Short Story | Fire and Brimstone

She heard a crack as he entered the small clearing, a branch having given way beneath a boot, and his long jacket swept the ground, leaving just the slightest trail in the dirt behind him. She hadn’t been able to see him in the dark, but then again you could rarely see them clearly in the daylight either. She didn’t stir, but simply turned her head to watch him as he sat across the fire from her.

 

“You know who I am.” He said. It was a statement, not a question. She nodded. He smiled, an unsettling turn in his lips that would set anyone ill at ease.

 

“Let’s get started then.” he said as he reached in to his bag and began to pull several small jars, a tin, some clean, white cloth, and a few bundles of herbs from it.

 

“You don’t have anything I want.” Her voice was clear and crisp in the night, and he paused his preparations. She wasn’t looking at him, but at the fire, one knee against her chest, the other folded underneath her. She glanced at him. “Just so you know.”

 

“I have something everyone wants.” He replied, continuing with his preparations, but not taking his eyes off of her, his hands moving in practiced, memorized patterns, removing stoppers, mixing herbs, unbinding cloth.

 

He dropped his mixture in to the fire and and the already roaring flames geysered in to the dark night sky, the column coming dangerously close to the lowest hanging branches, and turning deep shades of crimson and gold, settling down in to greens and blues.

 

He had expected her to start, people usually did, but she had regarded the flames cooly, even in their uproar, and had simply observed as they settled back in to the eerie dark colors.

 

“You’ve done this before.” He said, again, a statement.

 

She nodded. “You’re not the first, and I doubt you’ll be the last.”

The grin twisted his lips, this time a little wider, a little more unsettling. “I’m always the last.” He said, nodding to her hand, holding his just in front of the flames. “Let’s see what you left behind.”

 

She nodded in agreement, pulled herself to sitting crosslegged. He pulled a vile of dark brown liquid from his bag and drank from it, then handed it to her. She did the same, and handed it back. They locked eyes. A challenge. An acceptance. He nodded once more and they both plunged their hands in to the glowing embers below the unnaturally blue flames.

 

Worlds, days, years, passed between them, friends, family, love, death. Then nothing. A void. The void continued for longer than any of the other memories, any of the other feelings.

 

He pulled his hand from the flames and heard her take in her breath as she did the same. He opened the tin and spread a pungent, white salve over his scorched hand, wrapping it with a piece of cloth before handing it to her. She bandaged her hand without a word.

 

Her eyes stared at the fire, unseeing, unblinking as tears washed her cheeks. He watched her, intent, like a predator, waiting for the moment to strike.

 

“There is strength in being alone.” She said, finally.

 

Not having taken her eyes from the glowing embers, transfixed by the blue and white that seemed to come to life out of nowhere just above them.

 

“But there is also great pain.”

 

He said, still watching.

 

“You want it back. Everyone does.”

 

She said nothing, but for a brief moment her eyes flicked to his, and they connected, one set golden, one watery blue, the whites tinged in red by the salt.

 

“You showed me the pain of having lost.” She held his eyes for the first time since he had entered the clearing. “Let me show you the pain of not yet losing.”

 

For the first time he faltered. This was not the response he had expected, but he nodded, sipping the brown liquid again reaching his unbandaged hand toward the fire. Her gaze returned to the logs and after swallowing her dose she buried her hand in the coals once more. As her flesh seared she made no sound, and did not pull her hand from the fire until all things had passed between them. Only then, did she remove her hand, and reach for the salve, applying it clumsily with her already bandaged fingers. He stayed where he was for a moment after she had pulled herself from his mind, his hand burning longer than it should have, and he jerked from the flame, glaring at it, then looking to her face as she held the tin out to him. She still looked down at the flame, and pulled her knees to her chest when she had taken it from her.

 

He anointed his hand, and pulled a fresh bandage from the bag by his side, wrapping and knotting it carefully, a practiced ritual. They sat in silence.

 

“I rescind my offer.” He said, barely louder than a whisper.

 

She nodded. He stood and pulled his coat on, repacking his bag, and moved to leave, but stopped at the edge of the firelight.

 

“There is no offer I could give you, is there?”

 

This time her face betrayed not even the smallest trace of emotion.

 

“Did you see anything in the flames to offer me?”

 

He shook his head.

“The only thing I could offer you is something which my contracts do not allow.”

 

“What is that?”

 

“Peace.”

 

And with that he turned in to the dark, and vanished with a rustle of his coat. She returned to the fire, and let the feelings wash over her, then slide away like rain drops on wings. She opened her eyes in to the darkness and found her self just the way she had been.

 

Strong.

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