Part Three: The Flashback
15-year-old Anna turned the spit, rotating the chicken over the open fire. Being a rare treat, her mother had instructed her to rotate it promptly every five minutes so it wouldn't burn. It was almost done now, perhaps an hour, or even less before it was finished. Satisfied in that, she continued the other task she had been given, which was to chop the potatoes that would go with them. Finishing the last potato, she picked up all the cubes and dumped them into the pot that hung below the spit.
She wiped the starch from her hands to the apron she wore over the petticoat her parents insisted she wear during the day. Anna stepped from the room to find her mother. Eventually, she found her mother out on the front steps, speaking in hushed tones with a man she hadn't seen before. Anna lingered in the doorway. She didn't want to interrupt. Curious on what they were discussion, she hid behind the post and listened intently.
"Rela, I'm telling you. You haven't any idea how bad it's going to get. If you value your family, you'll leave."
The man's face had urgency written on it. He held his hat in one hand, almost crumpling it with his nervous grip. The other hand held the reins to his horse, packed with saddle bags and equipment. Anna watched as her mother hesitated a moment. She set her lips and spoke in the familiar lilt Anna had failed to inherit. "There's not anything going on here, Dreas. Thank you, but we'll stay right here." In a calmer voice, she added, "We can't move. Everything is here. Besides, if we're infected, we could spread it. It could already be spreading, all that moving would do would add to the panic. We'll wait it out."
Sadness filled the man's eyes as he mounted his horse. "I'm sorry then. You don't know. The sickness isn't something you 'wait out' fifteen have already died from it, I'm told that fifty more are ill, just in Hearken. And this sickness is slow, painful. Only the weak—the lucky—die early, all else take months to fall."
"Dreas, the sickness will pass, like the others did."
He shook his head, tears filling his eyes. "No. No, it won't. It's going to get worse; it's going to kill everyone. Everyone, Rela." He stared silently into her, then kicked the horse and rode down the road. Anna's mother slowly raised a hand to her throat and pursed her lips. As she began to turn towards the door, Anna scampered away back to the kitchen. She grabbed a spoon and stirred the boiling pot that held potatoes. She stared into the froth of the water, nausea climbing her throat as she thought about the conversation.
Are we going to die? Is the sickness bad? Why hadn't anybody mentioned the sickness? What is going on?
"They looking good, Anna?" Her mother's voice startled her, causing her to splash an entire spoonful of the boiling water onto her arm. She cried out in pain, immediately dropping the spoon and grabbing her arm.
"Anna!" Her mother pulled a cloth from her apron and pressed it against her injured skin. "Are you okay dear?"
Tears fell in a mixture of pain and fear. Anna shook her head and lifted her blue eyes to meet her mother's green.
"Mamma, are we going to die?"
I'm pulled suddenly back to the present after thinking back so many years ago. I realize quickly that I hadn't answered Sophia's question.
"I'm," I clear my throat again. "I'm up here because it's my only option."
Sophia nods, and rises. The cloth she had removed from my head has blood in it.