By KB Baltz
Two children gripped each other’s skeletal hands as they ran toward the woods. Behind them, explosions tossed clods of frozen dirt and broken bodies into the air. Screams echoed in their shell-shocked ears as they fell over the upraised roots at the edge of the forest. Wide-eyed, they scrambled into the undergrowth, leaving bloody handprints behind.
The forest was old, but not unkind. She knew of axes and war. She remembered cold iron that pierced heartwood and the many ways ivy could wrap around bone. These children were not the men who wanted to watch the world burn.
She pitied these two lost souls who would not make it through the night.
The forest watched as they stepped into a clearing, shivering in torn coats. Their little fingers already blackened from the cold.
“Please,” sobbed the girl, “someone help.”
The forest paused to consider this request. She could not save them, but…
A fox yipped at the edge of the clearing, dipping its head in an invitation to follow. Not wanting to return to the screams of the dying, they did.
The fox led them down secret paths, staying out of reach until they came to a cabin.
Smoke steamed from the chimney and summer flowers grew inside the fence. Hand-in-hand and with the last of their strength, the children ran to the gate and threw themselves into the warmth; leaving the fox to stand sentinel as their bodies froze beneath an old oak tree.
KB Baltz was born in a Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea, a month early and sideways. She has been doing things backward ever since. You can find some of her other work at Trembling with Fear and Burning House Press.