Flicker-Flame

“Erva,” Sikka called, snow whipping into her face as she forced her way through the field of ice. “Erva, come back!”

The wind blasted again, forcing Sikka’s eyes shut as she trudged, one heavy foot in front of the other, the thick skin of her boots protecting her skin from the worst of the storm. The snow was whirling everywhere, turning the nighttime into a white landscape stalked by shadows, and Erva was missing, somewhere in the storm. Her and her dog had left before the storm had even began, early in the morning, to collect wood for the fires of their family. The storm started, and still no sign of Erva; the storm picked up, rattling the walls and blinding those working outside. When the darkness fell, Erva was still gone, and Sikka had been the first to stand and volunteer to find her. That bravery found her blinking in the wind, trying to focus her eyes in the darkness, but the darkness and the storm lent her no clarity. She glanced up, at the snowflakes streaking past her like stars traveling faster than she could run.

“Erva?” she shouted upwards. No answer. Of course, no answer; the snow had no words for her, nor the wind, nor the clouds. She dropped her head and continued on, head down against the storm, lifting her eyes when she could afford to check the horizon for her friend. Erva was always running off, always vanishing into the woods nearby, hiding in the fields, dissolving into the whiteness of the snow and ice until she felt calm again. Sikka wished she would take care of herself; Erva wished she would be free.

The harder Sikka looked, the less she was able to see in the tempest. For seemingly miles in front of her, there was nothing but unbroken blackness and whiteness, a colorless landscape with trees somewhere in the distance and dead grass somewhere far underneath. She blinked again; like a mirage, almost, a crack appeared in the horizon. A flicker, Sikka thought, and then it was gone. She wanted it to be more than a trick of her mind. She changed directions to hunt it.

The flicker came back again, still so far away, like a mirror reflection of orange seeming even further away than it was before. She kept dragging herself out and out, feeling as though a tether stretched from her stomach to the flicker. She glanced over her shoulder, a bit frightened to see that the village had disappeared in the storm. She stopped, watching the flicker, then glancing back in the direction she came. Her breath puffed out in fast little clouds, surrounding her head with hot smoke. Typically, Erva would choose to chase the flicker; also quite typically, Sikka would choose not to. Erva was the one missing, however. Sikka made up her mind and soldiered on, the flicker her new goal.

The wind whipped her eyes, but she forced them to stay open, pulling her hat down lower over her forehead until all she was was furs and eyes. The flicker went out, then came back, in the deepest, blackest part of the shadowed horizon. Something in the shadows moved around the flicker, and Sikka tried to blink to make it out. The blur of darkness shifted again, and Sikka, with a twitch of realization, yanked her wraps away from her mouth and whistled. The shadow stopped, then bolted in her direction. A dog wrapped in furs, only his greying head free, shot from the horizon to her feet and tackled her to the ground.

“Hansa, no,” Sikka scolded, grabbing the dog’s scruff to help them both to stand up in the fierce winds. Hansa leapt around her in circles, gathering her attention before leading her towards the flicker. The closer Sikka got, following in the trail Hansa made, the better she could see, and the flicker soon revealed itself to be a flame. The flame, there in the darkest part of the storm, was held by a shadow. When the flicker-flame came back, it lit up Erva’s face, and Sikka’s heart, already pounding so swiftly, reached a crescendo and exploded into her throat.

“Erva!” Sikka exclaimed, nearly tripping in her haste to reach her. She fell to her knees beside her, feeling the wetness of the snow start to seep in towards her skin. “Erva, what are you doing out here? Your sisters are worried about you, we thought you were stuck under the snow-”

“Sikka,” Erva said, voice raised above the din of the storm. “Sikka, look at this.” She struck flint against flint and the moss in her lap lit up with flame. Every edge of the dead plant was charred, and Erva held it up for Sikka to get a better look at. “Do you see?”

Sikka glanced back towards where the village was supposed to be, seeing nothing but darkness, but the blur of silvery snow in their faces, but the home she should be at during the storm. When she turned back to Erva, Hansa eager at her side, she saw brightness, a flickering flame lighting them up into color, the home she ended up at during the storm. The orange filled the space between them, not nearly enough to warm them but enough to heat the skin of their faces when Erva held it up.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Erva asked her, twisting and twirling the moss this way, that way. She held it out to Sikka, who yanked her glove off and took it between her bare fingers. Erva’s dark hair, her black eyes, her brilliant red coat – she shone in the firelight. Erva reached out and took Sikka’s free hand in hers, the raw skin of her fingers tucked up into Sikka’s remaining glove.

“Yes,” Sikka answered. The moss flickered between them, and Erva grinned. “Yes, it is quite beautiful.”

The wind blew stronger, then, blasting snow into their faces and extinguishing the moss-light. Erva set to striking the flint again, Sikka holding the moss for her while Hansa bound back and forth between them. The snow struck them both, but it stopped mattering as the flame found them again, Erva’s face came back from the darkness, and, for the first time that night, Sikka felt warmth.

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