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Fire and Ice

"Look closer."

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My big brother Jon packed a snowball with mittened hands. “It’s fake.”

“What’s fake?” I knew what he was about to say. Sometimes when it’s your brother you just have to listen.

He threw the snowball at me.

“The snow. Fake. Made of plastic.” He started making another snowball. I wondered how much he’d had to drink. I hadn’t seen many bottles, but sometimes he hid the bottles. He’d been going downhill since his wife left him. Now he was making snowballs at the kitchen table of his cabin. “It doesn’t melt. It burns. Look.”

“Dude, you showed me this. Sent me the Youtube too.” But he was pulling out his lighter already and I knew he couldn’t be deterred. I listened.

“It’s snow. Frozen water.” He flicked the lighter and held the flame under the snowball.  The flame licked upward. “S’posed to melt when you heat it, right? It doesn’t. Look. No water dripping. And that’s not all. The snow is… scorching. Only way to describe it.”

He looked ridiculous sitting there in his camo long johns at the kitchen table, snowball in one hand, a lighter in the other. Thing is, he wasn’t wrong. No snowmelt and soot was forming. Pretty weird, admittedly.

Still. It wasn’t proof of some government conspiracy. I had little faith in government, but I didn’t believe they were manufacturing snow.

“Yep, big bro, that’s pretty nutty.” I downed my beer and stood. “Let’s get our stuff and head back. The weekend at your cabin has been fun, but shouldn’t we--”    

He hurled the second snowball at me, much harder. This time it hit.

“Hey, bro, what the fuck?” I brushed the snow off. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of seeing me rub where it hit.

Jon was on his feet, downing his beer as he strode to the fridge. “We’re not going anywhere yet, baby bro.” The angry edge to his voice reminded me why his wife had left him.

He grabbed two cans of beer and tossed me one. “Get up! Gotta show you something else.”

He stomped over to a rug at the side of the cabin and flung it aside. Revealed was a trap door with an iron pull. He flipped the door up and clunked down the stairs. “C’mon. This is gonna freak you out.”

That was my worry.

I took a few steps toward the stairs. “Is it safe down there?”

“Is it safe anywhere?” He punctuated the statement with an unhinged laugh.

The steps led down into blackness. I pictured shadowed corners, rusty-sharp farm implements. “Is there a light?”

“Only darkness!” My brother let loose his best mad scientist laugh. “Bwahahahaha!” Blindingly bright light filled the basement. “Just kidding. All sorts of light down here!”

I took the steps down into the sickly fluorescent dazzle. The basement had been painted sterile white. Computers and scientific equipment covered every surface. He led me to an eyepiece.

“Check out the microscope. This will explain it all.”

“You have an electron microscope?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s a regular microscope. Look!”

I looked.

The eyepiece presented a single perfect snowflake. Six crystalline spokes spread from the center, symmetrical crystals clinging to the edges of each spoke like the fractal flags of a conquering army. It was beautiful.

“Of course it’s beautiful. Look closer.”

“I’m already looking through a frikkin microscope.”

“Look closer!”

I looked closer. I was ready to pack it up and leave when I saw something. Barely. I didn’t believe it, but I saw it.

“Can you up the magnification?”

My big brother whooped. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down!” He punched another button. The section of the snowflake I’d been peering was enlarged a hundred-fold.

The snowflake had a serial number. HA-223-5C62.

It was a manmade snowflake. Fake snow. Manufactured and numbered.

The crazy bastard was right.

“I told you so,” said my brother.

He did.

“Now you’re ready to see what I really brought you up to see.”

A chill ran through my bones.

“You saw the serial number. Now you know. Are you ready to have the truth reveled to you?”

I didn’t want anything revealed to me. “Hey Big Bro, let’s go back--”

He pushed another button. A door began to slide upward on the far side of the room.  The bright light we stood in was nothing compared to the brilliance pouring from the next room.

The door stopped. A huge slab of semi-translucent ice sat on a dias, cold vapor pouring down the sides.  

In the center of the ice was a shape. I didn’t want to know what it was.

“We’re safe now,” said my brother. “All of us. Safe.”

I didn’t want to know what was in the center of the ice. Sometimes when it’s your brother you have to look. He’d brought me down here so I could see the truth.

I looked closer. A weird, incongruous floral pattern was visible inside the ice. I squinted. A shirt?

No. It was a blouse. A scream welled up deep inside me.

The figure inside the slab of ice was a human being. A woman.

“My wife didn’t leave me. She saw the truth. Just like you. She’s safe now. We’re all safe.”

I turned just as I smelled the gasoline. My brother stood across the room, an upturned gas can held in his hand, cartoonish sticks of dynamite at his feet.

“When this blows,” he told me, “The whole cabin is gonna come down on top of us. The Sheeple are all going to believe we’re dead. But we know better, don’t we? The snow won’t burn. The snow is gonna save us.”

It didn’t make much sense, but the snick of his lighter told me it was too late anyway, and I let the scream trapped inside my throat loose as the room filled with flame. I saw my brother’s loving face melting in front of me as the ceiling collapsed and the world fell away.  

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Written by verbal
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