Shae Grace’s The Myth of Fire, a terrific story from one of our first Kids Online Writing Course Students
The Myth of Fire – Shae Grace
In total darkness, Phoenix stumbled upon the impossible. Quite literally. Her ankle throbbed, whining for attention, but she hardly noticed it. What had just happened?
Phoenix sat, a little breathless, just off the beaten track among the trees and bushes. The comforting arm of the thick blackness enveloped her. She had… Oh, what did you call it? Saa- no! Seen something. Hesitantly, she felt around in the rustling foliage blanketing the ground. Dead leaves were fragile ruffles around her hands. It had been around…here!
“Ouch!” Phoenix yanked her hand back. Something had bitten her! She sucked her fingers sulkily. A snake? No, Phoenix tasted no blood. She came to a crouch and probed the spot. An ant, then? Couldn’t be. The pain was too sharp. With her good hand, Phoenix felt some sort of heat radiating beneath a small sapling. There it was!
A small something rested in the growth. The heat emitted was unlike anything Phoenix had ever felt before. A hundred times stronger than any Ignis stone. The small, smooth rocks constantly radiated warmth. But this was different. The heat was so intense, Phoenix wondered if this could possibly be Fire. Her Grandmother had told her stories about the hot, not-quite-gas. Most people just dismissed it as legend, but Phoenix had always had a niggling doubt.
But that wasn’t even the most incredible thing about the small object. Most impossible of all, she could…see it. That sensation she felt on her eyes must be Light, coming from the object. Unused to the feeling, Phoenix turned her head away from it. As she gazed into the familiar pitch black, her thoughts raced in her mind, tripping over and pushing each other aside as they clambered for an explanation. Had she just discovered Light? Phoenix rubbed her eyes. Seeing the Light had made them all watery. Usually that only happened when she yawned too much.
But Light was the stuff of History class at college! Long ago, the world had been saturated with it. Even in the blackest nights, cities would be lit up like the day. Professor Glynn had been droning on about it just yesterday, sending all but Phoenix to sleep in the process.
Phoenix felt for her bag. It had been tossed a little way away when she fell. Her hand closed around the soft leather and she slid it towards her. Scooping up the Light, she tossed it gingerly from hand to hand before thrusting it into her bag. Ouch! But the pain wasn’t as bad as the first time she had touched it.
Phoenix just had to show this to someone. She slung the leather strap over her shoulder and hurried to the path. A few weeks ago, Professor Glynn had mentioned something called a Sun; huge ball of gas in the sky that used to light up the whole world. He said it was so bright, you couldn’t look directly at it without these special eye coverings called Glasses.
Before today, Phoenix hadn’t even been able to imagine seeing. Let alone seeing light! Yet, in her bag, was a small piece of legend.
Phoenix heard her house before she even felt the fence posts of the neighbours’ fence. Emily’s faltering piano practice and Liam’s cheeky laugh drifted through the cool evening air. Smiling, Phoenix ran her hand over the sanded palings until she came to the raw, scratchy posts outside her own house. The small bells on the gate tinkled as she let herself in.
“Yay! Phoenix is home!”
Phoenix heard sprightly feet bolting the path from the house just before a very enthusiastic something bowled into her.
“Oof!” Phoenix grunted and staggered back a step. “Hey there, fireball!”
“Hi Phoenix! Come on! I helped Mum make dinner!” Liam took her hand in his sticky fingers and half dragged her towards the house. “Emily’s saying it doesn’t count, because I only stirred. But I think stirring is very important. If I didn’t stir, the soup would have bubbled all over the Ignis stones and they would have gone out!”
Phoenix had just enough time to take her shoes off at the door before Liam dragged her further into the house. She had to put them away carefully, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to find them again. The wooden floorboards were smooth and cool on her bare feet. She sniffed the air. Mmm, creamy chicken soup. Her favourite.
“By the way, you don’t care about those tissue flowers you made yesterday, do you? Because, I-uh, Emily may have accidentally sat on them while spinning as fast as she could go. I warned her not to, but she wanted to set a world record!” Liam said.
Phoenix groaned. She had spent hours arranging the tissue just so to feel exactly like a Moth Orchid. They were supposed to be for Grandma’s birthday, but they hadn’t even lasted 24 hours.
“I didn’t sit on them, you did!” Emily was indignant as Liam and Phoenix came through to the kitchen. The Ignis stones hissed softly on the stove.
“You said you wanted to be a tornado! And I told you to move away from the flowers, but you didn’t listen!”
“Mu-um!” Liam complained. “Emily’s tattling again!”
Mum’s sensible flats tapped lightly as she walked in, but her voice was weary. “Don’t start, you two. I’m not in the mood. Go wash your hands and set the table.”
“But I’m fanning the flames of justice!” Liam protested. Emily scoffed.
“You totally copied that from the History Theatre people. Do you even know what a flame is?”
“I know I’m fanning it.”
“Go!” Mum ordered. “Before you fan the flames of my punishment!”
The kids squeaked and hurried off. Mum sighed and checked on the soup.
“They’ve been trying my patience all day. How was school, Phoenix?”
Phoenix grabbed some bowls from the cupboard and handed them to her mother. “Okay. Professor Sylva sprang another practice exam. Dad’s not home yet?”
Mum began dishing out, the aroma made Phoenix’s stomach growl grumpily. “Working late. One of the main mining tunnels flooded, so they can’t get to the Ignis stones that way anymore.”
Phoenix tucked a couple loose strands wavy of hair behind her ear and moved to sit at the other side of the kitchen counter. Dad worked for one of the main Ignis stone mining companies. It wasn’t uncommon for him to be late for dinner.
“Why do you ask?” Mum said.
“Oh, no reason. I just wanted to talk to you about something.”
Phoenix slung her bag onto the table and fingered the strap.
“On the way home, I was walking down the little lane in the park and I… see something.”
“Saw,” a soft voice corrected. Grandma’s cane tapped resoundingly as she shuffled in. “You saw something. See is current tense, saw is past.”
“Hey Grandma,” Phoenix felt for the old woman and gave her a quick hug and kiss. Her warm cheek was creased with soft wrinkles. Mum set the full bowls on the bench with a clack and turned her full attention on Phoenix.
“What do you mean you saw something?”
Phoenix sat back down at the counter. Her wandering fingers landed on a small coin and she began fiddling with it, flipping it through her agile fingers.
“Like I said, I was just walking and suddenly I saw something. Startled me so much, I tripped and fell over. It was in the trees on the side of the path. And, the funny thing is, I think it was giving off light!” Phoenix moved her coin to one hand placed the other on Mum’s wrist. She wanted to feel her reaction. The muscles tensed.
“Light?” Mum’s disbelief was clear in her voice.
“Light!” Grandma said wonderingly.
“And heat, too.” Phoenix felt for her bag and fumbled around in it. “I brought it home with me.”
Where was it? She had expected the Light to bite her as soon as her skin touched it, but she felt nothing. Phoenix’s heart sank as she withdrew what felt like a crumbly rock. All traces of the heat and light were gone. Mum felt for Phoenix’s hand and took the rock to examine it.
“Hm. I don’t saw-
“See,” Grandma corrected.
“See any light.”
Phoenix bit her lip. “It was there, I promise. And the heat was like… Like how I imagine Fire was in the Light Ages. It was a thousand times more intense than any Ignis stone I’ve ever felt. I don’t know why it’s suddenly gone.”
“Let me see,” Grandma said. Mum handed it to her and drummed her nails on the counter. Phoenix heard the familiar patter and groaned inwardly. Mum only did that when one of the kids was exasperating her.
“Look, Phoenix. Are you sure it wasn’t just your eyes playing tricks on you again? I mean, light hasn’t been around since your great-grandmother’s time.”
“Actually, Karen, it was your great-grandmother’s time.” Grandma said. She rapped the rock on the bench. No light burst from it, but some of the exterior crumbled away. “It’s Phoenix’s great-great grandmother. Felt like Fire, you say? It could be a Coal. You know, they say Coal could be used to burn as fuel for Fires. And they glowed like the eyes of a monster.”
Mum clapped in exasperation. “Mother! Fire is a myth. A not-gas that gives off light and heat? Do you hear yourself? Besides, there’s the Illumination law. Keep talking like that and you’ll bring the police down on us!”
A large crash resounded from the dining area. Emily and Liam immediately exclaimed it was the other’s fault. Mum dashed from the room.
Phoenix sighed. “I forgot about the Illumination law.” The worldwide law stated that, should any light giving object or source be found, it was to be handed in immediately and terminated. The world had fallen into darkness, and that was how people liked it. The Light Ages had been fraught with war, pollution and starvation. Now, times were peaceful, calm, steady and…boring.
That was one of the reasons Phoenix had chosen the Ancient History course on Light Ages over the Ignis Stone Studies on Mining techniques. Yes, the Light Ages had been terrible, but they’d also been filled with creativity and innovation. They had these devices called Electronics that could light up and be used to Write. Writing was dead now, but the idea of relaying words without speech fascinated Phoenix. However, without Light, there was no way to revive the old art.
“I wish…” Phoenix absently swiped a fingerful of the thick soup from the pot and spun the coin on the table. “I wish Light still existed. I mean, I know all that terrible stuff happened in the Light Ages, but Light itself couldn’t have been the causeof it all. Could it?”
She sucked the creamy broth off her finger. Boy, that was good! Grandma was silent. The quiet of a person mulling something over. Phoenix smacked her lips.
Grandma did not reply. Phoenix turned in her seat.
“Grandma, I can practically hear your brain working. What is it?”
“Light is supposed to be extinct,” she said slowly.
“Yes,” Phoenix flipped the coin with her thumb. It made a satisfying ping! as it hit the counter.
“Yet you found a Light, therefore proving it is still around.” Grandma continued.
“Yes, I thought that was implied.” Phoenix set the coin down.
“And the Light appears to be a coal, something they used for Fire. Which proves that Fire did indeed exist, that it’s not just a legend.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say it’s proved. Where is this going?”
“There is a legend, a rumour that started in my mother’s, your great-grandmother’s time. One generation after the Light Ages, people started whispering about a group that sought to bring the Light back. They had the power to create Fire itself with their bare hands. People said they worked behind the shadows, you’d never sense them, even if they were right next to you.”
Grandma chuckled. “Then again, the very air we breathe is shadow. I can’t see you, and you’re right in front of me!”
“A group dedicated to bringing back the Light Ages?” Phoenix breathed, pushing off her seat.
“They called themselves the Embers.”
“What’s an Ember?”
Grandma paused. “I really have no idea!”
The bells on the front gate chimed melodically. Phoenix turned in surprise. No one ever visited them this late.
“I’ll get it!” Liam hollered. Phoenix felt a gust of wind as the young boy bolted past her to get the door.
“Good evening,” said a young male voice in a professional tone. “I am Corporal Benson, here investigating an anonymous tip off of a violation of the Illumination Law.”
Mum’s flats tapped as she hurried by. “What have you done?” she whispered hoarsely.
“You are aware that a violation of the Illumination Law results in immediate court action. A life sentence, if found guilty.” The Corporal continued.
Phoenix whirled to Grandma. “Life sentence?” she hissed. Her hands began to shake. “For not reporting the Light?” She ran her hands through her hair.
“Hi Corporal, I’m Liam. Can I hold your badge?” Mum shushed Liam and pleaded with the officer.
“Mr Benson, I can assure you, my family has not-“
“Mam, I’m afraid I’m going to have to search your house.”
Phoenix found Grandma’s hand. “I don’t want to go to jail!”
Grandma’s soft wrinkled fingers fastened around Phoenix’s smooth ones. “I’m not letting them take you anywhere!”
Phoenix could still hear Liam and Mum talking with the Corporal at the door as Grandma hurriedly pulled her down the house, towards the back door.”
“Phoenix? Grandma?” Emily sounded anxious. “I heard the police officer at the door. What’s going on? Why are you leaving?”
“Emily, honey,” Grandma sounded surprisingly calm, considering the circumstances.
“Go saddle Taffy. Phoenix is going to need to borrow her a while.”
“Why? What’s happening?”
“No questions, please. Go on, now.” Emily ran out to saddle her horse and Grandma entered Phoenix’s room. She selected a backpack from the closet and slid it out.
“Start packing, Phoenix. You’re going away for a bit.”
She thrust the bag into Phoenix’s hands and started gathering clean clothes and stuffing them in. Phoenix just stood there, limply holding the backpack.
“What do you mean, I’m going away? Where am I going to go?”
Grandma found Phoenix’s favourite jumper, the one with the soft fleece inside, and crammed it into the already bulging bag.
“You’re going to have to ride, honey. To the old cabin in the woods behind the park. You know the one?”
Of course, they had been on picnics as a family there since Phoenix could remember. “Yes.”
“Ring the bell by the door three times, then another two. They’ll come pick you up. Tell them what happened and they might protect you.
Grandma paused. “The Embers.”
“The Embers? You mean the Light Age group?”
Grandma zipped up the bag and started shooing Phoenix out the door.
“How do you know them?”
Grandma simply said, “Sage.” Suddenly, Phoenix understood. Sage was Grandma’s older brother. Phoenix had heard that he joined a rebel group when he was a teenager and was never seen again. The only reason they knew he was still alive was the sprig of sage and Moth Orchid he always sent Grandma on her birthday.
“Just before he disappeared, Sage came home excited one night. He said he had found some sort of light source.” Grandma whispered.
She quietly closed the door behind them and together they ran for the stables at the back of the property.
“By then he was already searching for a way to bring Light back. He said he had found people who shared his passion and together they had made a breakthrough in bringing Light back to the world.”
Phoenix heard Taffy’s hooves’ muffled clip clop on the dewy grass as Emily lead her out of her stall.
“But the police came knocking and locked him up. He only got out because of his friends in Embers. They caused a distraction and busted him out, but he’s been on the run ever since.”
Emily held Taffy nervously as Phoenix tied her backpack to the saddle.
“Now, I’m afraid you may have to run, too.” Grandma placed a gentle hand on Phoenix’s arm. “But it’s your decision.”
Phoenix bit her lips. Had stumbling upon the small Light really snowballed into this? Her two options were lifetime of prison or becoming a fugitive and running for the rest of her life. Not a great choice. Did she really want this for herself?
Light wasn’t supposed to exist anymore, seeing was meant to be impossible. Still, she had done the impossible, and it had cracked her world. She could turn back. Go back to the house right now and turn herself in. She’d spend the rest of her days within suffocating prison walls, but at least the world would go on as if nothing had ever split open to begin with.
“Phoenix?” Emily’s thin fingers slipped into Phoenix’s hand.
But Phoenix wouldn’t be satisfied. She never had been. Since she was a little girl, she had questioned this tediously mundane life everyone else seemed so content with.
Voices drifted down from the house, the Corporal was going to come down to search the stables any minute.
“You need to decide soon, honey.” Grandma warned.
Phoenix made her choice. She wanted to go out, help people. She’d felt restricted and dead inside. Like the dark all around her had seeped inside somehow. But now she had the opportunity to let the light back in. And she was going to take it.
She bent down and pulled Emily into a tight hug.
“I love you.”
Emily squeezed hard, and when she spoke she sounded choked up. “I’ll miss you.”
Phoenix rose and gave Grandma a hug and quick kiss on the cheek.
“Bye, Grandma. Send my love to Mum and Liam.” Phoenix set her foot in the stirrup and swung herself up onto Taffy. The back door of the house burst open with a slam.
“Go!” Emily cried. Grandma slapped Taffy’s hind quarters and the Phoenix and the mare surged away.
Phoenix chanced one glance back at the scene. But, as usual, she saw nothing. Her family, her home, her life, gone. Just like that. Phoenix took a deep breath and exhaled through her mouth. No turning back now. All she could do was find the Embers.
And hope they’d accept her.