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Chapter 1

Asplin Bolshvik

Frosty fingers of snow claw their way down my bedroom window, and I stretch lazily, glad for the warmth of my room. Outside, the pines sway and dance, cloaked in their winter blanket of white. I stretch my fingers out in front of my face, admiring the glint and glitter of the crystal blue ring adorning my middle finger. I found it just the day before, outside, in the snow of all places! Who on earth would leave such a gorgeous bauble?
It matches my eyes perfectly, if I do say so myself.
For a few minutes, I loll in my bed, debating whether or not I should bother getting up. It's not as if my parents would notice or trouble themselves over my absence, after all. I finally decide to move, and swing my legs out of bed, frowning as my feet touch cold floorboards. I shiver in my thin nightgown and wriggle my toes as I think about how much colder everyone else must be.
Sighing, I make my way downstairs after pulling on a coat. My parents sit at the table, silent, eating their meagre breakfast.
"Eating without me again, I see?"
They glare, and I momentarily regret even speaking.
My father stares at me. "Eat."
I shake my head. "No. I'm not hungry."
He opens his mouth to say something but shuts it again. A wise decision, I think
I pull my coat tighter around my shoulders and push he door open. Feathery cold snow flakes bite my skin and a hiss escapes unbidden from my lips. "I'm....I'm going out. I need to walk."
No answer reaches my ears, so I slam the door hard in my wake. My slippered feet leave footsteps in the snow, a new blemish on a perfect landscape.
I make my way to the town. Thistledown is not, by any means, a friendly town. As I walk, people stop me, their scrawny hands grappling at my pockets, asking for food or money. I have no money, no food, but even if I did, I wouldn't give it to them. If I did, I'd have the whole of Thistledown after me.
You see, they're starving. We're starving.
This is the winter culling

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