To those that see the sky and can not fly, I feel this wind for them. I curl, I toss, I turn and I laugh as the summer sun brings me warmth. I was brought into this world last fall in a thunderstorm. The musical drumbeats were signaled my birth. I am a wind esper, a spirit, and I enjoy this blue sky. I am not the only wind esper warming itself on the upper jet stream today. Many of my family are here playing between the clouds. We talk and laugh in the whistle language of air spirits.
“Thunder Born, that was cheating!” said Spring Mist.
“You said, around the cloud but not outside the jet. You made no mention of going through other clouds!” I replied back. “Besides, this was just a friendly race. I wasn’t asking for pieces or anything.”
Spring Mist curled under itself. The human equal of putting her hands on her hips in disapproval. I could tell by how she curled wind that the disapproval was just for show.
“Besides, if I let you win then you would think I am flirting” I teased her. I focus the top of my wind in a cyclone, the signal of confidence and happiness. She began to stop curling inward.
“Flirting? You Thunder Born? You couldn’t flirt your way out of a human kazoo.” She begins to twirl the top of her winds, moving closer to mine.
“I hear your kazoo buzzing, but not your wind winning” I reply back inching closer to her pressure.
“It’s not a win if you always cheat” She moves closer to me, spinning her upper winds faster. We are near to kissing each other.
“So, if we race, but not through the clouds, you would count it as a win?” I asked as a subtle, devious plan started forming in my mind.
“Yes…” she starts to reply. I take off and hear her cursing in the background. She said nothing of when to start racing. I knew that with a head start I had a chance of beating her. Racing Spring Mist was friendly, so a bit of cheating was fine. To a wind esper, all is fair in flirting and flying.
As I twisted around the first cloud, I had a healthy lead. I stared back for a brief moment. I change my timing just a bit to slow down. I don’t want the movement to be obvious though. By the second cloud, she was catching up.
“You’re slowing, Thunder Born. Are you going to let a little mist spirit beat you? Should we have bet pieces?” Spring mist forms small air pockets around her, collapsing them on occasion. These air pockets cause a slight pop. In our dialect, this is the equal of laughter.
“If I thought you were a real challenge, I would have put pieces on it!” I yell back, popping off some laughter air pockets of my own.
These pieces are actual small chunks of our bodies. Giving these away diminishes us temporarily. The winner of a piece gains a small boost that eventually fades away. These pieces allow a being to gain control of the surrounding wind. There is a dangerous downside to this practice though. Giving too many pieces away at one time can kill us. Pieces are the only form of currency we believe in, just like enjoying sunshine is our only job.
“Well, Thunder Kazoo, if you’re so sure of yourself, I’ll wager two pieces,” Spring Mist said with playful glee. Her laughter air pockets coming in a steady stream. “Just keep racing and you’ll end up paying pieces.”
I round a third cloud and saw her even closer to me. It would be risky, but the day was starting to end. Soon the night would chill the streams, and I didn’t want to play in those.
“Three pieces it is!” I pop a large laugh in her direction. I ready myself to surge forward. I looked back to gloat when I see her fading away from the race. I slowed down trying to decide what she is doing. I stared at her trying to figure her out when I thumped into the main bulk of Tornado.
Tornado is an angry and old wind esper, born from a giant wind. As one of the most powerful among us, he is constantly being challenged for pieces. He often sticks to night winds so that he is left alone. While the day was getting old, I did not expect him to be out so early.
“Oops! Sorry Tornado” I sputter out, reversing my momentum.
“I knew you would be here Thunder Born, flirting with young mist spirits” Tornado snapped in my direction. He wanted my attention. “You’ve been taking pieces off them too. They think you are flirting, then leave broken hearted when you play with another.”
“It’s a sunny day, and I only race the mist spirits willing to race. They are the ones who always bring up pieces” I try to move away from Tornado, but he moves toward me. Behind me, Spring Mist creeps up.
“Today, Thunder Born, you’re going to give back all those pieces,” Tornado said with authority. He started popping off a chuckle.
“Yes you will, Thunder Kazoo,” said Spring Mist from behind me. I turned and saw her smiling and tapping her form.
“You both trapped me? That’s why you were so mad when I darted through the cloud.” I said in shock.
“Clever spirit, but not clever enough to not get caught. So are you going to give me all your pieces?”
“If I give you all these pieces, I will die. I didn’t even win that many from the mist spirits I’ve raced.”
“Don’t worry, Thunder Born” Tornado said with a further popping chuckle “We’ll leave you with one… maybe.”
The two began to rip and tear at my body. Each chunk a fluffy substance, which they then stuffed into their own. “Help! I am being mugged and murdered!” I yell, but no one hears. With night approaching, most wind espers have looked for shelter. The spot of this trap is far away from those warm pockets of shelter.
Soon, I am just one tiny puff, held by Spring Mist. I see the hunger in her eyes, wanting to eat every last morsel. I plead, in a tiny voice “please”.
She tightens her grip, squashing me into a tiny small space. She brings me close to where she likes to speak. “Goodbye, Kazoo Born.”
As she goes to eat me, I noticed she has squeezed me too tight. I whistle out of her grasp and start darting away.
“Get him!” Tornado yells and starts to chase after me.
I twist off into a cloud and do my best to hide through slight dispersion. I have to be careful with this technique. If I disperse too much, I will die. If I don’t disperse enough, they will spot me. I try to keep things at the right level, as I am shivering in the now cold night air.
I stand alone deep in a forest. My camping equipment and supplies will last another day or two, if I conserve my smore intake. The truth is that I was glad for the extra day camping. With my friends around, I didn’t want to think about my recent unemployment. Now that they were gone, I could spend some time thinking about what to do next. I’ve always felt a connection to the forest, so I hoped that this would help clear my mind.
In the corner is my one-person tent, brand new. Next to the tent is my red cooler, brand new. On the picnic table nearby lanterns rest, brand new. This trip had cost me so much. If I had known I would have been let go right before the trip, I would have saved the money. The thought crosses my mind that I could live out here from now on, but the idea evaporates quickly. I have a house and a life back home I need to maintain. I don’t want to be known as some weird mountain hermit.
‘Remember Wyatt?’ My friends would wonder. ‘Oh! The foul-smelling bearded man in the woods! Yeah, he went crazy after losing his job.’
I didn’t like the idea of my friends thinking of me in that way. No, instead I would just spend some time looking into a fire and decide what I wanted to do next. Part of me screamed that I was a fool to spend one more minute in the woods. I should be back home applying for jobs and begging my professional contacts for “anything”. Still, I stubbornly sat near the cold fire pit. After all, I had paid good money for this camping equipment and wanted to get my money’s worth.
Deciding to have a fire, I got up and walked to the wood pile. I grabbed some smaller wood pieces and an old newspaper nearby. I walked over to the picnic table and grabbed the box of matches. I balled up the newspaper and threw it into the fire pit. I then toke the small pieces of wood and leaned them against each other. I lit the newspaper in several spots. As soon as the paper is caught in flame, I grabbed a larger log and set it in the middle of the fire pit. As the smaller piece of wood catch, they fuel a flame on the larger log. Soon the larger log is aflame and I added in a second log. Satisfied with my fire, I go to my cooler, grab a cold drink and walked back to my camping chair.
Time passed and the second log was starting to finish up burning. I was no closer to a solution to what to do with my life. I was thinking about perhaps visiting my old boss when I heard an odd “pop” from the fire.
“Ow!” came a tiny voice from the second log. I wondered if that was wind escaping from the log in a weird way. I wasn’t sure if I had heard correctly. Still, since I am alone, no one can judge my oddities. I decided to call out.
“Hello? Is anyone there?” I move my head around and looked for an answer.
“Hi!” came the tiny voice again.
“Ummm… hello? Where are you?” I kept moving my head around to see. I arched my back out of the chair to see behind where I was sitting.
“Here!” said the tiny voice from the fire.
I darted my head forward and asked “Here, where?”
“The fire.” Said the voice.
Perhaps I needed to go home and stop thinking so much. The fire talked to me. That couldn’t have been a good sign. It was a good sign I was closer to being a mumbling mountain man.
“The fire?” I asked, “How can you be in the fire?”
“I burn pieces to see your world, Wyatt.”
“How do you know who I am?” alarm reached my voice. Maybe my friends were playing a practical joke on me with a hidden recorder? Pretend to go home, and then chuckle at the unemployed guy talking at the fire?
“I saw you with your friends yesterday. I didn’t want to talk to all of them because they would ignore me or put the fire out.”
“So, what are you? Are you some tiny fire creature?” If this is my friends playing a joke, their sides must be aching from laughing.
“I am Thunder Born, a wind esper. Nice to meet you!” said the fire.
The wind caught the smoke in a twirl, and a shape appeared above the fire. The smoke curled in a pillar and towards the top was the face of a young man. The young man looked like a reflection of myself. Perhaps this wind esper thought seeing my face staring back at me would help ease my tensions. Instead, the hair on the back of my neck felt cold, despite the nearby fire. The smoke curled toward me, and an approximation of a hand was thrust in my direction.
Blind instinct on greeting a human took over. I reached for the hand to shake it. As I tried to grasp, the gray and black hand poofed away, dispersed between my fingers.
“Nice to meet you too…” I stumble out the words. “Why are you here?”
The smoke started to regress and turn into normal camping smoke. I heard feet crunching far behind me. The wind esper no longer said anything as someone approached nearby.
“Hello there!” said a cheerful female voice.
“Hi,” I responded back, twisting around to see them.
The woman had jean shorts on and a plaid button up. Her boots were a light leather color. I could tell that they were made for hikes. Behind her, I could hear a guy puffing trying to catch up. He wore slacks and dress shoes. It was obvious that he was not made for hikes.
The couple turned out to be nice. He was a bank manager; she was a photographer. By my guess, her photography portfolio was filled with nature shots. Her passion for perfect lighting was obvious as she eyed the forest, clicking out a few photos. The interruption was welcome, as I worried that my mind had been cracking. I was glad to provide some drinks for the conversation. When they half-jokingly asked for smores I felt that was a little rude. Still, I had the supplies, so I decided to oblige them.
Once they left, two worries crept into my head. One was that the fire would start talking to me again. The second was that I had squandered a rare conversation with polite greetings. What should I ask the being if it shows up again? I had a few different potential ideas to ask when the smoke began to curl back into a pillar.
“Hi!” came the voice again.
Deciding not to waste time on a polite conversation, I asked “Why are you talking to me?”
“My fellow wind espers hurt me,” said Thunder Born.
There was an awkward silence after that. I was waiting for more explanation but was not getting one. I decided to pry a little more. “What do you want me to do about that?”
Thunder Born appeared to take a moment to think about this question, and then replied “Nothing. I just need a friend who can’t murder me.”
I took a few moments to wonder what kind of wild world this creature must live in. With sad realization, I decided that the human world had some of the same problems. True, none of my friends were out to murder me, but there were people like that.
“Why can’t I murder you?” I asked. The moment the words left my lips I felt horrible. Had I just threatened this rare creature? I hoped this wind esper wouldn’t take offense. The fire began to pop in quick succession. I push my chair back wondering if Thunder Born was angry with the question.
“Sorry to laugh,” said the wind esper, “you amaze me. I use an outer dimension to think, but my body is wind. Even now, I am compressing the fire in a special way to create unique human popping noises that sound like words.”
“I don’t understand. Can I put a log on?” I point toward a log near the wood pile.
The pillar of smoke bends forward several times to affirm that adding another log to the fire would be okay. I grab the log and lean it over a space on the fire. The log quickly catches fire.
“So, how do humans amaze you… Thunder Born?” I ask as I settle back into my chair.
“A physical being doesn’t steal wind, so you can’t take my pieces. What amazes me is how you think without an outer dimension. After all, how can a creature know itself without an outside perspective?” The smoke began to burst in small pops like it was laughing. “To us, you are like a chair that realized it was a chair.”
Stunned into silence at the thought, I went to the cooler. I needed to refresh my drink if I was going to continue this conversation. The ice in the cooler was almost gone, a few cubes floated around, along with pieces of grass. I am not sure how grass got in the cooler, but it seems to happen every time I camp. After choosing one of the last cans, I made my way back to the seat.
“So, why haven’t I heard of more of you wind espers contacting humans?” I ask Thunder Born, looking to pry open the metal prong on my drink.
“We have, but rarely.” The fire twists for a few moments before continuing.
Perhaps I struck a sensitive topic, as the pause was much longer than it should be. I start to look around, to see if another person was coming when Thunder Born begins to speak again.
“I have to pay a piece of me in the fire to talk to you, but I heal it back.”
“If you heal it back,” my body leans forward, finger out as if to poke the flames “then shouldn’t we hear about it all the time? Wind Espers and humans talking?”
“When was the last time you threw money in the fire?” Thunder Born leans toward my finger, and points at my hand, “or chopped off one of your fingers and threw it into the fire?”
“My finger doesn’t grow back” I retort, but take away my hand. I doubt the being can take my finger since I couldn’t shake its hand, but I don’t want to take any chances.
“It doesn’t? Flesh doesn’t grow back?”
“Not fingers, Thunder. The skin may, but not fingers,” I started feeling odd, like a serial killer. After all, I am talking to a fire about fingers and flesh.
“I am glad I am a wind esper then. There are tales of wind espers burning out in a fire.”
What did death mean for a wind esper? Perhaps they would form back into wind. Perhaps they would become part of a new wind esper.
“What happens when one of you dies in a fire?” My curiosity stretched toward a solution.
“You have heard of Djinns? Or Fire Demons? That is what we become. The effect only lasts for a short time, but it is a way of dying in glory.” Thunder Born says, almost in a distant voice. He began to stay still and fade away slightly. He looked distracted and longing for that destruction.
“If I put out the fire, will you disappear? Will you go and do wind esper things?” I wanted the company and had so many questions. Talking with this being not only distracted me from being unemployed, but helped me feel important.
“Do you want that? Me to disappear?” Thunder said, snapping back into the conversation.
“No. I want to be your friend and talk with you more.” I said with honest fervor bubbling in my heart.
“I would like to be your friend. Just call my name loudly in the air and if I am around I will feed a piece of me into the fire to talk.”
Our conversation continued into the night until I ran out of firewood and was too sleepy to ask real questions. We had even laughed together. When I tried to roast my last marshmallow, Thunder summed wind around the fire at that point causing a flare. Within seconds the marshmallow was a black char on a stick. It was frustrating but felt good to laugh. I would have to get more marshmallows later. That led to comparisons of how it felt to eat versus taking in wind pieces. It was nice to have a friend in the fire though I am not sure the full ramifications of what we were forging. At least, we were camping friends. At most, we had started a long friendship.
The next day it rained. It felt like the slowest day of my life. I couldn’t start a proper fire with wet wood. That lazy pattering of rain didn’t keep to a schedule and soaked the day. By the time it was over, the night had already arrived. I didn’t have any dry firewood, so I promised I would make a fire first thing the next morning. I hoped that my new friend hadn’t fled. If I were him, I would have gone to another fire or played in the clouds. The long time spent in my tent had seen me writing lists of questions to ask.
Was fire the only thing pieces could be fed into? How high could Thunder Born fly? Had Thunder been to space? Could a wind esper be contained or brought into the human world without fire?
I woke to birds, went pee, then started a fire. I was so excited that I almost skipped going pee first. Yet, I didn’t know if Thunder could see me when I peed, and was shy about the act. After the first few logs were on the fire and going well, I called out Thunder’s name.
He didn’t show.
I put another log on and included some branches. The branches would cause a nice smoke for Thunder Born to work with. I called out the wind esper’s name again.
He didn’t show.
Panic started creeping toward the back of my neck. Had I squandered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with a wind esper? Was it just my mind breaking and I imagined it all? Had I offered some great insult and Thunder no longer wanted anything to do with me? I continued to call out, yelling until my throat was getting dry.
He didn’t show.
I decided that it was best if I didn’t spend all day yelling at the fire. Yesterday was lost when I was stuck in a tent all day. I was starting to run low on drinks and needed to make a run into town. I also wanted to try out some gold panning in a nearby stream. I had seen many mining shows talking about gold, and they always used pans as a way of verifying spots. I knew it didn’t cost much, so I bought a few pans for my friends and I. While they were here, we didn’t get to the activity. Instead, we spent the time on board games and laughing.
After I had made the full plan for the day, I decided that I would have random fires throughout the day. That way I could call out Thunder’s name and see if he was around. Now that the day was planned, the first stop was going into town.
The grocery store I found was cute in the way a baby is cute. A person can see a baby giggling and understand the potential of growing into a full adult. Tiny socks on tiny feet that mirror the adult feet that would soon grow. The grocery store had aisles with handmade signs above them. There were displays at the end of the aisles, constructed of cardboard. Each display looked to be hand made and painted. Most of them contained images of copyrighted logos. Tiny orange pieces of paper hung below several products. Words were handwritten on them, such as ‘2 for 1’ and ‘free with purchase of’. The grocery store did not have a produce location but kept several baskets of bananas and apples near the register. The register had raised keys with a different price on each key. The register did not appear to have any bar code scanning.
“How do you keep stock of inventory?” I asked the young man behind the counter.
He had an Asian look to him though I wasn’t sure of the specific nationality. He wore jeans and a t-shirt that celebrated some bar half the world away. His hands stopped clicking keys on the register when I asked, and he tilted his head to me. His right hand flicked to a pair of glasses hanging on his face. He raised the glasses up on his nose, to which they fled back down after just a few seconds. Perhaps he wanted a better look at me, or the act of moving his glasses was a nervous tick.
“Why? Were you planning on stealing?” the young man asked.
I put my hands up as if I am pushing away his resistance. Perhaps it looks like I am stopping the question. “No… no. I am just not used to a place that doesn’t use bar codes.”
A few moments pass and the clerk begins to start clicking away at his register again. He starts up as if out of nowhere “We have a spreadsheet. Plus the local bank manager is a good guy. He helps me figure things out when I need some advice.”
I nodded as if that made sense. I nodded as if the ideas proposed by the clerk were the most logical in the world. Yet, I thought that this bumpkin store clerk must not have much social experience. Most people don’t have long awkward silences after they accuse each other of stealing. I am glad to be gone and don’t ask any more questions. I hope that there is another store in town, just in case I forgot something else. I didn’t like the idea of a store clerk trying to catch me stealing. I had no intention of stealing, but his stare and fidgeting made me mentally itch. Like an ant crawled under the skin of my back.
‘Marshmallows’ I remember. ‘I forgot Marshmallows! Ug, Now I remember.’
On my way out of town, I spot a pawn shop of sorts. I am not sure if they have any food, but they will know all the locations that do. Then perhaps I can ask about an alternative spot to find some marshmallows.
The store was packed full, and I had to be careful with each step. The clerk was friendly. An old woman in a tie-dyed shirt who spent her life collecting. Beyond the initial greeting, she left me alone. What caught my eye were not the DVDs or video games, but the sword hanging behind the counter. All thoughts of food escaped my mind. The sword was a broadsword style but had a bit of a scimitar curve at the tip. The blade was not a bright metal sheen like many decoration swords. Instead, the metal was a solid black. The hand had a soft rubber black grip. Upon closer inspection, I saw the handle was electrical tape wrapped around and around. The blade itself was not decorated but had paths and grooves in it.
“Can I see that blade?” I asked the clerk. My finger pointed toward the blade, and she must have seen my wide eyes fascinated with the object.
“Sure thing, hun! But can I show you something first?” She asked.
I nodded my head, and she asked me to step back a few steps. She took down the blade and had space in front of her. I was worried I would topple over merchandise as I backed away giving her room. She began to swing the blade in front of her. A whistling sound happened with each pass of the blade.
“You hear that whistling sound? They carved grooves in the blade to make it ‘sing’. Neat, huh?” She said swinging the sword in front of her.
Again I nodded my head. Strange that I felt more comfortable with a woman swinging a blade in front of me than a store clerk selling me food. She returned behind the counter and put the blade on the glass case between us. She gave me a discount on the item, and I did not counter the number. She clicked away at the same type of register as the grocery clerk.
“No barcodes here” I mused again.
“Nope! They are not needed. The local bank manager helps with inventory! He’s a real people pleaser, bless his heart.” She said, excited to have the sale all but done. I wondered if it would be her only sale for the day. I felt a twinge of guilt though. I recently lost my job and was spending money on ‘singing swords’. Still, I longed for swinging it in the woods by myself. Perhaps I would chop down some branches for a fire, like a fancy machete.
When I got back to the campground I started up another fire. I used branches cultivated from my new investment. The sword quenched my thirst to destroy as it whistled before it bit into branches. I noticed that it was horrible for sawing and was worried I would break it. However, the person who had made the sword had experience and the sword remained in one piece. After I had collected enough branches, I started a fire and called out Thunder Born’s name. Seconds after calling the wind esper appeared.
“Hi!” Thunder Born pointed toward my new treasure “What’s that whistling thing? I could hear it from miles away.”
“It’s a sword. Where were you? Why didn’t you show up earlier today?” I ask with frustration and relief soaking my words.
“Do all swords do that?” Thunder asked, avoiding my questions with a question.
“Chop wood? I suppose.” I glanced at the sword and inspected the edge for nicks. I didn’t see any pieces notched in.
“No, do all swords whistle like that? I even danced through one of those whistles earlier! It was a glorious movement and the first time I felt…” Thunder Born stopped talking.
“It was the first time you felt what?” I asked. This time I would ask just the one question and let it sit in the air until answered. The strategy paid off.
“It was the first time I felt physical. Like a physical object in your world.” The wind esper began to twirl the top of the smoke in a type of curly spiral. I watched in fascination as the smoke curled and then disappeared. The fire returned to normal.
“Thunder Born?” I asked. “You still there Thunder Born?”
There was no wind around, and the sword was still, resting on top of the cooler. Perhaps that is why I jumped when the sword gave a loud whistle and fell off the cooler. I stared at the possessed metal when the fire roared up with the word “Glorious!”. The hairs on the back of my neck started to stand on end despite the fire’s heat. There was something here, I could feel it.
“Can… can I ask you a few, uh, questions, Thunder Born?” I mumbled out when the fire started to recede.
“Sure!” said Thunder Born with gleeful enthusiasm. The questions were often interrupted by wild sword whistles. The constant whistling distractions made the experience feel like talking to a child with candy.
Thunder’s attention span was difficult to focus and required putting away the sword on occasion.
Thunder Born knew of no container that could hold a wind esper. They preferred to be outdoors since that is where the wind would be. When they died, he wasn’t sure where they went. All he knew was that they were gone forever. He could not only read my writing, but explained of writing I couldn’t read. Thunder Born talked about the language of stripped tree bark and worn stream shores. I asked about how the pieces grew back, which he knew little about the mechanics, they simply grew back. Pieces could only be given to the fire and other wind espers. Pieces given to the ground just sunk in. Pieces given to the water resulted in bubbles that reformed and came back into the wind esper. Thunder Born twisted violently when asked about giving plants and animals pieces.
“Why can’t plants and whatnot be given pieces, Thunder?” I asked with some perplexment.
“I am going to go; I feel the need to fly.” Said Thunder Born, tired with the lack of whistling swords (the sword now inside my tent).
“Can you answer this last question, Thunder? Why can’t you give an animal or plants pieces?” I wondered. Perhaps I was like a child, asking ‘why’ so often.
“Plants refuse to take it in. Animals take the pieces in, but then just filter them through ‘blood’ and pass them back out.” Thunder looked disgusted as he curled on himself “It feels dirty to us to have a piece filtered through animal blood. Gross.”
The fire then returned to normal, and I knew that the wind esper was gone. Now that my questions were answered, I felt better. I was not crazy, or at least was consistently crazy. I had talked to the wind esper on several occasions and, if I was lucky, had made a new friend.
I took the sword and my gold pans to look for some gold in the nearby stream. The fire would burn itself out, and I liked the idea of keeping it going as long as possible. The fire felt extra comfortable now. Not only the heat, but it was a point where a new friend could stop by. I didn’t feel like extinguishing that right away, so I left it going. I strapped the sword to my back, knowing Thunder liked the sound of the metal swinging.
The stream was less of a stream and more of a river. While not deep, the water had power surging through it. The first time I stepped in, I was shocked by how cold the water was. The raging water must have been from mountain snow, and that melted snow threatened to knock me off my feet. I got out of the water, feeling stupid for not taking off my shoes first. I would have wet socks and shoes to dry tonight. I slushed down the side of the bank, each step making a squishing sound. I found an area near the bank that was a slow moving inlet. According to the mining shows, inlets had gold. I felt like a gold expert, surveying my new “claim”.
Near an hour later, the only thing “claimed” was my time. There wasn’t gold here. Not even fool’s gold or some pretty rocks. All I had been able to collect were cold feet and brackish, green mud. I decided to return to camp and start drying my feet. Perhaps I could spend the night with Thunder, asking him questions. On my way back I saw some flickering in the distance. It looked like a lot of smoke for just a campfire. I was half way back to the camp when I saw the forest on fire.
I saw the grass on fire first. It didn’t look like the trees were catching, but then I saw that flames were licking up the side. Perhaps the sap stuck inside the trees slowed down the fire’s progress. In a forest fire, the base instinct is to run. The true terror is not in the running, but in knowing which direction to run. Was the fire surrounding you and closing in?
I could tell it was moving fast as it started consuming another tree closer to me. The wind picked up blowing hot ash in my face and started miniature fires near my feet. The heat started drawing whispers of steam from my soaked feet. I started running back to the stream.
I heard yelling coming up from a different direction. A woman’s voice was screaming out a name. I didn’t even think, pure panic already pulsing in my veins. I ran toward the woman to help. The time spent would mean that I wouldn’t make it to the stream as quickly. Yet, I was sure that I could make it there eventually, so long as the wind didn’t pick up. If the wind picked up, I would be a black corpse. Rescuers wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference between me and a burnt log, passing right near my charred body. I pushed the thought out of my skull and ran towards the screams, praying to outrun the fire.
Steam rose from my pants as I pushed my legs towards the noise. I crunched through branches and jumped over logs. One log was too high for my skill and I crashed forward. Mud caked my face from the fall, but adrenaline forced me forward. I scrambled to my feet and kept running. I must have landed on something wet as liquid fell from my side. I tried to brush it off as I ran, and the liquid kept flowing. I was frustrated I couldn’t clear off the liquid and decided to look and my side. My shirt had a growing bloody patch.
That’s funny, I don’t feel injured. Did I fall on some berries or something? My brain tried to reason it out. My momentum was slowing when I heard a higher pitched scream. It was a death scream at the top of a woman’s lungs. I decided to ignore the wound for now and push forward.
I broke free from the brush and saw the stream and a body floating down. A woman in the distance was yelling from an inlet of the stream. The body floating down was slowly thrashing, as if tired and fading. The stream was pushing the body with force. It looked like the body had a head wound of some sort. The body also had khakis and one polished shoe on. The other shoe had come loose and was floating down in front of the body.
It took me a moment to realize it was the bank manager. The couple must have been the hiking couple from earlier. She was watching him die knowing that if she tried to go in deeper to the current, she could be swept away too. If she tried to run on the shore, the wild fire would catch her. She was running toward the bank manager splashing with each step. She slipped and fell into the water. She began to become swept up by the current and grabbed a branch nearby. She saw me and screamed for me to help him. She didn’t care that she was moments away from her death. While they didn’t seem like a match from an initial glance, it was obvious she loved him deeply. She was willing to scream for help for the near dead body, with herself in peril.
I didn’t think. I should have thought. Why didn’t I think? I jumped in after the body. The water felt cold and stung my side. I couldn’t get a grip anywhere except on the former bank manager. I grasped for the river bed’s stones with my feet and kept failing. My shoes, though tied well, kept threatening to be pushed off. I knew that if this man were to have any chance, he needed to float on his back. Men drowned in inches of water when laying on their front. Laying on his back, perhaps he could be saved. I grabbed and turned him, so his mouth was out of the water. That twisting motion put my mouth into the water.
I kept swallowing water. So much water kept flooding into me and I lost my consciousness for a moment. A sharp rock in my back thrust water out of my mouth and crashed me back into reality. The bank manager, whom the town relied on, was still on his back. Somehow I still was floating close enough to him to grab ahold. I spotted an inlet further down. I knew I couldn’t swim towards it, but all I could do is push off while hugging him. Perhaps the momentum would be enough to get us toward the inlet. The water somehow got louder. It was as if the world started whooshing in my head, and blackness approached from the side. Right before I passed out, I pushed hard with my legs against the stones below. I hoped it would be enough. I hoped that we didn’t turn over in the water and drown. I hoped the bank manager’s love didn’t get swept away with us.
My last thought was odd. Did death always come with a unique revelation? Perhaps it is these last moments that reflect our true nature. My last thought, before the blackness of chaotic water consumed me, was: ‘I hope Thunder doesn’t get lonely.’
I then felt him. Not with sound or sight, but something deeper. It was something in my blood and bone that said he was there. Somehow, I felt connected to him. If I were to die, I was glad that he was near me. A moment of blackness later, light crashed in as water crashed out of my mouth. I sputtered and gasped for air. The ground beneath me wasn’t water, but solid earth. I turned and continued coughing out water. My throat felt raw, and I could see small bits in water I threw up. My head turned up to see a woman performing CPR on a guy. My brain was so fuzzy. Why was she doing that? Did he go swimming or something?
After a few moments of watching I could see the woman was the photographer from before. ‘Good, she wasn’t swept away in the water,’ I thought. I knew the other person must be the bank manager. His pants were ripped and his arm and head were bleeding. I saw him start spitting water out and a sense of deep relief passed over me. He would live. He would live.
I then heard popping and crackling toward the side of us. The forest fire had caught up and was ready to consume us. I am glad I was able to do something. If I was to be burnt alive instead of drowned, at least I would do so with these people. I stumbled toward them and started to pick up a little speed. I must have looked like a shambling fool, but I reached the couple quickly. She was crying, kissing him with abandon, and clutching him. He was telling her to stop being such a romantic fool. Tears were filling his eyes as well. I felt like I was crashing into an intimate moment. A bubble of their moment meant only for them. An embrace of one last love before death. Perhaps I should have stood there and let them have their moment. But I was lonely, so lonely, and needed some kind of companionship.
He saw me first. “Hello friend, who are you?” he asked. A kindness was tinged in his voice. I could tell he was a real people pleaser. It was obvious why so much of the town relied on him.
I smiled and looked him in the eye, “Wyatt, we met earlier.”
“Watt? Like a light bulb? You must not be bright if you’re here with us.” He said, still charming people even being near death.
As I listened, a shape faded into view behind the couple. The shaped resembled a man but was like a shadow made of wisps of smoke. The couple didn’t appear to see the shape. Near the shape were all the things normally found in a forest. These things didn’t look like normal objects for some reason. Trees were not trees. Rocks were not rocks. The grass was not grass. Sure, they looked like those objects, but they had some knowledge on them. It felt like I could pluck a blade of grass and read how long it took to grew. I could see how the wind had etched the patterns within it. I could see how the bark on the trees was blown off. I could see how an animal had stomped this way weeks ago. It was as if I could read the forest in a way that had never occurred to me. I could see the wind as it was now, and as it had been. I could see other beings in the sky floating around. I could see some beings running through the flames coming towards us.
“…Hit his head. He saved you, but must have hit his head…” came the woman’s voice.
I didn’t care what she thought about that at the moment. I started wondering if the shape nearby the couple was Thunder or not. I felt my back, looking for the sword that was there a moment ago. Somehow, by some small miracle, it was still slung across my back. I stared at the couple as I unsheathed the blade.
The couple’s eyes both grew wide at the mad man unsheathing his sword in the woods. After all, who has a sword in the woods? I swung it a couple times, and it whistled. The figure near the couple then darted toward the sword and through the metal. It was a loud whistle that startled the couple even more. I didn’t know how I was able to see Thunder so well but assumed it must have something to do with the forest fire or being near death.
It was amazing and frustrating. I had just discovered a new sentient creature on earth and was now going to be consumed by the forest fire. Life was not fair. First I lost my job, then my friends left me out in the woods. Like most frustrations, when a person starts thinking about them, more flood the brain. ‘Then I forget to pick up more marshmallows, and I didn’t want to go back because of that clerk’ I thought. ‘I will never have marshmallows again’. That irrational thought made me angry.
That clerk made me miss my final marshmallows! No more smores! I spun on the fire, sword in hand. Perhaps I had hit my head pretty bad in the water. Maybe all the frustration was starting to finally bubble over. I stood at the forest fire, couple behind me, and yelled a single challenge.
“Marshmallows!” I yelled at the top of my lungs at the forest fire. I felt my blood pump, and I read how the fire was consuming air around it. This stupid fire wasn’t going to take my delicious treat away. I felt the wind multiply inside me, like inhaling. The air around me started to grow cold and I could see my breath. As I read the fire, I found the threads of air being used.
The effort felt like tugging on wet spaghetti strands. It was hard to get to the base of each strand, so I just started clawing away the wind from all of them. As I clawed away the fire, it started un-raveling around me. I could feel my legs start to get numb when I felt a surge of air within. Somehow the air inside felt like it split off and formed something new. The splitting of energy made my leg go numb for a second. I moved my leg to get back the feeling and heard the crunching of snow beneath my feet. I did my best to ignore all the oddities as I clawed at the fire. Another sensation of splitting happened inside me, and I made one more push. I let out a final yell and sucked in the last of the air around the fire.
My legs hurt and my chest felt sizzling with the last of the fire’s hot air. I decided to look extra awesome in front of the couple and let that heat into the blade in my hands. I had never done this and wanted a legend to be born. I was also worried what would happen to my chest with all that hot air. As I swung the blade, I pulled the fire’s energy into the object. The sword burst into flames as I turned and swung. The sword made an odd screech instead of a whistle. I stood, breathing heavy, in front of the wide-eyed couple. My fingers started to burn as the heat of the metal reached my hand. I dropped the blade, darting my hand to my side. The sword fell into the snow near my feet and hissed. As I looked at the blade, I saw a new groove appear.
I didn’t want to explain what was going on. I didn’t fully know what was going on. I decided the best route would be to return to my camp, tell Thunder I was leaving, then go home to sort things out. The fewer questions, the better, since I didn’t have the answers. Plus, I had just done something awesome followed by dropping my sword clumsily. I sheathed my sword on my back and started walking back to my camp.
Whatever “awesome” I was feeling evaporated when I got to camp. I saw half of my camp site burnt up. I wished it had all been burnt, instead of only half. I had started the forest fire that almost killed us all. By not putting out my fire, it almost cost all our lives. I saw a figure appear from the woods. The figure was Thunder. I am not sure how I knew, but I just knew. I told the figure that I needed to get home in a hurry and to please follow me. Thunder Born appeared to agree with me as the figure kept following me. I had a lot of questions for Thunder Born, but wanted to have a much more controlled fire the next time we talked. Plus, the couple and police would soon be here asking who started the forest fire. I didn’t want to be around for that question.
Senior Technical Advisor
National Wildfire Coordinating Group
346 1st Ave SE
Harrisburg, WA 98646
Dear Mr. Mineford,
The following are our findings of the odd forest fire from last September. We know the fire started in a specific campsite reserved by Mr. Longview. Yet we found that Mr. Longview was at work before the fire started. Security cameras confirm Mr. Longview was at work when the fire started. We noticed several tent locations and assumed he had friends with him at the campsite. We’ve gone through Mr. Longview’s social profiles and identified several potential friends. Mr. Longview was hesitant to name any of his friends that were with him during that camping trip. We also interviewed store owners from the town near the campsite.
The main hurdle was that none of the stores have modern systems. We could not pull any receipts and attach them to credit card files. When we spoke to the local bank manager, who apparently controls much of the town’s finances, we were shown out. The bank manager appeared angry when we requested information about the forest fire. We are not sure he had anything to do with the fire and are still investigating him. None of the store clerks offered any useful information. Furthermore, no stores had security footage available. The grocery clerk admitted to getting a security camera to help with theft, but that was only after the day in question.
Under laws RCW 4A.28 and WAC 3255.2, we cannot pursue criminal charges against Mr. Longview. Those laws only allow legal action for costs associated with fire suppression. What makes this case so unique is that the fire was already stopped before our teams assembled. We are unsure of the fire suppression method. My recommendation is putting a watch on all future campsites booked by Mr. Longview and several of his friends. I’ve enclosed their names in a separate document. If they book any future campsites, it would be nice to send a warden out to verify proper fire operation.
Please set up an email alarm when these individuals reserve a campsite and have it go to me.
Thank you for your help!
I stood in front of the fire in my backyard. Thunder was there in the smoke. We discovered that using the fire was the only way we could talk. Perhaps it was because he could pop the logs in unique ways or whistle through the logs. I had a lot of questions for him, the first being why I could now see the wind.
“I saw you drowning and used several pieces to push you towards the inlet” Thunder began, “The woman pulled you both toward the land. She then started trying to revive that other man.”
So she had made a choice on who should live and did not choose me. That made sense, as I was almost a stranger; even if I did drown trying to save her lover.
Thunder continued, “When I saw she wasn’t going to save you I got mad. The water stole your pieces of air. I know what it’s like to have your pieces stolen.”
The smoke flared a bit and curled into a column around Thunder Born. “So I gave you my pieces. They saved you. As you were coughing, you were also bleeding into the water.”
“I don’t understand, Thunder. What does the water have to do with this?” I asked, curious about why he brought that fact up.
“The water returned the piece to me as a bubble. For a brief moment, one piece was inside both you and me.” Thunder said. “What happened next, I have never seen.”
“You mean putting out the fire? The snow?” I asked, trying to get clarification.
“Not exactly,” said Thunder. He walked towards me and pointed at my chest. “One piece multiplied in both of us at the same time. Pieces normally only multiply in wind beings; it’s how we heal. Yet, that piece multiplied in a flesh being. That has never happened.”
“So, I used pieces to control the fire?” I asked.
“You used one piece to unravel the fire’s air and one piece to turn the flame to your sword. It looks like you still had one more piece after that.” Thunder Born answered.
We both stood there looking at each other for a few moments. It was as if I were looking into a zoo with caged animals just beyond my touch. A world just on the other side of the glass. Perhaps Thunder felt the same way about me.
“One more thing, speaking of flame,” Thunder said, breaking the silence. “Your sword.” Thunder pointed at where the sword was laying nearby.
“Swing your sword” commanded Thunder.
I did so, obliging Thunder. It made a weird vibrating noise as the air whooshed through. Where the sword had whooshed came a word made of air. Normal people would not be able to read the air script that my eyes could now see.
“I don’t understand what that word means, Thunder. I can’t read your air script.”
Thunder curled some wind at his top, pleased with himself. “It is your wind name. I wrote it when the blade was hot enough to change. It cost me a piece to do so but was well worth it.”
“My wind name? Like your name is Thunder Born?”
“Yes,” Thunder replies. “When you use this I will know who is calling me. You will no longer need to yell in the air to get my attention. The whistle and script will do that.”
Staring at the blade, the value grew quickly. Perhaps I should get a better case and handle for the blade. I knew I would no longer use it to chop simple branches. After all, I could now use the blade to write air script. The blade, which I could turn hot by feeding pieces in, could be used as a pen to write air script. Using that script, I could summon a wind esper to my side.
I swung the blade again and looked at the script it wrote.
Curious on the word, I asked, “What is my wind name? What does it say, Thunder?”
“It says your wind name is Marshmallows.”
Meet the Author
James Livingood was born in Montana, raised with three brothers, and provided trouble for two parents. In his 20’s he fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. He moved out to Seattle after college and started a life by providing IT Consulting. In 2014, he started the writing adventure.