Author's Note: After a suggestion by a reviewer I've edited and reposted the Prologue. Basically switching around the Prologue and Chapter 1 so that one of the main characters is introduced first, prior to the backdrop of the story becoming known. Hopefully this will help with readability.
"I'm cold Jack. Can we put more wood on the …"
"No!" Jack regretted the tone as soon as she saw the young girl's bottom lip quiver. Backtracking and apologizing Jack told her little sister, "I'm sorry Lena, I shouldn't have yelled like that. The thing is I don't know how long this storm is going to last. There's snow coming down out there."
"Can I see?!"
Trying to hold in her irritation at having to explain things over and over she said, "No Lena. You know the rules. And every time we go in and out or move the blankets off the windows we let more cold into the house and we don't have enough wood to keep doing that. We need to … we need to be careful with what we have. I don't want to burn anything from here in the house because most of the stuff has chemicals in it that could make us sick."
The young girl tilted her head to the side and then asked, "Like the Donovans?"
Jack nodded and sighed. "Yeah, like the Donovans. We could choke on the fumes."
"And never wake up."
"And never wake up," Jack confirmed.
The young girl shook her head saying, "I don't want that to happen to us."
Jack shook her head wearily. "I don't either so that's why we need to save the wood we have and use it smart and careful. If you're cold why don't you crawl back in the tent and cover up."
"I get lonely in there."
"I need to think Lena and … and if I lay down I'm going to go to sleep and won't do the thinking I need to do."
Quietly the young girl asked, "Are you thinking about Momma and Daddy?"
Jack sighed. "Some. But …" Jack worried that Lena still hadn't grasped the full import of what had occurred and what it meant for them.
Quietly the young girl said, "I know they aren't coming back. I know they are in Heaven watching over us and all that. Just … just if we don't think about them at all we'll forget them. I … I …"
Jack reached up to the fireplace mantel, plucked down a picture and tossed it to Lena to hold. "Don't worry Squirt, I won't let you forget them."
"But if we have to leave …"
"We'll take what we can. That's what I'm trying to think about. Definitely take the pictures and stuff like that … and the important papers … and what food we have left … and lots of blankets, especially the quilts Mom made."
"And Daddy's stuff too?"
"Yeah, that too … especially some of that," Jack said referring to the guns and knives her father had collected and then had to hide from a bureaucracy that had attempted to confiscate what was his by right. "And even if for some reason we didn't have any of that you have me and I've got lots of stories and pictures in my head that I'll share with you. Now do what I asked please, get in the tent, cover up and get warm, and get some sleep. I'll be in as soon as I can."
"Okay Jack. Just don't leave without telling me like you did yesterday. It was scary not knowing where you were."
"Sorry Squirt. I didn't think I would be so long that you would wake up and I wouldn't be here. But I brought back food and wood didn't I?"
"Yes. Just … just don't do it again. You might not come back. Like Momma and Daddy."