The Smokeless Fire
We’re running through a forest but I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t recognise this place, all I know is that we have to put enough distance between ourselves and them. Their voices still call out behind us, but they fall on deaf ears, we will never trust them again. As we run thorns leap out of the overgrowth, tearing at my naked body and cutting deep wounds into my dusky flesh. Scarlet blood leaks from my torn feet leaving a macabre trail of red that glistens in the silver moonlight over the leafy forest floor. The pain is insufferable, but I cannot stop running. He glances at me and the look in his steely eyes only confirms this.
Who is he? Who is this boy with olive skin and raven hair that blends magically into the icy night? He seems familiar but I cannot put a name to his face. He told me that this is normal; it’s just a part of their games and I’ll be able to remember in a few days. But that doesn’t ease the feeling of emptiness that’s swelling inside of me; however, I know what they are capable of.
Far-reaching beams of torchlight seek us out through the foliage causing me to panic only momentarily, but long enough for me to lose my footing on the treacherous ground. In less than a second my body is lying crumpled on the floor, new cuts and grazes complimenting the old wounds that already cover me from head to toe. One of our pursuers succeeds in catching me in the light from his torch, but only for an instant. The boy wraps one of his unyielding arms around my waist and pulls me out of the unnatural glow. With his support I continue running, his warm chest pressed against my bleeding shoulder. A dull pain erupts through my legs with every step I take and I am sure that without him I would still be lying face down in the earth, waiting for the men that hunt me to discover me and take me back to the clinic.
I don’t know why they call it a clinic, nobody who goes there ever gets better. Those of us stupid enough to believe their promises of a cure are forced to endure endless hours of testing and inhumane experiments daily. We just want to be human, but they don’t care about that. In fact, they try to remove all traces of our humanity so that they can create the perfect living weapons. An army of individuals with the potential to wipe out all of humankind if they so desired. They turn us into monsters.
I was only a child when they took me in. I don’t know what I am, but even then I knew that I wasn’t what you would class as normal. I first started noticing the differences between myself and others at my eighth birthday party, where an incident occurred that left one little girl so traumatized that she would never speak again. I didn’t mean to hurt her, but I couldn’t control these powers that have ruined my life. My mother covered up the whole matter for me and the girls injuries were put down as the consequences of some freak accident. I’d hoped that I’d be able to teach myself to control my abilities and that we’d be able to live happily. However, as much as she tried to pretend the incident never happened it was clear to me that my own mother would never look at me the same way again; and so she sent me to the clinic.
I never want to go back there. That is why we’re running.
As the frosty air bites at our unclothed skin and our legs feel as if they are about to buckle underneath us, the voices that chase us diminish into only whispers from the far depths of the forest. We must have lost them. Overcome by exhaustion, the boy stops running, loosens his grip around me and slumps against a nearby tree trunk.
“We should rest for a while,” he pants, his resilient eyes staring intently into mine. I let out a nod of agreement and collapse next to him. He pulls me in close and I place my head upon his chest. The warmth of his body feels so soothing against the chill of the night.
“Who are you?” I ask faintly.
“A friend,” he replies with an affectionate grin.
“Then why don’t I remember you?” My voice breaks and tears begin to pool in my emerald eyes as the words fall from my mouth.
The boy gently pushes long, loose curls of ebony hair from my face and reassures me “You will do soon,” he lets out a short sigh and adds “And I’ll still be here when you do so there’s no point in wasting time worrying.”
“But what If I never do?” I question through gritted teeth “What if they’ve changed me forever? Can’t you just tell me?”
The boy softly laughs and says with a wide smile “Well then, we’d just have to start over again from scratch, wouldn’t we?” He ruffles my hair playfully but I push his hand away. I turn away from him, my brow furrowed in annoyance as I fight back tears of frustration.
The boy lets out another sigh, “I’m Aiden,” he hesitantly announces. I can see a hint of pain in his eyes as he tells me this and decide it’s time to end his interrogation. We both descend into silence.
The forest looks both sinister and beautiful when basked in the light of the moon. Cool shades of blue and purple shine through dark patches in the leafy canopy above us, which slowly sways in the light, night-time breeze. Earthy aromas fill my nose and the sounds of nocturnal creatures can be heard on the gentle wind. I lean my head back as the sheer serenity of my surroundings soothe me. For this one moment in time I allow myself to forget the fact that I’m being hunted.
I’m brought back to reality when a faint smell of burning attacks my nostrils. I panic, is the forest on fire? My eyes dart around and survey the surrounding area, that’s when I see it. Only a few feet away from where we’re resting a dim rusty glow escapes from behind a small, singed shrub.
“Fire!” I cry out whilst struggling to my feet in the deep soil. Aiden only laughs in response. “What are you laughing at?” I angrily retort.
“That isn’t fire,” he states with a composed voice “There’s no smoke.” He’s right, there is no smoke, and wherever there’s fire there’s smoke.
“Then what is it?” I ask as in a much calmer tone as my once racing heartbeat returns to normal. The look on his face tells me that he has no answer. The boy pushes himself upright and we both stand still, mesmerised by the warm glow. As we both stand watching as silent as death, the glow seems to grow brighter and appears to be approaching us. In the darkness my hand seeks out the comfort of Aiden, his fingers encase my own and reply with a firm grasp. My heart races as this alien glow draws nearer and I feel like asking Aiden if we should just run but the words don’t have time to form in my mouth before it emerges.
A small whimpering creature pushes its way through the bush and shoots us pitiful glances from its two dark glassy eyes whilst its ears point back in submission. The creatures rich burnt ombre fur is caked in dried, black blood and six battered tails stand limp, like a broken fan, above its hind legs. Fresh crimson blood trickles from dozens of cuts that are not unlike the wounds that cover my own body. As it slowly limps towards us tiny burning embers escape from its mouth that dance around and glow bright white in the slow wind before drifting to the ground where they fizzle out and die.
As I stare at the creature’s beaten form I notice something that incites feelings of both disgust and remorse. There’s no way that these injuries were caused by another animal, the wounds weren’t inflicted to kill but simply to hurt the creature that now lies almost lifeless at my feet. Animals hunt for food, and there’s only one thing on this world that hunts for pleasure. A human.
An overwhelming feeling of rage and hatred for humanity takes hold of me. How is a human, a supposedly civilised being, capable of such acts of pure cruelty?
“What is it?” I ask Aiden, my voice beginning to break. He turns to me and with one glance of his eyes he reads me like an open book. He knows what I am about to do.
“A Vulpix,” he replies “a fire type Pokémon.” And with this one utterance I am certain that I can save the creatures life. Aiden’s mouth points downwards and he looks at me with pity, “But Aaliyah,” he pauses “There’s nothing you can do. We don’t have time.” The words sound so inhumane to me.
“How can you be so heartless?” I cry out as my hands begin to fiercely prickle with an unnatural heat.
“Aaliyah please!” he begs with a look of pure fear painted across his face. The voices in the forest seem closer now, they must have heard him. Blue crackling flames rise up and embers dart from my hands and whip at my face, but I feel no pain. As I turn to the beaten creature whose own fire is burning out Aiden grabs my arm and pulls me away.
“No!” I scream with intensity as I thrust my right arm towards him, releasing a ball of azure flames that strikes his face and launches him backwards through the air a few feet until he smashes into a tall imposing tree and crumples to the floor like a ragdoll.
It’s now time to tend to the dying creature that lies in front of me. Cold salty tears drip from my eyes and my body shakes with rage as I gaze upon the horrific sight. I raise both of my arms high above my head and use all of my strength to save the Vulpix’s life. As I lift my hands crackling blue flames rise from the ground in unison that illuminate the leafy surrounding with an almost ethereal glow and engulf the bleeding creature.
I fall to my knees in exhaustion, whispering into the night “Please.” The voices in the forest grow louder and draw nearer still.
The flames begin to subside and the Vulpix before me lies lifeless once again. I have failed. I choke on tears and collapse next to unfortunate creature whose death I no doubt hastened. Why is life so cruel? There’s no point in even attempting to answer this question, in only a few moments they will have found me and there’s nothing I can do.
Then I remember Aiden. Oh god what have I done. My eyes dart towards him and there he is, slumped motionlessly against a tree. He looks so peaceful. I slowly drag myself towards him with bruised knees and elbows.
“Aiden...” I gently whisper “Aiden please I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry” My vision begins to blur behind the waterfall of tears that I cry. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I assure him, no, I assure myself as I caress his deathly cold face. “What have I done?” I cry out into the lonely night.
It is only when he’s gone that I remember how important he was to me. I lean down so that I am only inches away from his beautiful face and gently place my lips against his forehead. Icy tears roll from my cheeks, falling almost in slow motion through the air before landing on his soft skin.
“Goodbye my brother,” I whisper.
As reality finally hits me I close my eyes, curl up into a ball and wait for the inevitable.
The precise moment that I lose all hope and I am ready to give up on life is the moment that a miracle that once seemed so certain but then so impossible occurs. As I lie in the creeping darkness of despair I hear rustling only a few inches away. My eyes flash open, expecting to be met with the face of one of my hunters ready to take me back to clinic, but no. The Vulpix that only a few minutes ago seemed to have succumbed to its injuries is now standing upright, staring down at me with eyes that were once filled with pain but now shine so full of life.
I saved her, but I lost the one person who truly cared for me. I lost my brother.