The days passed slowly in the winter. They spent a lot of time inside their house as the days drew darker and colder. Packs of wolves ran ravenously through the forlorn countryside, desperate for food. Inside the people were just as hungry, especially if they were poor, as Ingrid's family were. They had to make do with what food they had saved the rest of the year and what could be hunted or caught. Papa did not like to kill things though so sometimes one of their neighbours would share their bounty with them. Last winter Per and his father killed an elk and gave them some of its meat. That was a good time. So far this winter nothing like that had happened, and judging by the howls of the wolves at night, nothing would, as any living animal out there would surely be caught and killed by them, people included if they were not careful.
Ice particles blew at Ingrid's face as she walked across the small field from their house. The wind billowed hollowly all around her. The snow was almost knee deep and her shoes were old and worn. She could feel the snow against her shins and it made her gasp. She scanned the landscape but did not see another living being. It was too cold for that now. The red wood creaked as she opened the door and inside the pungent smell of manure hit her. Ingrid felt sorry for poor Nadia sitting half frozen in the barn. All year long she worked hard to pull their plough in the fields, to give them milk which sometimes was the only thing which kept them alive and now they had left her all alone in the wintry darkness of the barn. Ingrid wondered how Nadia could stay alive in there but Mama said that cows were big animals and that it was warmer in there than Ingrid might think. Nadia, growing ever thinner, turned her head towards her. Ingrid greeted her warmly and went to pat her back as she shovelled out the snow which had made its way inside the barn and piled the manure in a corner. She was just about to leave as it occurred to her that Nadia might feel warmer if she could sleep on some of their old sacking. “I'll go and get it from the house” she told the cow. She left the barn door ajar, so as not to have to pry it open again. The sun was just starting to set over the horizon as Ingrid rummaged through the kitchen to find the sacking. When she finally found it, the sun had vanished. Ingrid closed the door to the house behind her and was about to start over to the barn, when something made her stop. She heard a strange panting sound nearby. Just visible from the crack in the door was a long, furry tail.
Ingrid quickly ran back inside, closing the door tight behind her. She slunk to the floor. All she had wanted was to be kind to Nadia and now look what had happened. She had not only caused Nadia to suffer, but all of them.
All night long the wolves feasted on Nadia. More and more of them seemed to come from the surrounding forest. Then they started to fight over her: terrible, vicious snarling came from outside and woke baby Olaf from his bed. 6-year-old Peter was afraid that the wolves would come and tear them apart next if Olaf did not stop crying. Ingrid almost wished they would but she didn't say anything. He begged and pleaded with Olaf to stop but Olaf just cried harder, until eventually Peter was so scared that he too started to cry. Not only did Ingrid have to live with what she had done, but she had to be tortured by it all night long. No matter where she went in the house she couldn't escape the crying, even Mama had started to cry now. Ingrid wished she could leave this place, but to do so would be suicide. The wolves were still out there and not all of them would have eaten their fill.
Her parents were too heartbroken to get angry or punish her. Nadia was the first and only animal they had ever had the money to buy, and she was more than just a cow to them. Nadia's presence meant they had moved up in the world.They knew Ingrid did not mean for this to happen, but she should have been more careful. There is a reason that everything stays locked up in winter, but they figured the sound of the wolves was more than enough punishment for her.
At about 2am Olaf quietened down and Mama and Papa were able to get some rest. Peter had tired long ago but Ingrid wasn't able to sleep. Her stomach felt like it had an iron bell in it. She wondered if she would ever be able to make up for what she had done.
“Ingrid” came Mama's soft whisper from the next room. “Sometimes bad things happen for a reason. We can't always know the logic of God's ways.”
Ingrid thought about this as she heard Mama's soft footsteps plod away. Surely God did not mean for this to happen.