Jack sniffed the gasoline on his fingers. It had been three hours since Rick died and now he needed to burn the body for heat. There’s a lot to be said for survival. No one claims the details are pretty. Darwin might have been thinking of just this situation.
He flicked the lighter and held the flame a full two inches from Rick’s shoelace and, just like that, the shoelace caught, then the shoe, then the sock and after a time the pant leg before the wind tugged around the ridge and circled out the progress.
There wasn’t even a smell yet.
Other than freezing to death, Jack dreaded the smell the most. But he could still move. His arms, his hands, even his fingers some. Enough to do what needed to be done. His concerns, for now, remained tactile. The idea of burning to the ground another human being was still beneath the surface, the dehumanizing thing he would do when the wind died down.
Rick had talked of cremation. Had he not? And he always encouraged multi-tasking. Spread the weight of the trucks out over several more feet and you can save on time and improve safety. Maybe even chip away at the fuel bill. He was sure Rick would understand.
While the wind kept up, the number of things Jack did not think about were numerous. He focused instead on a far off ridge, the dark snake of the tree line against the night sky. He thought of animals somewhere in those woods and searched for a star. Finding none, he closed his eyes and wished for dead animals to fall before him. Deer, squirrels, rabbits for him to pile up in place of Rick. Dry wood never occurred to him.
How many hours until morning? How many hours before he slowed down the way Rick had. Moving less and less, the constant shiver and friction of the arms and legs and face dialed down, steadying and smoothing out until all that was left was stillness in the snow.
Jack took the canister of gasoline and tipped it again over the body. He started at the same shoelace until the flame spread independently. It took the same path as before, up the leg and, this time, across the chest. Jack scooted across the packed snow, held his breath and began warming.