26 November 2010

"Lost in the Snow"

By Curtis C. Chen

"It's almost noon," Joseph said.

David didn't look up. "Keep digging."

"We've got less than two hours—"

"Then shut up and help me dig!"

David's shovel bit into the frozen ground. He levered it upward, and Joseph watched another tiny chunk of icy dirt sail through the air and land on top of the mound they'd been making.

"It's no use, David," Joseph said. "It'll take us a full hour to perform the funeral rites. There's no way we can dig deep enough in the next hour."

David made an inhuman noise and attacked the earth again. The shovel clanged against something solid—maybe a rock, maybe ice—and slipped. David fell forward, his face denting the snow at the edge of the shallow grave.

It had been snowing since yesterday morning, since before their mother had been killed at midday by a pack of dire wolves. The wolves had rushed directly for Rachel, perhaps sensing that she was the weakest of the humans.

Joseph and David had both drawn their weapons and started firing at the animals, and by the time Joseph remembered the portable defense energizer on his back, two of the wolves were inside the perimeter. He had sliced one wolf in half when he powered up the force field, but the other wolf had torn out their mother's neck before David could blast its head off.

The remaining wolves had left and not returned. The battery on the defense shield had failed six hours ago. Joseph and David had been digging all night, and they had only managed to dig a hole barely a foot deep. Not deep enough to cover their mother's body and ensure her a resting place in the afterlife.

David rolled onto his back and wailed. Joseph sat down on the cold, hard ground and waited for his brother to finish.

After a moment, David sat up, grabbed his pack, and pulled out his pistol. He held it out to Joseph, handgrip forward, and said, "Shoot me."

Joseph blinked. "What?"

David pressed the pistol into Joseph's palm. "One shot, right into my forehead. Make it quick."

"I'm not going to kill you!"

David turned the pistol around and pointed the barrel at Joseph's chest. "You shoot me right now, or I'll shoot you."

Joseph shook his head. "This is insane."

"One of us has to stay with her," David said. "If we can't lay her to rest, one of us has to stay with her, and it can't be a suicide! Now is it going to be you, or me?"

Joseph blinked back the tears in his eyes and took the pistol. "What am I supposed to report to the outpost?"

"Tell them the wolves got us both," David said. "Nobody's ever going to come out here to check. Now hurry up, I'm freezing."

Joseph raised the pistol, closed his eyes, and pulled the trigger.



"Hello, David."

"What is... are those wolves?"

"Yes, David."

"But they're... they're..."

"I know. We were wrong, David. About so many things."


Photo: our Prius in a Portland snowstorm, January, 2009