Flicker

Flicker

You were born dirt poor to a mother and father who loved you. You were orphaned at the age of eight because poverty is inherently precarious. Thankfully you grew up in a community that cared for you as best as they could. A community that raised you into the young woman you are today. You live in a world that used to spark with life and hope and magic. Now there still might be magic but ... it's different. AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story takes place in a fictional fantasy world full of fictional fantasy people. Also my take on the magic elements of the world is heavily inspired by my religion of Lokeanism. I recognize that the motifs (is that the right word?) I used in this piece are not necessarily universal.

published on May 154 reads 4 readers 1 completed

Flicker

Aching. Screaming. Pain. All around. Inside. Outside. In your bones, in your flesh, in your muscles, in your blood. In your heart, in your mind, in your spirit, in your soul. All of it. You walk home as the last of the sun's light disappears beyond the horizon.

It hasn't started snowing yet but it will soon. The last of the crumbling dry leaves crunch beneath your feet as you walk by the cars that could easily hit you if they swerved to the side of the road. You shiver as you step into the ramshackle assortment of a few hundred huts made of sheet plastic and stuff from the scrap yard.

There they are. You life. Your heart. Your reason to live. Despite the best efforts of the local capitalists who give zero fcks, here your community is and you all love each other. You walk down the narrow dusty aisles of your crowded community. You are welcomed into the warmth of a lean-to made sheet plastic and rusted metal. It smells like plastic it's small and it's cold and it's home.

Reality shifts into focus back around you. There's your little sister. Bright like a guiding star in the darkness and kinder than anyone you've ever met. Good at keeping secrets and so very full of life. There's your girlfriend. Kind. Hopeful. Clever. Angry. As visionary as she is hilarious. As good at telling tall tales as she is at telling vivid stories. There's your best friend. Warm. Dependable. Intelligent. Exhausted. Enraged at the status quo and ready to fight like hell to fix it. Somehow still confident in the face of so much adversity. There's your adopted niece, or maybe your adopted daughter, you don't know. Small and clever and in more pain than a child had any right to be. She's a good kid. Very good. She just lives in a bad world. She's just desperate. Desperate and hungry. You all are. That's why you help each other. And here's your other best friend. They're sensitive, too sensitive. So deeply aware of their feelings and everyone else's feelings. So deeply angered by injustice. So deeply grieved by how her people suffer. Yet so brave. There's your sister's boyfriend. He has such an open heart. He wants equality. He can't wrap his head around why some people value material wealth more than human lives. He's almost too pure for this world. He is respectful and empathetic and forgiving. There's your adopted father. He is kind and gentle. He is careful and perceptive. He taught you to always help others. To always try to increase the amount of justice in the world. To stand up for people who couldn't stand up for themselves. To fight for what was right however you could. To use whatever power you had to protect people. You don't know who you would have ended up being if he hadn't taken you in, no questions asked, as if you were there all along.

And here you are home. And it's the tiniest of sparks in the oilest of darks. And here you are. And you can feel the crushing weight of the day falling away as their existence washed over you.

You smile as you hand over the stack of cash that made up your week's wages. And of course the money you made in top of that. It looks like a lot. But it's nothing compared to how extortionately much everything costs. Your girlfriend puts it in the metal box under at the corner of the tent. She locks the box and puts the key around her neck. It's already full of cash yet making the cash stretch a week would be a chore. There are so many children around the community to take care of. There are parents with babies. People who need medicine. And everyone needs food and water and firewood and warm clothes. There was never enough. But no matter. You have learned to share what you have even if it's never enough. You've learned that survival is a collective action. You've learned that life is a constant unending war and you have to be the type of soldier that never stops fighting and never backs down.

You hug your daughter and sit on the plastic-covered ground. The lean-to is tiny. It's crowded. There's barely space. It is cold, even with the fire going. But it's home. You ruffle the small child's dark black hair. She smiles. She's adorable. You hope against hope that her life ends up better than yours.

"How's it going?"

You all talk. For hours. Until sleep overwhelms your companions. Your insides burn with hunger. They often do. You don't have enough for dinner. Especially now that your neighbour's baby is sick. Hopefully the sweet child will make it out of this. Hopefully the sweet child will live. But you have to chip in to pay for medicine. It's what your dad would want you to do. What your birth parents would've wanted you to do before they died. What you want to do. What you should do.

Everyone drifts off to sleep. And then it's just you awake. You can't sleep yet. See the thing about you is you're cursed with the kind of beauty that rich people want. You're blessed with a family you need to protect. So all too often you find yourself letting rich men do things to you in exchange for money. You hate it but thankfully you're good at lying. In a world like this being good at lying is the difference between life and death. You're also good at sex. And you can never sleep after a day like this. You feel stifled and too hot despite how cold the tent actually is. You silently step outside the tent, closing the door flap behind you.

The night is still. Silent. Dark. There are no stars but you think you can see the faintest outline of some. Everything is still and cold as the world is settled into a deep sleep. The only other soul awake is a teenaged boy that lives across the way. His face glows orange in the light of the streetlights. You walk up to him.

"Couldn't sleep?" He asks, his voice warm and kind.

"Yeah. Tough day. Spent time getting stabbed for money."

"Oh. I'm really very sorry. That's not fair at all." He holds your hand and looks at you. His eyes are soft and sad and they hold just a bit of anger in them. You want to hug him. So you do.

"And what about you? Why are you up?"

"I had to watch a man get beaten up at work today. I wish I could've helped."

"That would've only made it worse and we both know it."

"Yeah." You look at each other again. There is so much said in the corners of your eyes and the curves of your lips that cannot be translated into words. So much grief. So much want.

Suddenly something catches the corner of your eye. Something bright. Something flickering.

"Who lit a fire outside?" His voice is confused.

"Let's go check."

The two of you walk towards the source of the light. And yes. Yes it is flame. But not like any flame you've seen before. Mostly because it dances across the head and down the back of a little girl, draped as if it is hair. The girl herself is small and short and scrawny. She couldn't be more than ten years old. Probably she is younger. Her face and arms glow orange but brighter than they would if they had merely been illuminated by the streetlight. She has tears streaking down her glowing face and she huddles hugging her knees.

You kneel before her. He follows suit. Eye to eye. You speak softly.

"What's up?"

She keeps crying.

He looks at her with his soft, worried eyes. She flicks her amber eyes over to him for the briefest moment. He gives her a small smile.

"Are you alright?"

She keeps crying. But she looks up with those striking amber eyes of hers. You tell her your names.

"I ..." she starts, "is it safe?"

"We won't hurt you."

"I ... they were hurting me. I don't know how I escaped. But I did."

She glows bright against the darkness of the night. Red and orange and yellow constantly move and dance and shift through her entire being. She's fragile. So fragile. But bright. So bright. She is ... you know who she is.

Your father had told you the stories. And your mother before him. And aunts and uncles and friends. You told your daughter. You told your ex boyfriend. You told whoever asked you to tell them. The community shared them over summer Sundays and winter nights. Everyone knew.

The Child of Flame. The god of the fire. The spirit of change, of hope, of dawn, of new beginnings. The embodiment of energy and life and longing. Of community and togetherness and nights spent around the fire sharing food. She was the simple act of baking bread on the hearth. She was the revolutionary act of burning your abusers' house down. She was the holy act of a forest or grassland renewing itself. She was power and protection rolled into one. Destruction and rebirth. She was change embodied. And hope embodied even more.

She came as a young girl. She came as a bird. She came as a butterfly. She came as a spider. She came as a shooting star. She came as a literal flame. She came as the spark behind people's eyes or the mischievous secretive upturn of their mouths. She came as a hug between strangers, as a secret shared in the nighttime. She came as a protest cry and a war song. She came as a martyr's last breaths. And she had not come for years now.

Nobody had seen her in decades. Not in any of her forms. And here she is.

"They ... what were they like? You don't have to tell me."

"They kept me locked up all lone in a dark room. There was no-one. Every day they took a piece of me and they put it out. I was getting weaker and weaker. I don't know how I escaped."

"Well you escaped. And we won't let them take you." He smiles. She smiles at him back.

You reach your arms out towards her and she crawls into a hug. She feels warm and so very much alive in your arms. A while later she crawls onto his lap and he lifts her up. She wraps her arms around his neck and buries her head into his shoulders.

"Would you like to get some sleep, little Miss Flame?"

She nods against his neck, causing him to stifle a laugh.

"Wait," you say, before they turn to leave, "my neighbour's baby is very sick. Can you give her some of your healing energy?"

She raises her head to look at you. She smiles. She nods confidently. You lead the boy still carrying the girl to the tent beside yours. You know the code for their lock. You push the flimsy plastic aside. The girl gets down to stand beside you and then to kneel beside the sweet, sleeping form of the tiny baby beside her worried father. The child's sleep is fitful and her face is too sallow for her youngness. You are amazed as the Child of Flame passes a hand over her, and for a moment the baby glows faintly. And then when she takes her hand away, the infant has more colour in her cheeks, more roundness to them. Her sleep is deeper now. Softer. Her breathing more strong. You know she will make it.

"Thank you." Your words are solemn.

The god smiles.

"Shall we take you to my tent, my Lady?"

"Yes."

"Tomorrow is a Sunday. Thank the moon. We'll introduce the whole community to you."

"They'll love you. We've been searching for you for so long. We'll always protect you."


———

If you like this piece check out my Mastodon my account is FSairuv@mas.to and I post about human rights, social justice, and the environment.
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otis15
https://slithergame.org - Keep your snake moving to avoid becoming an easy target. Stay agile and unpredictable to evade larger snakes.
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