Not the browser, but a story idea I thought would be fun. Sadly, again, none of the characters stepped up to tell me the story and I only got this far. It has, get this, a fire fox! Oh, bet the title didn’t clue you in.
by T.S. Lowe
Weights swung about Emry in time, orange ribbons on their ends to simulate fire. The fire teacher clapped to the beat, his eyes tight on the three of them, jumping from one body to the other.
“—three, four, five, elbow Josh—“
“I know,” hissed the twenty-something year old, his dark skin gleaming from sweat beneath the gym lights.
The instructor clapped on, not missing a single beat, and twisted his right wrist to signal the turn. Emry pivoted on the ball of her feet, arching her chest up to twine the wire about her waist like the string on a yo-yo, only to spin it back out before the weights had touched her waist, changing their trajectory.
Even so, the satiny wisp of ribbon licked her side.
She scowled, even as she shifted into the next movement, tossing the weights up, changing the swinging circle up and down rather than about her. She leaned into her right hip, using her elbow as the mark of how far she could go before she hit the spinning wires. On her left, Jose spun a staff tipped with fistsfulls of black fabric on either side of his body, mirroring Josh’s own staff on her right.
“Now breathe, two, one, TOSS!”
Both men tossed their staffs high, followed by Emry’s weights, which scrapped against her tapped fingers as they left contact.
The weights, trailed by their long tails of wire, hung in the air for an entire breath before coming down. She fought the urge to tuck her arms to her sides and held her hands out, even as an orange ribbon licked her forearm on the way back down.
Her fingers caught wire and let the hoop at the end sink down onto a practiced ring finger.
At the final loud clap of hands, the three of them struck their pose, Josh and Jose with their staffs held above their heads in both hands, and Emry with her hands held similarly, the weights bouncing about at the sudden stop. Another wisp of ribbon licked her thigh.
Instructor Denizen sighed. “Emry, I think I really will take out that last toss. There’s just no way to control where the momentum is going to go.”
She dropped her hands, wiping sweat from her brow as she did. “Whatever, boss. You know best.”
“I can’t stop geeking out over that ending, though,” said Jose, his voice tinged with an Hispanic accent.
“It’s all like BLAM!” He struck the pose, staff high.
“I still think we should of done the Gandolf pose,” said Josh, holding his staff vertical in front of him. “Blam, right? Blam!” Tuck the staff beneath his forearm. “BLAM!” Out like a sword in some strange idea of a fencing form.
“Stop it. We still have five minutes.” Instructor Denizen sighed again, rubbing his naked scalp hard. “Who am I kidding, it’s Friday. This week’s been shit.”
“Weather giving your day job crap too?” asked Jose, folding his hands on the top of his staff. “Felt like an illegal immigrant with how much snow they had me shoveling.”
“Shovel’n?” Josh’s broad nose wrinkled. “I thought you did all them fancy numbers and shit?”
“Yeah, well, apparently keeping the parking lot clear was more important.” Jose ran his hand across his nose, sniffing. Even his tanned skin had flushed from the exertion. Emry couldn’t help cringing at the thought of how red she must be. “But what happened with you, boss?”
Instructor Denizen stepped back to the bleachers where his old boom box sat, old remains of duct tape still spotted on its face like some kind of electronic acne. “Let’s go through the entire set one more time with music, than we girls can gossip.”
The blaring cry of brass, middle-eastern flutes started up, and the three of them rushed back into their beginning stances, weights and staffs to the sides.
Five minutes later, teacher and students sat on the first level of bench pulled out from the folded up black bleachers, except for Emry. She had voted for the floor, where she hoped the cold wood laminating would suck some of the heat out of her. She could feel her sweat rolling down her like dozens of little snakes.
“Been getting called in at three in the morning to restock,” grunted Denizen, the only one of the lot of them not pouring out as much liquid from his pores as was falling outside. “Toilet paper’s been the least of it. Effing city’s gonna be able to fill their own water park with all the bottled water. Don’t make sense to me how a bit of snow in August’s gonna shut down the water treatment plant, but hey, sky’s freaking out so they all think the world’s gone to shit.”
“You’re telling me,” said Josh, who was nearly as bald as Denizen, except for the fine fuzz of black dots. He had his own puddle starting out on the floor. “This humidity, damn!”
“This is why I left New Orleans,” groaned Jose.
Emry said nothing, content to just listen and radiate heat like an oven top. The white balls of light hanging from the gym ceiling bled rainbows through the fine dots of sweat that her eyelashes had managed to catch.
“They shut’n down the colleges?” Jose asked.
“Naw,” said Josh. “Wish they had. I’m gett’n jelly of all the losers posting up Mad Max mods and game marathons. I can’t even remember the last time I had one of those. Probably high school.”
“Yeah, speak’n of High School. Emry! Heard they shut you down. How you been handling that?”
Emry shrugged, regretting it as her skin had suction cupped onto the floor.
“That ain’t an no answer. You’re being all creepy quiet again, stop it. You’re mom do’n okay?”
“Same as usual,” she said, her voice coming out soft and squeaky after the brassy lower tones of the men. “No school means I got some more practice in.”
“Yeah, I bet the snow feels great after a workout like this,” groaned Jose, sweeping back his short, black hair. “Though now it’s just this chilly-ass rain. Maybe we can just shower outside this time.”
“Family shower!” crowed Josh.
Denizen gave a one sided grimace. “Whatever. Catch the plague, for all I care. You done melting, girl?”
“Yeah,” said Emry, unsticking her back from the floor. She was beginning to seriously reconsider wearing a sports bra instead of her usual tank top.
“You tell that mom hi for me, would’ja?” asked Josh.
“We’re praying for you,” said Jose.
“Thanks,” said Emry, giving a smile her face felt too tired to feel. “I’ll tell her that.”
The moment the car doors were shut, however, a buzzy, expectant silence fell into place. Emry could feel herself squirming, even as Denizen started up the car and cleared his throat.
“She ain’t all right, is she?” he asked, quietly.
Emry looked out the window, forcing her face blank. “Let me guess. Danny?”
“You know that’s disgusting, right?”
“I’m not doing anything disgusting by talking. I don’t know where you get these ideas from.”
Emry didn’t say anything. Even if she did he’d just deny it. Didn’t matter if she shoved a video of him kissing her sister in his face, he’d still go off making excuses. A part of her was more angry at herself for still associating with him, but fire-dancing teachers were as rare as they got, and it was only two months until she graduated and left this cesspool of a city anyway. Not to mention it would humiliate Mirium, who was already ashamed as it was.
No. Emry could understand why Mirium did it. But what Denizen did, she could only conjecture as the usual horny, opportunist mid-life crisis scum that sometimes hit married, middle-aged men with three
Three blocks away from home, he gave another one of his heavy sighs.
“Look,” he said, in a tone she’d gotten really tired of hearing. “She’s worried about you and asked me to talk to you—“
“Well don’t. She can talk to me herself.”
“Not while you’re acting like a hard-faced bitch ready to jump down the first throat who says contrary to your opinion.”
Emry’s head whirled around so fast, her neck cracked like bubble wrap. “My opinion?”
“You don’t know what it’s like—“
“Oh, no. You are not about to pull that card.”
That face which she had known since she was twelve twisted into something ugly which she had only discovered over the past few months. It made his eyes pop and his complexion go ruddy.
“No, you listen, brat. You don’t have a fucking clue how the real world works. You’ve never had a boyfriend let alone a spouse and kids or even a full-time job. You don’t have any fucking clue what goes on in our heads and hearts and until you do you better damn well stop being such a self-righteous, high and mighty bitch towards me and your sister.”
Even as Emry narrowed her eyes, her insides quivered and cowered somewhere far away.
“My sister is a saint. I treat her in no such way.”
“And yet she’s feeling judged. It’s your whole attitude, kid. You aren’t as smart as you think.”
“I never said I was smart.”
“Then stop acting like it,” he spat. “And get out of my car. You can walk next time, for all I care.”
“Gladly,” she said, softer than she had intended, as her throat had started to tighten painfully.
Still, despite the ugly popping eyes that watched her out the windshield, he didn’t speed off until she had made it across their dying lawn to her patchy door, just as he had since she was young. The moment she had it closed behind her, she dropped the back of her head on one of the sole remaining panes of bumpy, yellow seventies glass. Three out of the nine panes had particle board over them since they didn’t sell that color of glass anymore. Not that they had the money to replace it anyways.
Emry let out a slow breath from her gut.
“I’m home,” she said.
Only the hum of the fridge answered back.
The door rattled something somewhere a bit past midnight when Mirium came home. Emry curled in on herself as the sound of her sister moving around brought back the memory of her instructor’s popping eyes again. When the bathroom door banged open followed by the unexpected sound of vomiting, she tossed all attempts for sleep out the window and threw off her covers to rush across the hall. Squinting against the bathroom light, she found her sister’s head and combed back her long blond hair into a fist with her fingers.
“Emry,” her sister gasped before throwing up again into the toilet. Tears squeezed out down her flushed cheeks.
“Shh, I got you.”
She continued combing her fingers through her hair until the puked stopped and Mirium fell back against the tub, breathing deep. Emry reached over her to flush the toilet.
“You going to be okay?” Emry asked.
Mirium nodded, sniffing and wiping at her face. “Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Thank you.”
“You don’t have work tomorrow, so be sure to sleep in, yeah?”
Mirium nodded, her eyes still shut. She felt up her head and gripped Emry’s hand. On feeling the tremors, she gave a soft smile.
“I’ll fine,” she said, easing Emry’s white fingers from her hair. “My stomach was hurting on and off all day—“
“And you didn’t come home?” Of course she didn’t, Emry thought with a rush of frustration.
“It was nothing I couldn’t handle,” her sister said, finally opening her blue eyes to meet Emry’s.
Emry groaned. “That’s not the point…” But she knew it wouldn’t go anywhere, so she set to putting nervous energy to work pulling out a clean cloth from the towel cupboard and wetting it down under the sink’s bronze nozzle. Everything in their bathroom still had the yellow and gold themes of the seventies, making the bright purple of the washcloth stand out like a smear of black.
Once she had wrung out the excess water, she crouched down by her sister and gently wiped the sweat from her brow and the bit of vomit at the corners of her mouth. Mirium had gone back to closing her eyes, leaning her head against the water-stained shower door. She still wore her black, Cosco shirt uniform. Even in the dim, yellow lighting of the bathroom, Emry could make out the dark shadows beneath her sister’s eyes. She clenched her jaw, pulling her mouth thin. But, despite the way her wan face made Emry’s chest screw up tight, there was nothing she could say that hadn’t been said, and refuted, before.
But, being much stronger and bigger than her, she could still force her sister to put up with her carrying her to her room and tucking her in like a child into her paisley, flower printed bed. As she threw her blanket over her, a whiff of stale sweat puffed into her face, making her face wrinkle. But, again, she said nothing. Neither of them had much time to get to the laundry these days. Emry suddenly regretted the past three hours she had spent doing homework and fruitlessly trying to get to sleep.
“How was practice today?” asked Mirium.
Emry shrugged, before turning to get a bowl from the kitchen. She brought back a glass of water as well and had to push aside several glittery gel pens to make room on the nightstand, though she put the bowl on the floor.
“Bowl,” she said.
Mirium grunted to show she heard, her eyes once more closed.
Emry took a few more seconds to take in her sister’s tired face before leaving, but not before needlessly tucking in the blanket about her feet. She left her door open a crack, in case she needed her in the night, and went next door to her own, tiny room.
In the light leaking in from the bathroom across the hall, the streamers and thick black wires destined to hold up balls of fire painted long black stripes against the opposite wall, putting her own shadow in bars. Beyond the shadows, through the window, the rain had finally stopped.
Emry opened the window and stuck her hand out, just to be sure. A small nip of summer had returned, making the air muggy against her skin, but perhaps not so muggy that fire wouldn’t burn.
She brought her hand back in and closed the door.
It’s not like I’m going to get any sleep now, she figured, reaching for a lighter and some of the thick cords hanging around her broken fan. She wrapped fire-loving guaze around some weights, hooked them on, and got ready to head outside.
Fire and shadow wheeled about on the school’s soccer field as she turned, listening to the whizz of cable and the flutter of flame for her music. By the time the blaze flew by her eyes, her pupils contracted so everything but the streetlights fell into darkness.
And despite her hammering heart and her straining muscles, it was the first time Emry felt she was getting enough air. Her head must have been spinning all day, because her thoughts finally fell straight, bringing in her senses back through a film. Every muscle answered back close to her skin and bone once more, loud and clear, and the musk of wet grass rose up like perfume. Water splashed out with each jump and skid, making diamonds in the flash of fire. She had left near twelve thirty, the moon was out and the stars couldn’t be seen past the bleaching light of her flames, and yet only then did Emry finally
And she woke up to fury.
With a yell she flung a flaming weight to the water field, where it exploded in hisses. Teeth bared she flung it back out, using centrifugal force to throw off the water repelled by the fire-loving oil, then spun it over the little metal bowl of fire flickering a few feet away, all while spinning a short hand staff burning fire on each end in her other hand. Fire re-caught to the still warm ball and she tossed it in the air to allow the new flames a chance to breathe.
She caught the wire with the staff before the ball could hit the ground, stopping and jerking it back up into a swing with the force of its fall.
She spun on her heels. Fire ribboned about her, but it wasn’t enough. She wanted a wall. A great tornado of flame to erupt about her, burning out the night.
“Stupid,” she hissed, chucking the staff high. “So freaking stupid.” She caught the staff and slugged it at the cable, sending the ball in a sudden arc in a different direction. “When you’re sick you effing go home!”
She yanked the ball out of the grass nearly the moment it touched it, swinging it back over the bowl to be reignited.
“When you don’t feel well you see a stupid, effing doctor!” TWACK—Hissss. She jumped mid twirl to change her direction, twisting down low to dip the now dark end of the short staff to the brazier. Quick now, she had to keep up with the spin of the weight. “Because watching your mom die because she wouldn’t go to the doctor sooner isn’t lesson enough.” She went back into a spin, but her staff spun faster, high, high above her head, barely touching her fingers anymore. “Forget married, he’s an ugly, bald old bastard. We grew up babysitting his kids, for Pete’s sake! So…freaking…STUPID!”
She flung the short staff at her feet to take hold of the cable with both hands. The fires on both ends of the staff sizzled out in the flooded grass. The cable switched hands and the fingers of her other hand trailed down the cable as far as they could go, bringing the fireball into a figure eight that curved about her figure. She pulled it close until she could feel the heat licking against her waist and hips.
She tugged it faster and faster, her fingers popping, the cord starting to bite and slip between her taped up fingers—
And then it was gone, shooting across the soccer field where it crashed into a fence and snuffed out.
Emry stared at it, chest heaving, fingers smarting, her feet numb from cold.
“Why do you all have to be so FUCKING STUPID!”
She stomped on the grass, kicking water up to her knees.
“FINE!” She kicked the water. “Screw up your life! Go ahead and DIE!”
Her pajama pants trailed under her heels as she frog marched towards her fallen weight, her eyes fighting to adjust to the darkness. Yet, despite that, she found it easily enough and yanked it up with all her strength—
The ball mashed into her face. Stars erupted in her vision.
She flinched back, slipped on her too long pajama pant leg, stumbled, and collapsed back in a great sploosh of flooded grass.
She tasted blood.
The vibrations from her roar only made her smarting face hurt more.
Cussing, still angry as hell, she staggered back to her feet and made her way back to the fire in the middle of the field, dragging the offensive fire-weight behind her, all while holding her fisted sleeve to her pouring nose.
By the time she reached the brazier, however, her fierce, though short-lived rage had died, leaving her cold, wet, aching, and drained. Figuring she was already wet, she plopped down next to the brazier and hunched close, closing her eyes to feel its heat against her eyelids.
As she did so, the image of her mother as she had seen her that morning rose up, unbidden and unasked for. Her flesh had sucked in to her bones, turning her once soft, beautiful hands into Halloween decorations. Emry had held them for almost an hour as she had carefully painted each nail and stuck on miniscule rhinestones. The task had been a welcome distraction from the hollow-eyed horror which had become her mother’s bald head.
…no…Emry didn’t want her to die…
Shivering from more than just the cold, she gingerly pulled down her sleeve covered wrist to pinch her nose, opening her eyes to peer at her sleeve to judge the amount of blood. She could barely see the faded out reindeer through all the red.
Past the red, a face made of fire looked back.
Emry jerked back with a shout. Her overworked muscles spasmed, breaking her retreat with a heavy cramp, just as her wrist slipped out on the sleeve.
The thing of fire, which had appeared in the small space between her and the brazier, merely sat, making no move to follow.
Though her first impression had been of pure fire, the small dog-like creature did not flicker, but had a solid quality, as though molded of burning gold. Flames still licked up it’s figure, but there was a definite
line between the moving flames and its body, a line which delicately carved thousands of strands of fur. Bright, almond-shape eyes watched her, or as much as she could tell without a pupil or iris to direct its gaze. It’s large triangle ears faced her as well, and a thick, fluffy tail curved about its front paws in perfect content.
But though she stared and blinked and rubbed her eyes, the blazing little creature did not fade.
A fox. Or, what she supposed was a fox. She had only ever seen them in pictures and TV, and never made of fire.
It was blood running into her open mouth that snapped her back into movement. She covered her fist with her clean sleeve and pressed it to her nose.
“Wha-what are you do’n round here, uh…little fella?”
She felt like an idiot the moment she said it. Emry had never been an animal person. Not because she didn’t have anything against them, but having a mother and sister deathly allergic to all things furry meant she had a serious lack of experience with them.
The fox cocked its head to the side. It swished its tail from one side to the other, sending curls of steam from the grass, which blackened in its wake.
Emry frowned and looked down at her, soggy, but untouched pajama bottoms. That thing had practically been in her lap. Why hadn’t she been burned?
“Welp,” she said through her clogged nose. “My brain’s broken.”
So, she should probably go home. Go to sleep. Sleep was good for brains.
She made a point to look away from the fox as she gathered up her staff, hoping looking into the darkness and letting it’s after image fade away from her retinas did the trick. But then she had to turn to extinguish her brazier and there it was, swishing its tail, looking positively docile with the way it tilted those gold almonds up at her. She could even make out minute whiskers shimmering with heat waves as she toed near for her bowl. The heat intensified the closer she got. But just as she got close enough where the heat could have burned, it stopped, and she found even as her fingers curled around the base of the brazier, which should have been at least semi-seering against the callouses of her hands, all that came was something like a kiss of sunshine.
Then she flipped the bowl over, dumping the fire into the half-drowned grass, and the fox went out along with it.
In the sudden pitch blackness, she found her heart oddly sinking.
“Oh…” she breathed.
When her eyes finally adjusted, she finished gathering up her things, slipped her flip flops back on, and made her painful, frozen way back home.