Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Fire to Ashes by Joy Cagil
"Damn the infidel!"
He cursed at the splinter stuck to the tip of his index finger as if it was the enemy, but still he heaped the dry wood onto the fire. This wait couldn't be too bad; plus, what else could he do after making the deal...
Once the fire died down, she would reappear and take him by the hand, and they would begin walking on air just as she had promised. She would lead him to the place where all spirits walked on top of something fluffy as if coated with moss, and the two of them would take a rest on a riverbank shining of iridescent light.
He watched the fire surround him and he bit his lip. No, he shouldn't waver. He had to go there. A vision of her, gigantic and impelling, grabbed him.
"That wonderful land," she promised, "is where people are always happy; nothing hurts; no one is sad; and lots of beautiful girls will be waiting for you, wishing to lie down with you. And the feast," she swore, "is nothing you have ever seen or tasted, because it is never over, never finishes; it is always fresh and always adjusted to your liking."
"There is no other way," the girl told him, bereft of sympathy, as she carried the wood to the furrowed sides of the pit. "To go there, you have to have your trial by fire."
"Let us hurry then," he said, bowing on his knees and opening his hands to the skies in supplication. He was afraid of changing his mind. Could his will fade away?
But she had read his mind. "No, I won't let you," she admonished. "Once you have consented, you have to go through this. And you will. We will see to it that you will."
"Who are we?" he had asked. "I only made a deal with you."
"I am we." Without pausing, the girl walked away and disappeared into the air. His eyes followed her, but the horizon parted and stones as big as asteroids rolled into it, blocking his view.
He couldn't see her at all now, but he heard her whisper: "Blow the smoke, blow toward where we will go."
"But I don't know where," he yelled, so confused, and his body spiraled and curled as the fire rose to the heavens, consuming him.
He rose from the fire light as a tune. Out of the darkness, he thought he saw her walking toward him. Everywhere was dark, but he could see. Not like before, when he had a body, but in a different way. He floated over the ashes...his own ashes that he had thought could not exist after him.
He reached for her...for her lips. Something slippery held him in its grip. This wasn't the way she had explained the reverie to him, but maybe, this had to be the dream-think she had told him about.
He ascended toward something flickering, a spark that had escaped from his own ashes, on a sky-path rising through curving clouds. But the sky, the sky he was in, lost its softness with an abrupt slash of wind. The clouds grew into stones, boulders, and mountains with ledges swarming with snakes, rattling, coiling, and uncoiling.
Rapidly he began to shiver with a strange chill. He knew it then.
"Snakes," he thought. "Snakes are biting me." Since he had lived in the wild among comrades who were also training to build their own fires, he had learned of snake bites.
"I should be dead soon," he thought, but then, he corrected himself. "I'm already dead. How many times can I die?"
"Many..." A gruff voice answered his thoughts. "Those who build wild fires die many deaths."
"But I was promised..."
"There are no guarantees in promises. You believed in the wrong promise."
A dull, heavy thud struck the ledge he was on.
"Where are you?" His scream returned to him in thousand-fold echoes.
Where was he? He kept falling down, and down, and down. Gone was the lightness he had first felt when he was rising from the fire.
"I will fall forever," he thought. The girl had tricked him. There would be no feasts, no happiness, and no young maidens waiting for him, because the land she had promised never did exist.
Osman opened his eyes, sweating when nausea seized him. He leaned over as the warm, bitter bile spewed out of his mouth.
He felt the throng move about him. "It is over now," someone said. "You are among friends." He heard no uncertainty in that voice.
He stood up as someone gave him a wet cloth. Osman wiped his face. Two guards pressed against him. They walked together to see the official. Osman looked at the guards out of the corner of his eye. They walked haughtily, indifferently, probably for decorum.
He averted his eyes. He would tell these people everything he knew. He had already died a thousand deaths, believing in false promises.
Now, he was delighted he was alive.
And he was so glad the grenade's pin had gotten stuck.
© Copyright 2010 Joy Cagil. All rights reserved.
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