Gabrielle caught a glimpse of movement down between the rocks ahead, crouched behind a tree and nocked an arrow. From behind the boulder, a massive grizzly bear lumbered out. It growled and lifted its snout, sniffing at the air. She drew the bow, took aim and let the arrow fly. The words Critical Hit flashed on her screen. The bear turned and charged. Gabrielle drew another arrow, fired it off, then fired again. The grizzly knocked her to the ground and towered over her, roaring in her ears. She smashed the button on her controller as hard as she could, willing the game to feel her desperation. The image of the bear froze. Gabrielle’s screen went blank and she swore. The green light of her video game console went dark.

She tossed her controller to the edge of the bed and pulled off her headset, immediately beset by the howling wind outside her window. Gabrielle groaned as she stretched her crossed legs, her feet tingling as she set them down on the cold wooden floor. In the darkness of the room, she tip-toed to the door and flicked the light switch. Nothing. She crossed the floor, past her bed and over to the window. She pulled the curtain back and looked outside. The lights of town were gone, leaving only the falling flakes of snow to reflect the dim glow of the moon. The snow had already piled up a foot deep on the front porch. She let the curtain fall and left her room.

“My girl?” Esa called in the dark. From the inky black of the kitchen, a tiny flame sprang to life. Gabrielle caught sight of her mother’s warm smile with the fire shining in her eyes. “Come, sit with me.” Esa stared into the flickering flame of the candle as she spoke.

“There was a story my father would tell us through the long winter nights. We would sit around the fire and he would tell us of the trickster who brought the flame. Of all things the Creator gave us, it was fire that the trickster loved most. It was a symbol of hope for all people. But it is also dangerous! If you aren’t careful with it, if you do not respect it, it will burn everything down.”

Footsteps crunched in the snow outside. The front door creaked open and the howling wind lashed at the little flame. Gabrielle’s father stomped through the door, the last light of the moon shining on his pale skin.

“Did you grab something for supper?” Esa asked. There was a crinkling of plastic. Jack stumbled around the living room, swearing as he bumped into the coffee table.

“Store was closed,” Jack said as he settled on the couch. He found a bottle, twisted off the cap, and threw it on the battered table. “I got chips.”

“You were gone seven hours,” Esa sneered. She was tapping a match book on the kitchen table. Esa sniffed and Gabrielle noticed her lip curl. “You reek of booze! You had time to stop at Ricky’s, but you couldn’t grab food? You told me you would take care of it!”

“Power won’t be out for long,” Jack said, taking a sip. He put down the bottle as he stood up and walked to the front window, peering outside. “Why don’t you just tell one of your old stories.” He flicked a lighter and brought the flame to his face. He had a glass pipe held to his lips.

“What did I tell you about bringing that shit into the house,” Esa demanded as she rose from the kitchen table. Jack coughed acrid smoke and broke into ragged laughter as he staggered towards the coffee table. Gabrielle noticed a spot of blood on his sleeve as he took a swig from the bottle and cleared his throat.

“It’s been a rough night,” Jack said as he looked back towards the window.

Esa grabbed the candle in one hand, Gabrielle’s shoulder in the other and guided her towards Gabrielle’s bedroom.

“Try and get some sleep. If the power is still out tomorrow, we will go to Auntie Yvette’s,” Esa said as she untangled Gabrielle’s blankets. “Might as well keep your hoodie on, it’s going to get cold tonight.” Esa tucked Gabrielle in. “Goodnight my sweet girl,” she whispered before kissing her on the forehead. The door clicked as it closed it behind her.

Gabrielle heard the muffled voices of her parents arguing. She reached for her headphones and cranked up the music on her phone. She pulled up her hood and curled under the layers of thin blankets. The rhythmic drums mixed with the electronic beats that punctuated the traditional singing. Glass smashed in the living room, and her parents’ yelling grew louder. Gabrielle turned the music up until all she could hear was the beating of the drums.

~~~

Gabrielle woke to a chill crawling down her spine. She curled tighter against the cold but could not hide from it, no matter how small she made herself. She checked her phone, trying to forget the dread she felt. The screen was blank. She ripped off the headphones and tossed the useless phone to the foot of the bed. Gabrielle swung her feet out from under the blankets but recoiled at the touch of the cold floor. She went to the window first and looked outside. Only the top corner of the front door was visible beneath the pile of white snow. There was nothing else to be seen.

Gabrielle tiptoed back to the bedroom door and pressed her ear against the wood. She didn’t hear much above her own growling stomach. The door squeaked as she pushed it open. She stepped carefully into the dark living room, not trusting her memory. Jack would litter bottles on the floor and sometimes leave a chair in the wrong place. She smelled the moonshine and the smoke but couldn’t hear or see anything. She crossed into the kitchen, feeling the change from wood to vinyl on her bare feet.

“Why are you creeping around in the dark, little pup?” Jack said. Gabrielle jumped. Her dad was sitting by the window, a thin line of moonlight coming through the curtain and reflecting on steel in his hand. He slipped the pistol into his pocket.

“I’m hungry,” Gabrielle answered.

Her dad slurped from a bottle. There was a lot of crinkling as he tossed a scrunched-up bag into the kitchen. It landed on the floor.

“I thought mom asked you to grab food,” Gabrielle grumbled.

“Don’t you fucking start with me too!” Jack spat back and started packing his pipe.

Gabrielle stared in the direction of the front door. She could grab her coat and boots and leave, easy as that. The wind picked up at that moment, rattling the windows. She felt the chill deep in her bones and dropped to her knees. She fumbled in the dark until her hands brushed the bag of chips. She couldn’t leave her mom behind.

“You want to know where I was tonight?” Jack asked in a whisper. Gabrielle shivered as she stumbled towards her parent’s room, gripping the bag of chips to her chest. She pushed the door open slowly, not wanting to wake her mother. Gabrielle heard her mom’s breathing, closed the door behind her and locked it. She exhaled slowly, realizing that she had been holding her breath. She snuck into bed, burrowed under the covers and curled up tight against her mother. Gabrielle’s breathing slowed as the warmth permeated her skin and sunk into her bones. She lay there a long time hoping that her father wouldn’t come into the room.

~~~

Gabrielle woke to screaming. Her parents were arguing again. She reached blindly for her phone before realizing she was in the wrong room. The cold gnawed at her exposed skin and her breath smoked as she exhaled. Orange tendrils of light from the wood stove danced on the open door. She wrapped herself up in a blanket, tip toed towards the open door and peered into the living room.

Jack was hunched in front of the open mouth of the charred stove, feeding familiar squares of birch bark to the flames. Esa stood over the coffee table littered with bottles, her hands clenched.

“My grandmother made those,” Esa said in a quiet and even tone as she pointed at the licking flames.

“We’re cold. It’s wood. It burns.” Jack stood up from the stove and his shadow stretched across the room. Swaying, he brought a bottle to his lips. The moonshine spilled out the sides of his mouth and soaked his stained shirt.

“What about all this paper laying around?” Esa grabbed a handful of wrinkled five dollar bills off the table and waved it in his face. “You’re just smoking it all away anyway. Or use some of that piss you’re drinking. I’m sure you could light the fire off your breath!” She threw the money back down on the table. Jack stared through her with glassy eyes.

“Do you think its easy, doing what I do?” He took a staggering step forward. “There’s only one law out there. The strong take what they want.” He guzzled from the bottle. “The rest, suffer.”

“Taking from your family makes you strong?” Esa replied.

“I protect you!” Jack yelled. His bitter laughter filled the long silence. “I give you a house…tv, and money and all you want to do is keep clutching at worthless scraps of bark,” Jack said. Gabrielle shifted her weight and the floorboards creaked. Her parents turned to look.

“My girl, I’m sorry did we wake you?” Esa asked as Gabrielle stepped further into the room.

“Come closer. I got a fire going. You should warm up.” Jack said, holding out a bottle towards his daughter.

Esa grabbed Gabrielle and brought her in close against her chest. Jack sneered.

“You better find some more shit to burn. If this fire goes out, this little pup is going to freeze!” Jack said jerking a thumb at the fire.

“You can burn for all I care! We are going to Auntie’s place.” Esa stood up straighter as she spoke, pushing Gabrielle behind her. Jack barked a laughed.

“You’re not going anywhere. You don’t know what’s out there,” Jack pointed to the front door. “If you leave me, you’re as good as dead.”

“Better than dying in here with you.” Esa spat as she turned on her heel. She marched to the front door, and wrenching the handle, threw her shoulder into it. The door opened a sliver but the howling wind blew in snow from the blizzard. It blew bottles over, spilling moonshine, money and little plastic bags off the table. Her father was yelling as he stepped towards Esa, casting a shadow of a clawed hand that reached towards her. Jack hit her with his fist, knocking her to the floor. He slammed the door shut.

“You want to know where I was tonight? You want to know what I do to keep you safe?” Jack stood towering over Esa. “I was with Ricky and the other Mad Dogs. We decided tonight was the night. We hit the fucking Dead Rabbits. I killed em.” Jack pulled out his pistol and mimed firing the gun once, twice, then three times. “I took care of them before they came after us. Ricky let one get away, so I came home to make sure he didn’t come here and hurt you and the pup.” He said as he pointed the gun at Esa then at Gabrielle. “See what I mean E? Everything I do to keep you safe and you try to leave.” Jack said as he lifted the bottle to his lips.

Esa sprang up from the floor, smacking the bottle into Jack’s face before grabbing for the gun. The gun went off and Esa grit her teeth in pain. Liquor spilled all over Jack. He dropped the bottle and grabbed Esa by the throat with his free hand. She slapped at his arms as he started to squeeze, pushing her down. Her eyes begin to bulge in the flickering light. A moment before they rolled into the back of her head, she saw Gabrielle sneaking up behind her father. She hit him in the back of the knees with a burning stick she had taken from the wood stove. As Jack’s legs buckled, he let go of Esa, and turned to face his daughter. Gabrielle hit him again, this time swinging for his face. As the flaming end of the stick connected, his shirt flared up from the spilled moonshine. He dropped the gun and brought his hands up to shield his face from the flames.

“I did not want your protection.” Esa said as she rose up behind him, her face shrouded in shadow. “I wanted your respect.” With a hollow thud she brought an empty bottle down over his head. Jack crumbled in a heap. The flames that clung to his shirt leapt to the moonshine spilled on the table and floor. Esa dropped the bottle and opened the door again, straining against the unyielding wall of snow. The first breath of wind guttered the flames for a moment. The next breath fanned the flames spreading them quickly across the floor.

“Gabrielle, help me dig our way out!” Esa yelled. They filled their bare hands with snow and threw it onto the fire. The flames popped and continued to grow. With another determined push, Esa managed to open the door a little more. “Gabrielle, can you squeeze through?”

As smoke began to thicken inside the house, Esa pushed Gabrielle through the narrow gap. Esa coughed and collapsed, choking on smoke as Gabrielle dragged herself out into the frigid night.

“Keep going my girl, I’ll be fine,” Esa wheezed as she slumped to the floor.

Fingers and bare feet burning from the cold, Gabrielle dug through the snow until all she felt was the knot tightening in her stomach. With numb hands she gripped the edge of the door and pulled with all her remaining strength.

“Mom, I need you to help me!” Gabrielle screamed. Esa dragged herself up the door and threw her weight against it. The door didn’t budge. Esa growled as she took a staggering step back. She lunged forward, slamming into the door again. The impact shook Gabrielle’s grip loose. They went tumbling out into the snow. Gabrielle saw Esa wince as she pushed herself up. Her mother pulled her along as she crawled away from the open door, now filled with hungry flames reaching towards them. Esa did not make it very far before collapsing to her knees. The tears freezing on her cheeks shined with the soft light of the moon as it peaked through the clouds above. Gabrielle traced a line of red from the house leading to Esa’s blood-soaked shirt. She knelt beside her mother.

“Remember the stories, mom? When the old forests get overgrown, the fire comes and cleans it all up,” Gabrielle said as they watched the flames consume the rotten wood of the house. Glowing embers sailed up against the falling snow. “It gives new life a chance.”

From behind them a cone of white light swept across the unbroken fields of snow to land on them. A man wrapped in thick furs and wielding a flashlight trudged towards them on snowshoes. From a pack on his back he brought out a blanket and draped it over Gabrielle’s shoulders before offering his gloved hand and lifting her from the snow. Two other men similarly dressed in furs walked up and offered the same to Esa.

The man with the flashlight led them all to a nearby home, warm yellow light emanating from the windows. He whispered to Gabrielle. “No need to worry now.”