Just outside the door, Rose pulled her cloak tighter. A few inches of snow covered everything past her porch overhang, still smooth and unsullied at this hour. It was hardly enough to keep her from opening the bakery, yet she hesitated anyway. The snow was still falling in fat, fluffy flakes. If it kept up like this, they’d have a foot or more by nightfall. In reality, that wasn’t the reason she didn’t want to go.
Last night, she tossed and turned for over an hour, wondering what that man’s name was, and if he’d be one of the ones that survived the Pit for longer than a week. Despite what she said to him, it was too late. She would already be upset if he didn’t come back, even without knowing his name. All because he overpaid for strudel. Which was stupid. Money wasn’t that big a deal. Brennan was full of people who took care of each other (sometimes, this was less than obvious, but it was always true). If she fell on hard times for some reason, she’d be taken care of, and so would Kent and Ada.
She rubbed her fuzzy mittens on her cheeks and sighed. Standing out here in the cold was dumb. Either she was going to open the bakery, or she was going back inside. Glancing back, she shook her head and plunged into the snow. What kind of a coward would deprive the entire village of bread just because she didn’t want to deal with one man who might die today? Not her kind.
Inside the chilly shop, she kicked her boots off and stepped into slippers carried here in her pockets while hanging her cloak on a hook. She bent to the task of building up the fires, only to find the coals were all cold and dead. Thinking back, she’d forgotten to check and bank them last night. That meant she had to add the annoying chore of starting a new fire to her morning. Worse, the shelf where she kept the starter cones was empty, but she didn’t remember using the last one.
A harsh wind made the building shudder and a frigid blast of air came in through the chimney. It was supposed to be baffled enough to prevent that while still letting the smoke out. Shivering, Rose scrambled to find anything she could use as kindling, but came up empty-handed. The best she could come up with was a dusty old bottle of what smelled like spirits she’d never seen before. Dousing the coals might make them catch better, or it might just make them wet.
Another gust of arctic air pushed into the kitchen, not only blowing ut her candle, but also making the decision easier to make. Either this alcohol would start a fire or she was going back home. Today was going to be full of this type of decision, apparently. She carried the bottle over and took a deep breath, then dumped some of the amber liquid onto the hearth. It splashed and filled her nose acrid fumes strong enough to make her wrinkle it in distaste.
Next, with her candle blown out, she had to find the stupid sparker. It wasn’t a fantastical contraption, just a set of tongs with a coil and a piece of flint on one side, a piece of steel on the other. In theory, squeezing it scraped one across the other and made a spark. Kent had a deft hand with the one they kept at home, but she always seemed to do it wrong. He told her she was too gentle with it. ‘Squeeze it firmly and sharply’, that’s what he always said. Her hands were strong from kneading dough every day, yet she couldn’t manage to get it right the first ten or fifty or hundred times.
It wasn’t on the shelf where it belonged, it wasn’t in any of her drawers, it wasn’t with the oil or the fruit or the bowls. She was just pulling apart a cabinet full of odds and ends when a harsh crack startled her, then a loud crash shook the kitchen. It came from outside someplace and sounded like something heavy hitting something solid. Like a tree into a building. Another of those harsh cracks rang out and she grabbed the cabinet door just as another crash shook the stone under her feet, this one much closer.
Snow poured down onto her from above as the wood roof – never intended to do more than retain heat and protect the inside from snow – buckled and collapsed all around her under the weight of a fallen tree. She couldn’t imagine where the tree came from since the space around the building was cleared, but the huge log fell in anyway. Debris rained down all around her while she curled up and tried to protect herself with her arms and a rolling pin. Some of it hit her and she felt a sharp, stab in her leg.
It was so cold. The snow melted on her skin and dress, leaving her soaked and shivering. Weight pressed down on her, probably bits of the roof, and she couldn’t reach her leg to try to do anything about the pain. It wasn’t really that bad, at least, just distracting and making her hyperventilate and panic. Other than that, she was fine. Distantly, she heard shouting, but couldn’t make out the words. The noise must have woken people up, and any minute now, someone would find her and help her out of this. Unless no one realized she was here.
“Is anyone there?” Her voice surprised her with how feeble it was – barely above a whisper. How would anyone hear her over the roar of the wind? She pushed at the wood, trying to free herself. It shifted and something heavier thumped onto her, making her groan. No way was she getting out of this herself. “Help!” It was still thin and thready. She coughed and tried again, this time with a little more behind it, and kept calling out even as she felt numbness creeping over her.