THE YEAR WITHOUT A SUMMER • by Christopher Owen

6 June, 1816

Dear Diary,

Snow today, in June of all things.  I fear the world is out of joint. The constant frost of the last five days has left our summer crops nothing but wilted sprigs of brownish green.  “Sarah,” Caleb says, “we shall be all right.”  My husband, eternally optimistic, he is.  He even went into Albany and bought a hog.  A hog!  We’ve not even enough food to feed our children, let alone the wherewithal to generate slop for a hog  And speaking of children, Clara is still down with the pox.  I fear for our family, friends and neighbors.

***

8 June, 1816

Dearest Diary,

Caleb went a-hunting today, but came home empty-handed.  Well, almost empty-handed, I should say, for my man has dragged home a slender fir tree that he cut in the woods.  He’s stood it in the corner and entreated the children to decorate it as if it were Christmas.  Humph, such foolishness.  The children’s time should be better spent foraging for mushrooms or nuts, not such festive nonsense.  I fear Caleb has been driven half mad by recent events, not the least of which was the Doctor coming by and informing that Clara will likely not see another Christmas.  “Perhaps not even another Fourth of July,” said the Doctor.  Caleb continues to smile, but it is a weak and futile smile.  He spends his nights whittling toys for the children with bits of wood that would be better burned for their warmth.  He even fed a jar of precious rutabagas and winter squash to that hog of his.  I berated him for it, of course.  “I’ve great plans for that hog,” he said to me.

***

13 June, 1816

Dearest Diary,

Clara has taken a turn for the worse, and the Doctor says she is full of contagion.  We have moved the poor girl to the empty corn shed so as not to infect the other children.  I had the pox as a child, so I have volunteered to sleep with her out in that damnable cold shed.  We’ve piled her with blankets, but she still whimpers in her fitful sleep.  Tonight in the wee hours I went outside, not able to bear her sobs.  The full moon hung in the heavens, setting a silvery glow to the thin patches of snow which still clung to the barren ground.  There were no stars in the sky, as they were perhaps obscured by the strange dry fog that has hung in the air all year.  The only beauty I’ve seen has been the brilliant sunsets that close each day, but whatever promise they offer quickly fades with the coming cold of night.

***

24 June, 1816.

Dear Diary,

Caleb has slaughtered his hog.  He spent the morning butchering it and hanging the parts to smoke over a fire pit which he dug.  I noticed tears in his eyes when he slit the little fellow’s throat.  He is a peaceful man at heart, and I think he had grown attached to the little creature.

***

25 June, 1816

Dear Diary,

Caleb has declared today Christmas, much to the delight of the children.  We sliced up the belly of the hog and had bacon for breakfast, then Caleb donned a beard of straw he had fashioned and announced himself Father Christmas.  We brought poor Clara into the cabin and Caleb passed out the little presents he had manufactured.  He set me to baking a pork roast from the loin of the hog, and buckwheat biscuits from flour that he managed to scrounge.  For once in many weeks we had fully bellies, and the children’s spirits were lifted, if only for a day.  Even little Clara seemed a-joy, clinging tightly to the little doll that Caleb made for her.

***

26 June, 1816

Oh Diary,

We have lost little Clara today.  I do not think I can bear it.  Woe is me.

***

27 June, 1816

We buried Clara today in a little service at the cemetery outside Albany.  My tears have flowed unfettered since yesterday.  Caleb continues his insanity as well.  He has spent the last of our funds on a horse and wagon, which he bought from the parson.

***

28 June, 1816

Caleb informs me we are moving west at tomorrow morn’s first light.  I was speechless, but did not have the strength to argue.  We have spent the day packing our belongings and loading them onto the wagon.  I’ve never been a woman to drink, but if I had a dram of whiskey I would down it sweet and quick, I think.

***

29 June, 1816

Friend Diary,

It is the wee hours of the night, and I have not been able to fall into any sort of sleep.  The night is still cold, and there is not even a moon now to light the desolation of the land.  Caleb sleeps soundly, snoring away.  I caught him today staring into one of those brilliant western sunsets.  I think he believes there is hope in a new life in that direction.  I hope he is right.  I hope we find a place where crops grow strong and high.  I hope we find woods where the beasts of the forest are not as starving and rib thin as we are.  I hope we find warmth.

I hope.


Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. His work has appeared at Daily Science Fiction, Fried Fiction, Mystic Signals and other places. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop.


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