Happy Boxing Day! I hope all of your holidays were (continue to be) magical! I took the time yesterday to tap out this little flash fiction in response to the prompt, and I hope you enjoy it. It’s background material for the new novel I’m working on, a story based around the short that was part of my English Thesis in undergrad, which in turn was based around some of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
As they did every year at sunset on the longest night, the characters gathered at the massive Hearths across the countryside to hear their favorite story, their first story, the one that gave some explanation for why things were the way they were and gave them hope that they would still be there when the sun rose, and for every sunrise after. It was easy to lose hope when they were forgotten, lost on a shelf and never read, or their tellers died without passing on their stories. But there was always this story to keep their embers bright…
“Long ago, there was a fire circle, and in it flamed the brightest fire. Its flames wove long and high, the embers carried, dancing, by the wind. It was lit by a human hand, intent on keeping warm, or cooking their meal. No one exactly sure why it was lit to begin with, but we all know what it means to us now.” The Storyteller at the hearth leaned forward on her stool, gazing contemplatively at her own fire.
“S’mores!” a young child piped up from somewhere in the middle of the room. The crowd of characters tucked into the small Hearth laughed appreciatively.
The Storyteller beamed at the young child who was now hiding in it’s adoptive mother’s skirts. “Sometimes, yes, but what else does it mean?”
A man leaning against the back wall murmured, “Life.” The crowd echoed this back and forth amongst themselves until the storyteller nodded.
“Life, for us. For when that fire was lit, and the chores were done and the human finally had a chance to rest, surrounded by their family and friends, they started to think. They started to ponder and think over the day. And then they started to speak.”
The storyteller paused again, but the Hearth was silent now. “No one knows exactly what they said, the Storyteller does not say, but from the lips and heart of that human poured forth the first story. As they wove their tale of daring do, or love, or creation, the sparks flew up into the night, falling here and igniting their own fire. A mirror of the fire the first storyteller kindled. And as the sparks flew up from this fire, two of them grew instead of shrinking and disappearing. They grew larger, and larger, separating themselves from the wash of sparks rushing skyward and fell to the ground. They pulsed and grew and lengthened and formed and from those two sparks were told the First Character and the Storyteller.” A sigh rustled the room and people leaned in closer.
“Naked they were, in an empty world, these two characters, told of human imagination into life, their breath supplied by the very breath that had stoked the fire into life. At first they were confused and huddled around the fire, but they could hear the voice of their creator, spinning the tale that made their heart beat and their fingers move. And as the voice started to trail off, to stumble over words, they clasped each other in fear, afraid that once it stopped, they too would go the way of the rest of the sparks and disappear into the endless sky.”
Some of the children in the front row and the characters newly told or written into this world clutched at each other, terrified at what would happen next.
“But when the voice stopped and all was silent but for the crackle of the dry wood, the two characters remained, solid, alive. They were remembered in the heads of each person sitting around the fire that night, and the more the humans thought of them, the stronger they felt. The next night, that human told another story about the same characters and they grew stronger still. And as the human grew more adept at imagining their world, so too did their world grow, from that solitary fire ring to a great forest on the edge of the sea.” The Storyteller took this moment to study the faces surrounding her, making sure they were all with her.
“it’s been growing ever since, this world. And every day now a new character comes into it, told or written into existence by the humanity that first gave life to the sparks of that fire. And the Storyteller and First Character still watch over us, from among us, making sure that we’re never forgotten. For as long as your story is told, you shall never fade from memory.”
The Storyteller relaxed back on the stool, resting her back comfortably against the side of the fireplace. “it is best to take time on this longest night, a night made for stories, and understand where we come from. We owe our very life to a night unlike this one and the imagination of a single human that spawned a revolution in the way that Homo Sapiens thought and dreamed. They were creators now, able to weave fire and air into life, for what seems a brief moment to them, but means a life to us.” She nodded and stood up, gesturing the crowd into motion. “Remember as you leave here tonight that your lives depend on the stories told about you and take the time to tell the stories of those nearest and dearest to you, reach out to those in need and help them as well, keep them in your memory, lest they fade away.”
When everyone was standing, some holding hands or circled in the arms of their families, the Storyteller raised her arms in benediction. “May your story end well.”
“And may your next begin,” they answered with bowed heads. Slowly, they dispersed into the sunset to a long night of revelry and tales, good food and drink, until the sun rose again the next morning.