Tense, muscles aching, she looks out the kitchen window. A cold wind is blowing in from the north; touches of freezing rain, mixed with snow fall. By morning the village will surely be covered by a thin layer of ice.

She glances at the mantle clock. It looks like it is going to work. It is nearing lockdown, the time when the gates to the isolated village are shut and locked for the evening. The law, arcane but enforced out of custom, stipulates that once locked, no one is allowed entry.

Intently she listens for any sound, any indication that somehow her two children have been able to reach the abandoned south apple orchard, fill their sacks and get back before curfew. She knows that it would be difficult for her and they are only 6 ½ and 5, so surely the two extra stomachs will not make it in time.

The town clock rings out the warning for lockdown. A small sense of relief, excitement courses through her body. It knows it will be soon. She retrieves her wool cloak, and wraps it tightly around her bony body. Before opening the door, she breathes in deeply, tries to steady her jittery mind. Her performance must be good, must be convincing.

Her screams echo against the quarry stone walls as she pounds on the gate. She pleads to have the gate opened for her little ones. Her display of grief, anxiety, and desperation is so realistic.

At home she paces her body craving. Soon, it will be soon. There is a knock at door. She snatches it open. A hooded figure steps in. She hands him the last of her coins. He smiles knowingly. She has become a dependable client.

Her eyes are wide, her body shakes in excitement as she watches him measure out the white powder. Even before he leaves she indulges.


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