I gently place a small bowl of broth on the table for Esme. She looks at me happily and begins eating. I look at the thin shawl wrapped around her small, frail body and take a deep breath.
"I have to go to a meeting. Go to bed once you finish your dinner." I say as I pat her head.
I walk outside into the crisp autumn air. I feel my stomach tighten, not from hunger, but from worry. The crops had failed this year. Meaning that if we don't figure something out, we're in for a rough winter. I think about Esme. She was born premature and was a sickly little one from the start. One sudden chill and she could be sick for a week. I pray we can figure something out. We can't handle a food shortage, not when we're already so low on food.
I finally reach the church where the meeting is being held and push the large oak doors open. Already, there's a disagreement between Margaret, our leader, and Evan, the leader of the scouts.
"Meg, we won't make it through the winter. If we send the scouts outside of the safe zone-"
"Negative. There's a reason we have a safe zone. The last time we did that 50 men, women, and children died."
"We'll lose more than 50 this winter if we allow the people to starve!"
"We'll make it through this. If we just cut food rations down for the winter and look around the safe zone at the beginning of spring-"
"The people won't make it." I interrupt.
All eyes turn to face me. In truth, I want to say "Esme won't make it." but I can't allow them to think that my emotions get in the way of my thinking.
"We barely have enough food now. Can you imagine what winter will be like? I've seen this happen before, in my old group, people will turn against each other, sacrifice their own children, do whatever it takes to make sure they stay alive. We need a better solution."
Margaret narrows her eyes. She doesn't need to open her mouth to speak a thousand words. I know what she's saying, "You were an outsider, I allowed you and Esme into this group, and this is how you thank me?"
"Thank you, Rebecca." Evan says.
Susan, head of the medical team, clears her throat.
"I understand where you're all coming from. If people went outside the safe zone then it could result in multiple injuries and deaths. But at the same time, we can't let the people starve. If you remember correctly, Margaret, you'll know that the winter the scouts left the safe zone, no one in the group who stayed here died of hunger because the scouts did bring back food. I believe this is a risk we need to take."
Margaret looks around at us all and realizes she'd outnumbered on this decision.
"Fine. Send out your scouts. But when we have another mass death, it'll be you who explains it to the people." She says, looking dead at Evan.