Don't disrespect this element.
|Contained within a wall of stones the campfire was born into life. It crawled up sticks, eating with yellow-tongued greed, sucking out resins, leaving black charcoal. Soon, it settled into sedentary middle age, crawling along thicker branches, watching with red-eyed embers, resignedly heating cooking pots. Stirred awake by an impatient prod, it shot sparking offspring swirling up, carried aloft on sharp smoke. And died back, satisfied, smug, in the afterglow of procreation.
The campfire makers did what all campers do. They told ghost stories. They toasted marshmallows. They drank strong liquor. They relieved themselves into the flames. They stumbled into tents. And slept.
It had been waiting, somnolent, seething, silent. An element as mighty as Fire is not to be treated so lightly, with such disrespect. It did not mind being held in stone, tamed, asked to share its heat and light. But to be half murdered in such a stinking fashion? There was a little devil of life left. It burrowed down, inching through dry, peaty soil, thick with roots finding highways of sustenance to spread fingers in a net, secret, smoking, searing, not alive. But not dead.
The campers snored on, unknowing. Convinced that all was well by their coverings of thin fabric and bags stuffed with down. Muzzy with the belief found in alcohol and ignorance. Assured that they were in control.
Fire's progeny danced high into dark pines, darting into parched needles, nesting. Dropping softly into a feast of sticky spikes, they settled. And grew. And grew. Here there was no ring of hard granite to limit their childhood. Here they had the freedom of adolescence, jumping in wild leaps from twig to twig, emboldened to run along stiff branches, cackling with laughter. Flames expanded, ever more hungry, consuming whole trees in a glory of brilliant ignition, exhaling black smoke. It created balls of flame, tossing them from tree to tree, grove to grove. It crowned the peaks, it filled the valleys and sang its triumph in a roar.
The campers never knew. They missed the whirr of beating wings as birds abandoned their homes. They did not see the bounding deer fleeing the encroaching monster. They did not feel the heat from above or below. They did not taste the bitter air. Their sleep dragged them below life.
As wild as the sun, a blazing inferno, it thundered through forest plantations, it sprinted up moorland hillsides, it consumed once babbling streams and left only the bones of their stony beds. It spewed its breath into a gale it created to suck in the oxygen it craved. At its edges, little creatures flapped their futile beaters. It let them think they had extinguished the flames but ran along, underground and jumped up, behind them, to engulf their metal machines.
With a shout of fury, it felt water scour a freezing drift across one flank. It battered at the throbbing metal thing that flew beyond reach. Time and time again, it dropped the nemesis in black wounds. Then Fire reared up and saw that it did not matter. Across the valley there were seried ranks of vines, perfect runways to take off into the mountains beyond. As if to frustrate its advance, slash after slash of water, now tainted with a poison cut off those tasty morsels.
Insatiable, Hellfire occupied the land, laying siege to townships, eating animals, people, machinery. Spitting out blackened bones, white ashes and melted metal, marking its destruction. Fire devils twirled with hearts hotter than a volcano.
With no whisper of warning, the weather changed. At first the wind engorged the flames but then came the first patters of rain. They made no difference, bursting into steam before they neared the searing ground. Then came more and more and more. A shower became a deluge, cooling the fuel, denying oxygen. The fire guttered and died. Then sprang up again, elsewhere, but there were guardians with hose and beater to extinguish it. It tried again and was stamped on. And the rain turned the dust to mud and the ashes to slurry.
Much later, a ranger found the curled bones of the campers. He wept the tears that should have killed the campfire.