It’s been a while since I wrote a short story. Anyway, enjoy!
It isn’t easy living in a ghost town of sorts when the other villagers all leave at the same time.
Kinnia looked on in confusion as she left the general store. Inhabitants she knew for only two weeks packed up everything they owned and were taking the only route out of town. None knew her well enough to explain the yearly excursion, just before the wintry winds made a turn and infected the small area with a touch of bone-chilling temperatures. Villagers left Rustrovan in droves. It was surrounded on three sides by mountains that served as both their enemies and allies.
Sled dogs were attached to two- and three-person sleds, the echoes of their barks and whimpers carried by the gusting winds.
With the crack of a whip, the dogs took off, carrying their loads just as they were trained to do. Their owners keep them going with the snap of taut leather reins and grunts to urge them onward.
The powdery snow trailed upwards like smoke. Kinna shivered in the five layers of clothing she wore and dug her head deeper into her heavy coat. The snow from last night piled up to her knees—a good four feet—and as a result, she needed to wade through the packed crystals to her small cottage at the other end of town. She set the bag of groceries down and fished out a lone key from her coat pocket. She let out a shaky exhale and grimaced as her frosted breath hit her face. Kinnia inserted the key and pushed the door open with all of her strength. A grunt left her lips as she charged the door once, a final blow to open the door completely. She pulled in her two bags of groceries and closed the door in the same manner.
She’d cleaned the one-story cottage hours before, and left to take care of chores while the wooden floors dried. On a deep inhale, the faint scent of pine and lemon flooded her senses. She shed her outer clothing and put the food away. She then took out the ingredients she needed for tonight’s dinner. She had to make sure everything was done before the storm hit, or else she would be without power.
That’s what the proprietor of the general store said as he rang up her groceries. Everyone used oil lamps and fireplaces to keep themselves out of darkness’ firm hold, but those could only last so long with the strong wind gusts and the traces of snow that snuck in through wooden cracks.
Kinnia asked the proprietor why he hadn’t left yet, and his answer was a short one. She was his last customer, and as soon as she was done he would be taking his leave. She saw him leave ten minutes later, with a sled full of goods and his own pack of sled dogs leading the way out of town.
Kinnia sighed. She lacked the foresight to ask anyone why they were packing things up during the week. And now, she thought, I’m here for goodness knows how long. She pinned her shoulder-length hair up, washed her hands, and continued prepping dinner.
Later that night, the winds picked up, and snow wormed in through uneven cracks. Kinnia sat in a small chair, feet pulled up to her chest with an oil lamp nearby. Her script was hurried as she squinted in the fading light source. She was almost done with the bimonthly letter to her parents, and was just about to sign it when a deep, piercing howl disrupted the peace of her own little world. With a gasp, she overturned the small inkwell onto her parchment, and cursed.
“What luck,” she murmured dryly. “It was my last piece, too.” She shook her head and sighed, wasting no time in cleaning up the mess. Snarls made her freeze in place.
She never saw the beasts with her own eyes, but hurriedly cleaned up the mess and threw wasted materials out. Then, she fished out a candle and lit it with the oil lamp. With a quick twist, she killed the oil lamp and took careful steps in the main room of her home. The snarling intensified, with a few growls mixed in. Maybe it was two packs fighting for dominance? But that didn’t make sense. From the fragmented conversations she picked up from her neighbors, there wasn’t that many wolves in the area.
Kinnia bit her lower lip and peeked through a small crack in the door.
A bundle rested in front of her door. It appeared to be a blanket of sorts.
Kinnia shook her head. No way, there could be something even worse out there. She went to her room, changed into her pajamas, and slid into the warm cocoon of her bed. She blew out the candle that rested on her nightstand, and settled down into slumber.
Snow trapped her inside by sunrise. The winds died down. The snowfall ceased. She opened the door after pulling on five layers of clothing—coat included—and adjusted the gloves on her hands and the scarf around her neck. She braced herself for the snow to fall inside her home, but nothing came.
Instead, there was a large indentation in the snow. The blanket was spread out, and obviously saturated with moisture. Kinnia removed her glove and bent down to touch the item.
It was still warm.
She looked closer at the large thermal blanket, and noticed gray and black hairs sprinkled all over deep blue fabric. Varying hues of red decorated trampled snow around her. What happened here?
Then she saw the tracks. There was a struggle of sorts, just as she thought. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t picture how the bestial fight went. The tracks left by her visitors last night trailed off into the snow, possibly covered by the fragile ice crystals. But bigger paw prints were what stopped her from heading back inside. They ran from the blanket towards the hilly snow banks, but disappeared just before them.
Kinnia folded up the blanket. Whoever—or whatever—it was at her door last night certainly kept nearby predators at bay. She had no idea where the entity was now, but she murmured a “Thank you,” one that could barely be heard.
Somewhere in the distance, there was a deep throaty howl in response.