The Stillwater Girls by Minka Kent Read Online (FREE)
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Sixty-three days—that’s how long Mama’s been gone. I drag my chalk against the blackboard, marking a jagged X across November twenty-first on our calendar.
Evie will be nine next Thursday—wherever she is.
I picture her crooked smile and blonde curls and knobby knees, and I smile to myself, but only for a second.
It takes a lot of energy to smile when your fingers are icicles and your stomach gnaws away at your insides and your eyelids are so heavy you can’t see straight.
Lately Sage has taken to playing with the doll I sewed for Evie’s birthday, even though at eighteen she’s way too old for things like that. I suppose she finds comfort in having something to hold and rock the way Mama used to hold and rock her.
I don’t need comfort.
I only need to survive.
The cabin’s growing colder each night, and we’ve been taking turns waking up to stoke the fire. Last night, Sage forgot, and I woke up shivering with such force I could barely climb out of bed, and when I finally found the matches in the dark, my breath had turned to clouds.
I’d never known a cold like that before, one that rooted so far into my bones I thought they’d snap.
Tonight’s wind howls, and Sage fixes breakfast eggs over a crackling fire, that scrappy doll resting in her chair with its dead button eyes, waiting.
We’re always . . . waiting.
Meanwhile, supplies are dwindling, and we’re weeks away from what I’m predicting will be a harsh winter. The ducks and geese migrated south earlier than normal this year, and the spiders are getting inside in droves, spinning enormous webs, which Mama always said was a sign.
We’ve lost five of our eight chickens in the past month, and we’re not sure how or why. If Mama were here, she’d know. Every morning when we check the henhouse, I’m afraid I’m going to find another one lying lifeless on her side, being pecked at by some of the others. I don’t want to think about what would happen if we lost the remaining three.
I wonder if they’re sick like Evie.
And I wonder if she’s still sick . . .
I assume so because we haven’t so much as heard from Mama after they left in the middle of the night to get help for Evie, who was burning up and fighting to breathe, her chest rattling like pebbles in a tin can. The look in Mama’s eyes as she wrapped our baby sister in wool blankets and packed a small bag is etched into my memory. I swear I can still see it clear as day every time I close my eyes.
Mama never panicked, but she panicked that night.
Her last words were, “Don’t open the door for anyone, girls. You understand me?”
Mama’s lips were thin and tight along her teeth as she spoke, and her eyes shook as she held my sister limp in her arms. A moment later, they left on foot, disappearing into the Stillwater Forest, which surrounds our homestead. With a galloping heart, I watched as Mama’s pale dress turned dark in the distance and I could no longer see them anymore, and then I locked the door.