Town of Fire

The town was quiet, as most deserted towns are. As it sat in the dirt and dust of decades past, the sun rose from the east as a caravan of moving trucks and vans, personal cars, minivans, RVs, motorcycles and even bicycles moved up from the south, driving through hills, swamps and storms. Days for some, weeks for most, they drove around the interstates and freeways, the main streets and alleyways, picking up stragglers who had showed up too late for one van or just in time for a single mother with three babies at her knees.

The motorcycles picked up speed and drove past the trucks and vans, circling around the town in a noisy ritual before stopping at the was perceived to be the front gates. The trucks, vans and cars circled the town as well, surrounding it. The riders from before were inside the town now, opening doors and windows for the ancient buildings, letting out the old sighs and groans of the people who lived there before them.

Children and teenagers mingled with one another, playing, so the smaller ones would be distracted by what the adults were doing. Old women greeted each other with shy chuckles and strong hugs, cried and held hands, glad to have been able to make it to another day. Young people who cast away gender nodded to each other and got to work, grabbing many a gas canister from a moving truck.

As the riders moved out of the town, they blew kisses to those moving in, blessed them with shoulder touches. The air was different inside.

As the canisters sat outside various buildings, the elder folk shuffled in when the young people moved in. They hugged and kissed foreheads before going inside. Dressed in long, elegant yet simple, black robes that covered their faces from the side, they strode into the town in a single line, humming a single note. They walked through the town slowly and deliberate, the humming so loud, the children playing stopped screaming and sat down to listen. The humming went on for almost two hours as the elders walked each and every street. The people on the outside of town had come together in a circle, holding hands and swaying to the humming. Some even started humming themselves, adding to the beautiful monotone sound. When the first elder stepped through the rear gate, a child rushed to them, taking their hand and leading them to an empty chair. A teen came over with a cup of honey water. A young parent came over with a small plate of fruits and veggies. The elder thanked them. As every elder stepped through the gate, another group of people would receive them and dote on them.

On the north side of town, when the last of the humming died down to only the mosquitos, a group of women, maiden and matriarch alike, dressed in the colors of transitions from night to dawn, from day to dusk, started to dance. They danced to the roar of the leaves from the many beech and live oak trees that encompassed the town, as if Mother Nature herself was proud of their twirling. The colors from their loose pants, their robes, their dresses, melted into one another as they tumbled, tossed and tapped around. The future neighbors and loved ones watched them as they danced around the town, some of them tossing fallen magnolia petals at them. Once they had done a lap around the town, they rushed inside and split up into two groups, one group dancing towards the east, the other to the west, as the sun sat at high noon, watching them carry on with vigor and force. As the dancers exited the front and rear gates, they were greeted with water and applause, with rose hip tea and blessings.

As the elders and the children enjoyed lunch, the folk in between were busy sprinkling a herbal powder mixed with dragon’s blood, wolfs bane and lilac, in the all the buildings, in all the streets, in the places someone might have missed the first pass. By the time they were done, the sun was starting to set and the elders were helping the children bathe and get dressed. The folk in the ages between quickly devoured their own food before helping the elders bathe and dress. The folk who had cast aside gender were tasked to dump the gas canisters over the trails of the herbal powder in the streets. Dressed in white, an elder came over to them and kissed their foreheads, thanked them and handed them a necklace the colors of red and coral. The genderless folk bowed their heads in grace and thanks and turned inside the town, grabbing a canister or two and heading to a street. They poured and poured and poured before ending up in the middle of town. They rushed back towards the front gates, grabbed the last of the canisters and poured once more, one by one on each side of the main street, making a trail of gasoline from the front gate to the rear gate. When the last can was empty and cast aside, one let out a whistle and rushed back to the front on the outside of town with the others. By the time they had gotten back to the front gate, the sun had finally pulled its last rays down behind the western horizon.

A child of 3, their guardian not far behind, walked up to one of the starts of gasoline trails, while an elder walked up to the other. With help, they lit the trails on fire with a match.

The air was still, the animals were quiet as the fire quickly spread throughout the town, engulfing the old homes and buildings. The small child reached for their guardian when they all saw a burning body at the start of their trail. It stood there for a moment, watching the hundreds of people before turning and walking through the street of fire.

The guardian of the child took a deep breath, picked up the child and slowly followed the figure. They expected a scathing heat, something that would have burned their white robes. They were met with the last breeze of spring as they walked through the hellfire. The child watched as another fiery figure walked alongside the first one, who turned back and smiled at the child.

The folk followed single file before the guardian and child, even though there was room for at least ten people to walk side by side down the street. As buildings screamed as if living people were still inside, two fiery people would walk beside one of the living, as if shielding them for the destruction. As the old, rotted wood came crashing down, shooting debris into the air, the wall of fire from the gas and the fiery figures stood in the way of reaching the folk.

The first two fiery figures made it through the rear gate, they parted to the side and slowly disappeared as the child and guardian made it through the gate. The guardian gasped, as if they had finally drawn breath from almost drowning. Tears started to fall from their eyes and the child’s before the guardian fell to their knees and started to sob. The child wailed as well, clinging to their guardian. As the living slowly made it through the gates, the same would happen; a gasp and uncontrollable weeping as their fiery figures stood aside and disappeared.

As the new moon watched and caught the smoke from the burning town, the folk below mourned. The rocked side to side, back and forth. They held each other, wiped away tears that just couldn’t stop. They wailed, yelled, screamed, whispered, mumbled, prayed, wished.

Then they watched the fire. It didn’t roar. It let out a shrill scream for hours. As each building fell, it would snap like a bone breaking and the scream would get louder. The folk watched and didn’t flinch as each scream happened.

As the dawn came, the screaming turned into quiet yelping. As the sun peeked its rays over the horizon, the last bit of fire in the heart of town slowly started to die down before pulsating one last time and blowing out. A rooster let out the first crow of the morning and the folk went to bed where they slept until the next.

While they slept, a group of men had seen the fire from miles away were now riding up the hill to the town but immediately turned around when fire sprang up from the road, blocking their path.

The revival of the town called Phoenix would finally be safe.

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