Fire is one of the worlds' most common paradoxes. It must consume to live, it must breathe fresh air and feast upon something that suits it's tastes. It will fight to stay alive, lurking in one small glowing ember until the opportunity to rekindle itself arises. Yet, it is never alive to begin with. It is one of the only things in this world that has needs yet has no life.
I think about these things a lot now - ever since my experience with fire - a thing that I once took for granted. The once comforting light of a dancing flame is not a normal thing. It's a paradox itself, casting strange shadows of things that should not be.
Let me explain myself.
I sat alone in my den one rainy evening - it had rained nearly every night that spring, and I found it depressing. The tapping of the dropplets of water against the window trotted the thin line between aggravating and relaxing as I read the novel I had been pushing my way through little by little on evenings like this one. Between the darkness, the fog and the moisture across the window panes I could see nothing outside. This always gave me an odd feeling of being hopelessly trapped. I felt as though nothing but a black void surrounded my home and I was hopelessly drifting away from the world.
I had finally decided that the rain was more peaceful than annoying, and letting out a content sigh I continued to paw through the pages of the book. I'm unsure of how long I sat there that night before the thunder began, but I don't remeber hearing it in the distance whatsoever. It was sudden, a flash of lightning and an instant chaotic crash. I am unashamed to admit that it startled me quite severely - to the point where I dropped the book and covered my face instinctively.
I sat there for perhaps ten seconds covering myself, trying to figure out what it was that had just happened before it finally began to make sense. A nervous laugh escaped from me as I bent down to rescue the book which had fallen helplessly to the floor in my fit of panic. It appeared that this mild rain was beginning to brew itself into a rather violent storm.
Each flash of lightning filled the apartment with that electric white light. Since my childhood I've felt uneasy during such storms - I have no idea how anybody could find such a violent act of nature to be relaxing. I found them disturbing.
"I hate storms," I spoke to nobody in particular.
I found myself unable to concentrate on my reading after my little episode, my nerves were on end and I could focus on no one thing for any extended period of time. I reached to the end table and slid the candle to the far edge, making room for the book. I stood to try to get a glimpse out of the foggy window.
"I hate 'em."
Walking toward the window
I instantly changed my mind. What did I expect to see besides
pouring rain and maybe a flash of lightning? It was just another
spring storm and I had nothing to worry about because I knew my brick
home sat on a more than solid foundation. I paced back again to my
chair, intent on calming myself down. I stopped in front of the
chair and stared at it momentarily. Then it hit me.
I needed a drink, I was usually on my third by this time of night. I continued past the chair to the liquor cabnet. As I opened the door I sarcastically mimmicked the creaking sound I knew was coming - that troublesome hinge had been needing oil for quite some time but I never seemed to get around to it. In one swift motion I took a bottle and closed the door again, continuing on my way to the cabinet in which my glass awaited. My attention was drawn to my shaking hands as I poured my drink. What was I so nervous about? I made a point to pour a little extra.
I paced back to my chair and sat once again, carefully cradling my glass and trying to make out what was beyond all of the fog and dropplets that clung to my window. I silently counted the seconds between the flashes of lightning and the obligatory claps of thunder that followed, gauging the distance of the storm.
I took a large sip from my glass, too large. I coughed trying to battle the burn of the drink as I swallowed it. For a moment I closed my now watering eyes -- I was surprised that for as often as I drank this particular Brandy that I was still not accustomed to it's flavor.
It was there, in my chair that I fell into a familiar light-headed slumber, my glass now sat on the table astride the book that I had earlier been reading, it was nearly empty. I slept quite restlessly, dreaming of things that were normally found only in horror novels. I've no idea what it was that finally aroused me from my slumber, nor what time it was when I awoke, but that horribly uneasy feeling crept immediately over me once again. The temperature had dropped significantly, which was quite rare for the season. I rose from my chair wearily into the darkness, realizing that my candle had long since gone out leaving me alone in the cold black atmosphere that now filled my home.
It was once again peaceful outside, the rain had subsided as had the lightning.
I blindly fumbled for my glass and took another sip, wondering to myself whether or not it was worth the effort to build a fire. I looked to the window once again, and it was then that I began to shiver. The darkness seemed so thick that night - so heavy. That was all the encouragement I needed, I decided that it indeed was a good idea. I began to gather a few small pieces of wood from the crate which sat under the window on the far side of the room and carry them by the armful to the fireplace, carefully stacking them so they wouldn't tumble out onto the floor if I dozed off once more. By this point my eyes had begun to adjust to the darkness and I found my way back and forth across the room without trouble.
I opened the book of matches that sat on top of the mantle and looked at the contents with dismay. There was only one left. I searched the room for something to use to start the fire, something that would work on the first try.
"Brandy. My old friend." I couldn't stop the smile from creeping across my face. I was quite pleased at my resourcefulness.
My eyes fell once again on the bottle of brandy, it seemed that this miracle liquid could solve any problem of mine. I poured enough on the wood to fill two glasses, set the bottle aside and struck the match. It glowed brightly in my hand, cutting through the darkness like some magical glowing sword. I hesistated briefly, mesmerized by the flame that I held. The match began to flicker, breaking my trance and I immediately dropped it onto the logs that rested in the stone fireplace. The fire instantly flared brightly, consuming the brandy and igniting the wood with an audible crackling sound. Relieved, I turned to return to my chair and admired my shadow as it danced across the far wall of the room.
Then I saw it, next to my shadow another smaller shadow floated about. It was quite out of place, I was sure there was no object in my room that could be casting such a shadow - it was quite round, though it pulsed, growing and then shrinking again. It seemed to move independently, though not quickly. I stared, confused and startled at this spectacle until the fire settled down, having consumed all of the brandy I had poured into the fireplace. The bright yellow glow turned to a a dull orange, and my shadow faded noticably while the mystery shadow disappeared all together.
I stood, frozen in my place and despite the fire only a few feet behind me, I shivered more violently than ever. I started at my now lonesome shadow, flickering on the wall. Turning again I faced the fire, looking for an answer, and coming up empty handed. I hesitantly picked up the bottle of brandy again, and poured a small amount into the fire. The flames licked at the liquid before it even hit the logs and flared brightly as if thanking me for a prized gift.
Quickly again I turned to the wall behind me and once more that shadow danced alongside my own. I waved my arms about, trying to touch this anomoly, but it jumped away from me, positioning itself inches from my reach. Another object faded into view now on my other side, it was the same size and pulsed to the same rhythym as the first. I waved my arms at that one too, and just as I did the fire once again had consumed it's gift and it faded to the peaceful dull orange color that had once comforted me so. Both shadows faded with it.
"What the hell?" I muttered it aloud.
I looked at the bottle puzzled, then to the fire and finally back to the wall where my shadow sat alone. The bottle was nearly empty. I sat in my chair, once again picking up my glass and pouring the remaining contents of the bottle into it. What were those shadows? Obviously they were of no threat to me, but still I felt uneasy. I felt as though an intruider was inside my home, making my den it's own and there was nothing I could do but ignore it.
I sipped from my glass, deep in thought. I lost myself for some time, wondering what it could be that would cast such a shadow - and why couldn't I see it? I wondered if they had always been there, and if they had how I had failed to notice the alien shadows since I sat in this room every night for as long as I could recall. Something was amiss, but I could not figure out what it was. I looked to my glass, it was nearly empty. I had drank nearly the entire thing without even realizing it, and it was then that I realized how tired I had become. I decided that I would retire for the evening, and I would try to recreate the events of that night again tomorrow.
Rising from my chair I couldn't stop myself from throwing the remainder of my drink into the fire, and as I did I looked to the wall. Right on cue the fire changed once again to it's vividly bright yellow flare and just as before those two shadows returned. Something had changed however, now there were two shadows of me as well. I stared again, my confusion had renewed itself and it was stronger than ever. I waved my right arm, but only one of the shadows on the wall mimmicked my motion. The other, instead of waving an arm turned to face me and took a step in my direction.
Back to the dull orange glow. Only my shadow remained.
"Get away!" I yelled in a panic. I lunged away from where the humanoid shadow had been and fell over the table which my book and candle had sat on. Scrambling to my feet I backed up to the wall beside the liquor cabinet searching the room for the person who's shadow had been casted alongside my own. I saw nobody - it appeared as though I was alone. Paralyzed, I waited to feel something, to feel the intruider attack me.
I knew then that there would be no sleep that night. Slowly I opened the liquor cabinet and pulled a fresh bottle from inside and walked back to the fire. I filled my glass and threw all of the liquid at once into the flames. Again the blinding yellow glare of the flames filled the room and again the humaniod shadow stood alongside my own, facing me - studying me. I stood perfectly still, frozen with terror and using all of my self control to not cringe away from the thing that stared at me. Neither of us moved until the flames once again died down to their normal state.
Still I couldn't bring myself to move. The thing hadn't hurt me, yet I had never been so afraid in my life. What was it?
The idea to try to capture this thing came to me. Perhaps I could chase it from my home? Perhaps my agression would scare the thing away from here? I took a swig from the bottle that was in my hand and with a deep breath and much hesitation, I threw the bottle itself -- still three quarters full of liquor -- into the fire.
The flames glared more brightly than ever, and the opposite wall was filled with dozens of the small pulsating things. The effect was so surreal, I felt as though I was lost hopelessly in some nightmare, however I would not be so fortunate. The man-shaped thing stood once again only inches from me. With a deep breath I lunged toward it, and with astounding deftness it stepped away, causing me to grab nothing but air and to trip over the same table I had already fallen over once. I lept to my feet and chased the thing across the room, watching the progress on the distant wall as though it were some puppet show. I fumbled about bumping into furniture and unsure of my footing. The alcohol dulled my senses and I could not coordinate my movements well enough to catch this dextrous thing. The flames glowed brighter yet and I stood watching the thing study me, trying to read me.
It appeared as though the thing had won. I could not chase it from my home and it seemed only entertained by my clumbsy efforts. I turned, defeated back to the fire intent on putting it out so that I could ignore this thing, but what I saw horrified me more than the intruiders themselves. When I threw the bottle into the fire I had upset my once careful stack of logs and they had tumbled out onto the floor. The flames spread onto the rug that lay between the fireplace and my chair and had engulfed the table and book I had just knocked over. I turned back to the shadow thing, it stood motionless, gazing at me intently.
Momentarily unaware of the watchful thing that accompanied me, I tried everything I could think of to smother the fire to no avail. It spread across the floor, along the walls and consumed the liquor cabinet. The bottles inside exlploded one by one with blinding bursts of yellow - blue flames and each time the thing of shadow became more and more vivid. I ran toward that unwelcome visitor once again, furious, and it once again nimbly stepped aside. I turned to view the room, now hopelessly covered in the traitorous flames. I was powerless.
I made my way out of my home into the lawn and stood watching the contents of my home burn through the large windows. The brick exterior contained the flames, leaving only it as a shell once the raging fire began to subside. I could still see the shadow things moving about inside the rooms that were still ablaze throught the windows. Occasionally one would pause and look in my direction momentarily, before moving uninhibited on it's way through my now charred home.
To this day I cannot figure out how or why that night those things were made visible to me by the flames. I have tried to repeat those events more than once, never with any success. Perhaps the stars were aligned just right that evening, creating some unknown force on our world which temporarily merged my existence with those unseen things allowing the firey light to act as a window between our environtments. Of these things I can only guess.
But I know this: We are not alone in this world, there are many things that we cannot see nor hear that we share our environment with. Perhaps someday you too will have the unfortunate pleasure of seeing these things for yourself.
I hope for your sake that you don't.