Two weeks and four days into March, they wait. The light from the fire does not stretch far, but it is sufficient to cover everyone that lives in their small town if they huddle close. It gets less warm with every passing moon, but the luminescence stays strong, and it almost blinds them to the eyes that watch them from the dark. It is all that they have until Winter gets what it wants.
There are only a few days left before their calendars will tell them the start of Spring has arrived, but no one wants to be the first to sate the frost’s hunger. So, they sit around the fire, and talk, and share hollow laughter, and wait crooked minutes on crooked hours on crooked days. Someone is bound to work a little too late to notice the dipping of the sun soon.
They all inch a tiny bit closer to the flame. They pretend they do not see the others do the same.
. . . . . . . . . .
It is her in the end, she realizes. It is her, in a barn, getting lost in her head and only finding her way out when she feels the cool sting of breath on the back of her neck. They will be sad to forget her name, but not enough to wish it was theirs fading from the others’ lips instead. Terror blooms from within at the sight of the setting sun, and it is only the resulting flood of adrenaline that allows her to light a nearby oil lamp before the darkness engulfs her; the lamp bites with cold at the touch, even after the flame begins to flicker, and she grasps onto the handle so hard her knuckles go white.
She stumbles backward as she feels the weight of eyes that never blink. Her back never touches a wall. She shivers, then walks toward where she knows the others are. They could all walk the long path blind.
She walks, and she walks, and she walks. It is a straight line, yet she passes flora she knows she has already seen again, and again, and again. Her heart pounds faster every time she sees it. She convinces herself that she’s wrong, for a while. It lasts until she feels the exhaustion creeping up her legs.
She will find the fire before the last drop of oil lights up and the chill claims her. She will.