Spirit Deer 6

He arranged this tender on a flat rock and worried the bullet out of a cartridge with his teeth. He spread the powder over his kindling, buried the mouth of the casing in the pile, and held it down with a rock.  Taking his knife, he tapped the primer.


He tapped it harder, and still nothing happened. Shivering and desperate, Tim dropped his knife and struck the casing with a rock. There was a sharp crack and the kindling scattered, but nothing took fire.

A spasm of shivering moved through him and he whimpered in the cold. Flint and steel. It was the only thing left to him, but he had no flint. He grabbed a broken off piece of granite and beat it viciously with his knife. It made no sparks. He tossed it aside and tried another. His breath was coming in sobs now. No sparks. 

He fell to his knees and rummaged among the pebbles and broken rocks, searching for something that was not granite. For a moment, the moon broke through, and he grabbed a rock that was shinier than the rest. He struck it with his knife.

A spark appeared. Tim struck it again and again until a shower of sparks fell on the damp tender. The gunpowder ignited, fizzling and snapping. Tim dropped the rock and knife and fell on his belly.

Blowing gently, he nursed the flame. A shred of bark shriveled and flared, then another. He held a fuzz stick above the tiny flame until it was fully burning, being careful not to smother it. Now he had a handful of flame and be began to feed it larger pieces of wood.

When finger thick pieces of wood were burning, Tim began to relax. He stretched his hands over the flame. Returning circulation almost made him cry out.

Tim gathered more wood and started another fire six feet from the first, then built a woodpile between them. He settled down there, warming himself and feeding them both. It was over an hour before the shivering stopped.

* * *

In the predawn light, Tim examined the rock he had used to start the fire. It glinted with metallic, golden flakes.  Pyrites – fool’s gold. The miners who had dug California’s hills for real gold had despised it, but to Tim it was a treasure.

The canvas case that had carried his emergency gear was basically undamaged. Only the snap had torn out. Tim bored holes in it and tied it shut with strings cut from his shirt cuff to make a secure case for his firestone.

He did not know how long it had been since he started his fire. He had watched the moon cross about a third of the sky before sunrise, peeking from time to time through the overcast. It was a glorious sunrise, but Tim hardly noticed.

Tim could not remember what had happened to him. He could only reason it out. He must have fallen into the stream, and it must have carried him downstream. Had he hit his head against one of those fang shaped rocks?

He explored his head with his fingers. There was a gash above and behind his left ear which had formed its own poultice of matted blood, dirt, and hair. Tim decided to leave it alone, since he could not see to tend it. It explained why he did not remember how he got where he was. It also explained his throbbing headache. more tomorrow


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