There were ten inside. I half expected there to be eleven for some reason, but there were ten. Maybe I'll count the box as eleven, I thought.
I took one out carefully and examined its head. I knew I had to be careful. I was lucky to have found even these ten. Without them, I suppose all would have been lost.
I pushed the kindling a bit closer together, hoping to more easily catch the flame. Holding the first match as carefully as I could, I struck it against the box.
I shrugged a bit. I wasn't expecting much at that point. I struck it against the box again. Nothing again.
I started feeling a bit concerned. A few more strikes later, I was trying hard to hold down the frustration and panic, not even wanting to think those words. I took another look at the match-head. Nothing in particular seemed to be wrong with it. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the matchbox as well.
I looked around, unsure what to do with the apparent dud I found. "Should I save it?" I wondered. "Maybe I'll need it later." I decided to put it back in the matchbox, carefully arranging it so that this was the only one pointed in the other direction.
I removed another from the matchbox and looked at it again, afraid to admit that I was whispering a silent prayer as I struck this one against the side of the matchbox. My heart fell when nothing happened. I quickly looked around for something else I might strike the match against. Nothing obvious came to mind. Maybe I might try one of these stones or my zipper later, if I was desperate enough.
Once again the match was scratching the surface of the matchbox, and once again, nothing was happening. The rock I was sitting on felt like it was sinking into the earth. I was tempted to wildly smash the match against the side of the matchbox in a fit of frustration, but I knew I had to control myself. This was a very limited resource, and this was no boyscout camping trip.
Trying to keep my breath steady, I carefully put the second match back in the box and retrieved a third. My hands were trembling a bit at that point. I wasn't sure if it was from the cold or the fear. Air was catching in my throat as I struck the third match against the box. Nothing. Again.
What was wrong? Was there too much moisture in the air? Should I wait until the weather changed before trying again? Why was this happening to me? Everything seemed so great when I found the matches, but now it seemed that hope was slipping through my fingers again.
I wasn't sure if I could continue trying, but knew I had to. The fourth, nothing. I tried it against other surfaces around me. Nothing. Nothing.
I was trying as hard as I could not to damage the matches, but it was getting harder to control myself.
The fifth went back in the box. The sixth went back in the box. The seventh, the eighth. I looked at the last two matches I hadn't tried yet. Do I dare take them out? Am I accidentally damaging them somehow? There was no other way. It had to be done. Night was coming and I wasn't sure if I would be able to survive it without a fire.
The ninth came out, and a few minutes later, tears were streaming down my cheeks as it went back in the box. "Don't let those tears get inside, you idiot," I berated myself. I quickly moved the box a bit further from my face.
I wiped my hands against my jeans, trying to make sure no remnants of sweat, tears, or melted snow were on my fingers. One match remained. Should I go back and retry some of the others, I wondered. I stared at the tenth match intently, as if daring it to talk to me, or show some kind of sign. All it did was lay there, as perfectly as all the others before they failed to light. I couldn't. I didn't think I could.
I left the tenth match in the box and took out one of the older ones. It was getting hard to think straight, but I carefully lined it up against the box again. There was no hope or expectation in my actions at that point. I was going through the motions. That match went back in. I picked another one out randomly. It could have been the same match, maybe it was another. I didn't know, but I would try again, and again. And again.
Match after match came out of the box and went back in, but the tenth match remained untouched the whole time. It was perfect. It did not fail me. I did not hate it like I had started to hate the other ones. It was hope. A hope I did not want to prove to myself was false. So it remained untouched as evening fell upon the wilderness. My hands were shivering, and gripping the matches had become increasingly difficult. But I still had my perfect match to admire. If nothing else, I could look at it for a moment of peace.
Maybe the weather will be better tomorrow and I could risk trying the last one without damaging it. Maybe I could survive at least one night out here. It was getting too dark to see what I was doing, and I had to keep myself from losing more heat through my hands.
I closed my eyes and tried to imagine an inferno.