From Fire to Forest
Random crouched in the middle of a crossroads. Two paths extended straight disappearing into the horizon four directions away from the spot where he stood. The land was flat as far as he could see all around. Here and there in the distance, clumps of gnarled trees raised their crippled limbs against the mottled grey sky. The light that surrounded him had no source, no sun or moon. It seemed to seep out of the air and ground.
He stood for a long time wrapping his mind around what had happened. He slowly turned around taking in the whole scene. There was no stirring in the air or sound except for the dry crunch of his shoes on the sandy gravel of the road.
In the distance he saw a black dot in the sky that grew steadily larger until he could see it was a large black bird about the size of an eagle.
“Rawaak! Rawaak!” it called in a gravelly croak that echoed around Random as it passed overhead. It flew along one of the roads and as He followed its flight, Random could see the hint of mountains or hills, a faint smudge at the edge of the mottled sky.
“That must be the way.”
Thoughts had power and weight here, Random felt them move like muscles under his skin. He knew that the signs would lead him, because the land and creatures were somehow connected to him.
He walked on the road following the flight of the black bird toward the distant mountains. He knew they were mountains.
Random walked for what seemed like hours, though the unchanging light gave him no indication of the time of day. Still, he had not even reached the clumps of trees, and the smudge on the horizon had grown no larger. When he looked back, Random could no longer see the intersection. The path stretched out behind him disappearing in the blank grey horizon.
“What if I move the trees to me?” he thought
He sat down on the path and closed his eyes. He pictured the trees, imagining them larger and more detailed. When Random opened his eyes, he was in the middle of a clearing surrounded by hunched and gnarled trees twisting together in a frozen dance. The path had vanished.
The black bird sat on a low branch eyeing him; its head tilted.
“What do I do now?” Random whispered to himself. His question hung almost visible in the air.
“Fire!” croaked the bird its heavy scythe-like beak barely moving.
Random looked around. Scattered on the ground were twigs and branches. He gathered them up into a pile, sorting through them being careful to choose only the ones that had the correct form. Some had curves that fit his thoughts. Some had faces that he knew from his life. With the chosen pieces, he built an intricate structure, and as he constructed it, the bird, who sat watching him, would shake its head from time to time and utter odd throat clearing noises of approval or disapproval. Random would try different arrangements until he heard the birds grunt of assent.
After long, tedious work the twigs and branches formed the shape of five dancers in a circle. The bird croaked loudly and spreading its enormous wings like a sudden feathery shadow, sprang into the sky and receded into the distance.
As he watched the bird disappear, Random remembered the only word the bird had said. He closed his eyes and pictured the five dancing figures in clothes made of flames. In a few minutes he felt the undulating warmth and saw red and gold patterns on his closed eyelids. He heard a sputtering crackle and a sudden pop, and opened his eyes. All around him the shadow shapes of wooden dancers spun, flames clinging to their bodies in like flashing feathers. As he watched them dance, Random was aware of a chant intertwined in the chaos of crackles, hisses and pops. The chant formed in his mind without words and grew into a vision of a dark forest and two golden eyes burning in a grey face, burning into his mind the vision of forest.
Random woke all of a sudden, surprised at having slept. He found himself in the midst of layered green—leaves, vines, branches and wide smooth trunks of trees shaggy with moss and lichen. There was a stagnant dampness in the air that bathed skin and felt heavy in his chest. He felt neither warm nor cold. The cries, grunts and buzzing of thousands of creatures filled his head, and vibrant softly fluttering flashes of color appeared here and there among the foliage.
Random heard a soft growl almost like a purr and parted the leaves directly in front of his face. A wolf, eyes pale gold, mouth open in a calm grin, stood in a small clearing. Random shrank back a little, but the wolf’s relaxed attitude and easy breathing calmed him. This was the wolf the fire people had shown him, but he was still shy of the wildness of the wolf for it was not tame in the least.
The wolf came forward, stretching out her neck, gently taking Random’s hand in her mouth and pulling him toward the glowing remnants of what Random knew was the fire left by the dancers. The wolf dropped his hand and leaped into the largest pile of embers and was engulfed in a blazing shroud of sparks and gone. Random took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and followed the wolf. Red and gold heat flared around him. In an instant this was replace by cool green dampness.
He stood in the center of a circle of stones in the middle of a meadow of emerald grass surrounded by a wall of lush underbrush and trees of many shades of green. There were low sprawling shrubs, towering broadleaf and coniferous trees all tangled in vines twined like ropes hanging from the mast of a sailing ship.
The wolf stood just outside the circle of stones. As soon as Random saw its eyes, he knew he must follow her into the forest.