The fire sputtered, desperately trying to assert itself over the pitiful crumbles of sticks lying broken and burnt at its feet. Already, the cold air was invading the small cottage through the poorly sealed door.
“It’s not even sundown and the fire is already dead,” Abbo muttered, sitting at the foot of his family’s only bed, which was currently occupied by his sleeping father.
“We can’t afford to go out and get more wood tonight,” his mother replied. She held a baby close to her chest, hoping to retain as much heat as possible.
“I don’t think Pa is going to wake up if we don’t get more.” His tone was calm. Monotone. Using emotion would just waste valuable body heat.
“What would you suggest, Abbo?” she asked. “This was the last of the reserve. Your father is still exhausted from this morning’s work. Besides, we can still burn the furniture.”
“He can’t get enough wood for all of us as it is. What happens when we run out of food, too? We’re going to die, Ma.”
“Well, the springs should be coming soo–”
“The springs aren’t coming.” He felt his anger getting the best of him, so Abbo took a slow, steady breath. “We need to go for help.”
“Abbo, the next village is over a mile away, you could die of frostbite before you made it!”
“And we’ll all starve or freeze here if I don’t try!”
Abbo turned to his father, wrapped up in every blanket they owned. He nearly killed himself every night cutting more wood, and it still wasn’t enough. There was no time.
“I know you don’t like the idea of your oldest leaving the only shelter we have,” he continued. “But we have no choice. If Pa is allowed to risk himself for the family, why can’t I? We can’t all go, and I’m fast. If all is well at the village I can bring help first thing in the morning.” He tried not to dwell on the ‘if all is well’ part. It didn’t lead to good places.
His mother frowned, obviously resigned to her fate. She had no argument for him, and a single tear fell onto the baby’s head before she had the presence of mind to wipe it away.
“I’m proud of you, son. You’ve grown into a kind and caring young man.” She stood from her chair and held the baby out to him. “Take your brother. And if you can’t bring back litters in the morning, don’t blame yourself for not being able to save us. You have to be strong. Can you do that for me?”
Abbo nodded, taking the baby and cradling him in his arms. His mother took off her shawl and wrapped them both as best she could with the small cloth.
“Be swift,” his mother continued. “And remember that you are not all powerful. It won’t be your fault if you can’t return to help us, okay?”
Suddenly, Abbo’s iron resolve to defy his mother and save the family crumbled. She had managed to turn it into an act of selflessness on her own part, and he couldn’t hold back the tears.
Still holding the baby, he pushed himself into his mother in a warm gesture, and she hugged him. “I’ll be swift, Ma. I’ll return by morning, I promise! If Pa wakes up, tell him rescue is on the way!”
And with that, Abbo pushed the door open and charged out into the snow.
Prompt: Two winters have passed, and no, spring will not come.
One thought on “Prompt — A Broken Promise”
This seems like such a hopeful start to a heroic tale, until you reread the title.
Now instead I see this as the tragic backstory of a woman who lost everything.
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