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American Science Fiction Coming of Age

The blizzard took everyone by surprise. My brother and I were naive to think we could beat it. We've been stuck in a cave for two days, a few miles from our tribe. We should've never left her alone.

I turn to Takka--my six-year-old younger brother. His body is starting to show signs of exhaustion. His head bobs and his eyelids come half-mast as he stares at the dying flames of the fire. Our body-heater's battery died the first night out int the blizzard. Once those flames go out, we will be left to the mercy of our body temperature to keep us alive for as long as possible. Damn it! So small and fragile. I should've listened to my mother and left him behind. I should've been more responsible. I should've asked myself what Dad would've done. Instead, I'm staring at blurs of snowballs falling from the sky, curtaining the landscape to zero-visibility.

"Brother," he says, taking my attention away from the white hell falling outside. "I'm starting to get cold and hungry." His stomach roars. I swivel my head and crane my neck. I can see our game. We have eaten our part for two days. Whatever is left is mom's and I'm certain she must be starving.

"Hang on a minute," I ask of him, "we will get out of here soon and have a warm bowl of seal soup with some bannock to dip in. I promise." I lie. I have no idea how we're getting out of here and he knows it. He sighs and lets his mind go blank as he stares at the dying flames.

I curse our luck.

I understand the planet has gone through some major changes. One of them is the reversing of global warming. My father was an optimist about it. He always said that things would change for good. That we were going to stop seeing our icebergs melt, that we were going to see the seals return to our chores and that Eskimos were going to thrive in the traditional ways of our ancestors, living in an environment for the while slowly adding technology to our customs. Last year we watched our first World Cup thanks to StarLink, and this year we're moving to thermal energy... He was right in all accounts. I miss him. I wish he was here to help.

"Takka," I call my little brother. He lifts his head up and flashes a gentle grin. Out of the two of us, he's the one with a smile that can melt hearts. Mine "Can scare a polar bear" Dad would say. "Do you want me to tell you a tale that our father used to tell me when I was your age?"

"Sure, but please, don't be sloppy."

"Hey, who are you calling sloppy?"

"I'm just saying. You're not the best at storytelling."

"Little punk," I say and tickle him through his thick Yup'ik. He laughs uncontrollably, making the cave a little warmer.

"Stop, stop, stop," he pleads while not meaning it. The dust finally settles. I begin my story.

"Once upon a time," I start. Immediately I can see his eyes sparkling with imagination. "A kid named Ikata and his older brother went hunting in a day pretty much like this. Bitter. Freezing. Gloomy. They told themselves they should've stayed at home and weathered the storm, but it's been three days since they saw daylight. They couldn't stand the hunger anymore. It was a matter of do or die. The brothers set out to hunt for seals."

"Ooh, just like us!" Takka said more enthusiastically.

"Yes, just like us," I flash a smile. "And just like us, the younger sibling was the brains and the older sibling was the brawl," I say and flex, making the shadow cast against the jagged wall look way out of proportion. Takka laughs. "On their way back home, they couldn't continue. The blizzard had gotten stronger and they faced frostbite, so they magically built an igloo--"

"Hey, you can't just say they were magical all of the sudden. Why don't you make them scientists?"

"Hey, this is my story."

"I'm the audience, I'm giving you live feedback."

"Fine, the scientists built an igloo with an igloo-making machine. Bells, whistles, buttons, pulls, levers and dials and all."

"Interesting."

"Anyway, as I was saying," I clear my throat. "They built an igloo to have a couple of hours to think and come up with a solution. After a long hour, they decided to walk through the storm and make it home. The end."

"You suck at this."

"Takka, I do, but I'm doing my best to keep us distracted from starving. We haven't seen mom in two days, she must be weak and unable to move. I know that it looks impossible, but we must try. We have no choice. If we don't, Mom could..."

He lifts his gaze and meets my eyes. I can see terror dancing in those blue irises. "I'm scared." He confesses.

"So am I. But we need to give it a shot. We can't stay here, let our mother die and starve to death. We only have enough game for her now. We have to fight through. It's what Dad would've done." He sits there, hanging at my last words. I can see his little head turning its gears, lighting up LEDs, and connecting circuits.

"Dad would've pushed through," Takka finally says. He gets up and picks up the game bag. He walks towards me with the bag slinging on his shoulder. We make eye contact, nod and put our snow glasses on. I grab his hand.

"Whatever happens, don't let go," I say.

"I won't," he says and ties a rope around me and around his waist.

"Smart," I grin proudly. "Let's get to mom." I say and we both step outside the cave.

It's like diving in a pool of sharppened knives. Every gust of the howling wind stabs what little exposed face I have. I can hear my little brother sobbing, but never stopping. Pushing in with all the might left in his heart. We have a goal and a thousand reasons to make it. One of them is the promise we made our father. We promised we would protect her while he was gone. We can't fail.

Time seems of no importance when in suffering. It feels like seconds drag for hours. I keep telling myself to focus on the road ahead, but there's nothing to focus on. Everything is a massive blur of despair.

I can feel my little brother struggling to keep up. I can feel the rope around my waist tugging his nimble body. I tell myself not to look back. I tell myself to keep looking forward, to believe that he's still plowing through.

"Takka," I call him. He doesn't answer. "Takka!" I shout this time. I look over my shoulder. I feel my stomach doing sommersaults. I rush to my crawling brother. I pick him up and hold him tight in my arms. All the warmth his body once had was traded by helplessness. I hold him tight in my arms and shut my eyes close. Everything goes dark.

I open my eyes with a start. We're under warm blankets and a crackling fire. Sheltered by an igloo. I rotate my gaze to a familiar snor. I see Takka liying next to a man with a smile that could put the sun to shame.

"Dad?" I say in disbelief. "Are we dead?" I ask him, accepting the reality for the first time since he passed.

He smiles and says nothing. In fact he hushes me and gestures me to let my brother sleep and asks me to do the same. I'm too stunned to talk and too afraid to refuse his command.

"You know," he starts with his soft, deep, shoothing voice. "I didn't believe what our priests said about the Great Beyond." He sighs and flashes a humbled smile. "When you're on the other side, on the living that is, you think you know everything, including who you are. But seconds before you give your last breath you realize that you knew nothing of who you were or the people around, because you realize that as part of the Great Spirit, you're merely a fraction of its wonder." He gets up and crawls to sit next to me. "And as part of the Great Spirit, I'm still connected to those I loved the most. Which gives me the advantage to hear and know what you feel and think. My son, the reason I named you Aelius is beacause you're my sun. You give me sunlight twenty-four hours a day, even on this side. I would love for you to come over, but it's not your time yet. Take your brother and be the sunlight to your mom and our tribe." He kisses me in the forehead.

I open my eyes and bolt straight up. I groan as I hit my head against an unexpected surface... an igloo's dome. I look around me. There's no fire or warm blankets, but there's no doubt this is an igloo. My little brother stirs awake. "What happened?"

I don't say anything. I'm too stunned to talk. I remain silent for a minute. There's no wind howling. I step outside. There's no blizzard. Only sunlight and the entrance to our mom's hut.

March 26, 2022 03:56

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