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The Reaping Chapter One

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CHAPTER ONE

Peering up at the trees, the sensation of someone watching my every move mounted. But here was nothing out of the ordinary while I rinsed the last of my laundry in the river not far from home. Only the high noon sunlight shadowed me.

Gathering my clothes, I ignored the unnerving feeling. No harm would come to me here. It was still daylight. The mist always materialized after sun set. By that time, I was locked behind closed doors and shutters, safe from the howling winds and the frightened animals who changed into feral beasts controlled by the vapor.

Shivering, but not because I was cold, I forced my thoughts back to my chores.

"Adela Jane?" I heard my name in the distance.

Standing, I stretched my back, stiff from my hunched position. A squirrel stared down at me from its perch on a tree branch. I let out a nervous laugh at my overactive imagination. To think I'd been alarmed because this small, harmless creature watched me performing my duties.

"Where are you, Adela Jane?" The voice grew closer.

I grabbed my wicker basket and placed it on my hip. "Over here." I shouted to my dearest friend, Emma Marie, barely nineteen, newly married and probably with child. Later today, she would visit with our healer to see if in nine months she'll bring forth a new life to help keep our numbers strong. Our dwindling population in the village of Romanhnah gave our elders some concern. It was expected for those who reached maturity to embrace marriage and create offspring.

Surely, I wouldn't grow old and gray with only my cat Ez to keep me company. One day I longed for what Emma Marie had accomplished. But, I had more important matters to attend to than my foolish dreams of love.

Emma Marie's footsteps stomped through the dead leaves lining the forest floor. It had been a dry season, and the lack of rain worried us all. But the river still flowed deep through our valley and many trees thrived.

"There you are!" Emma Marie smiled, placing her hands on her hips. Her curly black hair brushed down her back in a way that made me jealous. My dirty blonde hair was more flat than wavy. When the weather acted up, my hair snarled and knotted. Sometimes it annoyed me too much that I longed to cut it off. I would do no such thing. It took years for me to grow it to my waist. I'd received many compliments, especially from the young men in the village.

But I still hated my hair.

"Of course I'm here. It's Saturday. Where else would I be?" I clutched my basket of wet clothes, eager to hang them to dry in the sun. Emma Marie followed my movements by skipping. She may be a married woman, but she still engaged in childish things that should be put to the side.

"You silly goose. Everyone in town is preparing for the harvest celebration tomorrow. People are setting up so they can start the festivities early. There will be dancing and drinking once the sun rises!"

I let out a small laugh. Emma Marie felt such joy about life and always had a smile to give. She'd rather play than work. Her doting husband, Thomas Andrew let her do whatever she wanted. But it made sense. She was the darling daughter of the richest landowner in Romanknah.

"Emma Marie, you know full well before we celebrate we must thank the Almighty above. Then we can dance and drink." I hurried forward. I really wanted to get these clothes on the line to dry.

"You work too hard. You're always helping your grandmother at her house or doing chores around your own. You need to enjoy life more! It's bad enough we can only go out during the day and not at night." She was adorable when she pouted. My envy flared because she was wonderful at everything she did.

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