Alexandria

Chapter One

They gather around the bonfire, drunk and laughing, unaware of the malicious eyes spying them from the forest. The entire village, from newborn to elder, will join the ceremony tonight, paying their respects to a world they never knew. Above the towering redwoods rises the same cold moon that shone down on forgotten Ages, still bearing the relics on her dead and pockmarked face—the old lone banner hanging static in the void, pale red stripes and a blue starry night, the patriotic emblem of a country long gone.

An avenue cuts through the center of the village, laid in stone and lined with torches flaring wildly in the cool night breeze. Rings of huts and cabins branch out like cul-de-sacs, their entrances thrown open and flickering candlelight seeping out onto the footworn soil. A boy of twelve bursts from one of these little dwellings and tears off toward the promenade, takes several long strides and stops, reverses his direction so suddenly he almost topples over, then runs back inside.

His mother is laughing at him, her young cheeks flushed from wine. She sits on a little rawhide stool and braids feathers in her hair.

“Forget something, Jack?”

He slinks over and picks up a bundle of palm fronds, taller than him and painted brilliant red and orange. The cycle is tonight. Jack is playing Fire.

He flashes a lopsided grin and runs off, weaving between several people, careful to not thwack them with his enormous multicolored fronds. He pauses at the entrance of a cabin with walls of thick pine and a thatched roof.

“Jack. Come in,” says Keethan, lacing his boots by the light of a dented metal sconce. Jack unloads his bundle on the stoop and greets him with a deferential nod. “Are you ready for tonight?”

“Yes, I think so. I hope so.”

“You’ll be fine, I know. You’re a good study. Lia is just out back, almost ready.” He calls over his shoulder, “Lia, Jack is here.”

“Coming,” answers back a sweet high-pitched voice. Lia walks in, leading her mother by the hand, and Jack is struck by how pretty she looks in her little deerskin dress, lined with fur, skinny brown arms dangling at her sides, covered halfway to the elbows in an odd assortment of bracelets and charms. Her long, oil-black hair is tied up and fastened with much ornamentation and she wears a curious smile on her face.

“Where is it?”

Jack narrows his eyes on her and tilts his chin toward the door. She says nothing, but arches her small eyebrows in childish and demure provocation. Jack is trapped and knows it. He moves stoically onto the stoop, attaches his headpiece, and hoists the great orange fronds, deadpan. Lia grins wildly, her large brown eyes turn manic.

“Be Fire.”

He sighs and begins undulating spastically, the colorful palm blades rustling and erupting over his head until Lia collapses in a peel of shrieking laughter. Her mother moves to pick her up off the floor, the little hyena, and sets her back on her feet.

Keethan winks to his wife. “You see, Marni, see what she does to him?”

“He’ll be fine.”

“He’ll be afraid to leave his house after tonight.”

A deep bell toll reverberates through the village, along with the whispering sound of distant cheers. Keethan collects his things and ushers them outside, blowing out the candles as he leaves. Bonfire flames lick the sky above the roofs of the low cabins and rich woodsmoke stings their nostrils. Lia elbows Jack and takes off running, and he raises his fiery appendages like a spear and chases after. Keethan and Marni walk hand in hand down the stone promenade,