Winter is among the bitter southern plantation house, biting the fingers and earlobes of the sole resident. She was not alone only five days ago, but now, the thirteen-year-old is left to mourn in silence.
The fireplace is empty. The grey and ash-ridden wind howls and arrives in gusts to dirty the creaking wood floors of the parlor. There are no embers left to blow around the tearoom, as the fire has been out for nearly a week and will not be lit again until Katherine's father comes home.
Outside, the trees cast shadows over the fresh graves (not that there was much sun for the leaves to block out, anyhow). One big, one small. One of the graves is only a pitiful three feet long, for Katherine's little brother. The first one to go. And the other one, it is taller than Katherine, and houses her mother.
Katherine dug both graves herself.
The Fever took her brother, and the cold took her mother. Though everything around her is falling apart, she knows she must hold on to what she can still grasp of her life until her father gets home. She knows her father's arrival will mark the beginning of spring, of the slightest bit of life returning to the earth, of a flower growing from her mother's grave, of the leaves casting shadows on her family instead of just making the ground colder around them.
She craved the day her father returned because she knew that with him, he brought spring. Even if he did not create it, it always seemed to follow him.
The warmest blanket in the house is no longer inside. It lays outside, keeping her mother warm while she rests under the ground. The earth is cold as ice, though the soil is without any sign of water. There is no life under the ground, that is a known fact, but Katherine could not swallow that fact. If she admitted the truth of it, she would lose the only hope that her mother and brother would come back.
She knew they wouldn't come back, truly, but she needed the sliver of hope it provided.
For now, she sits next to the empty fireplace, which is really not a fireplace at all, but rather, a vessel for the cold to invade. She sips tea- unsweetened, green, without any milk or honey or anything to bring it to life- and does not eat anything, as it hurt too much to swallow the tea that she could barely imagine the pain of swallowing food.
The back of her neck tickles, stabs, itches. Fire ants dance on her skin, and needles scrape it from the inside out. The pain is intense, but she refuses to look at herself in the mirror. She will not look at the thing that will soon take her life.
The red rash is the only thing on the property that was not a shade of grey.