*Edit: October 25, 2014: Prologue and Chapter 1 have swapped order.
Spirits of Fabrication
I stretched out a hand, teeth chattering from the bitter temperature. My blood-shot eyes were wild and fraught. The cracked dry skin that encroached most of my fingers feigned some desperate attempt of strength, to give hope where it seemed hopeless. As another breeze picked up I drew in a sharp breath; I extended my hand just a little more to grasp his.
"C-Come on, Michael. Not that much further." I dared to smile against chapped lips and the weighted odds.
My little brother wrapped his fingers around my firm hold, grasping my hand to pull himself upwards. For a split second his blue-gray eyes locked into my own hazel orbs, weary and afraid. That's why when I finished helping him up the rocky slope I made sure that the exposed burns that marred my left arm and neck were facing away from him, because it was all I could do try and reassure him that everything was fine. That we would stay alive.
The two of us continued up the inclined plane for what seemed longer than a few miles, yet was probably only two at most. By that time I could clearly see the great green expanse of imposing woodland surrounding us. The wind rained down more bitterly as we hiked further and further up, numbing every inch of uncovered skin, and perhaps to my relief, evens my agonizing wounds. Michael fared no better, although he had no wounds, but his nose and cheeks were rosy while his skin was paled from the cold. His raggedy Brewers jersey was covered with my thin maroon jacket while his jeans were muddied and grass-stained. I on the other hand was outfitted with a tattered brown t-shirt from band and some decent jeans.
I was wiping away my runny nose and had begun rubbing the irritated contacts in my eyes when Michael stuttered hoarsely, "Nicole, I'm not cold, you can have your jacket back."
I turned to my right and he was already slipping the thin Aéropostale jacket off. I stopped mid-step and stared vacantly, until his words finally processed so I could understand him.
"No. Put it back on now." I snapped, exhaustion succumbing me to a short-temper.
"Why should I? You need it more than me! Y-You're shivering really badly and you look h-horrible." Michael rebuked, stubbornly refusing.
"Give it rest, will you? I've told you four days ago that you need it more. First off, you have less fat to burn. Secondly, you burn off that fat faster than I could. And finally, if you get sick while your allergies are acting up…it…it'd be disastrous. So let me worry about myself, because I'm older and I'll be fine."
"You told me that already," muttered Michael, "but I'm not stupid. And I'm not a baby."
"I never said you were a baby or that you're stupid. I just don't want you to get sick! Alright? Just wear the freaking jacket." I reproached, irate.
"No. What happens if you get sick?"
"Well I have a better immune system! And I don't have bad allergies!"
"So keep it on!"
"Fine then, I'll keep it on!" he scowled. "Just stop yelling at me and ordering around to do stuff!"
"I'm not yelling at you." I snapped.
"Yeah you are."
"I'm not. Stop being so crabby."
"Why don't you stop being crabby then?"
"Just, just – enough!"I shouted. "We're both stressed to our limits, I get it. We've had hardly any sleep, and we're cold, and we're starving, and thirsty, and…and I know we want to be back home, safe and sound. We've spent three nights huddled for warmth without so much of a blanket. You have your allergies starting to act up while I have fuc – stupid - crappy burns that hurt like heck and could easily get infected. I get it. We both can hardly stand up and keep moving. I get it. But right now is not the time to argue, especially with me, alright? At this rate we could…could…"
Michael's scowl darkened considerably and he looked down and away from me. At first I thought he was simply mad at me, but then I noticed. I noticed my little brother's bottom lip trembling. His shoulders were shaking, his hands too. A venomous guilt leaped and coiled tightly around my heart, squeezing and strangling with its cold chain-like body. Right then, it was all I could do to not let my raging emotions get the better of me. Already tears pooled beneath my eyes and my throat constricted painfully.
With unsteady hands I reached out slowly at first, before I found the resolve to pull my nine year old brother into an unyielding embrace, ignorant of him trying to push me away. My chest shuddered violently from holding in a complete breakdown. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Michael." My words quaked pathetically, but they came out at the least. "Just…please. Wear that dang jacket because I'm going to cry if you don't. Wear it because I don't want to risk losing you, not if there is the slimmest of chance of preventing anything, so please."
Michael, halting his attempts of prying me off, started quivering harder from muffled cries. My shirt soon felt the wetness of teardrops. As his fourteen year old sister, I could only tighten the hug. No matter what, he had to live. I was never protective of him before, I always thought he was a bit annoying, but right then – at that moment – he was the single most important thing in my life.
If anything happened to him…
"Why don't we rest for a while?" I sniffed, loosening the warm hug. "We can also try unfreezing our fingers, too."
He nodded, his face hidden in my shirt. We broke apart, but I made sure to take hold of his hand before we shuffled over to some makeshift looking shelter of trees that looked to shield a little from the breezes. The frozen ground was cold beneath us when we sat with heavy plops. "Sorry, Nicole." Michael mumbled when he was seated, leaning into my chest.
I wrapped my arms around him protectively, staring above his light brown head of hair and into the grayed afternoon sky. No sunlight filtered through, unfortunately. I sighed as warmth from Michael ebbed slowly into me.
"I guess now would be a good time to say it doesn't matter, but we aren't used to this. Do you want to just rest a little bit? Have a little sibling-to-sibling chat? We'll be here awhile."
My stomach growled angrily, and hot saliva filled my mouth, screaming for some kind of edible thing. I could only imagine what Michael was feeling.
"Umm, sure? What do you want to talk about? Trees, grass... how I'm really hungry?" His face turned, and at the new angle I saw him smirk sheepishly – he was lucky that his lips weren't yet chapped.
"Besides being hungry," I scoffed.
"Well...I'm really scared," Michael whispered, all previous amusement lost, "about everything."
I gave a hesitant reply, "So am I, but it should turn out all right. It still looks like we're in earth or something. There's oxygen and water and food. If worse comes to worst, well, I assume we'll find some nice farm or a nice family to help us out, just like all those books… Maybe… I guess it's possible…it's probably a long-shot…but still. Let's just hope for some luck to come our way. We don't want to lose all that we have left.."
Okay, so I wasn't the best at speeches. What I really wanted to rely to him was that we didn't have to lose hope. We didn't have to give up and die a sad death. As long as we tried to survive, we would. "Do you need some chapstick?" Michael interjected during the momentary silence.
"Huh? Wait a second! You have chapstick?" As I asked the question his hand slipped into his pocket and withdrew a yellow-bodied, red-capped Carmex stick. I beamed radiantly, cracking my lips more – but it didn't matter.
"You moron, could have told me sooner!" I scolded playfully while ripping it away from his hand. Michael shrugged before tucking himself closer to me. I applied the soothing balm onto my lips. My eyes watered while my lips were viciously attacked by a ruthless sting, but it felt so much better after it settled. "Oh thank God for this stuff! What else do you have in those big pocket of yours? I just have those candy wrappers, a dime, a used tissue and my phone."
"I have two orange Skittles left, wrappers, a marker and the chapstick. Nothing else." He said, looking up at her again with guilty eyes. "I'm sorry about the chapstick. I forgot I had it."
"No, no, it's fine! I'd probably do the same thing." I waved off his apology without missing a beat.
We continued to sit in a peaceful silence, neither one of us keen on breaking it.
The gray sky had darkened some while we sat around. I pulled out my purple LG slide phone and tucked its battery back in. Once the small phone turned on I looked at the time.
It still said 2:26… it never changed the numbers since that happened. The smell of burnt flesh and intense brightness brushed almost casually across my thoughts, yet I kept the images from completely invading my memories. I snuggled into Michael some more, warming my left hand while my right one was busying itself with my phone.
"You wanna take a picture?" I mumbled groggily, "And remember all the fun times we've had out in the wilderness…"
And so I snapped a photo, realizing how unruly and filthy we truly were after glancing over the captured moment. My neck burns looked nasty and my features appeared pallid and sickly – perhaps it was due to the runny nose, the red eyes with noticeable bruise-colored bags underneath, or the mess of wild hair that screamed bird nest. Michael looked somewhat better than me, if not for the few scrapes decorating his chin and right cheek. I grimaced quickly before turning off the phone completely and taking its battery out to save every ounce of power possible.
"Are we going to stay here tonight?" My sandy brown-haired sibling asked me out of the blue.
"Hg-hmmm." I groaned and glanced up once more at the ominous darkening sky. "I guess we can. It's not like we know where we're going."
Thus we settled in for the upcoming night, moving our butts to a slightly more sheltered spot. The trees and other foliage had thinned out more and more during our hike up the dreadful hill, or mountain, and so it was a relief that we uprooted some bushes and leaves to create a warmer 'tent' that we crawled into. Too bad we left behind the giant mushrooms and monstrous trees that blocked the wind from really blowing. Maybe we were in the California Redwood Forest...After all, it was completely possible to be transported from the state of Wisconsin to California. Or maybe it was all a dream. Yeah, a dream. A really realistic dream. A reallyreally realistic dream. Yep. That answered all the possible questions.
The two of us lay on the cold ground like a pair of canned sardines, huddling close to one another for both comfort and warmth. Michael was out cold in my arms after a few minutes, his stomach growled angrily in his sleep. Unfortunately I stayed awake, petting his soft hair anxiously. Sleep wound not come no matter how much I begged it too.
Instead my burns shrieked at me, my head ached, my limbs stiffened, my breathing labored even more. I was feeling horrible, and I knew I was probably sick. I knew I could easily die if it continued on. There was no medicine, no soft bed, no blankets, no shower, no water, no Mom and Dad, no anything.
All we had was each other and the barren wasteland of winter around us.
But soon, even that wouldn't be true.
Soon… I could possibly…
My lips trembled and let out a silent, choked cry through the night.
AN: Edit: October 25, 2014
Thank you for reading. I have decided that Nicole will be the main narrator of this story, with occasional Michael narratives, but I don't want to constantly switch because its bound to confuse a few people.
Hope this decision is fine.