Name: Jacqueline EberliTwitter: @communalmadness
When shortages and dangerous wildlife threaten her family Bianca must travel into the city, where the Chapter reigns, for supplies. What she finds there could change everything. If she's caught they will burn her alive.
The milk steamed in the chill air as it squirted into the bucket, hitting the rapidly filling bottom again and again. My vision, narrowed by my ebony hair and the black side of the cow, was focused on the ropes holding my broken shoes together. Only the heat of the cow's udder kept my hands from cramping with the cold. The smell of the livestock was comforting and conjured memories from long ago.
Pa’s words echoed in my head, “the rhythm is everything in milking.” In the still of the barn in the morning, I closed my eyes and pretended he was beside me. The cow shied away from me and my eyes snapped open.
“Fine. I’ll look, but if it’s only a mouse again I swear you won’t get another pumpkin treat,” I pushed myself from the stool and inspected the barn.
Three stalls over I figured out why she was upset.
The bull was missing.
“Oh, no,” I said to no one. I climbed into the stall and walked out into the pasture, my unease growing with every step. He was in his place the night before and I couldn't fathom why he would have gone back out into the cruel winter. Where the fence weaved through the trees I found him. What was left of him.
My stomach clenched as I looked on the mess. Almost every part of him was gone, blood stained the snow around the remains, and everywhere there were paw prints, the paw prints of wolves. The skin on the back of my neck rose and I scanned the tree line for any sign they were still in the area. There was only a destroyed section of fence from where they entered.
Sprinting back through the pasture and into the barn, vaulting over the stall, I ran for my siblings so we could do what needed to be done to protect the rest of the animals. I slammed out of the barn door and spotted Hawk and Stormy across the yard at the threshold of our little house, knocking the slush off their boots, unaware we were in a crisis.
“Hawk! Stormy! Now!” I didn't wait for them, I rushed to inventory the livestock. We only had three cows left, and no bull meant no more calves.
“What's the matter?” Hawk asked from behind me.
“Wolves, the bull was killed by wolves in the pasture,” I told him with no preamble, there was too much to do.
“Crap,” Stormy muttered behind Hawk. “I'll get the gun,” she said, and ran back out.
“The rest of the animals are okay. We need to fix the fence and close up the barn,” I rushed through my words, trying to not waste any time. I jumped into the stall again, beckoning him to follow me.
He ran with me to the site. I stood back to give his keen eyes room to make sense of the violence imprinted there.