Historical Microfiction, Yay!
Teeny wee short story set at 3:00 in the morning on March 6th, 1788, in Kyoto, Japan. What happened that day? The biggest unattributed case of arson the world had ever seen. One person (presumably) burned down a huge percentage of the city, due to massive winds that jumped fire breaks and surrounded firefighters. It burned for three days and took down the royal palace. I can’t find a reference on the internet, but it’s the Tenmei fire if you’re interested.
Inspired by this fabulous picture by the princely RivkaZ and Seven Devils by Florence + The Machine. However, there is only one devil in the story. Perhaps each great fire has its own devil…? I do not know.
Summary: Aiko doesn’t want to look, but the orange light won’t stop flickering, and she is too afraid not to.
Aiko woke to the sound of crackling. It shouldn’t have been loud enough to wake her, but something about it made her eyes snap open and her breath catch. It kept on gently crackling as she looked around, crackling like crumpled paper, but there wasn’t anything. She rubbed her forehead, called herself a silly goose and told herself to stop worrying so much, and threw her blankets back over her head.
A very small orange light flickered on the edge of her vision, and she only saw it out of the corner of her eye, but her heart was racing again and her window stared at her like a taunting eye, whispering You will be afraid.
An eye with orange light inside.
She kept herself coccooned in the blankets as she crawled across her bed, stuffed bird still safely on the pillow with his face down so that he didn’t have to see. One hand rested on the windowsill, supporting her and clinging to the cold wood, and the other pulled open her shutters.
Silly goose, she told herself as she slumped against the sill. Everything was fine. There wasn’t any orange light.
But there was still the crackling. And behind her eyelids, she could swear the light was flickering. Unless she took a really good look, she wouldn’t be able to sleep. And there was nothing there, so it was okay to open her eyes and look into all the corners she hadn’t seen before—the sky, the ground, and the left. She didn’t want to look to the left. The light came from the left. She didn’t want to look, but with effort and the great will of a little girl, she managed.
It came from a woman with hair like coal dust and hands like kindling, her skin as hot as the devil, gripping a banner that flapped like a live thing in heavy winds that blew in a different direction. When she ran her fingers against the wood-and-paper walls of the buildings, they bristled with reluctant flame, and crackled awake.
The woman knelt under a street lamp to stroke a cat, its fur blackening as her hand got close, flashing into howling pain as she touched it. It ran, yowling, under a building, still burning.
The woman stood slowly, creakily, taking a moment to stroke the beam of the street lamp. Aiko tucked herself deeper into her blankets, hoping the woman wouldn’t turn around, that she would leave and Aiko could get her mom. The woman paused at the corner, turned her head towards Aiko, but kept going.
Aiko relaxed. But then she saw the tail of the long banner, stretching, reaching down the street, pausing in front of the window—and brushing Aiko’s blankets.
She screamed, and untangled herself with some difficulty. Her hair got caught, but she beat it until it went out, stopped burning her scalp and licking her face. Tripping over the tangle, she scrambled across the room to her bird doll, scrambled to get her mommy, but the crackling had gotten louder, and the fire beat her to the door. When she spun and ran the other way, it beat her to the window, dancing between the slats of her shutters, and laughed at her.
That night, Kyoto burned. The great fire was never forgotten, and the arsonist never found.