This is a very old little sketch, and much different in tone from the things I’ve written about lately.
OVER THE RISE IN THE TRACK, across the fields of gold, where the fresh river runs, lay a mountain. Inside a crevasse in the mountain an ancient man bowed to the ground and touched his hands to a fire he’d built. The flames turned orange and pink through his skin. His ancient face couldn’t contain flickers of a grin from crossing his expression as he stood, carrying the fire in his hands. The flames rose and fell around him, across his beard and down his arms. He’d earned how easily the element could be persuaded and controlled: one only needed the language to speak.
At midday, as a party of actors passed by in the field below, their cart full of costumes and masks and fake weaponry and gunpowder, the old man sat still in the same place, high, high above.
The fire grew larger and brighter, finding its way to the back corners of the cave. The fire sang, making notes human ears could recognize. The sound invaded every corner of the cave.
By now there was a small gathering watching the actors perform. Kids ran to gather their families at the request of the playwright, and torches lit the stage. But none of this reached the old man. His special fire burned gracefully, but other, more powerful things were now at work.
Glowing waves of sunlight spread into the cave from over the crest of the mountains. As the light spread, the old man’s magic faded, and the fire resumed its old self—the shape of an ignorant hearth-fire—as the man’s clothes started burning. As the fire was all around him, his only fear was that no one would know what he’d accomplished.
In the valley below, where the cave was only a slit in the wall of the yellow mountain, the troupe of actors went on with their plays.