Brittle

March 15th, 2014

A Story Each Day

The air brittles and steels, the ground hardens like a rock under the plunging temperatures. I pull my thick hooded mask tighter around my face, breathing my own vapid and stale breath. My eyes water from the cold, and my tears freeze as they trickle from my lashes. I scan the trees. There is no color — only black and only white, under the early morning sky. The forest is thick with darkness. There is no sound. There is no sign.

But I know better.

I pull an arrow from my quiver and string my bow.

“You can’t do this,” I yelled at my brother, begging him with rage.

He looked at me with an unrestrained conviction, the kind that I had tried so hard to never allow to infiltrate my life. My anger rippled through the room. I waited for him to react, for the wave to hit him. But it didn’t.

“Why do you care about me now, huh?”

I motion to the solider behind me, and he joins my side. He starts to uncover his hood –

No!

I grab his mask and keep it pressed to his face, never making a sound. I sign to him: Keep your mask on, take no chances. Follow what I do.

We both pull the arrows back, lifting the bows to our eyes. I look down the shaft.

“Because I don’t want a bloody arrow in your skull, I don’t want a brother who is fighting for bloody scum.”

“I’m gonna fight with ‘em.”

“You’re gonna fight with scum.”

“I’m fighting with ‘em- because I’m with them.”

I feel my fingers slowly harden and numb as they hold the string taught with tension. My vision pulses as fatigue and exhaustion blend with the cold blood that courses through my veins and pounds my skull. I wait for the right moment.

Not yet.

My breathing becomes irregular. The cold tightens in on my throat. I feel the tension in the string changing — the cold hardens it. Another tear drips from my eye.

“When?” the soldier behind me mutters in a flat tone.

I look up at the trees. Waiting for them to shift in the wind.

The wind slams through the trees, coming toward us. I study the trees, and finally, I see it. Just where I thought it would be.

I see a small puff of breath turn to mist behind a tree, and I release the arrow from my bow. It volleys forward, shattering the cold air like a sheet of glass.

“Why?”

“I’m with them.”

“You’re waste. You’re wasting yourself on bloody scum that doesn’t matter.”

I’ll never forget the look on his face after I said that. He stood. Anger tore through him like I’d never seen, but was rivaled only by his tangible self-control.

“Everything matters.”

I thought that was the last time I would ever see him, and that those would be the last words I’d ever hear him say. At the time, I was glad. But I was wrong.

Arrows fly. The skirmish ends quickly, in a bloody rush, a frenetic blitz. I’m curious. I find the first arrow that I fired. The man who’s breath that turned to mist in the brittle cold gave away his position.

My brother.

The arrow pierces his chest. My arrow. He gasps for air. He sees me. Our eyes lock.

I kneel down.

I cover his white face and numbed lips with my hood.

I whisper: “Everything matters.”

Sign up to receive these stories daily via email.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated A Story Each Day’s story.