~ short story
Olly reached out to touch the heart carved into the trunk, toward a pair of initials she did not recognize but was nevertheless intrigued by. Behind her, Abbi and Kat wandered the nearby brush. They wobbled and cast a wayward path onto the ground, midway through their own psychoactive alterations. Sunset thrust itself through the old trunks and treetops. A pleasant chill wind and the scents of crisp early winter greeted the trio of them. They’d spent the last days of their semester smoking in the woods and wandering happily in the after-effects. Today more than ever.
“Am I imagining this?” Olly asked herself as her hand touched down onto the heart. Instantly, her fingers wandered over the ridges of the displaced and sheared bark, confirming the etchings as true. She wondered at the pair that had staked their love here. Her heart began to race. All her mind’s energies channeled onto the wooden surface of the tree, Olly began to feel a connection unlike any she’d yet experienced in her young life. She closed her eyes.
What was this connection? To nature? To God? To these lovers who carved the heart…
Her hand, now buzzing with elated, heated excitement, brushed over the bark with grace. Behind her, she heard her two companions scrunch through the dry leaves, giggling, nearly falling. She smiled, too but did not open her eyes to turn around. She just remained. Existed. Holding her hand upon the tree, for just a little longer, Olly tried to imagine their love. She attempted to sight love itself, in the broiling ether of her thoughts, conjoined to this tree, attached to this world, signified unto this timeless love…
Strangely enough, she began to sweat. Under her sweater and shirt, from under the brim of her beanie in the fading light — her entire body began to heat. Everything about her grew hotter and hotter, to the point of discomfort. Her hand burned against the wooden heart. She retracted it fast. Opened her eyes.
The heart was gone. The tree trunk was blackened into an unrecognizable ziggurat, formless and crackling. Still aflame. Olly jumped back. Her pants were caught, she tried to dance the flames away, panic-stricken and violent in her movements, slapping at the fire engulfing her legs. Until she raised her eyes to her surroundings…
All around her, the forest was ablaze. The trees were pitched in an infernal blaze; the ground itself was a blackened crater of wisping kindles and smoldering still-fires. Smoke wafted into the sky and blotted it as black as night.
While she watched the impossible spectacle of this sudden blaze, the fires upon her body carried from her lower half to her torso, her striped sweater catching fire as well. While frantically slapping the licking flames upon her body, her clothing burning away into ash, Olly began to scream. The inferno raged among the trees now blackened, crumbling and falling away into ash, rising into the sky as a haze. Olly recognized the surrounding trees, their positions and orders, now obliterating themselves near and far to her trek through the forest. The path trailing back to campus, where they’d walked and where the wildfire now spread so effortlessly, she’d walked it before…
Kat and Abbi! she remembered. Where were they? Gone. Dead? Burned away into nothingness…
As Olly’s thoughts flashed by, as far as she could scan the horizons the fires of the entire forest burned higher and higher into the dusky sky — she finally realized that the fire did not harm her. It could not. The heat was there, the flames tore over her body… But there was no pain. No burns. They did not catch upon her, even as the flames bathed her entire form in their light and rage. She burned but did not die…
Olly stood in the center of this newly fashioned plane of fire, the entire forest’s space erupted into such fresh hellscaping. She breathed in the smoke, embraced the heat. Standing at attention within the inferno, wreathed in flame, shorn of all clothing and all sense of her former reality, something within her awakened. Olly’s eyes became that of the orange multitude, seeing far beyond the world as she saw it before, into the elements themselves. In her hands, small tongues of flames summoned themselves to her will. Her exhalations unleashed droplets of magma soon turning to lava and then to live flames that would trickle away into the air before her, raising the temperature of the world by a permanent, though inconspicuous, measure. Olly began to ascend, all of the chaotic destruction of the conflagration uplifting her with a pair of phoenixian wings soon to sear the air to wherever she wished them to take her…
From the locus of the inferno, Olly cried out! From her lips spewed a coruscating flash of fire, an iridescent ball of white-hot starlight fired out aimed into the darkness of the young and settled night sky.
Olly took a deep breath and retracted her hand from the oak. Her eyes fell again upon the initials in the center of the ill-shapen heart: LC+VA.
Everything was back to normal.
A dream? No… It was too real. Too vivid.
Her awareness fell back to the forestry, slightly less lit than before, as the sun had tucked itself away behind the mountains now. Their sunset neared its completion, night beckoned. That fading light led her to Kat and Abbi, who were still nearby, giggling and whispering to one another. Fear in her voice, Olly spoke out to them,
“Get away from here.”
She said the words with authority, but even she couldn’t believe them. Both of them looked over to her. She took a step toward them, hand outreached. A premonition. It must have been. This place will soon burn. They will die. They must get away!
“Go on, we… you have to get out of here!” Olly stammered, struggling with a way to convince them. Doom! Doom if you stay!! She couldn’t think straight. Or, rather, she was thinking too much, there were too many threads. Too many possibilities. Too many impossibilities for her to adequately explain to her companions that they were in the most mortal kind of danger and that their time to escape it was fast running out.
“Why?” Kat laughed.
“Yeah, are you like… freaking out Olly?” Abbi added.
“No,” Olly mouthed. Yes! But for good reason.
“Just calm down, we can walk back soo — “
“I have to go!” Olly chimed in, suddenly realizing how she would get them away from here, to safety… away from the coming tide of flames.
“What?” Kat asked.
“I have to pee real bad.. Right now! And I need some privacy. You know…” Olly explained with a sheepish smirk.
Kat and Abbi chuckled at one another, but then shrugged. They wandered away, into the shadows. As they did, and a sense of relief filled Olly’s chest, she realized with irony that indeed she did have to go.
On the other side of the trunk with the heart upon it, she crouched. As she did so, her eyes were drawn to the sky.
Far above, riding over the fading gradient of the day becoming night, she saw it.
A small burning orb cascading, descending. Small, a speck, but becoming larger. Coral in color. Burning with increasingly expedient and chaotic form, blazing limbs arced and licked off its mass as it fell. Toward her forest, her world. Toward her.
Olly grinned as she thought of those wings upon her body. The power that was soon to lay within her hands… The power not only to survive this coming realm of humanity’s eventide, of burning and heat and inhospitable fevers… but to thrive, to shape its every moment.
Olly welcomed the promethean burden with relief in her heart and eagerness in her unblinking eyes. They reflected her sizzling star’s fall until the very last, until they were entirely consumed by such cosmic crimson compurgation. ~