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Short story: “Prometheus’ Gift”

A little tale of the supernatural and how urban fantasy doesn’t have to be limited to grimdark and romance. It can just be a little annoying.

***

The fire spoke to her.

It wasn’t like some malevolent force asking her to set fire to everything she saw, it didn’t make any such suggestions or even hints. The fire…just talked.

It whispered and soothed, it spoke in dulcet tones and hummed in the silences between crackles and pops.

The first time it happened she had been naturally shocked and left the campfire in a hurry, blaming a call of nature. Her friends had given her some odd looks, for her sudden decision to leave, but had not probed her once she had dared to return to the ring of light created by the fire. The fire had not spoken more to her that night and for a time she managed to forget what had happened.

Then came the family Christmas trip, to the quaint cottage up in the mountains, taken straight out of some music video (Wham’s “Last Christmas” was the first thing that jumped into her head and she felt so old), with the snow piled up high, glittering in an inviting manner that meant they had to spend the entire first afternoon chasing after the younger members of the family, lest they catch a cold flopping and digging themselves through the huge drifts of snow, not yet touched by a human foot.

She had been helping her sister dry off her youngest, a fidgety three year old in front of the fireplace, radiating a comforting heat from the fire her father had made, when it happened again. A low whisper, a murmur in greeting that first made her think it was her five year old nephew playing some trick on her. The boy was rather mischievous, so much that she jokingly called him a fey changeling, so it would not have been out of character, but she quickly realized that his little brother, the boy she was currently drying off had made no sign that he had heard the sound. Feeling a little unsettled she tried to focus on her task when the fire spoke to her again, in a way that left no confusion about what and who she was hearing.

She let her gaze drift towards the fire and the low speech increased, filled with compliments and gratitude that she had finally come to her senses. A low fear began to snake through her gut and she tried to turn her eyes away from those flickering flames, cooing and speaking to her, much like her little three year old nephew was won’t to do, much like when he had only just learned to speak properly and could never tire of the sound of his own voice.

That realization about the fire’s speech made the fear dissipate, leaving only a slight annoyance and concern for her own mental state, so for a time she tried to ignore it, just letting the fire’s babbling wash over her, occasionally joined by her nephew’s childish speech as he recounted all that he had done out in the snow that day.

Later, after they’d had dinner and the children had been put to bed she found herself drifting to the fireplace with a book and a cup of coffee, attracted to the comforting warmth found there. And the fire responded immediately by speaking to her, in a low, pleading voice. Would she not please respond, it said. Would it not let it know how it felt?

Seeing no one else in the room and feeling a strong desire to find out if this was all in her mind she turned to the flames.

“I am quite tired and only want to read my book, so can you please be quiet for now?” she said, as if this was one of her nephews or nieces, bothering her when she was much too tired.

To her great surprise the fire murmured some words of assent and then remained quiet for the rest of the night. Either she was so mad that she could control her own delusions…or perhaps this was something else entirely. Something so strange it would send any sensible person into real madness.

The next time she found herself alone at the fireplace was the next day, after they’d put the finishing touches to the decorations in the cabin, the children sent to bed with promises of Santa in the morning and the adults sharing some mulled wine to send them off to sleep too. As she sat there the fire only made a low hesitant sound as she sipped on her own mug of wine, savoring the mix of spices on her tongue.

Would it speak to her now? Or was it still much too busy?

The voice, though strange and ethereal still had the sound of an eager four year old, begging for attention.

She focused for some time on her book, but then she let her eyes drift towards the fire and asked what it really was.

The fire let out an amused hissing sound and asked if it did not have eyes to see with. Then the flames seemed to move, curling about themselves in an unnatural way and for an instant she thought she could see a smiling face, shaped by the very fire itself.

She supposed that anyone else might have panicked at the sight and tried to deny it, but she had grown up reading fantasy, so for her it was a strange comfort to know that she wasn’t crazy. It just happened that fire had a face and a voice, which was now directed fully at her, babbling away like an overexcited child, now that she was truly responding to it.

That Christmas became a bit of a trial, as she often heard the fire try to address her over the voices of her relatives, going about the rituals of the jolly holiday.

When the children opened their presents, the fire begged her to let it have some of the wrapping paper as it “looked so tasty”. The same thing happened at dinner, when it wanted some of the scraps from the table. It also tried to sing along to the hymns her mother played on the piano and the other Christmas carols they sung together, her five year old trickster nephew intentionally singing louder than anyone else. The fire seemed to like that a lot.

Every time she had some alone time by the fire, however brief, the fire spoke to her, making idle and strange questions, like how snow felt and why they wore clothes. Once it must have picked up some words from her teenage cousin, for it starting slinging random curses at her, though without any malice in its voice. That made it even more unnerving.

She was glad to leave the cabin once the festivities were over, for the constant chatter from the fire was wearing her out. Perhaps she’d be spared the queerness of a talking fire until the next summer camping trip.

But then as she lit some candles to create a cozy mood a few weeks later she heard the flickering flame of the candle speak to her in that same soothing, dulcet voice, that crackled and popped. She knew then that there would be no escaping her new, very chatty companion, so she might as well get used to it.

So far she had been unable to tell anyone about it. Was there even any way to tell anyone about it without seeming like some crazy pyromaniac?

She kept her secret, never responding to the chatter and whispers that began to appear whenever there was a lit candle or an open fire in her presence. At most she only risked a quick hiss to the voice to be quiet, if the chatter became too distracting (it had happened once when she’d been on a date with a very, very lovely person), but otherwise she let the babbling of the flames wash over her, like the waves lapping on some shore.

Perhaps this was the fates punishing her for her decision not to have children. Instead it had opened up this channel to some supernatural being, who acted very much like a child at times, teaching her patience much like a child would have (she could never have sex in a room with a lit candle in it again, no matter how romantic it was, the last time had been very awkward).

But she had to admit that sometimes she appreciated her strange companion. After all, it meant that whenever she felt lonely or she had some problem she didn’t want to bother her friends or family with all she had to do was light a candle and she’d have someone to speak to, someone who never judged her or asked anything from her.

Well, nothing besides that she remain there to listen to its low murmur, as the flickering of the flame made shadows dance on her walls.

 

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