I am super excited to have my short story “A Visit from Hestia” published by Quail Bell Magazine. Thank you, editors Christine Stoddard and Gretchen Gales.
A Visit from Hestia
Winter felt as if it had come early this year. It was only the first week of November and already the cold air was creeping down from the nearby mountains. Overnight it swept across the forests and fields, wrapping everything in a heavy sugary white frost. Outside, the vegetation shriveled and froze, transforming into glass-like statues of twisted vines and berries. Inside the tiny house, Mary and Beth awoke to see their breath hovering overhead in a chilly mist. They quickly pulled the thin flannel plaid blanket up over their heads and huddled even closer, trying to keep warm. Since it was only November, no one thought of starting a fire in the woodstove the night before. It was going to be a long winter, if they even made it through at all.
Mary was ten years old, and Beth was eight. They lived alone in that tiny house with their mother. Their mother had to work two jobs just to make ends meet. Their mother hated to leave her daughters alone at such a young age, but she did not have any other choice. There were not many jobs available for women in that area, and she had to take what she could find. Their father was killed in a tragic work accident a year ago, so their mother had to support the family by herself.
They loved where they lived. The countryside was beautiful, with its rolling hills, and the towering mountains of deep blue-gray seemed to reach up to touch the sky, piercing the fluffy white clouds. Lush grasslands surrounded their little house, and the girls would run and play there every day. But in general, it was a hard life.
They had a small garden along the side of the house, and in the summer they ate well. The garden brimmed with fat potatoes, juicy carrots, cabbage, string beans, and plump red tomatoes. Their mother would make hearty stews and casseroles on the trusty wood stove. In late summer, mom canned whatever they had left for the winter months. Placing the colorful jars of vegetables in the wood-framed, screen-front canning cabinet. Their mother was a deft canner and they never had any jars explode, but the cabinet was a safety precaution. They had one chicken for eggs, and the girls treated her as a pet. Beth named her Henrietta thinking she was quite clever incorporating the ‘Hen’ into her name. They would bring Henrietta inside at night when it was very cold. The girls built a small wooden roost filled with straw for her near the woodstove, so that she could stay warm along with them.
One night, while their mother had to work late, the fire in the small stove went out. Mary went outside into the cold night to get some more wood from the woodpile. The wind was whistling all around her and she felt as if she was going to freeze to death right then and there. Her fingers were so cold, she could barely move them. When she got around to the side of the house, she noticed that there was no wood left at all. Mary stood there dazed for a moment, staring at the bare patch of ground where the woodpile would have been. Then scooping up Henrietta, she ran back inside as fast as she could. Without a fire in the stove, the tiny house began to grow dark inside, and the cold was becoming unbearable. Mary and Beth huddled together, wrapping their bed-blanket around themselves to stay warm. They decided to tell each other stories to keep their minds occupied so they would not fall asleep. The house looked spooky in the dim light. Strange shapes seemed to lurk in every shadow and corner. They became frightened.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Mary jumped up with a start. She knew she shouldn’t open the door without knowing who it was, so she peeked out the small front window. The glass was so frosted over that it was difficult to make out who was standing outside. The figure was small, so she assumed it was a woman. She cautiously opened the door just a crack. Mary jumped back and gasped. Standing there was a beautiful woman with flowing red hair, in a glowing crimson dress and long cape. The woman smiled broadly then slowly entered the house. Mary and Beth instantly felt warm. The woman announced “Good evening, Mary and Beth, my name is Hestia. I was walking alone outside and started to feel cold. I was wondering if I could stop in for just one minute to warm myself before continuing on my journey.” They girls were dumbfounded, and wondered how on earth this strange woman knew their names. Being taught to always be generous to those in need, Mary stepped forward and said “Yes, please sit down and rest, but our fire is dying and I am afraid that it is not very warm in here. Can I offer you a cup of water or something to refresh yourself?” Hestia smiled again, and the room filled with light. She walked over to touched the cold stove and immediately, a fire began to burn brightly. She warmed her hands over the glowing metal box, then turned to the girls. “That was very kind of you to let me in. I need to be on my way now. There may be others that need my help on this freezing night.” She lovingly touched each girl on the shoulder and they were filled with a feeling of happiness and warmth.
Two hours later, their mother came home from work. She was shivering from walking in the freezing temperatures. When she stepped inside, she was astounded at how warm and bright their little house was. Excitedly, Mary and Beth ran up to her, both jabbering a mile a minute. After telling their mother everything that happened, they all sat down to a nice hot bowl of soup before getting ready for bed.
At first, their mother chuckled to herself, and dismissed the girls’ fanciful story. But then, she began to believe. The fire in the woodstove continued to burn brightly throughout the entire winter, never going out.
* Hestia, in Greek Mythology, goddess of the hearth, daughter of Cronus and Rhea, and one of the 12 Olympian deities.