He pulled the body out of the ashes and pried open its charred hand. The cave smelled like seared pork mixed with a lavish aroma of smoky wood and sea-breeze. Most of the walls were covered in a green moss. Some of the embers were still glowing a bright crimson, emitting a comforting, warm aura and revealing a stack of old tree branches piled up against a sizeable boulder. Joanie thought it was a strange feeling, standing in that cave, in the bubble of warmth. A few steps away she could feel a salty chill rush through her bones. Naturally, she wanted to stand in the warmth, but no one wanted to look at the grimace on what was left of the face of the corpse they had stumbled upon. Joanie turned her back to it in protest,
“Aren’t there any other caves? Wh-why do we have to pick the one with a b-b-body in it?” Her voice was shaky and broken.
“Not close by, no. And we can’t get across the marshlands until it stops raining,” Billy told her, matter-of-factly.
A tear rolled down Joanie’s face. She was still shivering despite feeling the warmth of the embers on her back.
Billy had to snap off three of the fingers to see what it was holding. She flinched when she heard it, recalling the sound her dollhouse had made that time when he had pried the walls off of it.
It was an effigy, which was somehow unharmed from the fire. Whoever this was must have held it very tightly as the fire ate their flesh, protecting it, like a last ditch effort to have something of themselves left in this world. The stiff arm was twisted in a peculiar way, after Billy had tugged on it with all of his weight to move the corpse. It was around the wrong way, and the hand remained elevated as he slowly let go, gawking at the effigy in his left hand. It looked just like her. The blue ribbon in her hair, her yellow dress, right down to her red wellingtons. It was uncanny. He glanced back at the hand, missing all but the index finger. Like it was pointing. He followed the finger with his gaze and it was pointing right at Joanie.
Billy was overcome with realisation. He knew what had to be done.
“Here, Joanie, hold this. Hold it as tightly as you can,” he said to her as he placed the effigy in her hand and began to rebuild the fire.