TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The cold wind battered the fortune teller’s wagon, threatening an early frost. The girls climbed down, simultaneously giggling and shivering about the message the old witch had delivered. As their feet pushed through the red and orange leaves, a shadow emerged from the gnarled maple trees. A bent man in tattered layers stepped in front of the girls, leaned over, and put his crooked finger to his lips…
(Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.)
It’s never this cold, Ada thought as she wrapped the cloak her mother had given her around her little sister’s body.
The wind whipped loudly through the skeletons of the cypress trees, and bit at her and Delia as they rode slowly along the highway in the back of Madame Bianca’s cart, its canvas top serving as their only shelter from the bitter cold and wind. Delia was shivering violently on the cart’s floor despite the piles of wool that covered her.
“Where are we going?” she groaned.
“South,” Ada replied. It was the only answer she had been given.
It seemed like decades had passed since Madame Bianca’s soft knocks had sounded upon their front door.
“I don’t want that old witch of a fortune teller in my house,” her father would say whenever Madame Bianca came by. “I don’t want to share my evening meals with a court of Beelzebubs.”
Of course, Papa Emiliano hadn’t said that in a long time – not since his death the winter before. They had found his body thin and emaciated at the bottom of a ravine once the snows had thawed.
“Are you sure this is the only way?” their mother asked as she opened the door. Her face was pale and frightened.
“Yes,” Madame Bianca replied solemnly as she stepped inside. “The stars have told me. This will be a bad winter like the one before, and he comes here tonight. Your daughters mustn’t be around when he does.”
The way she had said “he” sent shivers down Ada’s spine.
Madame Bianca turned to her and crouched down until she was at eye level. “We’re going to go south – you, your sister, and I,” she said.
Delia looked up from where she sat at the table and asked, “Why?”
“By the heavens above,” Madame said as she stood up, “I hope you will never know.”
That had been nearly a month ago – before the terrible cold had struck.
“Listen to me, girl,” Madame Bianca shouted over the wind from the steerer’s perch at the front of the cart. “I thought we would beat it, but it looks like I was wrong. These last few winters have not been normal. I won’t burden your young mind with the horrible details, but you must know how to handle yourself. Tell your sister, too.”
Ada nodded her head and shoved Delia’s shoulder. The girl woke up and rubbed her eyes.
“If you see anyone, anyone along the side of the road, especially an old man in tattered clothes, you tell me. Do you understand?”
“Why?” Ada asked.
“Never mind why!” Madame shouted. “Just follow my words, girl.”
A day later, the cart listed to one side, and fell with a crash on the side of the road. Ada and Delia both peeked out from underneath the canvas cover and stared at the damaged wheel, which had been reduced to shambles by the impact of a large rock.
“Damn the saints!” Madame swore as she climbed down and assessed the damage.
A huge gust of wind and snow collided against the cart and made the canvas flap violently. Ada thought it sounded strange, but she didn’t know why. A smile shone across Delia’s face, and she suddenly shot wide awake and climbed out of the cart.
“It’s papa!” Delia said once Ada had followed her outside.
“What is?” Ada asked.
Ada didn’t hear anything, and she squinted her eyes to peer through the gusts of snow. She could barely see the corner of the cart where Madame Bianca was working on fixing the wheel.
“I’m coming, daddy!” Delia yelled and started running down off the road.
“Wait!” Ada called after her before she disappeared from sight. She thought about shouting to Madame, but knew that Delia would get a beating if the woman found out, so she took off down the hill after her sister.
As she ran, she watched Delia’s brown dress flit in and out of sight with each gust of wind. “Delia, wait!” she called.
The girl’s laughter was the only response she received.
Eventually, the strange sounding wind revealed itself to be a voice. “Ada!” her father called, just as he had done for years when it was time to come in out of the hills for dinner.
That’s impossible, she thought, but Delia’s dress was advancing further into the wind, and it was becoming harder and harder to keep track of.
She noticed a man up ahead. He was small at first, but seemed to grow in size as Ada got closer. It was her father. He was holding Delia in his arms, and she looked happy there. Ada ran faster than she had before, and tears of joy began streaming down her face.
She was almost upon them now, and he called to her again. The voice sounded wrong, and she was taken aback. She stopped suddenly in her tracks and felt her feet slipping. She fell backward, barely saving herself from falling head first into a deep ravine.
She hadn’t noticed it before, and her eyes shot up in front of her in shock. Her sister and father seemed to hover in the air above the ravine like a mirage. The terrible voice sounded again, and she realized it was not her father that held Delia, but a horrible old man wearing tattered shreds of cloth. His hair was matted and gray, and his eyes shone a bright yellow from their sockets. Delia was crying and struggling hysterically in his grip, but he seemed to carry her effortlessly. As quickly as Ada had noticed him, he and her sister were gone.