David Dillinger was attempting pathetically to make fire without his lighter when his head filled, once again, with the ponderous beating of great wings.
He had watched it fall, spinning end over end, desperately following its descent with his eyes. He saw it strike the loose scree, flashing once in the sunlight before winking out among the shadows, lost among the thousands of fragments in the tiny avalanche of eroding shale. “Fuck. No, please.” But it was gone.
He had been careless, as was his habit, palming the silver Zippo lighter whenever he was nervous or needed to think, flicking it open, clamping it shut. Fingers flashing. Open, then closed, sometimes striking the wheel, its flame flickering with life--except not anymore. He’d kicked that habit. It had become important to conserve fuel, to use his lighter’s flame only when necessary, to light his evening fires for cooking and warmth or to cast about in the dark after something snapped in the woods at night or a particularly vivid nightmare.
He’d become quite good, his fingers twirling, dextrous and sure, performed sometimes like a card trick, something he used to show off to his friends at parties.
It had been given to him by his wife. His ex-wife. He could remember her face as he’d opened the box on his birthday, on her knees leaning forward, eager and excited. “It was my dad’s,” she’d said. He could remember a strand of her raven hair had fallen in her face and become snagged in one of her eyelashes, flickering as she blinked.
“This is pretty cool,” he’d said, lifting the lighter. He’d flicked the top open awkwardly with his thumb and nearly dropped it.
“I know you’ve always wanted one.”
“I have, but shouldn’t you keep it? I mean, if it was your dad’s…”
Julia had leaned forward and put her finger to his lips to silence him. “I don’t smoke.”
“I don’t eith--,” but she’d interrupted his words with a kiss, abrupt and passionate. He’d brushed the hair back from her face and taken her in his arms.
When Julia had finally pulled back, a little out of breath, she’d said, “I can give it to you because we’re family.” She’d looked into his eyes with absolute certainty. “We’re family now.”
And he’d dropped it--that once in a million occurrence--while standing at the top of a rocky ledge trying to decide in which direction he should go.
He’d nearly leapt after it. Then it had been gone.
He hadn’t cried in frustration or shouted in anger. He’d sat on the protruding rock ledge and stared off into the distance, his mouth dry and his lips cracked, his body screaming for nourishment he didn’t have to give it.
Movement caught his eyes. From the side of a distant hill, something was burrowing free, disturbing the soil and pushing upward from between the wildflowers. A pale arm stretched impossibly long and a hand grasped at the evening sky.
It had been 38 days.