The Warblers is now available as an audio book! Narrated by the legendary Chet Williamson, my coming-of-age tale (with monsters!) can now accompany you during your drive to work, walking the dog, or wherever else you listen to audio books!
To celebrate, I’ve written a new vignette from Dell’s perspective. Enjoy!
Winter is a dead season. That’s what Ma always says, and I tend to agree with her. Now, I know there are them what favor this awful cold and misery, but I reckon none of ‘em have ever lived on a farm.
The first days are gifts. Waking up to the sunlight streaming through your windows is heaven compared to the sound of Pa’s heavy boots on the stairs while daylight stays off in the distance. But it ain’t long before boredom sets in, creeping up through the floorboards like rainwater in a flood.
That year was particularly tiresome, on account of our chickens all dying off and Pa selling our last cow to the Ellerys. What little work could be done to care for those creatures was stolen from me while the world slumbered under its shroud of white.
The shoveling had to be tended to, of course. Pa and I shared an unspoken arrangement regarding how much we’d dig out. The area between the front porch and the barn was usually required, though our barn stood empty just now. Then there was the front porch, the stairs down to the earth, and a little patch for Mabel to play in. We’d finish up out back, clearing the way to the shed and then the coop before coming in, tired and cold and soaked with freezing sweat and clods of snow clinging to us, the winter settled so deep in our bones it would take sometimes three or even four bowls full of Ma’s soup to pry it free again.
We’d dress in our warmest vestments, all heavy wool and thick padding. Then we’d make our way out to the shed to fetch the shovels. That was always my favorite part of the chore. I’d tuck my winter denims into my boots and wrap my legs up in old scarves leftover from previous winters. Then I’d make my way down the steps, walking like I had gone bow-legged. If it was after a big snow, the going was slower. One time, the drifts were up past my chest. That winter, we had to fight with the weather itself just to get our doors open to the outside.
This winter was milder, but not by so much as to reduce the difficulty of my trek to the shed. As soon as I stepped foot off the porch, the deep snow grabbed it and pulled it down, swallowing the bright scarves beneath the whiteness, as if they’d never been. Mabel followed me as far as the back-porch before climbing up on the stool Pa had built for her and watching me out the window. She wore a black wool dress like Ma’s, only in miniature. The both of them together looking as though they were bound for a for a funeral, yet another reminder of death’s place in our lives.
The snow didn’t stop none till it was up past my kneecaps. It was a struggle to take big, lumbering steps but it was a struggle I found fun in. Mabel’s laughter might’ve aided in that, I did so love to hear the pleasant sounds of her giggle. I might also have exaggerated my walk some, taking extra big steps just to delight her. I was enjoying the bright morning, dreaming of hot porridge and warming myself by the potbellied stove all the while, until I saw something sticking straight up out of the snow.
I stood stalk still, trying to figure out what it may have been. It was long and white, and it cast a dark shadow, meaning it wasn’t snow or ice. I trudged out toward it, my silly walk for Mabel all but forgotten. A fact she made note of and cried out to me to adjust, but I was focused on that mysterious object out in the snow, not far from the doors of the back shed.
When I got close enough, I reached out my wool mittened fingers and touched it. My hand knocked free what snow had accumulated, revealing to me the object what had drawn my attention. It was a bone, stuck in the snow as free as you please. It was a fresh one, too, clean and white and twice again as long as my hand, with a big knob end sticking out from it.
I picked it up, feeling its heft. The weight of it surprised me, given how clean and gleaming white it was. Usually bones what come clean that way do so by cause of age; they’ve dried out and all the liveliness in the marrow has gone rotted away. Not this one. As I puzzled over it, my eyes wandered the area where it had been. It was then I came to notice something else. A mound of deep brown and dark red, sunk deep into the snow a few feet away. I knew well what that was, and just as well not to go near to it. Scat. Warbler scat.
The look on Pa’s face when I told him what I’d found, and showed him the bone for good measure, told me nothing of what I needed to know. His brows knit together and his frown plunged toward his work boots.
“Dell,” he said, “we might’ve got trouble.”
Winter was a dead season, and outside our dear home now dwelt harbingers of death.