Firefighter

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This post was originally published through Patreon on February 20, 2018.

The fire was so much worse up close.

Eric had seen it on the evening news every night since he was ten. He’d watched it gain a foothold, watched it advance, watched it spread like a contagion through most of the world, until Earth’s entire population, as far as anyone knew, consisted solely of those lucky enough to have lived in or retreated to a tenacious cluster of neighborhoods in Fort Worth, Texas.

Nobody knew where or when the fire had started. Perhaps someone had left a faulty device plugged in at home while on vacation, or perhaps someone had cast a still-smoldering cigarette onto a clump of dry and flammable weeds. All anyone knew for certain was that the fire was impossible to put out. Every time they fought it with water and flame retardants, the wind would blow it in a different direction, or the heat would burn so strongly that the firefighters had no choice but to pull back and retreat.

Like it was alive, Eric had come to believe. Like it had a mind of its own. And now, standing before the dwindling Fort Worth perimeter inside the small scrap of civilization that hadn’t yet been consumed by the fire, he thought that assessment was accurate.

Burning columns of flame rose high into a rusty, soot-filled sky as if taunting the survivors. Come get me if you can, the fire seemed to shout, and all the while it pushed against their failing defenses, promising to eliminate the final remnant of humanity.

But Texas wasn’t built that way, and neither was Eric. He believed it was better to die defending one’s homeland than it was to cower in defeat, and though the end was nigh—though everything he’d ever known stood at the utter brink of annihilation—neither he nor his fellow firefighters were going out without a fight.

So Eric donned his helmet, suit, and hose. He took a deep breath through his fogged respirator, then angled his head toward the sky to offer up a final prayer.

Then he charged headfirst into the flames.

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Death of a Fire Starter

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A ring of fire surrounds her. Its heat rises in bright, shimmering waves, baking her skin. How long does she have left? Three minutes? Five? Samantha draws into herself, wracks her brain for any opportunity to escape. But she knows death is inevitable.

All around her, hooded men and women stand at a safe distance, flickering as if ghosts.

“You knew the price of disobedience,” they told her before lighting the fire.

Samantha did, and if she’d been given the choice again, she would have done the same. If the Fire Starters had been able to forge ahead with their original plan, thousands of innocents would have burned.

The Fire Starters have always been her family. They took her in when she was a child and raised her as their own. For all their grievous faults, they were good to her, and choosing to betray them was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do.

She knew their history. She understood the crucible of relentless persecution in which the Fire Starters were transformed into the despots they are today. As she grew older, she tried to open their eyes, to show them a better way of living.

But when they decided to burn a city for refusing to pay them tribute, she knew no amount of reasoning would be enough to stop them. So she warned the population ahead of time, and when the Fire Starters came to destroy them, they found the city deserted.

Her only worry now as she burns to death—as she scents her hair smoking at the tips—is for the rest of the world. What will they do when their only advocate among the Fire Starters is dead?

And then it occurs to her. Perhaps she can’t save herself. But maybe, if she can find the strength within her—if she can intensify the flames—she can take her family with her.

She reaches for the Spark—the primordial power within as well as the source of every fire—and finds it waiting, as bright and fulminating as it was the day the Fire Starters taught her how to reach for it. She takes hold of it now and pairs it to the flames already blazing around her.

The fire responds at once, resonates with the fire within herself. The flames intensify, wild tongues reaching for the twilit sky, and she feeds it with all her remaining strength.

She hears their startled screams and knows she’s done it, that there’s no way they’ll be able to escape. They’re surrounded, just as she’s surrounded. Her own life is nearly extinguished, her vision turning black like her soon to be charred remains, but at least she’ll go with the knowledge that she was able to take them with her, that she was able to save the world from their wicked rule.

Let’s go, she thinks, into the fire we ourselves started.

Awareness gutters, and Samantha slips into the dark.

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Through the Flame

 

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Anita threw more wood onto what was already a blazing fire. Glowing embers popped and cracked, leaping into the air like fireworks. That should be enough, she thought. She sat on the smooth white sand to watch the flames. So far, the beach was barren save for herself. But that wouldn’t be the case for very long.

A few hundred yards ahead, where land met water, the ocean smacked into a pile of rocks, sending up a jet of misty white spray.

She was sure she’d been followed. She’d taken precautions, but the soldiers who pursued her were seasoned trackers, and she was certain they were at most a few hours behind.

Before her, bright orange flames reached for the sky like earthbound spirits, flickering in the confines of a crude stone ring. She stared at where the air shimmered from the heat, a flame-induced mirage, and concentrated. She could feel it, drawn to her through the fire like iron toward a magnet. The mirror world, which like her own would die without her help.

The mirage flickered. Dimmed. She pushed through the partition with her mind, picked at the boundary between worlds. She gave a relieved sigh when the dimness subsided, resolving into a beach very much like her own.

There, in the mirror world, was an identical fire, and beside it an alternate Anita, seated before the flames with her eyes closed.

Suddenly breathless and eager to be done, she reached into a small leather satchel, retrieving a faded parchment rolled and sealed with her family crest. She reached toward her alter ego, who had opened her eyes and was now simultaneously reaching out with her own hand. She pushed through the partition, feeling like her hand had been submerged in gel. They exchanged notes, pulled away, and just like that the bridge between their worlds evaporated.

Just as Anita came back to herself she heard horse’s hooves, pounding against the sand like distant thunder. It seemed her enemies were closer than she’d thought. No matter. The deed was done. She’d saved mirror-Anita’s world, and in so doing had saved her own.

She opened the scroll, read her alter ego’s note and smiled. Let them come. She would be ready.

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