As Louisa stumbled through the burning smoke and crackling trunks, she tried to keep her thoughts on happy things.
The bright scent of a sliced lemon, or the feel of a popsicle melting on her tongue. Of the bubbles rising around her body when she plunged into her parent’s pool as a child. Of reigniting her brother’s birthday candles again and again, making him think they were magic ones, when all along the magic came from her.
The smoke scraped her throat and stung her eyes, but still she plodded on, her soot-streaked hands raised in defense, in prayer, in a plea. For the wildfires had come again, and only she had answered the call.
She didn’t like the term fire-eater, as it implied an open-mouthed mustachioed guy (for it was usually a guy) in a too-revealing man-kini bellowing from the center ring of some dodgy travelling circus. Or perhaps someone on stilts at a street fair, chugging kerosene and spitting forth bursts of weak flame.
She didn’t eat fire, exactly.
She consumed it, absorbed it and its power, with her whole body.
And now the wildfires were raging longer and fiercer than ever before. The country was burning, the last few animals were long-fled, the remaining trees blackened beyond life. The fire department and the inmates conscripted to help—though numerous—could only do so much.
Louisa knew the risk of coming out in the open. She’d heard of others with her powers being attacked and vilified, but how could she sit by, safely in another state, when her neighbors were facing the destruction of their homes?
She reached the heart of the forest fire, where the flames licked white hot all around, and the soles of her shoes melted on the scorching earth. Sweat ran from her skin and evaporated instantly, but still she stood in the maelstrom of fire, feeling the heat coursing through her blood, through the marrow of her bones.
She extended her hands out in front, reaching for the flames.
They whipped up into the air, circling into a vortex of red and yellow, howling in their never-ending hunt for more oxygen, more fuel.
Just what her mother had scolded her for, when she could chew and swallow hot pepper after pepper without shedding a tear. What her grandmother had celebrated, as she spooned more curry onto her plate while the rest of the family sat fanning themselves, wide-eyed.
The heat didn’t faze her. It never had.
But the destruction of the land, of the Earth itself, did.
She winced as the flames licked the tips of her fingers, and her flesh began to burn.
This was it. She would absorb the heart of the wildfire, and be consigned to ash, just like the rest of this once mighty forest. But if it would save lives, and the rest of the trees—some of the last forest for hundreds of miles—then so be it.
The adults hadn’t done enough to stop the worst of it. They kept exploiting the Earth until the tipping point was long past, and the younger generations could only watch in horror.Here there were fires. Elsewhere there were floods, or blizzards, or droughts.
She would not sit and do nothing anymore.
A firefighting plane groaned overhead, dropping its cargo of water. It wouldn’t be enough.
Ash and smoke filled her lungs, choking her as she breathed in one last time, then drew her hands together, reining in the acres of flame until they consumed her instead. Her blood sang, and her soul reached its boiling point as her body absorbed all of the flames. She screamed, her voice mingling with the final roar of the dying inferno.
The water fell at that instant, and the flames hissed and dissipated—as did she.
Smoke plumed in great dark clouds, curling up into the empty sky.
The forest was quiet now.
Life would return.
But so would the flames.
4 thoughts on “Ravenous”
Meredith, I love how unexpected this idea is – so original and creative! And we all love a happy ending. If only we had one of these fire-eaters in real life!
Thank you so much!!
Powerful and thought provoking. The final line delivers an unexpected punch!
Thank you so much!!