This was a story rather spontaneously inspired by a bonfire tonight. If you need inspiration, go stare into a fire! Anyway, enjoy.
"Rebirth in Fire" by Lomiel
Lauren tossed the last armful of sticks onto the burn pile and folded her dirt- and sap-covered arms critically. Underneath the meager pile of dry wood she could just see the color-filled covers and pure white pages of several books, looking pitiful in their moss-covered state, sentenced to death. She shook her head--this had to be done.
She plopped down in a single, slightly-algae-coated patio chair that she had dragged down from her house and slumped in its comfortless plastic embrace, staring unseeingly at the waiting wood. Here lay her dreams, a life's worth of work, all buried under the unforgiving dead weight of deceased tree branches and waiting to be consumed in the flames. Lauren stared into the mass of green and brown and grey as the tears blurred it into one multihued, undefined mass of watercolor blobs. She poured her tears into the heap, her wishes, her someday-plotlines, her hopes, her aspirations, her hours upon hours of agonizing writing and editing and frustration. She would put them all here, and she would burn them; the smoke would carry away the last fading sparks and she could have done with it all.
She was empty; she had no more words, no more will to write. She loved these characters, loved this world…but it had faded into a job, a something she had to do. This would change. She would rid herself of them, of their nagging snatches of dialogue flitting through her mind; she would start anew and forget them. They were her past; they had no place in her future.
Slowly, heavily, she pushed away from her chair and walked to the burn pile, kicking spindly sticks ahead of her. Despite her reluctance, she drew her lighter from her pocket and lit it, staring for a moment deep into the pale blue heart of the flames. Something sacred about this moment struck her, as if she was standing on the edge of a cliff, about to tumble off and lose something precious forever. The tiny flame burned into her eyes, imprinting its slender shape into the back of her head. She lowered the flickering flame, touching it to a few fluttering pages. The fire sprang to life, blackening and curling the delicate paper and eating through the helpless book ravenously. Lauren watched silently, her face impassive, as it spread unstoppably through the crackling wood and incinerating pages.
The pile of wood and paper quickly became a squealing, snapping bonfire, sending plumes of smoke and embers up into the darkening sky. Lauren imagined the characters dying, their last cries echoing in the screeching fire, and tried to shut it out of her mind.
She stood there forever, paralyzed and immobile, her gaze locked on the ash that used to be her life. Finally, with a deep breath, she blinked as if surfacing from a dream, looking up with a strange feeling of emptiness. She was alone in her backyard with a small, stupid fire, and she suddenly felt silly for her ritualistic burning and her foolish emotional attachments to nonexistent people.
The fire flared suddenly in a burst of pale yellow light. Lauren blinked and turned away from the sudden wave of intense, rolling heat, and when she looked back, eyes across the fire met her own.
Lauren's eyes widened, but she felt she shouldn't speak--she couldn't. The eyes that met her were alien, like no other she had seen before, watching her with a calm, calculated intellect--with a gaze that could cut straight through her and rip apart her soul. They were strange in a way she couldn't describe, half-shrouded by a deep cloak and belonging to a face too utterly beautiful to be truly human.
The watcher observed her for only a second longer, then the eyes shifted down to the flames, the bright orange and gold flashing in fathomless pupils. Lauren exhaled, feeling the burden of that gaze pass from her, and although the cloaked watcher was strange, something about the gathering twilight was surreal enough to calm any fears. Something magical was happening here.
Lauren felt the shock of surprise flood her veins, but she didn't move. She knew there were words she had to say; somehow there was a right response, something that needed saying. She opened her mouth.
"I cannot see. Show me."
The watcher lifted a hand, and Lauren felt her gaze drawn to the fire. "Look."
The embers were glowing bright, shining with an internal luminescence, as around them the fire danced and wavered in its insatiable feast. The flames leapt high into the sky, coughing up ethereal smoke and spraying the sky with sparks that floated hopefully towards the stars before their light died and they drifted, defeated, to the earth. Lauren frowned, squinting against the heat. Suddenly, as if it had only just appeared, she saw a book deep in the heart of the fire, enveloped in fire, each page glowing fiercely. She thought to glance up at the watcher, but the voice came again: "Look." So she did.
There was never a point when she noticed a sudden change; but as she watched her book crumble into ash, a new shape formed itself from the pulsing remains. She saw it framed by the dark wood, its heart beating in the tender, unbearable core of the flames. It took her breath away by its sheer, wild, uncontainable magnificence. It was still weak, confined to the depths of the bonfire, but it was growing, drawing power from the fire. It stretched its wings, moved the glowing feathers; something in the fire shifted, and a starburst of sparks sprang into the sky.
"What is it?" Lauren was breathless, her mind racing, her whole self captured by the newborn life in the flames.
"It is newness," the watcher replied, as if to himself. "Passion. Inspiration."
Something about the word "inspiration" caught Lauren's attention, but in that instant, the newborn creature leapt out of the fire in a cloud of flying sparks and roaring flames. Feathers of fire beat the air, sending blinding flashes of light through the dark night sky. It screamed, a sound so heartbreakingly, torturously piercing that Lauren felt the tears sliding down her face. The glorious creature spiraled upwards on the column of rising heat from the now-dying fire and vanished as a pinpoint of light in the velvety black.
Lauren found herself on her knees, watching as the last tongues of fire struggled and died. Her face was wet with cooling tears, her heart filled with a lightness and freedom she didn't understand.
The watcher's shadowed lips curled into a soft, knowing smile before he vanished like the phoenix into the endless blackness.