As she neared the clearing, the crunching sound of her feet on the snow was drowned out by an odd noise weaving through the trees. She stopped for a moment to identify and locate the sound.
Digging. Yes, she was sure of it. Someone was digging and the sound was coming from her right. She changed her direction and dashed off again.
Soon she came upon a wall of scrub oak. Bare of leaves for the winter, the thick, tangled branches still formed a barrier. She peeked over and saw Higson. His back to her, he was unaware of her presence as he dug, sending wet snow and frozen dirt flying behind him. Beside him, lying motionless on the snow, were two bodies. Though they were wrapped in tattered and charred blankets, she knew instinctively who they were.
Carling worked her way back to the clearing to find their home, which was now a smoldering pile of timbers. Images of her own home from several months before filled her mind and a great guttural moan left her throat. But she didn’t have time to mourn right now. She pushed the pain back into its special hiding place in her heart and carried on.
She ran behind the house to find the toolshed, which was untouched by the flames that consumed the cottage. The door was ajar and Carling went into the dark, little structure. Between the axes and sickles she found a shovel. With her frozen hands, she grabbed hold of the shovel’s wooden handle, pulled the tool from the pile, and dashed back out the door.
She entered the makeshift cemetery without saying a word. Something about the setting and the situation was too sacred to disrupt with speech. A moment later, she stood beside Higson and began digging.
The ground beneath the snow was frozen and the work was much harder than she would have imagined had she thought that far, which she hadn’t. She used all her weight, little as it was, to jump on the shovel and peel bits of dirt out of the hole Higson had started. They worked in silence, lost in their own sorrow.
By the time the hole was big enough to hold both of Higson’s parents’ bodies, the sun was setting and the temperature in the woods was bitterly cold. Carling didn’t notice, so concerned was she about Higson. Reverently, Higson set his mother’s and father’s bodies side by side in the grave.
Just as the last shovelful of dirt dropped with a dull thud on the mound, Higson fell to his knees. He began sobbing, his shoulders shaking violently. Carling stood behind him, not wanting to interfere with his grieving but wishing she could do something to soothe his pain?a pain she knew so well.
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