An Uncommon Method of Burning Food 

My eyes were those of owls as I watched my guardian work with the open flame before us; the animal of lore, that is, as Owl’s own eyes were forced into the cynical slant that he appraised the world with. I had never before seen anyone within the world cooking; all those that I knew were too young, and worse than that, fire was dangerous. Not only did it work as a beacon, alerting your location as well as the location of food to anyone nearby, but the pollutants left over from The Rapture worked their unpredictable magic upon the flames, twisting their shape and changing their colour. Before us, the fire flicked blue on Owl’s right, and the dancing element cast his canvas-grey eyes the colour of passion.

“Never anywhere but on the shore, do you understand?” asked that sodden voice, laced with the deep lilt that only maturity could bring. His eyes flicked to mind, and a curt nod was the response I was expected, the response that I gave. It did not stop the goosebumps that crept up my forearms, stinging slightly as coarse wool rubbed against them; being pinned with that stare could stop anyone in their tracks, and didn’t fail to stop my heart out of the queerest mixture of fear and admiration. “If you must abandon your meal without hesitation, the water will consume it posthaste. If you do not, you risk killing whomever is unlucky enough to be beneath the houses that catch fire from carelessness within the city’s streets, and you do not want to be responsible for the death of another. It is also the only place wherein–”

As always, the Fog had crept close without warning, and Owl was the one who felt it, the grey in his eyes surely being the proof that he was her child. Owl, child of the City and the Fog within it. My arm was in his in a moment, legs struggling to keep up with the leggy gait of the adult, careless to any struggle I may face, as he would always tell me that it was mine alone to bear, as his were his. Once more off of the sand, we perched, watching the fog roll in from the riling waves of the bay, the overflow of the ocean. His gloved finger stretched forward, angling toward the fire that we had built, now being torn asunder by the violent wind.

The moment the Fog hit the flame, it sizzled, briefly, as water hitting a coal, before the gases within it came to life. The fire crackled and snapped as though it was filled with flaking, decayed wood, spitting sparks in all directions around it. The flame grew, devouring the Fog like a voracious beast, overtaking the sand, biting and snapping at every surface that the fog touched, a violent woosh of a sound signaling each movement. It grew beyond measure, tears invading my eyes and fear, my heart, looking toward Owl only to find him as blank a slate as always, forehead creased as he watched the creature grow with an age-old spite. I had of course been mistaken; never could Owl be the child of City, as he was far too busy being the archenemy, posing with his hands shoved deep into the bowels of his filled pockets, illuminated all by the orange glow of the flames.

It was over as quickly as it began, a hiss preluding the very air detonating in front of us. Flames curled outward in thick columns, smoke billowing upward as the first heat I’d felt in so long washed over us at the speed of the wind, leaving the beach void and barren. After the passionate embrace of fire and water, the beach seemed drab and dull beyond the flicker of fire, and my eyes turned again to my leader.

“Look again,” he murmured, voice carrying a weight that I recognized. When my sight returned to the site that we had been sitting about, there was not a thing remaining. No wood, no pot, no food, simply charred remnants of a visitor once inhabiting the ground, the sand about it melted to glass.

“Only by the shore, Lye.”

Unable to pull a single fractured word from my constricted, terrified throat, I could only express my agreement with a series of rapid, very assured nods of the head.