The wind whispered through the dark, empty trees like a warning in a foreign language. Winter was coming, and with winter came death. Nobody in our town dies unless it’s winter. This means, of course, that we have around 50 deaths a year, which is a lot for our small town of 300 people. And since they all occur within 2 months of each other, winter is a blood bath. Do these people die of natural causes, no. It’s always some freak accident or murder. Getting hit by a car, freezing to death, eaten by wolves from the neighboring forest, getting shot, getting raped and killed. Never old age, never sickness. There’s always blood. Every winter, we all get tense. Who’s next? Me, my mom, my brother, my best friend? I lost my dad two winters ago, he got robbed and shot on the street. The man who did it is in jail, but he’s not from here. That’s always how it works. The person who does the raping or killing or is driving the car is never a resident of this town. We don’t want to hurt each other, they want to hurt us, and we don’t know why. Why doesn’t anyone die over the summer? Or in spring? Nobody ever has, ever since the town was founded 200 years ago. It’s common to have people try to leave, but they always seem to come back. There’s been stories of people being haunted when they try to leave. They could move anywhere, and something follows them and tortures them until they inevitably come back. If you’re in the town limits, you’re safe. But not from the cold death. My mom has been wanting to leave since my father died, but my grandma won’t let her. She ran once, before I was born. Both my parents left, my older brother in tow, quietly out of town so nobody would notice. They were gone a week before they came back. My grandma said my brother wasn’t the same after that. He was two when they left, a normal whiny terrible two-year old. A week later, he never had problems again. He never cried after that, he listened and he did what he was told. My mom never talks about what happened, she hasn’t even told my brother, she says she’s too scared to say it out loud. But she wants to leave again, now that she doesn’t have my father to keep her strong. My family was one of the few families to only have two children. Due to the high percentage of deaths a year, it’s everyone’s known obligation to have as many kids as they can to keep up the population. Many families have 5 or 6 kids, or even more. A couple of families have 10 to 12 kids each. We all support each other though, babysitting and taking care of one another. Because we all know what’s coming, and we never want to be the one to lose everything. We’ve had some families all killed at once, except one kid, who was left alone. It’s become a system in this town where everyone gets pregnant over the summer so they can give birth right after winter is over, so they have time to raise the kids a little before the next winter comes. And when the air starts to get cold, everybody tenses up, everybody gets quiet for the next few months. Kids don’t argue with their siblings, they don’t catch attitudes in school with their teachers. Detention rates are practically nonexistent during the winter. Nobody steals, hits anyone else, no crime is committed. The number of police officers roaming around during the winter increases drastically, it’s nearly triple what it is during the summer. Everywhere you turn you will run into security of some type, trying their best to reduce the deaths that year. Does it help? We don’t know. If they weren’t there, would it be even worse? We don’t plan to find out. The average lifespan for someone here is around 50 or 60, which is incredibly low for the 21st century. Meeting someone over 60 is rare, and those people usually hide out in their houses, never leaving unless absolutely necessary. Those people have seen so much death, and avoided it so many times, that they prefer to be alone.
Marriage rates here are also very low. Young people date, and when it’s time to have kids, you usually just pick someone randomly. Someone you connect with, but most aren’t together. Why be with someone you’re probably going to lose anyway? Everyone, men and women, know it’s their duty to keep up the population. Men know they need to get a lot of women pregnant, and women expect to have many different fathers to their children. Incest is an issue. Cousins of many different levels end up having kids with each other. It’s easier to avoid siblings, but almost everyone is related in some way here, so you just get used to it.