Words will keep us together

Fiction, musings and all things writing by Gregory T. Janetka

Ralph and the Fire

The cool wisps of the roaring campfire disappeared slowly into the vacant night sky.  “Not even one star…” he murmured to himself.  Slowly and deliberately he turned to look to his right, a desperate hope in his eyes – “Stupid…how could there be a second if there was never a first?”

His name is Ralph, but he has always despised it.  “Ralph is a name for a mouse,” he would exclaim, “Or for a fat, old uncle.  Not for a boy.”

The greens of the field swayed with the dry breeze as Ralph sighed a heavy sigh.  The mountain range which he believed to dwarf him was in reality a series of small hills, none large enough to be even a remote struggle to climb.  As he sat, though, he felt drowned within them.  It was as if in the case of a freak thunderstorm arising, he would surely be trapped – never to be seen again.  His body would float in a stream no one knew existed.  The vultures would sweep down upon him at the first hint of a meal.  The image it conjured up was one not unlike the one that had been sanitized and dressed up under the guise of “pulled pork” – every last morsel of flesh being gleefully torn asunder.

Thus he would perish – if it were true.
But then, what was true any longer?

From what he could surmise, (which was not all that much), the only guaranteed truth laid in the fire that softly burned on before him; that which he had built with his own two hands…or so he believed.  NO!  Whatever doubt was in his mind toward everything else, he knew he must believe in something, and right now he would choose to believe in the truth of the fire.

As other children he knew would spend countless lazy hours finding images among the moving clouds, so he would spend countless intense hours finding images, modicums of truth, in the flames.  The clouds, he believed, were so far removed from him, who could tell what their existence was?  The fire, however, was deathly present, could be touched, felt, experienced.  Its beautifully destructive powers laid directly before him.  Under man’s control, the secret of Prometheus laid easy and resourceful.  But, left to its own devices, all certainty which did exist would prove the impermanence and daintiness of man.  So ravenous and forceful, yet so easily destroyed, man continued on unabated, the senselessness of his quest pushed to the furthest recesses of a doomed species.

Everything was nothing and nothing was everything.

Ralph examined his hands in the flickering light – “All the power of this fire,” he said, “exists in my two hands.”  “So how do they continue to control my hands?”
 Bread and circuses…bread and circuses…bread and circuses…
“Entertain me and do not let the harsh realities ever penetrate my fine soap bubble of protection.  Let me sit back and embrace uniformity.  So it is, so it has always been.  The medium has changed, but the result, sadly, remains the same.  Spin the wheel for your wonderful prizes (taxes not included).”
“Gadgets and gizmos…all I want is to use these two hands.”
“I want to destroy all this is before me so that it can be rebuilt.”  Ralph stood up triumphantly and proceeded to shout out to the deer and groundhogs which might be somewhere around, “I WANT TO DESTROY ALL THAT IS BEFORE ME…”  but he trailed off as he fell back down to the cold Earth, dejected by his own lack of resolve.

Bells, bells, bells.  Always the ringing of the bells…they surround me and so easily ring from the hilltop…they mock me and herd me into one corral after another.  “Here or there, it doesn’t matter, as long as I stay quiet and don’t fuss…”

Perhaps he just needed to eat…or sleep…at least that’s what they always told him.
So he would try it.

He pulled out the can of baked beans from his knapsack, removed the lid and poured them into his pot.  Placing it over the flames, they soon began to heat up.  Meanwhile, he searched his knapsack, but soon discovered that he had lost his spoon.  Searching the ground he soon found an adequate replacement in that of a small branch, suitable for the present purpose.  Hell, it was better than a spoon and it made it more of a challenge.

The beans were bland, but edible, and so he consumed the entire can.  And then he sat there.  After awhile he declared, “I certainly don’t feel any better.”  Perhaps sleep would do the trick then.

A small way removed from the fire, Ralph found a rather suitable area which seemed to offer up some untapped potential.  He slowly and methodically removed all of the large stones from the area, piling them into three small pyramid-like mounds.  Satisfied with this, he then removed all other debris from the area, systematically placing each leaf or twig into the fire and watching its physical properties change before his eyes.  “The power of destruction,” he began, “is so waning…it is so futile, there is no power in destruction, only disillusionment…those finding power in it are weak and frightened…there is only power in creation.”

With that, he laid down onto the area he had expertly cleaned so that all that remained was cool, crisp dirt.  Sleep had never come easy for Ralph.  The fact was that he hated it.  “It simply makes no sense,” he would often say to anyone who would listen, “where do I go to?”  They never had an answer.

Often he would find ways to distract himself so that the next thing he knew, it was morning.  His favorite method of distraction was to tell himself a bedtime story, one that he could wrap his entire mind up into and not bother with the finer points of senseless reality that he could not escape.

The normal course of his odes to sleeplessness was a diatribe on whatever few things made sense to him at the time.  With them he could find solace, if only for the fleeting moment.  The only things that made sense to him at this time were the fire and his two hands.  Thus he began to narrate to himself a tale revolving around his own actions.  As with most of his escapes, he became but a character, with his voice that of the disembodied narrator – able to control his actions with his words.

Ralph soon drifted into that mystically terrifying realm that exists between awake and asleep – what was dream and what was reality melded into a whole where neither was decipherable.

The picture he conjured was a familiar one – himself sitting in front of his fire.  Viewing himself from point of view of another, his tale began thus, with all of the pops, hisses, and scratches that come from an oft spun record:

Recalcitrant mind on the verge of an encompassing distortion eats away at the moment, sharing time and figures with the lions it holds at bay.  Reworking the glow from the fire into a culminating massive blaze destroying all who fall prey to it, he sits alone.
With deft movements, like those under the guise of a master puppeteer, his right hand approaches the licking flames.  First he allows his thumb to burn.  The stench of burning flesh soon fills his nostrils, igniting the cold night air.
Fascinated, he admires the sheer power of the flames.  Slowly shifting each muscle in his hand, as if to memorize each possible movement and determine the intricate nature of the entire process whereby bones, muscles, and tendons interact to create the all-powerful hand, featuring the beauty of the opposable thumb – rendering him oh so much better than the other animals.
Still admiring the beauty of his hand movements, he inserts the entire left hand in to the glowing fire, unable to blink for fear of missing one second of the bubbling mess.
The skin begins to melt and fall off in small pieces, each emitting a soft hiss as it descends.  Then larger ones begin to fall off.  Each time it consumes flesh, the fire lets off a small burst, as if to approve of the contents being donated to it.  The smoke that rises is different for each instance of flesh, as each coughs up a slew of memories with it.

Soon there is nothing left but bones.
The bright white nature of them appears, concealed under a soft layer of soot and smoke – the boy smiles from delight.
Completely pleased with himself, he cannot quell his laughter.  Embracing the moment, he begins to dig into the earth before him.  Within a few inches of the surface he reveals a gun.  Clutching it firmly in his skeletal hand, he promptly attempts to place the barrel into his mouth, but cannot due to his inability to stop laughing.
The tears rolling down his face and into the dry land before him, the boy then moves the barrel up to his right eye and pulls the trigger…

There was a knock at the door.  Ralph woke with a start.  The camping trip was some thirty years ago.  Shaking and crying, he crawled into the corner.  The knocking continued, then Ralph’s nephew entered.  “Come on, get up!  Geez, you’re fat, what’s going on?  He proceed to walk towards his Uncle, who was looking at him though glassy eyes.  “Uncle, what are you anyways?  A mouse?”

– June 2006

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