The Winter

7 Jun

by Natalie Shelden
7th Grade

The nights were especially cold as fall was rapidly approaching. My family was on alert, trying to prepare for the cold winter months. Every morning at eight we would set out towards the rice terraces. If they didn’t survive the winter, my family had no chance of surviving either. We made our living off of our rice, and sometimes satisfied our growling stomachs with it as well. It was predicted to be the coldest winter in history. From eight a.m. until nine p.m. every day, we would be out on the terraces plowing over the old rice plants, bringing the warm soil to the top. After many weeks, we knew that it was too late. Winter had arrived and a little less than half of our acres of terraces were plowed over. It was then I had to make a choice.

Being the eldest of seven siblings, I knew that something had to be done. Risks must be taken. Adventures must be pursued. All this had to happen if my family was to survive. I spent that night pondering what I could do that had any value of promising my family food and warmth.

My best friend, who was also my neighbor, had left many months prior, so that she could escape the beatings of her parents. But I had little idea of where she could be. I missed her so much. My favorite conversations with her were the ones we used to have late at night through our upstairs bedroom windows. One night she had expressed her interest in the current construction of the Great Wall. Talked about it for hours, fascinated. The next day she was gone. Without a goodbye. I will always treasure that last conversation I had with her, knowing I would never see her again. Just to hear her voice was a gift, even if it had been about the Great Wall.

“She could’ve escaped there,” I thought silently to myself, just joking around. Then it clicked. She did escape to help with the construction, to have her name go down in history. I suddenly knew where I as going. I knew what I must do.

The following morning I said goodbye to my family, and seven little bodies ran up and embraced me before I walked through the door. Their fragile little arms locked around me just about broke my heart. I knew I had to go soon, or else the clock was ticking on their survival. With tears in my eyes, I fled the city, fled to the Great Wall of China.

As I traveled across the country, it became apparent to me that many were greatly impacted by the winter. Every city had a great abundance of begging hands and frozen, blue faces. In each, I saw a member of my family and what could have become of them at that very moment.

After many long weeks, I arrived at the Great Wall and was immediately put to work. Each hand that helped me carry material would resemble those of my long-lost best friend. Each pair of overworked eyes gave me hope that I would find her. I rarely found food or water and my hours went well into dusk. Every day a new shipment of dead bodies would come through to be used in the construction of the wall. My job was to handle and transport them to wherever needed. Surviving this, despite the odds, was something of a miracle. All that mattered was finding my best friend and saving my family.

Occasionally, new workers that fled to the Great Wall would bring news of what was going on in the city. Word had it that it was the worst winter the world had ever seen. Some people ran around thinking the world was going to end, that the human race would vanish as a whole. I would have believed them, except that I knew my family would make it. I knew that in a few short weeks, I would have been working for four months and would have accumulated enough money to save my siblings from the harsh winter months. However, food and water was still very scarce. One day, a commoner came through, dressed in large cloaks. Little did I know that she would be the one to fully rescue my family from deprivation. She spotted me, of all people who were chilled to the bone and practically purple and approached, friendly.

She introduced herself and I responded, “Hello, my name is Kai Li Chung.”

I had nearly forgotten my name because I hadn’t made any friends in the time I was there—that is, if I can call the woman my friend. That night, well after our working hours, the woman sat next to me in our makeshift tents as we tried to keep warm.

After a few minutes of small talk, she abruptly asked, “You’re hungry, aren’t you, Kai?” From beneath her large cloak, she pulled out a loaf of bread and handed it to me, ensuring that no one else saw.

“But how?” I inquired as I looked up.

The woman was gone. In her place stood a basket of plentiful foods that could last my family months. They were saved. No one was going to stay around carting dead bodies everywhere if they didn’t have to, so that night I disappeared into the shadows and started my journey home.

I soon arrived to the frail arms of my brothers and sisters. There were as thin as I had ever seen, and frozen to the touch. The look on their faces as I handed them the bread and other foods was so grateful. The family rejoiced in unity and I lay in bed that night admiring it all. The first signs of a warm spring were showing, so I opened my window. Just as the welcoming arms of sleep pulled me under, I heard a voice. A whisper. My best friend was speaking to me across the window.

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