them. The four of them huddled together the best they could under the blankets to keep warm.

James awoke in the middle of the night, hearing the shifting of the dying fire. He was wedged between his mother and the old woman but somehow felt inexplicably alone. Above, through the naked branches of the trees, he could see no stars. To his front, the few nearby tree trunks could be seen in the glow of the embers, but beyond them was a pitch blackness that could have held anything. He blinked several times into the darkness, hoping for his eyes to adjust. It was no use. His eyelids turned heavy again, but after a few more strained blinks, the inexplicable light from his memories returned, now in the tangible presence.

The glow seemed to dart about the trees, illuminating the fine texture of the black and white bark. James attempted to struggle out from between the heavy arms and strangling textiles about him, but his mother awoke before he could escape. “What, James? Bathroom?”

James blinked a few more times, only to have the orb of light disappear from his sight. “No…” he said, sinking back to his mother’s hip. In a few more moments, sleep found him again, but the image remained stuck in his mind.

Jane cleaned and changed Marie as quickly as she could that following morning. The little girl complained at being exposed to the cold air, but soon rediscovered the sensations of warmth and cleanliness. James watched the ashes from the fire scatter in the wind and the memory of the previous night returned to him.

“Mama… ya’ know… I saw it again… las’ night.”

“Saw what?” Jane asked, half at attention while brushing the dirt off the blankets.

“The light.”

“That’s nice.”

“Mama, it was the thing that Lewis told us about.”

Bryna had caught wind of the boy’s words. “What did he say? A will o’ the wisp?”

Jane sighed and passed the little girl off her shoulder and to Bryna. She knelt down before James and stroked at his cheeks, red-stained by the cold air. “Those are just tales. You were probably dreaming. You don’t need to worry about things like that.”

“It was nice,” James said.

“I’m sure it was, dear. Help Bryna get the blankets up on the horse’s back, love,” Jane brushed off the words. “How much further, you reckon?”

The old woman bobbed Marie up and down in her arms, distracting the girl from the cold. “The men have made the trip there and back in four days, depending on how long they stuck around drinking and chatting with the folks there. If we move for most of today, I suppose we can get there within a few hours of tomorrow morning.”

Jane sighed, feeling the pack upon her back lighter than the day before. “Seems enough food and kindling for one more night…”

That day’s travel was no easier than before. The road seemed no different than the day previous, just a stripe of white among the trees, seemingly undisturbed. Jane and Bryna once again took turns upon the back of the horse, attempting to keep their strength up. James, restless, begged to be let down to trudge along on his own two feet, but the deep snow only allowed them to proceed at a crawl. It wasn’t long before the little boy was cold and tired out, asking to be returned to Jane’s back, or the saddle of the horse.

Jane began to feel the fatigue in her legs, and the exhaustion taking home in her back and arms from carrying the boy. The horse seemed to be growing equally frustrated with the trading of riders, the treading of the snow, and the lack of food about the snowy ground. Jane was with James upon the animal when she caught sight of the disturbed snow upon the road ahead.

“Bryna, what’s this now?” Jane asked, slowing the horse with little effort.

The old woman trudged forward, little Marie on her shoulder. She approached the strange tracks, running perpendicular to the undisturbed stretch of road. “Hmm.”

Jane looked either direction down the tracks that disappeared into the woods. “Did people come through here?”

“It ain’t people.”

“Wolves?” Jane asked warily.

Bryna shrugged. “We haven’t had wolves in these parts for many decades. Maybe even longer. Looks like deer. Nothing to worry about.”

“Where do the deer go, mama?” James spoke up weakly, turning himself about from his place by her stomach.

“I don’t know,” Jane replied curtly. “What sort of thing are you asking?”

“Wouldn’t they get cold out here?”

“They have fur, just like the horse here.”

James waited for a while before replying, “I wish I had fur ta’ keep warm.”

Bryna tugged on the horse’s bit and started the animal moving again with Jane on top. “What will be better than some dirty, stinky fur is a nice fire. We humans don’t have need for things like that when we have brains an’ hands an’ tools for creating stuff to keep us warm. Jane, we best think about settling down soon.”

“Doesn’t seem like we’ve made the same progress as yesterday,” she said warily.

“Can’t push ourselves that hard. I think we can make it by tomorrow regardless.”

Firewood was harder to find that night, with only a sole dead sapling and some scraps from the burrows about the tall trees to keep the fire burning that night. The few evergreens provided some shelter from the wind, but the cold air still pierced their damp coverings. The fire died down quicker than the night previous, just enough to cook the remaining food.

After eating, James fell asleep against the warmth of his mother but awoke suddenly to the calling of his name.

James.

James.

“Huh?” He said, stirring. “What, mama?”

Jane’s head was drooped down over him, and her mouth offered no hint of movement. He shifted himself back to the fire pit which had crumpled to a blackened pile of charcoal. He realized that, despite being in the depths of night, he could see his surroundings. He looked to the sky imagining to see the moon above, but instead caught sight of the orb of light slowly circling their makeshift camp.

He blinked a few more times. His small hands grasped onto the blanket at either side of him, too entranced to close his eyes or call out to his mother. The wisp circled about slowly, strobing as it passed behind the trees. It had no clear form, but its light emanated from a central point, connected to nothing there in the open air. He blinked deeply again. Out beyond the aura of light, he noticed the many smaller, glowing orbs of light shining back at him in iridescent green. Attached to them were antlers of various shapes and sizes, and some with none.

The deer stared him down. The orb of light circled above still, not seeming to be attracted to any one thing. The horse was tied to a nearby tree, its legs locked in place while it slept, head drooped to the ground. The herd of deer continued to look upon them. James had seen the frail-looking animals before there in the countryside, usually one or two, feeding on the grasses in the brush near their home in the mornings. He had never seen them in such a pack, nor ones with such great antlers. He glanced again to the wisp, wavering back and forth in the same area.

The herd animals eventually began to trod away in unison. Their hoofed feet crunched the snow beneath. James heard the horse stir with a snuffle of its nostrils. It whinnied, detecting the other animals in the distance. The little boy considered standing and calming the horse with a pet to its snout, something that old man Lewis had taught him. He remembered his father telling him of one day that he would learn to ride.

The horse’s ears twitched, listening to the muffled sounds of the darkened forest, things that James couldn’t hear himself. The wisp danced by again, casting its gentle glow. The horse finally spotted the spirit. It stomped its feet and pulled on the reins attaching it to the tree. James looked back to his mother who had yet to move. He pried her arms off his midsection and stood.

“James?” Jane muttered as she felt him depart.

“It’s okay, horsey,” the little boy muttered, shuffling his feet across the icy ground to approach it.

“James, what are you doing?” Jane called out, the sleep still clouding her senses. She sensed the light about them, something unnatural, piercing through the night. “What- what is- Bryna, wake up. There’s something- James, don’t worry yourself with the horse right now.”

The horse snorted and rolled its head, attempting to free itself. Its eyes tracked the wisp above, still circling in irregular patterns. The approach of James’ hand was too much, and it yanked on its rope. Jane snatched up the young boy before the animal could kick up toward him.

The thin rope of the animal’s harness snapped. Bryna clung to Jane’s shoulder, pulling her back. The mother shoved James back and began to run after the animal. It dashed away through the trees, dodging back and forth among the trees.

“Stop! Dumb animal! Stop!” Jane huffed, the cold air streaming into her lungs. “We need you to get to the village!”

Her eyes blurred and burned and her feet ran cold from soggy ground. The horse gained more and more distance beyond her. She finally stopped, feeling the slick ground beneath her, the solid surface of something cracking and finally her breaking through. Her feet met the icy water, cold like nothing she had experienced before. Her hands caught the muddy bank of the stream before she slipped further.

As Jane pulled herself up, she couldn’t help but notice the light guiding her in what was supposed to be the dead of night. She caught sight of the pale green light above, disappearing intermittently behind the trunks of the trees. In her mad rush after the horse, she had lost the old woman and her children, as well as the road. She wiped her hands on her coat and tucked her fingers under her arms. She couldn’t help but follow the light.

“Jane!”

“Mama!”

Little Marie bawled loudly, a third voice calling out for her. The light approached them first, followed by the mother, guided by the glow and the voices both. As the group reconnected at the camp, the light seemed to keep its distance. James jumped up and grabbed at his mother’s midsection. Her clothing was cold from running about the dark forest, but he couldn’t release himself.

“Bryna,” Jane began, rubbing at Marie’s hair from the old woman’s arms. “What is that?”

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The Way

That Which Wills Thee [Chapter 10]

The old road was hardly able to be tracked, only visible as the division through the trees and their canopies above. The horse trudged along tepidly through the snow. It was fresh and deep. Jane was the first to ride the animal. The saddle was old and disused, the leather hard and stiff from many years of sitting out in the elements, but it was a necessity to keep the horse comfortable and therefore compliant. She had only ridden such an animal once before, but in its slow tread, it was easy enough to control.

Little James sat in front of her, his chest to her stomach, clinging for warmth. Bryna followed behind on foot. In a stroke of luck, she had remembered the old snowshoes last used by Lewis in past winters to hunt small game. They had been stored in the rafters of the stable and brought down not long before their departure. The old woman held Marie in her arms, bundled well and tight.

“Mama,” James stirred, holding onto the blankets wrapping around his mother’s back and arms, “hungry.”

“Hold on a bit longer,” she hummed, “we have to go just a bit farther. You heard what Bryna said, we have to pace ourselves.”

“Where are we going?” James asked, jutting his head out to judge the view. The snow had stopped for that moment, but the landscape was indistinguishable under the existing blankets of it.

“To the little village your father visits sometimes. They’ll have food and a nice, warm bed we can rest in when we finally get there,” Jane concluded, rubbing at Jame’s back with a free hand. She glanced back at Bryna and her daughter, who were beginning to slow in their tread. With the opposite hand, she tugged on the horse’s reins, then touched at his sides with her heels, then let out a forced call, “whoa, whoa.”

The horse nudged at the ground before finally stopping in place, its head moving back and forth. Bryna caught up with them and glanced up to Jane. “You can go a little bit longer.”

“No,” Jane insisted, forcing her leg over the side of the animal. She clumsily found her footing while holding James in place. She met with the chilling cold that instantly enveloped her feet. “James, dear, you can stay up there and rest on Bryna.”

The old woman pursed her lips and offered the bundled little girl back for a moment. “I don’t mind keeping a hold on her. I suppose the animal won’t mind just a bit more.”

Jane pulled back the sides of the blanket at either side of Marie’s cheeks. Her face was flushed, the tip of her nose slightly cold, lips chapped, but breath warm. In a new set of arms, the little girl woke slightly, attempting to stretch under the heavy blankets.

Jane rubbed her own nose against Marie’s, spreading what little warmth she had to spare. Bryna had released herself from the snowshoes and mounted the horse, supporting James once again. With herself situated, she held her arms down, offering to take the little girl back up.

Jane took the snowshoes next. They were wide and clumsy, fashioned out of old dried branches bent into shape and held together with twine and strips of tanned hide. She tied them as tight as she could around her soggy shoes and double-checked that she would be able to march forward with them on. Bryna offered her a reassuring glance, and with her hands full, urged the horse forward once again.

Even though the snow had stopped, the cold wind blew in occasional bouts, rattling the dry branches above and sending neat trails of snow across the icy landscape. On the breath of the land, Jane caught a familiar scent from her daughter. She cleared the congestion from her throat and called out to the old woman. “Bryna, I think Marie needs to be changed.”

The old woman glanced back. “Likely,” she shrugged, the toddler still in her arms. “How do you want to do so? Undress her in this cold? And leave behind a sign of our presence to the wild animals?”

“Our doctor back at home said that–“

“I imagine they said a lot of things. I know it’s your motherly brain trying to tell ya’ to do the right thing, but we can’t follow normal logic right now. She will survive the experience, just a while longer. Isn’t that right, child?”

Jane felt herself pushing hard to keep up with the horse all of a sudden, mind racing to think of a rebuttal or solution to the problem. With her breath growing ragged, releasing long clouds of air out her mouth, she slowed back to a normal pace.

Bryna glanced back at her. “We best stop soon, though. Get a start on a fire before it gets too cold and dark. You can change her in the morning and leave the refuse in the embers before we leave again. Keep an eye out for some place nice an’ sheltered where we can hide away from the wind.”

<– Previous Chapter | Next Chapter –>

The Fire

That Which Wills Thee [Chapter 9]

Despite being able to warm himself, William remained pale and weak as the others worked about him. James stayed by his side, resting on the arm of the chair and nestling against his father’s side. Lewis unleashed the ox from their stable and used it to bring the O’Malley’s covered cart out before the home. The women loaded it with spare blankets and some food, both for them and the work animal.

“You should have enough firewood for the week before having to head out in the snow,” Lewis told them before the final arrangements to depart. “I imagine it won’t be longer than that, maybe a few days more, so the food you have in the stores will last. I’ll bring some back from the city, even if William has to stay there for longer.”

“Some sweets?” James asked hopefully, looking between Lewis and his father.

William smiled gently from the chair one last time. “Sure, I can direct Lewis here to the sweets shop while I’m getting fixed up.”

“Don’t worry yourself trying to get all about the city, Lewis,” Jane said, arms crossed. “It’s a big, confusing place. Just focus on what matters.”

When the time came, Jane and Lewis hefted William up between them and helped him outside. He managed to shuffle into the back of the covered cart to lay down before being wrapped up by the blankets inside. The ox snuffled about in the snow, just up to its bony knees, jangling the metal and leather harness binding it to the cart.

“Stay safe now,” Bryna said as Lewis finally mounted the cart. The sky was still hazy, but the day would be around for just long enough to get a start on the journey toward Manchester. The snow parted ways for the ox’s cloven hoofs and the tall metal-rimmed wheels of the cart, leaving the cabin behind.


The days after the men’s departure were quiet. Young James was the first to break from the long, quiet days. He was deep in the book that he and his father had been reading the past few weeks, and despite the lessons learning to read and write the letters on the pages and sound out the words, the story was far too advanced for someone his age.

“What’s this say?” Came the call many times from the frustrated boy.”

“Though-” Jane would read off.

“Though he wo- wa- would.” James stuttered before exclaiming, “It ain’t no use!”

“We can read it together,” The mother offered.

James already knew the answer. “I only want papa to read it.”

“Well, let’s hope it won’t be too much longer for them to be back.”

After those words were spoken, James picked up the habit of going back and forth from the rug by the fireplace to the window, standing on his tip-toes, to look out in hopes of seeing the cart returning to them. Even young Marie, getting used to toddling around and babbling her first words, seemed to copy her brother’s mannerisms, and soon was seen following him around in the act. The little one couldn’t hope to even reach the sill of the window, but her cognizance of her father not being present was clear.

More days passed. The sights out the window began to disappear as a storm descended upon them, depositing more snow. The wind blew, causing loud whistling at the exterior of the building at all hours of the day, and forcing flurries of cold air down the chimney to tickle the fire in the hearth. That sole fire was their source of heat for those coldest of days, as well as the flames to cook their food.

James picked yet another distraction, one of prodding at the fire with the nearby iron stake to make the embers relight and the cinders to shower down upon the hearth. His mother admonished him at first, but after many attempts, she found she couldn’t keep up with his energy as well as the boy’s father could. She simply hoped that one of the following days she would see the cart returning both Lewis and her husband back to them.

The wind continued to blow with its whistling that night. The two women and two children had moved the long bench and mattress of straw as close as they could to the hearth for warmth, and the furs were strewn about the floor to dampen the cold reflecting off the ground. Jane was exhausted from the days of worry that night, and fell into a deep sleep, holding Marie close to her chest. The last she checked on James was him sleeping in a pile of blankets on the ground below facing the fire.

She was shaken awake, groggily, by a pair of small hands at her back, the little James attempting to latch onto her from behind. “Mama, too hot,” he mumbled.

“Spread out the blankets some, or jump up here by your sissy,” Jane said, her eyes still glued shut. In pulling the little girl closer, she felt a familiar convulsing from the girl. She posed the girl on her back where her coughing began to sound about the room. The thick odor came to Jane next, the hints of smoke, and not just of the smoldering fireplace. Jane forced herself over where she caught sight of the licking flames.

A charred log had rolled out onto the layers of fur blankets just beyond the hearth. The fur and tanned hide had caught flames and were beginning to lick at the sides of the fireplace. Jane shot up, making sure to place herself in front of James and Marie on the bed. “Bryna!”

The old woman groaned and attempted to gain a sense of the situation. “What is it?”

Jane forced James onto the bed behind her and fumbled around in the dim light, rushing to the water basin in the kitchen, only to find it frozen over. “Bryna, get the children back! We need to put out the flames!”

The fire began to lick at the nearby walls of the house, curling the dry outer layer of bark on the old logs. The linens hung beside the hearth began to catch fire, and the furs nearby continued to spread the flames along the ground.

Jane pounded at the layer of ice in the basin, her hands cold and knuckles sore. She managed to pry the wooden bowl out and transport some of the icy water across the room. The splash managed to extinguish only a small corner of the blaze.

James had escaped Bryna’s arms and began to panic, his whining loud and shrill. Marie began to cry, struggling as well and cough working itself louder. The little boy yanked open the door, attempting to free the room of the growing amount of smoke. The wall of snow beyond the door was too tall for he himself to escape on his own. The wind blew in, pulling out the smoke, but causing the flames to climb higher and hiss more fiercely.

Bryna grabbed up the shoes and blankets. Jane attempted to land another bowl of water upon the flames, but their rapid growth from the outside air created a stifling aura of heat. The old woman called out to her finally, managing to herd the two children. “We must get outside, let it burn itself out!”

Jane could barely push through the snow in her stockings behind the old woman. Her feet went numb in the short amount of time it took to make it to the stable. The hay-covered ground was slightly sheltered from the wind and snow. In the early morning light, they could see the chimney billowing dark smoke.

“I only added one log,” James sniffled.

“You did what, boy?” Jane asked pointedly.

“The fire needed more heat, and I tossed a big ol’ one up on it.”

“How many times have I-“

Bryna held to Jane’s wrist to hold her back from striking out against her child. “You can’t blame him for simply trying to help.”

Jane collapsed into the hay, feeling at her freezing feet, covered in the damp stockings. “I am not made for this type of life,” she sobbed, “I know nothing of trying to make a living out in a place like this. I can no longer take on these burdens that the Lord is pushing on me. A house fallen, and another one burning?”

Bryna pushed Marie off her shoulder and into Jane’s arms. “The Lord has also given you two beautiful children, one that you must remain strong to take care of.”

Jane held to Marie, slumping down against the rough log wall of the stable. The straw poked her skin through her thin stockings. The little girl shivered, but only for a moment before her mother’s warmth collected once again within her. James crumpled down beside his mother, finding a place beside her leg and wrapping his arms around hers.

Bryna pulled up her shawl and stepped half out of the stable entrance to look upon the house, still billowing smoke from the unsealed cracks. In the deathly silence of the snow-choked land, the only sound able to be heard was the crackling and hissing from inside the building The air smelt of rancid smoke and the odor of the animals that lived there in the stable.

“We can wait for the fire to burn down, and then attempt to move back inside,” the old woman said, returning. “Not all of it can burn, surely.”

With the four huddled together under the rescued blankets and the amassed hay, they sat in a half-asleep state, simply trying to take in the warmth and hope for the quick arrival of the day.

The Mills’ horse, the sole animal still with them, huffed suddenly with its round, moist nostrils and kicked at the cold ground. Bryna recognized the sign of its unease and pulled on Jane’s arm to alert her.

“Huh?” The mother lifted her head stiffly.

Without warning, a loud crack radiated from the house, followed by the scraping of stones and soft thump of something falling against the ground. The late morning sun was attempting to breach the gray clouds, offering them enough light to depart the stable and examine what remained after the fire.

Jane’s feet became instantly cold again as her stockings touched the snow, but her determination allowed her to continue, the children still clinging to her. Bryna saw the ruin first; the chimney and hearth having collapsed away from the burned section of roof. The remainder of the western-facing wall of the home had turned to cinders, leaving the living area to fill with wispy piles of snow.

“How do we fix this?” Jane said hopelessly, “We can’t light a fire, or even keep the elements from ourselves. And… and Lewis… when he returns…”

Bryna pushed through the front door, still luckily intact, and examined what remained. Embers near the base of the wall and fallen chimney still glowed and let off smoke. She looked at Jane through the open wall. “It isn’t time to worry about my husband or yours. We have to make due.”

“How, Bryna?” Jane huffed, pushing in after her into the house.

“You’re right that we can’t stay here. Perhaps, to the village, the one to the east? William has been there, you remember? We can find someone to take us in.”

“Through the snow?”

“We’ll take the horse, trade places on his back. Find some paper to leave a note for the men.”

Bryna gathered what little dry food and blankets she could manage to find intact. After loading them into bundles on the back of the horse, she dressed the children in their warmest clothes and wrapped their feet and hands in bundles of rags to keep them warm. The only place to write that Jane could find was Jame’s reading book. Inside the front cover, she crafted the note, knowing that William would likely spot it when he was to return.

I am sorry. We are all safe. Headed east. I love you, William.

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The Winter

That Which Wills Thee [Chapter 8]

Snow began to descend not long after the trees had lost their final remaining leaves. “Momma, what’s that outside!” James exclaimed, looking out the window after the night of the first storm.

Manchester saw snow during those times of the year as well, but it often melted in the heat from the factories and their smokestacks and fumes or was left to settle into dark piles to be tread on by foot and cart alike. The mounds of it pushed about in the streets eventually melted into slush that soaked the shoes and socks and feet of those unable to buy proper footwear. What James saw that morning in the pristine countryside was a covering of pure white, undisturbed by a single footstep or cart wheel, with more descending in light flakes that danced in the wind and gentle light of the overcast sky.

Jane was likely equally as intrigued by the sight, but held back. After breakfast, she dressed her children up in the warmest clothes they had on hand and allowed them out finally. James trudged through the deep and wide footprints left by his father who had departed slightly before to check on the Mills in their home. The drifts were up to the little boy’s knees in places, making it hard to move, but his seemingly endless energy kept him dashing about the best he could. Jane dangled Marie’s feet across the surface, allowing her to experience the cold and fluffy sensations, but the old words of the doctor of keeping her out of the cold returned to her mind. After experiencing enough of the cold and earning soggy, baggy garments, Jane brought her children back inside.

That first gentle storm was only a preview of what was to come. After several more centimeters were deposited upon them, William began to notice the creaking of the ceiling of their home above, not to mention the drips from the melt above their hot fireplace. As a precaution, William stuck his family in with the neighbors yet another time.

“You’ll get to be back in your own bed sooner or later,” Bryna said to James. She had taken little Marie in her lap as well to offer Jane a break, an exchange that both parties did not mind. “Your father just wants to make sure you don’t wake up covered in the stuff. Come here, let’s read that book he got you.”

Unfortunately, William’s foreboding became reality. One morning after the depositing of more snow, he returned to the log house to discover that the roof had caved in. Through cold desperation, he dug out what he could and returned to the Mills’ house to deliver the news.

“The beams in the ceiling couldn’t take it. They snapped some time last night,” he said, depositing the soggy linens at the door.

“A shame,” Lewis sighed, pushing himself up. “I don’t mind if you stay here with us, but we don’t have quite the food for that long. Any luck with your root cellar?”

“It’s buried under some of the collapsed roof.”

“We best get to it, then, before the snow melts and freezes back over tonight.”

“I can’t ask that much from you, Lewis,” William talked back, ashamed.

“William,” Jane butted in, exasperated at the news. “We can’t keep on like this.”

“I’ll help dig through the snow, papa,” James spoke up, jumping from the floor.

“No, James.” William said. “Jane, it isn’t that bad. I imagine I can unearth some things before we get any more snow.”

Between moments to warm himself and rest, William spent many hours of many days at the collapsed home, sometimes bringing back food goods or pieces of clothing, or bringing out tools and pieces of wood to shore up the unstable parts of the building. It was several days later, and after departing that morning, William was out much longer than he had the previous times.

Jane expressed her concerns to Lewis, urging the old man to trudge out to visit the cabin in William’s footsteps. The old man decided to follow Jane’s words. The two men were seen on the snowy path through the window some time later, trudging through the drifts. Lewis attempted his best to support William, a head taller and certainly heavier than him. Jane noticed her husband’s leg wrapped up and dragging behind. She held the door open for them as they made it through.

Little James approached, followed by Marie crawling at them. “What happened, papa?”

William leaned against the wall, not allowing his weight to rest upon the injured leg. Jane noticed the red stain seeping into the cloth around his leg. His face was pale, clothing soaked and encrusted with ice, and hands shaking under the thin gloves.

Lewis looked at his wife, and then Jane, who couldn’t find the words to speak. “Love, how about you have the kids help you heat some water so that Mr. O’Malley can get warm?”

Bryna stood from her chair and shuffled toward them, picking up Marie to take over her shoulder while searching for James’ hand in her own. “Come now, you remember how to start the stove, right, James?”

William hobbled to the open chair as the old woman and the little ones disappeared around into the side room. Lewis hunched over stiffly to unwrap the covering. The breath caught in Jane’s throat. The blood was soaked into the torn pant leg, not enough to seize her, but as she caught sight of the bone protruding from the wound at William’s shin, she couldn’t help but feel faint. “What-” She began weakly.

“The last bit of… the ceiling collapsed on my leg when… I was trying to… support it.”

“The snow we got this mornin’ got all melted!” Came the energetic call from the back door. William yanked the wool blanket from the arm of the chair beside him and pulled it over his bottom half and crooked leg as the young boy returned.

Bryna was right after, holding the metal basin and washrag. She knelt beside the chair and began to wipe the dirt and sweat from around William’s neck with the damp cloth. He took the container in his lap, allowing his fingers to tingle once again as they soaked up the warmth coming through the metal.

James sat on the ground. “You’re not going to take off your boots, papa?” He asked, running his fingers along the seams of the leather.

William winced and leaned his head back. “They’re actually… quite warm… still. Leave them be.”

Lewis composed himself finally after the strain of supporting William and glanced out the window. He whispered to Jane, “He was trapped there, says for a good twenty minutes of trying. I don’t think he lost a lot of blood, but when he warms up, it may be worse.”

Jane bit at her lip and held tight to the hem of her dress. “How do we…?”

“The village doesn’t have a doctor for something like that. I’d say we have to bring him to Manchester.”

“My father employs a good doctor, he’s seen us before,” Jane asserted. “You can find him at Flint Textiles, one of the big factories on 3rd Avenue. William knows-”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, lass,” Lewis said, sighing in concern. “It’s still a three-day trip there, maybe more with the snow. We can only hope he remains stable for that long. At the very least he can lay down if we take your cart.”

“Take it, take it.”

Lewis glanced at William, still attempting to encourage James through the situation. “It’s already late, but… suppose can’t be helped. Lad, you’re gonna have to help me hook up the cart so we can take your pa to the doctor. Get him checked up on.”

“Sure thing!”

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