The little cottage stood alone in the woods, the stars bright and vivid in the long night of midwinter. From the kitchen her mother called her, and she stood and ran the few steps from the fire.

"Get down to the root cellar and fetch us up a few good parsnips for dinner."

She grimaced at the thought. She hated the cellar, dreaded the long walk through the fresh snow, and the icy dampness inside. The deep, deep, endless darkness, and the silence that made her ears ring.

"Come on, supper's waiting."

Reluctantly, she took the basket from her mother and put on her wools and her lapland boots, picked up a kerosene lantern, and trudged out through the snow which, even on the beaten down path to the root cellar, came up to her chest.

When she came around the hill to the doors over the cellar she scooped the snow with her hands, shoveling away at it until she could reach the handle. Then she forced the doors against the ice built up on the seams. She stepped inside.

Coming down the ladder, she felt the warm, wet air wrap around her, and the faint noise of a winter's night died underground. She turned and stepped off towards the back, where the crates of parsnips were stored buried in troughs of damp river sand. The lantern's light was dim, pitiful. She couldn't even see the walls through the soot-stained glass, and she trod lightly lest she trip over a misplaced box of carrots. She turned frequently to look back the way she came. The sky was very dark, but she could just see a couple of stars shining from the entrance.

The root cellar was larger than most; it had once served a whole village. Now she searched and searched the shelves for what she had begun calling "those damned parsnips". She kept one eye on the stars. It made her feel safer, thinking of being outside.

She was searching for a long time. The lantern's oil had not been topped off, and soon the light from the flame sputtered and threatened to vanish and leave her alone in the dark. She brought it up close to her face, then stared into the little flickering spot of brightness and watched it like a dying friend. She lowered it, and hissed at the darkness:

"I hate the root cellar. I hate the root cellar. I fucking hate the root cellar!"

"You'll get used to it."

She felt her heart tense like it was clenched in someone's fist, and felt cold fire burn through her veins. She leapt towards the starlight and ran abruptly into the cellar wall. She looked around as she picked herself up. She happened to see far behind her the dim outline of the ladder, and a smattering of stars on the milky blue horizon. Now she was confused, and she looked up at the two stars she'd been following, little round points of electric blue light that seemed to be getting bigger and bigger.

It took a long time to find her. She had been wedged into an almost impossibly small space, a long, narrow gap in the stone wall.

Written by toadvine
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