No Happy Nonsense

On The Pile

December 23rd, 2023 | More

5.3 Minute Read

I met up with my two brothers last weekend. None of us had contacted one another, no one mentioned the ritual, yet there we all were waiting in our cars at the trailhead with stacks of wood in tow.

It's always uneasy seeing my brothers; we don't talk much, don't like each other much, don't see each other much. Jakob stabbed me in the chest with a dull butter knife when we were young boys. He said it was an accident. I only remember what the knife felt like.

David admitted that he bought the wood from a local hardware store on his drive to the woods. Jakob and I looked at one another with a mix of shock and disgust. "You bought wood?" Jakob said after our eyes broke away. David let out a little chuckle but then must've thought better of answering. He secured his sack and started hiking down the trail. Jakob laughed to himself while he grabbed more logs to shove in his backpack. I clicked my straps together and followed David. We all remained quiet during the hike.

When we arrived at the usual spot we got to work; dumped the logs onto the ground and took out our hatchets and started splitting everything. David started arranging the wood pile into a teepee to burn better. I finished splitting my logs and grabbed a small flask of rum from my backpack. Jakob kept splitting, a thunderous crack and crunch noise with each strike. He did not let out an audible noise or show any signs of physical strain as he worked. He looked as robotic as ever.

"Starting a little early?" David said to me as he saw the flask in my hand. I held it up to him, an offering, and he stared at me for longer than needed before shaking his head.

The fire burned small and humble for only a few minutes. Eventually the trees around us were glowing orange and I could feel the heat from the fire as it raged upward, nearly six feet tall. David was frantic, grabbing wood and placing it somewhere within the pile and then immediately grabbing another log and placing it again, over and over, the fire eating everything David could set within it.

We didn't need to say anything, we knew it was time. The fire was ready. When the fire is ready, everyone is ready.

We took everything from the year and threw it in the fire. The good and the bad, great memories and awful heartache, it all was kissed and consumed by the flames all the same. It's not our place to judge, or failingly try to preserve, or to despair. We live our lives and burn away that which does not serve us any longer.

I've had visions that one year it will be one of us in the fire, burned at the stake as a sacrifice. I've never talked to either of my brothers about my dreams, but I know they've had the same thoughts and that they know if it will be one of us, it will be all of us.

I upend the flask and the last bits of rum tumble out. I throw the empty vessel onto the pile. David and Jakob's faces are made of stone and half-covered from the smoke. They each throw something of their own into the blaze and each thud is followed by a scattering of embers into the air, each one burning out a few feet into the sky as they try to climb higher.

I do not remember when our purge began. I do not know when it will end. We will return here to burn away what does not make us whole. The fire will spread and surround us until we have nowhere to run and can only turn to ash.

But it is not this year.

Editor's note: The year is almost over and I hope you're all finding the fire needed to metaphorically burn you and your brothers away into nothingness. There will be no new post next week. Happy New Year, see you then.

Filed Under: Fiction