Time to dust off another also-ran from the one-hour flash files. As usual, this is a story written in one hour based on a photo prompt for a contest/exercise. The time stamp on Word says I wrote this one in September of 2013. What you see below is more or less what I came up with in an hour five years ago, though I did clean it up a tad.
Today’s story is called “Fuel for the Fire.”
Fuel for the Fire
Ashton had seen his share of forest fires, but he and the ten other volunteer firefighters from Chico, California had never seen anything like this. They had come prepared to meet the blaze on the edge of the Plumas National Forest with the same skill and devotion they’d brought to every job, but this fire did not fit the bill.
The flames were bright green, and they gave off no detectable heat. The trees and undergrowth within the inferno still burned, however, and smoke roiled up into the night sky. Weirder still, the fire didn’t appear to be spreading. Ashton had never see a fire do that; usually it devoured every burnable thing in its path, quick and unpredictable. This fire seemed content to burn only the thirty or so acres of Trees on the edge of Plumas. Hell, you could even see exactly where it stopped. The trees and bushes were green and wet with dew right up to the edge of those crazy green flames and everything beyond was a burning ruin.
“What the fuck is that?” Daniels said. “Why is it green?”
Ashton pushed up the visor on his helmet and took a couple steps forward. “I don’t know. Copper makes a green flame, but there’s nothing like that in the ground around here.”
“I don’t care if it’s pink with polka dots,” Captain Mike wells said from behind Ashton. He was the ranking man at the Chico station. “You still got a job to do.”
“Yeah, but Mike, this ain’t fuckin’ normal,” Daniels said. He was the youngest guy on the squad and had a knack for pissing off the captain, usually by using his first name instead of his rank. “We gotta call someone. We—“
“I said get to work!” The captain stood six and half feet tall, and his voice carried like a drill sergeant when he wanted it to. “That fire is close enough to town we need to stop it right fucking now. Understood?”
“Yes, sir.” Daniels moved up to stand next to Ashton. “Fuckin’ prick,” he said under his breath. “This could be some kind of alien shit, and all Captain Hard-Ass wants to do is put it out so he can get back to his Maker’s Mark.”
“Alien shit or not, the captain’s gonna kick both our asses if we don’t hop to,” Ashton said. “Come on.”
They approached the fire and Ashton saw the flames were getting higher. They still weren’t spreading, but they appeared to be reaching upward. He had his axe in hand as did Daniels. It was standard procedure to fight a wildfire with both direct and indirect methods. Ashton and Daniels were in charge of the indirect; they would create control lines around the blaze, areas with no combustible material. That means clearing brush and even chopping down trees if it came to it. Behind them, the rest of Chico’s small fire team worked on the direct method, a chemical quenching agent sprayed through hoses to smother the fire.
They were near the boundary of the burned and unburned, and Ashton still felt no heat. Normally, this close, you’d be roasting in your suit, marinating in your own sweat. This fire was cool as could be.
“Look at the smoke, man,” Daniels said, staring up, his axe dangling in his hands.
Ashton looked up and for the first time he was afraid. The smoke should be streaming up in a single huge plume. That’s what smoke did. The smoke coming off this fire went up in dozens of individual streamers of gossamer black, and they didn’t go straight up. They whirled around, darting and surging against the wind.
“That’s not right . . .” Ashton trailed off because he was close enough to really see into the depths of the green conflagration. The trees and other things weren’t really burning; they were withering, as if the fire just sucked the life out of them.
“We need to go,” Ashton said, slowly backpedaling. “Right now.”
Daniels had his iPhone out and as was taking pictures of the weird smoke. “Why?” he said. “I want to put this on Instagram—“
One of the smoke streamers darted out of the sky, and cold nails of horror raked Ashton’s insides. The streamer gained shape and solidity as it came down, and then it enveloping Daniels. He screamed and dropped his iPhone, batting at the writhing black smoke with his axe.
Daniels turned, and Ashton saw his face, saw the skin blacken and sink in on itself, exposing the pale white bone beneath. Daniels toppled over and a tendril of fire leaped from the main blaze and covered him, extending the wild fire’s boundary by about five feet.
More smoke streamers came out of the black sky, and Ashton ran. He had always been fast, but he still expected one of those smoke things to catch him and suck the life from his body. His desperate sprint carried him past other members of the crew, and they simply stared at him as he ran by. He didn’t have time to warn them.
He passed Captain Wells and finally glanced back. The captain opened his mouth to yell something at Ashton, but one of the streamers came slashing down out of the night and wrapped around him in a cloak of inky black. He captain screamed, hoarse and guttural, and Ashton saw other men taken by the smoke behind him.
Ashton turned and put his head down, focused all his energy on running, getting away. But he saw the blaze surge forward, a looming verdigris wall, to cover the men entangled in smoke.
The fire grew.
Unlike the most of the other stories in this series, I did actually send this one out for submission a few times. The feedback I received from one publication was spot on. Basically, this isn’t a full story. It reads like the beginning of a story, possibly the middle, or as one bit of feedback suggested, an excerpt from a novel. I do like the idea here, and at some point I may turn it into something longer with a beginning and an ending. Until then, it’s a vignette with a bad case of premise-itis. 🙂
Check out the previous installments in the One-Hour Flash series.