This piece of flash fiction rose from a challenge made on Chuck Wendig’s blog (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/06/06/flash-fiction-challenge-rise-of-the-phoenix/ ) to write 1000 words around the myth of the Phoenix, as lose as we wanted. At first I couldn’t do it, then I did. Then I cut about 500 words out. So here it is.
“Sir? Can you hear me? Are you okay?”
A muffled voice. Muffled by a thick visor and a … gas mask. A distorted face hovers in front of me. Heavy rubber hands on my shoulders. Smoke in my mouth. Smoke stings my eyes, my nose.
I cough in answer. Dark gray phlegm spits from my mouth into my hand already blackened with soot. I know what the face wants me to say. I say it … so I can begin.
“Okay.” I croak.
I feel myself float up as if disembodied—a spirit. Flying? Dying? Dreaming? Then I understand; someone is carrying me. Away from the smoke. Between pitching and bouncing I see glimpses of a structure behind us. Charred beams emit furious white flames, veiled with billowing black smoke. Ash floats and flutters like butterfly wings. Gouts of water—hissing and steaming—spew from somewhere outside my peripheral.
It is beautiful. I mourn its passing.
A final bounce and I am sitting. Two faces this time. No visors. No gas masks.
They are cutting away something—my skin?
Prodding, pushing, pulling. Strapping something on my arm. Over my nose and mouth. All the while talking.
“Are you injured? Where do you hurt? Do you know where you are? Do you know who you are? What day is it? What’s your name, sir?”
I have no answers.
I hear one say to the other, “What’s with this guy? Shock? Traumatized, you think?”
The other replies. “Dunno. Not typical shock, anyway. Doesn’t seem to be burned anywhere. No injuries at all.”
“How did his clothes get burned off then?”
“I know as much as you, Bill. Which is nothing.”
Bill says, “He was the only guy in the house, right?”
“Snuffy found him near the house. Not in it. Wandering outside. Half naked. Carrying a ball or something.”
Where is it?
“Maybe he’s a squatter. Snuffy said the guy was breathing smoke when he found him—musta been in the house.”
Where is my …?
“Not our problem, anyway. He seems okay but let’s get him to the hospital.”
Doors slam shut. I am on my back looking up at a metal roof.
I hear sirens. I feel movement.
I close my eyes. Images of flames and intense light dance behind my lids. I feel no pain. I feel nothing that I can name—no, that’s not right.
I feel empty
Where is it?
Different voices; not Bill or the other. Not Snuffy.
“Detective McCoy, this is only my initial finding. It will be a few more days before I conclude the investigation.”
“I don’t buy it, Jennifer, I have never heard of a fire proceeding in that manner. Have you?”
“No.” Jennifer pauses. “Never. But I have to follow the evidence.”
“So do I, unless the evidence is planted.”
“That part is up to your team. Hey, if you can prove someone planted evidence and hid accelerant, more power to you. Pretty tough to hide traces of accelerant, Marshall.”
Marshall sounds angry. “I know that! There’s just something fucked up about this whole thing. You are saying that every stick of furniture, every stitch of clothing, every picture …everything in the house was piled up in the centre—through a hole in the attic to the actual roof—and that the fire started at the very top of this pile and traveled downward to engulf the rest of the house?”
“At supersonic speed, too. As if someone continually shot a flamethrower down from the top of the heap. That’s the pattern of the burn. However, I won’t even speculate what could actually do that. Not a flamethrower—too slow, not to mention kinda hard to get unless you’re military. Plus—like I said—no fuel, no gas, no chemicals. No clue. Nothing.”
“Yep.” Jennifer sounds pleased. “Pretty damn intense, that burn. If we were some third world country it could’ve taken out the city.”
Now comes the knowing.
I fill with golden light. Light is heat. Light is fire. Light is the knowing.
I will not remember all that I was. Each life is so long; to remember all is madness. Madness is death.
It is adequate to recall the preceding five.
It is enough that I loved and was loved, laughed and cried, well and often.
It is satisfactory to remember any good that I spoke into the world, and trust I spat nothing evil.
It is sufficient to believe I will continue.
Jennifer spoke truth; it is a different world, this so-called First World. Man’s imagination has created ways to retard consumption, to stifle combustion, to impede the appetite of fire. Today, I destroyed one structure; one mystery remained, one life changed. Before this, entire cities fell: Jerusalem in 587 B.C; Rome in 64 A.D.; Constantinople in 406; London in 1135 and again in 1666.
Mankind quaked in fear of the gods, history itself altered.
That was the way of the Gods.
Now Man’s way prevails. I do not know if it is right or wrong or just … is.
It is suitable that I now remember what I must do next.
It is quiet.
I rise. I walk naked, carrying only my urn.
No one sees me leave. I do not wish it.
On the hospital roof, light, heat and fire spread through me, though the wind is high and the night is cold. It is the fire of death no longer, but the light of creation. The object I hold gives me back so much. The wind catches the skin on my shoulder blades. The skin becomes feathers; the shoulder blades become wings.
Today I cannot journey solely by wing to the place of destiny as I have five lifetimes before.
It is enough that I escape the confines of this building and this city before resorting to Man’s way to reach our final destination, to finish the quest so I might continue.
The City of The Sun awaits.