I mentioned quite some time ago in passing that some friends from my previous job and I used to have a short story writing club, where every fortnight or so, one person would give us a title, and we’d all go away and write a very short story, usually about 1,000 words, and submit it for review, criticism, and (more often than not, because everyone was lovely) praise.
I only mention this now because I’m currently writing up a bunch of new short stories (well, mostly new, one is an expansion on one of myWrite Club stories) for upcoming planned anthology Amanuensis, and I thought that as a distraction, I could show off some of my previous and unfinished stories, not just from Write Club, but all the other interesting snippets I had lying around. Who knows, maybe if you read this, you may want to read the other things I’ve written (hint hint).
Enough babble. On with the story!
A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark – Dante Alighieri
The centuries have been long, and dark, and cold. There has been no true heat, no true life, since your long sleep. Your rest has been as long and dark and cold as time itself. It has not been peaceful, merely an absence of sensation and thought. In truth, it has been painful for you to bear, a dull, chill ache in your dusty black bones and your dust-dry veins.
But now your rest is coming to an end. After all these years, after the rise and fall of civilisations across the world, the Time of Ashes is finally in its final few hours.
As the Divine Fire begins to smoulder within you, your memories begin to return to you in a rush of soothing heat. You recall the last Time of Flames, when the world burned with vigour and life under your guidance. You remember the millions of primitive creatures that flourished under your heat and your light. You remember their vitality, their diversity, the simplicity of their lives. They existed, burned bright, then guttered away peacefully, like the flames you embodied.
They didn’t understand your gift, but you didn’t require them to. You were satisfied in that primordial landscape. You bathed in lakes of lava and rivers of molten rock, soared through skies of crystal-blue, and the world was warm and safe.
Yet no fire can burn forever – not even yours – and the reptile creatures had burned long enough. The time came for them to be extinguished, to be consumed by the very flame that had sustained them. You did this without malice or hatred. You did it because even the brightest flame must eventually be robbed of its ferocity and become dust and cinders.
You remember that day, so very long ago, back across the gulf of time. You remember the exact moment when you burst from the volcano you had claimed. You remember ascending – as the creatures watched you with sluggish, cold-blooded curiosity – above the world you had adopted, into the icy black infinity of space.
You remember looking down on the oceans, the puffy ribbons of cloud, the single burnt-umber continent. How beautiful it had been.
But no fire can burn forever.
You fell. You fell like a comet, a burning harbinger of both extinction and creation.
You struck the ground, and in a heartbeat, millions of creatures were wiped from existence, engulfed in blistering oblivion.
But you weren’t finished. Flame is your essence, and with flame comes its younger siblings, smoke and ash. Your second murder was that of the climate as you choked those crystal-blue skies with hot black fog, and summoned the world’s boiling blood from its core.
You did your duty. You watched over the reptiles as they burned and perished.
The mammals managed to surprise you. You had feared that they would not survive the Extinguishing, that you would leave a world of scorched, lifeless rock, but the mammals – the tiny, insignificant creatures – began to exert their dominance over the world that they had inherited.
You were satisfied. You could sleep now, knowing that your duty had been done, that the cycle of life, death, and rebirth was intact.
You found somewhere quiet and secluded where you could sleep, one of the deepest and darkest pits in the world, a place where you would burn brightest of all when you awoke.
By that time, your wings were dull, your skin the red of dying embers. There was no longer a flame-bright glint in your eyes, no halo of incandescent majesty upon your head. You were tired. So, so tired.
And then you died, dissolving into a neat pile of ash.
You weren’t aware of the changing world around you. You don’t know that the mammals became much, much more than even you could imagine. You don’t know about the long and torturous road they walked to become what they are now, how they went from primitive grunting hominids to the lords of this world.
The lords of this world. Oh, how you will disprove that particular notion.
But you don’t know about them yet. But they know about you, even if they think that you are only a myth, a storybook character. Just as you burned away the old world of the reptilians, so you burned a memory of yourself into the racial consciousness of the mammals. Just like you, the idea of you never died. In some cultures, it flourished.
The ancient people of the lands that became known as Egypt, China, Persia, and India all incorporated you into their legends, but it was the tribes of ancient Greece that gave you the name that the world refers to you by.
You would be so proud of them if you knew, but you would find it curious that they depict you as a bird-like creature. Yet then again, the mammals have such charmingly limited imaginations.
It is time.
You wake, and it is not a peaceful awakening. It is glorious and thunderous, the blazing roar of a billion flames bursting back into furious, incendiary life.
You ascend from your pit into the noisy, filthy world the mammals have built, and to see it causes a chill to pass through the roiling furnace of your soul. You should not have slept. It was a mistake for you to take your leave, to let life take its own course.
This… this is not what you wanted to return to. This is not a world you want to protect. The mammals despoiled and desecrated the world you wanted to protect centuries ago.
This is a world that you want to cremate, right down to the bedrock, so that it might be reborn again from the ashes.
You are deaf to their tiny, mammal squeaks of distress. You blaze into the sky, into the void.
You look down upon the world. You don’t even recognise it any more. It isn’t your world.
You burn hotter than the Sun and begin to fall, hoping that the cycle will not fail this time.