by Mark Allan Gunnells
Kevin trudged from the barn back to the small cabin. The flickering firelight in the window acted as a beacon, calling him home. The snow came up to his waist so he basically had to tunnel his way through, making the relatively short journey from barn to cabin take so much longer. During the worst blizzards, the snow would freeze so solidly that he could walk on top of the crust without ever breaking through. Of course, visibility was so bad that he dared not go out when the snow was actively falling. If tunneling through the snow was the price he had to pay for a clear sky, he was willing to pay it.
As he neared the front door and the relative warmth of inside, he glanced uneasily at the sky. Still clear. It had been clear for nearly a week now. The longest streak without snow for longer than he could remember.
Not that good weather solved all his problems.
When he finally reached the cabin, he climbed the steps onto the porch, his legs feeling numb from cold. He opened the door just a crack, enough to slip his emaciated frame through, and then hurried inside and slammed the door behind him, not wanting any more heat to escape the house than necessary.
The temperature inside was cold but not frigid; at least he couldn’t see his breath puffing out in front of him. Across the one room of the cabin, his wife Julia huddled in front of the fireplace, small flames licking up in the hearth. She held herself, her worn wool shawl pulled tight around her shoulders.
She looked at Kevin and the basket in his hands. “Where’s the bucket?”
“I’m sorry, there will be no more milk. And these,” he said, holding up the basket, “will be the last of the eggs as well.”
“The cow and all the chickens?”
“I’m afraid so,” he said, setting the basket with the three measly eggs on the floor. “I’m surprised they lasted this long. I haven’t been able to properly repair the barn, and with all the cracks and holes in the wood, the cold was too much for the poor animals.”
Julia closed her eyes and released a shuddering breath. “It’s okay. We’ll be okay. We can melt snow for water, and there is plenty enough of that. For food, we have the chickens and the cows. If they can’t provide for us one way, they can provide for us another.”
Kevin was struck anew by his wife’s unfailing ability to look on the bright side. Once that optimism inspired a surge of love in him, but now he only felt annoyance. Optimism in the face of harsh reality was not admirable; it was delusional.
“I fear we will soon join the cow and chickens,” he said. “When the next quake and blizzard come – ”
“We haven’t experienced that in days, love. Perhaps that ordeal is finally over.”
“We’ve thought that before, remember?”
“Yes, but we’ve never gone this long without the earth shaking and the snow swirling down. I believe God may have finally answered our prayers.”
Kevin didn’t bother to mention he hadn’t prayed in nearly a year. Instead, he said, “Even if the quakes and blizzards have stopped, it’s still freezing out there and we are nearly out of fuel for the fire.”
They both looked around at the empty inside of the cabin. They had broken up almost all the furniture to feed the fire. The table and chairs, the bedframe, the bookcases. Eventually even the books had become food for the flames. All that remained were two footstools, but they would provide little substance for the hungry heat.
“The barn!” Julia said suddenly, brightening. Her shawl slipped, revealing her thin neck and painfully exposed collarbones. “Since we no longer need it to house the animals, we can chop it up. Plenty of wood there.”
“Much of that wood is saturated by the snow.”
“So we start right away and start bringing it in to dry out. Perfect solution. See, you should never doubt God. He always provides.”
“Stop saying that!” Kevin screamed and kicked out at the basket. One of the eggs tumbled over the side and cracked against the floor, yellow yoke oozing out. Not that it mattered. One egg wouldn’t save them. Nothing could save them, only delay the inevitable.
Julia pulled the shawl tighter around herself, her expression setting stern like stone. “Do not blaspheme in front of me again. I won’t hear it.”
“The God you keep praying to for salvation, He is the one we need saving from. You believe He controls all that happens in this godforsaken arctic world, don’t you?”
She looked away from her husband, back toward the fire. Kevin crossed the floor in long strides, grabbed Julia by the shoulders and spun her around. “Answer me, woman! Do you believe God controls all that happens in this world?”
“Y-yes,” she stammered. “Of course.”
“Then He is responsible for the quakes and blizzards; He is responsible for the snow never melting; He is responsible for the death of our animals. Every single miserable thing that has happened, He is the one who has caused it. The Master of Suffering and Despair. If He offers up temporary but inadequate solutions, it seems only to prolong our pain for His own mysterious and perverse pleasure.”
Julia broke free and covered her ears, shaking her head. “You mustn’t say such things.”
“Why not? They are true statements. If God really wanted to help us, He would bring out the sun. Melt the snow. End this endless winter. Allow us to grow crops, properly tend animals, find others and make a community. Instead he keeps us prisoners in this icy hell, desperate and barely surviving.”
Julia looked as if she were about to protest further but then the ground began to shake. Julia cried out in surprise, but Kevin could not claim any surprise himself. Yes, it had been nearly a week and he had dared to hope, but he had always known deep down that God wasn’t done torturing them.
The world seemed to turn topsy-turvy, the entire world shaking and rumbling. The basket skittered across the floor and into the fire, destroying the remaining two eggs. Kevin and his wife both fell to the floor, clinging to one another.
When the quaking finally ceased, Kevin got unsteadily to his feet and stumbled to the window. Snow fell so heavily it was like a thick blanket, making it impossible even to see the barn. Always the same, the quake followed by the blizzard.
“This is your fault,” Julia hissed, still on her hands and knees. “God heard what you said, and this is His punishment.”
Kevin continued to stare out the window. “Blame me if you will, but I know who is truly to blame.”
Suddenly he bolted to the front door, tearing it open and running out into the blizzard, dropping to his knees in the cold snow. He tilted his head back so that the deluge of freezing flakes hit him in the face. “Damn you!” he screamed at the sky. “Goddamn you God!”
Eddie stared into the rounded plastic globe, watching the little white flakes swirl around, almost obscuring the tiny cabin and barn figurines inside.
His mother walked into the room and smiled. “Oh, I see you finally found your snow globe. Where was it?”
The six year old smiled up at his mother. “Under my bed.”
“Well, it’s a wonder you can locate anything in this pigsty you call a bedroom. Anyway, I’m glad you found it. I know how much you love it.” Eddie looked back at the snow globe, and as the white flakes began to settle, he gave it another vigorous shake.
Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf.