The challenge: write a story inspired by the photo below, provided by Emilio Pasquale. If you didn’t read our first team-up, click here to read it! And, if you haven’t checked out his photography site yet, you really should 🙂
Marianne Sutter stoked the fire with a long broken branch she’d foraged in the woods surrounding camp. The logs, moistened by last night’s rain, had been slow to burn, but finally rewarded her with meager warmth stifled by billowing smoke. One of the few women in camp, she kept to herself.
“Well, well, Ms. Sutter. How ‘about you warm yerself by my fire?” The man gave an exaggerated wink.
“No thank you, Mr. Muehlling.” Her revulsion at his advances culminated in a deep shiver that she hoped had been concealed by her wool overcoat.
“If you change yer mind…” He nodded toward his tent.
Marianne’s husband, Cortland, had led her to this God-forsaken land four months ago. Enticed by adventure and gold, he moved them west. When he first shared his plan to leave Virginia, she insisted he take her with him. She’d thought being alone at home would be much worse than being with him on the frontier. How wrong she was. California turned out to be a fickle host. Although Cortland had found a small amount of gold, months later, he succumbed to fever, leaving Marianne to fend for herself.
Marianne’s eyelids grew heavy as her fire dwindled to pulsing orange coals. In the periphery, she caught sight of a movement to her left. She leaned forward and squinted, branch clenched tightly in her hands.
“Who’s there?” She asked in a hoarse whisper so she wouldn’t disturb the panners who’d already retired for the night. The bushes rustled and Marianne raised the stick over her head.
A young child stepped into the clearing.
She gasped and relaxed her arms. “How old are you?”
“Where are your parents?”
The matter-of-fact tone caught Marianne off-guard. “What’s your name?”
Marianne leaned forward so her eyes were at the girl’s level. “Carrie, can you take me to your family?”
They walked a circuitous route in between tents before Carrie stopped and pointed. Marianne moved forward and saw two rigid men in sleeping bags beneath a make-shift tent.
“They been sick,” Carrie said. “Daddy and my uncle.”
A breeze slid through the campsite, flapping canvas and fanning the stench of death. Marianne leaned against a battered supply wagon and heaved, supper barely missing her boots. Shaky and weak, she grabbed a wool blanket. She kneeled down and said a prayer for their souls’ safe-keeping and covered the men.
Marianne smoothed her skirts and took the girl’s hand. “You can stay with me.”