He leaves the river’s edge cutting his way through forest and short tangled brambles that stab his flesh. . .
A steep rock ridge covered in vines thrusted up from the forest floor blocks his course. He refuses to deviate from his track and bounds onto the rock and scrambles to its jagged prominence, fingertips and toes bleeding, and slips down the dark side and continues pressing his way toward the high place that looms in the distance.
At points when the canopy breaks he can see it and its crumpled edges that lay in thin sheets pushing back the growing forest. He holds his stone blade out now and swings it, slashing his way through the dry vines and thicket, cutting away the last branches. He soon puts his foot onto the broken ledges lying at the foot of her mountain.
Now he scrambles on the scree beneath the high place. Darkness falls. He throws his burden onto the stones, and begins roaring toward the village through the uncounted trees. He then sees Theo’s face, crying. She does not know why he let her die. Her question drops him to all fours, drooling and gritting his teeth like a terrible creature from the forest that kills from a thirst for death without a need to eat. He is as they say he is – the demon in the forest – and he grits his teeth and prays to kill, but no living thing falls within his sight and he’s left to smash rocks.
With hatred, he tosses fragments and shards into the forest. He wants to gouge the trees, the earth, the sky. The pieces knock off leaves and small branches and bounce into the soil.
“Where are you!”
He continues throwing stones. “Where are you?” A fractured chunk caroms off a trunk nearby and crashes beside him on the rocks. When it hits, white streaks dance on the ground and are gone, but he remembers the smell, and he remembers her in the bower when the sky fire landed and she named them “sparks.”
He stops throwing, stops moving altogether, and stands looking back over the rocks and begins to laugh.
“It is not yours,” he says, howling like a man they once sacrificed in the village. The Gatherer women said he had lost his sense like a bird that batters its head into tree trunks. “It is not yours. It is mine!” He calls to the night.
Then he picks up the stones and looks them over close to his face in the low light. He throws them down against the scree. White streaks bounce. He then grips two of the stones before him and smashes them together. The flash is enormous, the smell thick and he inhales, taking the memories that it conjures – he is holding the sky fire in his hand and laughing with Theo there. She is alive.
“Sky fire!” he shouts. “Sky fire!”
He smashes the rocks together again and breaks his little finger so that it hangs to the side at its midpoint. But he hates that finger for breaking and continues crashing the rocks into each other and showering the white fire all over the scree before him.
When he walks down the rock to the forest edge, he takes the stones with him and smashes them together there, showering the trunk of a tree with the white fires. He does this again and again, standing in place until his legs are stiff and the sky fire smell so thick that he tastes it and feels it in his nose.
One small piece of bark now glows with an orange light beneath him. It does not ignite, and he keeps showering the sparks until the rocks in his hands are pounded to dust.
These rocks are useless to him now, and he goes back into the scree and takes more of the gray rocks and pounds them together, dropping the white fires onto the leaves of a green bush. His hands have no feeling now and they shake but he continues clapping them together, holding the rocks and dropping the white fires onto everything he comes to until he smells smoke.
In the bush that he showered with sparks there glows a flame on the ground. The dry forest duff burns and he hacks the green bush down and pulls it out of the way and watches the ground tinder glow. The flame has gone but the tinder is orange and shimmering bright. He scratches his head and begins showering it again.
Other places start to blaze yellow, but he cannot raise a flame and he waves his hands together as hard as he can to produce the greatest spark. His arms are getting tired now he swings them so hard, but he sees that the breeze from his arms causes the orange to glow brighter.
At that, he drops the stones and falls to his knees beside the glowing tinder. Then he takes his hand and waves it back and forth. When he does so the tinder glows brighter, and he begins waving his hands harder and faster over it. Beside him there is a large, flat piece of stone standing up embedded in the ground. He grabs that sheet of rock and begins waving it in frantic motions. He waves and waves and sees the orange light grow bigger beneath the stone, flickering in the darkness.
Soon he hears a crackle and sees the flame, and he drops the stone and dances in a circle all around the fire, but the flame begins to dwindle and he runs out for more of the dry tinder. This he heaps onto the flame and then the flicker is gone. Only a waft of smoke remains. And he shouts, but he grabs more stones and begins in a rage to smash them together in a rhythm now showering sparks onto the heap of tinder.
Soon many patches of orange are glowing in the black forest, and he takes up again the flat stone and waves it up and down until the flame stands tall and lights up his arms and legs in its breathing radiance. When he has gotten the flame to rise, he backs off, dropping the stone to the ground and searches in the new light he made for things to add to his fire. He removes the blade from his thigh and cuts branches from the trees that are glowing now in strange rows throughout the forest. Moving in and out of the pockets of light behind the black shadows on the dry tinder floor, he collects branches until his arms are full; then he returns and throws those on.
The fire glows, and he laughs and sits in the dirt. He watches how the bark on the branches curls to turn white and disappears, and how the wood reddens and burns changing to black then white and then into a glowing brilliant orange. He reaches out and puts his hand near it to feel the warmth. He touches the flame and it burns him. The sweat on his moist hand sizzles and he recoils. There is some pain, but he smiles and begins to laugh when he looks at his body under his new light. Soon he notices the shadow his body casts far out into the forest and begins waving his fingers and watching the shadows and laughing, wondering what the Hunters would think of this shadow he casts. They would be afraid, he knows, and they would run away, and he laughs more.
“Where are you?” he says, “I am here!” He examines himself further in the light. “Where are you? You are afraid!”
Then he goes out to the reaches of the light and takes more wood for it. This he throws onto his fire and returns. He makes a pile as tall as he is, and the flames grow up to lick the bottoms of the tree limbs above. Soon they are alight and the entire tree glows to the ground, swaying in the wind and dropping flames everywhere all around. The dry ground is on fire and he shouts with the crackling of the flame: “This is my fire!”
More trees ignite. His hands are over his head and he shouts again like the Warriors shout in battle. But the heat now is intense, burning so brightly in the darkness that he can nearly see to the desert. But the heat it throws is strong and sends him with his things up the scree and into the recessed shadows cast by the shapes of the shattered rocks. He places his things down behind the shelter of a large fallen stone and hides.
He is sweating again. It pours from his body. He drinks the water from the skins he took from the river and cannot stop studying the fire. He watches it the more the larger it gets with the more trees it engulfs – the smoke pouring upward. The wind shifts and blows a plume over him and he begins coughing, his eyes watering. He presses against the rock searching for air until the breeze lifts and he stands again and watches his fire.
Then other trees on the edge of the scree begin to ignite from top to bottom in one flash and whoosh and yellow-orange crack. He takes to watching those trees for the excitement it gives him.
While enjoying this new pleasure, above him on the ledges he hears crackling. He looks but does not see anything. But back where he lit the initial fire a tree flies apart from within, concussing his chest with the noise. Then another tree comes apart the same, with flame in every direction, and he shouts in approval and begins dancing around on the rocks and broken pieces.
He watches these trees burst apart until the crackle above him becomes loud enough to penetrate his fixation. There, he sees the new glow where the mountainside to the high place is painted red and flowing upward hiding the night fires in its light. The trees sway in the breeze up the mountain as the fire follows the wind and burns those trees still wet from rain. There is a roar like a beast and the fire chases uphill.
Burning animals run, dying in the light that he made. The fire is its own animal, beyond his control, flying up the mountainside and out of his sight. He stands there watching, laughing.