Rowan raised the ax above his head, cold metal glinting beneath the sun and casting flecks of golden light across his hair. In one swift movement, he brought the ax down hard and split the log into two clean, twin pieces of timber. He ran a hand across his face, ruddy and pink with pleasant exertion, and stared down at his work. Around his feet laid thirty-seven split logs, all ready to be carefully and precariously stacked against the cabin’s outside walls. He nodded, satisfied with the work he had accomplished. The sun still hung high in the sky, beaming down at him, approving of his hard, gritty labor with her wide, white light smile. He stared up at the blue backdrop of the sky, at the way the tips of the trees tickled the early afternoon light, swaying gently in the autumn breeze. He smiled and rolled back his sleeves, pushing red flannel away from his tattooed skin. A fly landed on his wrist and spent a moment tracing the inky patterns that decorated his arm before again taking to the sky. He grinned and dropped the ax to its resting place on an old tree stump.
As he began to wrestle the smartly severed wood into rows against the side of the cabin, Rowan smiled. The morning’s activity of cutting and chopping and ax-wielding had left him with a warm, satisfying burn in his abdominal muscles, the proof of having completed some true, hard work. He hefted piece of timber after piece of timber up against the cabin wall, enjoying the power of his arms, relishing the dots of sweat that began to crop up along his temples and dance down his face, catching onto the dark hairs of his beard.
“Good work, Rowan,” he grinned to himself, placing another log against the cabin wall. “Good work.”
The kettle sizzled as it rocked back and forth above the fire. Rowan easily tossed a large slab of freshly chopped wood upon the flames, feeding their red-orange hunger. He crouched before the fire and plucked the kettle from the flames. Steam spouted from the mouth of the iron kettle, shrieking, as Rowan fished a china cup from the assortment of mismatched dishes that sat on the wooden shelf above the mantel. He placed the cup on the floor and poured the boiling water from the lips of the kettle. As the water flowed through her lips, the kettle’s shrieking silenced.
Rowan crossed the room to approach an assortment of cloth bags that hung from the wall on nails. They were of different materials and sizes, and each emanated a different earthy smell. He dipped his hand into one cloth bag and withdrew several leaves of fresh mint. He rubbed them gently beneath his nose and smiled as the fresh smell danced into his nostrils. Then he plunged his fingers into another cloth bag. His hand emerged filled with dried and candied lemon. He nodded and lumbered back to the cup of boiling water. Then, kneeling carefully above the glass, bathed in the orange glow of the fire, he dropped the bits of candied lemon into his china cup. He stirred the contents with a tiny silver, ornate spoon. After a moment, he let the mint leaves flutter into the cup and stirred those as well. Then he sat back before the fire, feet outstretched so that they sat just inches from the roaring flames. He clutched the small cup between his tattooed fingers and, watching the flames dancing as one would watch television, Rowan sipped his homemade tea.
He drained the cup as the fire told him stories. In the dancing of the fire, he watched the body of a woman emerge, crafted from the seductive tangle of sparks of yellow and tongues of red. He raised an eyebrow as she the woman made of fire and flame seemed to raise an arm to beckon him forward.
The flames danced, and the woman appeared to sway curvaceous hips back and forth, back and forth, in a dance that both taunted and intrigued Rowan. He swallowed and blinked, not wanting to get closer to the open fire for fear of burning himself, but at the same time, wanting nothing more than to be fully engulfed by the story he found unfurling in the lightning bright flames. He set his cup down and inched ever so slightly forward, ever so slightly closer to the storytelling fire.
As he did, a pile of bright white flames burst to life just to the left of the woman made from the tongues of flame. Rowan blinked rapidly, trying to convince himself his eyes were seeing things. He swiped his fists over his eyes, trying to clear them of any smoke or any other substance that might be forcing him to see what he thought he was seeing. Yet his eyes were clean and clear, and the fiery vision remained before him; a strong, muscular body made from flame had burst into vigorous burning just to the left of the fiery lady. To Rowan’s disbelief, the muscled mass of fire twisted and burnt itself to the left until it touched the would be woman of flame. Rowan glanced down at the tea he still clutched in his now shaking hands. Had he chosen something else instead of the mint? He sniffed at the glass. No, it was surely mint, and yet still he decided to set the tea down on the hardwood floor.
The fire appeared too strange, a woman and man crafted from flame twisting in bright beauty before him. He often sat before the fire and imagined creatures appearing made from the flames; he sometimes spied foxes, or snakes, or the head of a cat. But these visions appeared briefly, and they were completely abstract, pictures he searched for and found in imperfect inflamed representation, like spying an animal made out of clouds. He had never before experienced anything like this; images so vivid, so obvious in their forms, so absolute in their storytelling. It sent shivers running up and down his spine, and goose bumps careening over his tattooed flesh. He shook his head and yet, for all his discomfort, was unable to tear his eyes from the cinematography of the flames.
The two flame beings, a man and a woman, tangled and danced, twisted and leaped, becoming one flame so bright and thick and hot that Rowan had to shield his eyes and push himself backward, away from the intense heat of the fire. He shimmied back so quickly that he knocked the china glass over and sent it spinning in a wild flurry of wilted mint leaves and dregs of wet sugary lemon. When he dropped his hand from his face he was shocked: the massive fire had completely sussed out. Not even an ember burned amidst the coals.
“How… how can that be?”
Rowan’s mouth dropped open and swiped his tattooed fingers over the tangles of his ink black beard. He squinted and stared at the fire for a few moments, stupefied, before he jumped back into action. He squatted before the deep fireplace he had built with his own hands. Carefully, lovingly, he poked at the embers with the fire stick he had crafted by melting down the sharpened edges of a piece of metal he had found discarded in the forest. Yet for all his loving stoking, the fire would not come back to life. The room soon lost its warmth as autumn was quickly progressing and the nights were growing cool as a glass of summer lemonade. Rowan shivered against the cooling air.
“Fuck,” he muttered to himself.
He stood, intending to fetch the blanket from the couch and make his way to bed, but he then remembered the spilled tea. He crouched and picked the mint leaves from the floor, dropped the bits of candied lemon back into the emptied china cup. He stood and breathed out, still a bit shaken and confused by the story the fire had so graphically splayed before him.
The moon flashed her slippery silver smile at Rowan as he made his way to his bedroom. Before wrapping himself beneath the handmade quilts, he made sure to turn over the coals in the small iron stove that sat at the foot of his bed. It would burn on ever so slightly, keeping the bedroom warm through the chill of the night.
Rowan rolled himself into bed, pulling the quilts up around his body. As his eyes grew heavy and he began to fall into the deepness of a satisfied sleep, the woman made of flames danced through his mind. That night his dreams would be decorated with the crackle of her hips, swaying back and forth so smoothly, so electrically, like a twisted, seductive lullaby.