By Nicholas Metzger
My hands wouldn’t stop shaking, even as they grew numb from striking the iron again and again. The frozen winds howled around us and whipped at our faces, stinging my eyes. Yet all I could think of was getting the fire started, which would mean the difference between freezing to death and survival for my brother and me. Another strike on the iron with the flint: this time a shower of sparks rained on the charcloth, yet still no ember.
I paused for a second before looking over to confirm that my brother, Mikel, was still in view in the near whiteout of the storm. He’d just finished working on the snow walls for protection and was now building the foundation of the fire. Several strikes on the iron later and all that I accomplished was breaking the flint.
“Do you need help with that?” Mikel questioned. He had finished the foundation much faster than I’d expected. Now he was just waiting for the fire to be lit.
“No, and before you ask, yes, I’m sure,” I said, attempting another strike. Still nothing.
“Well, you sure look like you could use some help. Your angle is off.” Mikel drew closer.
“Oh? And how should I be doing it?” I bit back. Mikel flinched.
I sighed. “Look I’m sorry, I’m a bit frustrated at the moment.” I gestured to the bird’s nest before I hit the iron again.
It might have been a bit prideful to turn him down, but it was my fault we’d gotten stuck without a shelter. This is what I got for thinking that we could make it back to town before the storm hit. Now I had to take responsibility for my mistake and keep Mikel safe, just like I always had during the past six years.
I hit the iron again, this time harder and more uncontrollably than before, missing it completely, instead digging the sharp flint into my finger. The padded leather glove did little to protect my hand against the jagged edge. With a hiss, I dropped both the flint and iron to the packed snow and cradled my bleeding hand. I was careful not to touch the wound, since in these temperatures, touching it to anything or putting it in my mouth would only ensure that I’d lose it.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Otto, just give me the flint!” Mikel reached to pick up the discarded tool. As he picked up the iron and flint, he turned to me and said, “Are you all right? That looks pretty bad.”
“I’m fine, it’s just a nick— a bit of gauze and I’ll be fine.” I reached into the depths of my heavy, worn coat, pulling out some linen gauze kept warm and dry by my own body.
“Okay, but I’m starting the fire now,” Mikel said. He was much more successful with his strikes; every hit sent a cascade of sparks falling on the charcloth.
I couldn’t help feel a bit hurt at the turn of events as I faced away from Mikel, wrapping up my wound. I had spent six whole years looking after him, keeping him safe, but lately it seemed he didn’t need me as much, if at all. Shaking my head, trying to banish that last thought, I turned back to Mikel, who was cupping the bird’s nest to his face. It felt like my heart stopped for a moment. He had an ember. We had a fire!
This combined with the wind dying down meant we had very little to worry about now. It was in this moment I realized that it was Mikel who had done everything. He’d set up the foundation, built the snow walls, and lit the fire. All I’d done was sit around growing more and more frustrated at my inability to make an ember. Maybe it was time that I stopped trying to do everything for him.
The fire was larger now, having caught the bigger logs. As we huddled closer to the fire, there was a moment of peace between us. The howling winds with their icy claws had faded, and while the snowfall was still quite heavy, visibility was improving. Turning to Mikel, I said, “Next time, how about you start the fire.”
He chuckled. “Yes, that would be for the best, wouldn’t it?”
Nicholas Metzger is from York, in south-central Pennsylvania. He is currently majoring in accounting and management, and his main interests are camping, nature, and reading. He has mostly done writing for school projects since his dyslexia often gets in the way. Lately, he has been writing poems and short stories more regularly. Armor Behind the Glass, Water in the Glen