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Fiction Inspirational

The sparks flew from the ferrocerium rod like a sparkler on the fourth of July. The wood, though damp, stubbornly sprung to life, aided by the resin trapped within the cellulose. Jarl worked quickly to add small pieces of tinder. The flame needed to be coddled and was just as fragile and demanding as a newborn child. As larger diameter pieces of wood were added, the child sprang to life, shedding light and comfort onto the world around it. Knotted Pine paneled walls flickered into view beyond the confines of the river stone hearth. Large droplets buffeted the fragile shell of the cabin and shook the ancient cast iron pans nailed to the walls of the kitchen like stockings waiting patiently for a large jolly man. There was a man here, but he was anything but jolly.


The hinges of an old cedar chest creaked open revealing salvation from the cold outside. Jarl draped a heavy wool blanket around himself and wondered at how such a simple item could bring so much comfort in a place as barren as this. A red hurricane lamp wick was adjusted using the small wheel to expose a longer piece of wick. With a match and a prayer, the lamp sprang to life as if it had been waiting patiently for years to do so. The steady flame stood at attention more rigid than a Queen’s guard as Jarl’s hands continued to shake from the cold.


Now that the hypothermia was quelled for the time being, Jarl’s thoughts turned to the trench foot. Left unchecked he knew that his damp socks and soaked leather boots would cause his feet to eat themselves like a fox caught in a trap gnawing at its own limb. Exhausted, the shaking hands removed his boots. Dexterity eluded him as he struggled to remove his socks and place them on the stones in front of the fire.


The radiant heat traveled over the smooth river kissed stones and into the fibers of the wool and onto the surface of the tanned leather. Jarl carefully inched towards the fireplace and warmed his wrinkled feet in front of the flames, followed closely by his epileptic hands. With the immediate health concerns addressed, Jarl slumped onto the floor, blanket around him, and fell into a restless sleep haunted by creaking wood and livid rain.


Jarl was awoken by a perfect line of sunlight passing across his eyes and the whistles of birds beaconing the return of the sunlight. He planted his hands firmly onto the hardwood Birch floor planks and raised himself to his full height. He felt a sharp pain in his neck and regretted his decision to sleep on the floor as opposed to the metal framed cot just below the singular window to the cabin.


Now that Jarl had rested, he became painfully aware of the stench he had accumulated while hiking through overgrown brush covered in rainwater. He scoured the small kitchen for a container and was met with a small wooden bowl holding a set of three perfectly symmetrical pinecones. Jarl emptied the bowl and used the handle of his axe to move a small pile of ash across the stones until the neat pile sat just within reaching distance. Jarl filled the bowl with ash and unhinged the deadbolt to the sturdy oak door before stepping out into the daylight. Though barefoot, the callouses upon Jarl’s feet left little sensation as they met pine needles littering the ground like arrows on a battlefield meeting the great shields of warriors defending the line in perfect unison.


The trees held small droplets of dew through which light passed creating nature’s version of string lights. Jarl wondered if this is where the tradition of decorating a pine tree with small ornaments and lights originated. Underneath a large Spruce tree, a pool of water reflected the branches above back towards the sky. Jarl dipped the brim of the wooden bowl just below the surface. The particles of dead fire floated at first, but were overcome by Jarl using a finger to disrupt the effects of surface tension and drown the struggling ash.


Jarl found a low hanging Pine limb upon to hang his clothing and then began to disrobe. He paid no mind to thoughts of modesty, there was no chance that anyone would stumble upon him here. He dipped a dark blue cotton bandana into the bowl of drowned ash and winced as the chill of the mixture met the small cuts that littered the landscape of his limbs. He grew used to the sting and continued to clean his torso as small streams of murky water rolled over his exposed skin. As the cloth ran across his face, Jarl was accosted by the amount of dirt that now clung to the bandana. He could not recall a time in recent memory that he had ever been so filthy. Jarl returned to the shallow pool and ran fresh water over himself before clothing himself again.


He filled the wooden bowl with water and walked back into the cabin to collect his axe. He ran his fingernail across the length of the edge to feel for nicks imperceivable to the human eye. Jarl reached inside of the waxed canvas haversack on the counter and took out a stone sharpening puck with different grits on either side. He dipped the stone into the bowl of water and slowly began making small round motions against the edge of the axe. The subtle scrape of stone against steel comforted him as the sound echoed in the empty space. He tested the edge against the hairs of his arm and was satisfied when the hairs fell towards the floor like fighter planes with damaged wings.


Jarl laced his boots with a Sherpa's knot to protect his damaged ankles and carried the axe outside. He ducked beneath branches peeking onto the wilderness trail that led to the cabin until he found the Birch tree whose bark he had stripped at the base of the tree the year prior. While the tree stood among it’s siblings as if nothing had changed, it was, in fact completely dead inside. Jarl felled the tree and jumped at the sound it made as it shook the ground of the forest which had been deathly silent only moments before.


Jarl cut smaller sections of the trunk and began to split them for firewood, sure to avoid any knots. He lifted the axe high above his head and bent his knees as he brought it down upon the rounds like Zeus throwing lightning bolts at mortals far below Mt. Olympus. The split pieces shot in opposite directions into the woods like Moses parting the Red Sea.


From a low branch above, a bird angrily chirped at Jarl, who had disturbed a mother warming her eggs in the pale sun. Unfortunately for her, Jarl was hungry. He took three of the five eggs, allowing the mother a pair to protect going forward, and if his trap lines did not yield results, she would keep his breakfast for tomorrow warm for him. 


He wrapped the eggs tenderly into his bandana and placed them in his back pocket so that he would not crush them walking back to the cabin. Jarl collected an armful of birch wood in one arm, picked up the axe with the other, and walked back towards the cabin to cook his breakfast.


Once inside, he used a knife with Curly Maple handles and a Scandinavian grind to carve off small shavings into the wood stove. Jarl peeled off a layer of Birch bark and created a nest to catch a spark to turn into flame. Like the nest of the birds, it would make the eggs warm, but more with the goal of cooking them than keeping them comfortable.


Jarl placed a cast iron pan onto the wood stove and carefully cracked the eggs into the pan, which sizzled at the introduction of liquid. He looked out the window into the trees that surrounded him and contemplated how to spend the day, not that it mattered much here.

January 21, 2023 04:50

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4 comments

Zack Powell
22:17 Jan 22, 2023

When it comes to writing, I personally find short stories that have only one character to be like playing a video game on Expert Mode, because the character and the plot have to do a lot of heavy lifting to compensate for the lack of story elements we take for granted (dialogue, interpersonal conflict, etc.). Which is why I thought this prompt was always going to be the toughest of the five, just by virtue of it more or less steering people to write about reclusive people who are by themselves. But this was nice because it was good character...

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Henry Azure
23:53 Jan 22, 2023

Thank you for the kind words Zack, I'm really happy you understood the intent of the lack of dialogue or backstory. What I was trying to capture here was how the vividness of the world is amplified by a prolonged period of time spent in nature.

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Laurel Hanson
12:50 Jan 21, 2023

YOu've got some very vivid writing here that makes me want to know more about the character and his story. One of the promblems of the word limit.

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L J
23:56 Jan 26, 2023

I agree with the comments below. I think it is actually harder to write about one character and little dialogue. I think you did a great job but I would like to know more. Like , is this the start of a great scifi story or fantasy? Nice job. Thank you for taking the time to read mine.

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