f i c t i o n
From the time she was born, she dreamt of the city burning, and now she walks to the ocean and its beckoning whispers, her house in flames. The boards and bricks smoldering, the shingled roof bowing with a groan before its collapse. Utterly subservient to her heat's strength. Hers was the first to burn, in this city of tradition. The flags of her fathers, their sacred creed shriveled and dying.
“It’s the way of things,” they said when they marked her. The scars still lining her neck, as she walks from their screams, remembering their spears, how they maimed her. Their indoctrination never took, and with each lesson, the storm in her grew. Smoldering at first, and then all at once churning outward. Her arm aflame rests at her side. Her fire the instrument of their ruin, now the torch lighting her path.
As she walks on, to another life.
She walks on, to the coast. Hair alive in the ocean’s spray. The cool sand clinging to her bare feet. The salt leaping from the crests of the waves as they lap at her knees through the linen of her dress. The sole token from a home half-remembered. A home still burning in her mind.
From the time she was born, she dreamt of the city burning, and yet she’s cold despite her memory of flames. Too much time spent amongst the salt of a gray sea, sapping the fire from her in thousands of unnoticeable bits. She huddles, knees pulled in, on a bare stretch of black coast. The sizzling foam-laden waters hissing beneath a full moon as the tide comes in.
As she lies there, in the sand at night, the stars seem within her reach. She lifts a hand to them, as orange veins dim beneath her skin. The sea’s hiss deafening as her flame fades, flickers and dies.
As she walks along the coast, her bones grow brittle. Her mouth is dry. Her skin grey as the sea miles away. Still hiss, hiss, hissing. She cries for the fire gone from her, now an ash-ridden trail in the sand. The black amidst white marking her journey to nowhere.
As she walks, to the fire through the trees, she stifles a cough, blood in specks on grey skin. Lungs cold, heart limp. She falls to her knees, veins black.
She wakes in a shelter of hide. A woman stares from a mound of furs, her ink-dark hair falling to almond-toned shoulders. An infant swaddled in the hide trough at her sandaled feet.
Her flame has returned, and she bows her head to The Mother, who lifts the babe from its bed of skins. The Mother comes close, kneels before her. Her breath sour and hot as the infant quietly coos. The Girl Aflame notes scars along The Mother’s neck. Scars she knows well.
As they walk, they smile. They and The Nameless Infant in its mother’s arms. They walk the mountains, shores and valleys, content. The days longer, more iridescent than before. The nights warmer, wrapped in one another. And though her fire burns bright, her dreams are filled with screams of home.
And so, they walk, clear ‘round the world, back to the ash of what was. Barefoot in the dust of that once cruel city decimated by her hand. And from the charred cinders, many eyes find them, The Girl Aflame, Mother and Nameless Infant. They eye them from the ruins of their homes. Spears raised, clenched with hands that remember her for what she is. For what they made her to be. Their children cry out and cling to them, for The Witch has returned.
The Girl Aflame lifts her hand, teeth clenched as her arm ignites. The heat forcing her hair back from her face. The people tremble, spears extended, their babies crying as the ocean hisses miles away.
As The Girl Aflame steps forward, The Mother’s hand clasps her shoulder. Tears fill her almond eyes, and it’s then The Girl Aflame sees. The Nameless Infant, fists clenched in The Mother’s arms, screaming.
As the city did the night she found freedom, ended their tyranny.
The flames dim, and quietly purr as the hair falls to her shoulders. The people’s spears still as she kisses The Mother and Child. Her palm, open, extends to those huddled in the ruins made by her hand.
The Girl Aflame smiles, and as The Mother nestles into her, spears lower.
The Girl Aflame holds her family close, and realizes The Nameless Infant isn’t nameless at all.
The child’s name is Empathy.
The child’s name, is Forgiveness.
Scott Moses is an optician by day and a writer by night. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Coffin Bell, Boston Accent, Nightingale & Sparrow and Beautiful Losers. He currently resides in Baltimore, simultaneously loving and loathing humanity. Find him on Twitter/Instagram: @scottj_moses