The diggers began to wither, and I feared the words of my grandfather had cursed us.
Children began to cry, wailing and fussing, and their mothers could not settle them. We were surviving on stale food and worse water, conditions were hard, but even in the depths of the coldest winter nights, we were warm. So very warm.
After a moon had passed, none of us could rise from our furs, weakened by my grandfathers curse. We watched helpless as another one of the children succumbed to the wasting of the curse, and I vowed it was the last.
I traded the child’s lifeless, but still warm, body to our witch as a blood price. She licked her lips, as I shuddered at what I was doing, but I had to know.
She disappeared into the dark recesses of her dirt room in the cave, emerging with a wet, glistening thing. It stank of rot and blood and terror. She told me I had to eat it, if I wanted the power I’d paid for. I choked down the slimy, vile thing and grabbed my throat to stop my body from expelling it. Stars swam before my eyes, and I fell to the ground, clutching my gut. The thing writhed inside me, alive.
The witch watched her work, smiling around bleeding gums and a rotten hole in her cheek. After a few eternities, the ill feeling passed, and I was able to stand. I felt stronger than I had in days, as if I could crack open the dome, and take its secrets for my own, but I did not. I turned and ran from the warm place, toward the old village, I had to lift my grandfathers blood curse.
It was far, and I faltered, nearly cracking my head on a rock as I fell, collapsing at the doorstep of the hut my grandfather called home. The village still stood, though the winter had been hard, and with only the elders to care for it, the snows drifted high over the rooftops. A dim glow came from within, and if I hadn’t collapsed with a thud against the door, I would have frozen to death in the snow.
The scarecrow frame of my grandfather gripped me with bony fingers, cold under my armpits, hauling me in front of his tiny peat and dung fire, burning in the pit in the corner of the room. He covered me with blankets and sat back down, his visage turning to stone. He waited as I thawed, for the witch magics were gone, and all I had left was the stone remains of the thing, sitting heavy in my bowels.
I must have dozed, for I woke to grandfather leaning over the fire, adding a more fuel, stirring the embers, just enough to keep heat going without burning too quickly and wasting winter peat. I sat up, and croaked a single word:
“Why what, you damn fool boy?”
There was fire in his eyes, and he looked down at my withered and crippled body, fouling his blankets.