2023-2024, Short Story, Writing

The Forest and the Flame

By Will Hougland, ’27

Fire crawled across the fallen log, enjoying, almost savoring, the harsh creaks and sighs as it drew its last breaths before it became consumed. Halfway across the log, it grew impatient and raced across the rest, leaving burning white blisters across the bark that it didn’t touch. Seeing the lean of the nearby grass, desperately trying to escape the inferno but trapped in the soil, the fire laughed, a hard, sharp sound, like the crackling brush getting twisted into knots, like fallen leaves getting strangled to death by a loveless, heartless specter. The grass was gone in seconds as the fire grew and grew, eclipsing all in its wake. Where there was nothing to burn, it receded, leaving patches of cold, lifeless clumps of dirt and mud. A young tree saw the fire take notice of it, sending an offshoot of tormented golden light towards it. Strange, thought the little tree as it burned to a crisp. Wasn’t gold supposed to be good? Wasn’t heat supposed to be fuel? Wasn’t fire meant to be confined to the Sun? But the sun had set, and the only heat, the only light, came from this twisted distortion, spreading through the forest. The older trees turned their stony faces away from their murdered offspring, hunkering down in their shells of bark in hopes of fending off the blaze. For some it worked. Redwood survived as it always does, secretly enjoying the show, hiding the small, sadistic smiles that wormed their way across its face as its neighbors felt the fire beginning to climb up their trunks, to cover them, before smothering them to death. Their places, left empty by their untimely deaths, would be taken up by its children, and their children. Other trees feared the blaze, while it welcomed it, having nothing to fear. Or so it thought, just before the desecrated carcass of a fallen tree slammed into it with full force, sending great cracks across its bark, letting the fire in. It tasted like ash, like dirt, like the hundreds of souls that it had killed and absorbed, as it rushed in to fill redwood up with its deadly warmth.