Thursday, September 25, 2014


The Fire Wizard's Apprentice
By Kate Franklin

The fire burned well as the people gathered around, enjoying the warmth. Even a few feet away, the ever-present chill numbed their bones. The boy stood close and watched as the older man lifted a heater from the pile and placed it on the fire. Even though they were not related, he thought of the Fire Wizard as a father. He thought the wizard felt that way too because he often looked closely at the boy, and sometimes he seemed about to ask him a question. The boy, now nearly as tall as the wizard, had started going with the men, searching for heaters and whatever else could be salvaged from the rubble of another world. It was only one of the changes that had come over him lately.
The Fire Wizard knew things about how the world used to be, when days were warm and people lived in big dwellings, rather than huddling together wherever they could find warmth. Everyone gathered heaters and brought them to the center of the village, but only the wizard chose which ones to burn. "Books," he called them. He'd close his eyes, holding a book before deciding to burn it. Sometimes he fed sticks or pieces of old trees into the fire, but only in the early morning, for warmth, never at night. Night times were the best. The folks all sat around, as close to the fire as they could. Feeding in one book at a time, the Fire Wizard closed his eyes, and as the smoke rose, he'd tell stories that kept the others listening in rapture. He told about amazing people doing fantastic things: building dwellings that shone like the rain when it froze on the bare tree branches, crossing a great sea, even traveling to the stars.

The boy treasured the stories. "HOW do you know?" He had asked. "Please tell me how you know about these people and this other world." With a smile and a nod toward the fire, the wizard answered, "IT tells me. The fire tells me about the world that was before."
Now as the boy approached the wizard, he looked around to make sure no one else was in hearing range. "What about these... feelings, these pictures..." He stammered and looked around again. "I've been seeing things when the books burn." There it was; he'd said it out loud for the first time. It had been clawing at his gut for some time now.

The older man stopped feeding the fire and looked up."What do you see?"

The boy tried to describe how, when a book caught the flames, he'd feel different kinds of things. "It's like... people are talking to me..." he stumbled, looking for the right words. "Sometimes I feel happy or excited...sad sometimes." Often, he felt intrigued, as if he knew a little bit about something and wanted to know more. There were bad feelings too, fear that made him tremble and look behind all the tree stumps and boulders. Once he had a sense of revulsion that made him want to run away from the fire. "I didn't like that. I felt scared and kind of sick."

The wizard put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "The fire warms the others and cooks their food, but the fire is more than that to you, isn't it?"
"Yes," he said, with a steadiness he didn't feel. "I see people doing things and wearing strange clothes, riding things that aren't animals. Sometimes I don't understand their words, but they're busy, talking to each other, going places. Places I could never have imagined."

"Yes, that's how it starts; it's how the fire talks to you. I have so much to teach you ---" He stopped as an excited group rushed into the clearing. "Come, Wizard," they shouted. "Come see. We found a place with lots of heaters. It looks like enough to keep us warm for a long time." They followed the crowd to a place where rubble had been cleared. "We were digging here and look...."

There was a narrow opening, just big enough to slide through. Inside it was filled with books. They were lined up or in stacks that went nearly to the top of the place. The boy gaped in awe at the amazing numbers of books. He felt it already - the energy of so many fires.
"The Wizard said they had huge places, where they kept power," one of the diggers said. "This must be one of them."

"This is a power place," the boy whispered.

"Yes," the Fire Wizard nodded, scanning the area and smiling at the boy. "This is a place of great power."

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Kate Franklin lives in Sarasota Florida, where she teaches college English. Her novel, The Tattooed Mermaid, was awarded a Silver Medal in 2013 by the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. She has short stories in a variety of print and on-line publications.


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