Excerpt: Spirit of Fire
How do you tell people the world is going to end?
We were gathered around a large bonfire, hands linked, listening to the priestess intone the traditional phrases. There were twenty of us this time. Not a lot, but the largest turnout I had seen in my two years as a Wiccan. I looked at each face in turn, some partially hidden by cowls, others just looking like everyday, common people, and I was afraid. How was I going to tell them what I knew? How could I say it without sounding crazy?
“It is a time of gathering darkness,” the priestess said, her sonorous voice carrying in the still night air. She was dressed in a gown adorned with evergreen boughs. Her earrings were acorns, and a wreath of woven twigs crowned her head. “All around us, the world is dying, preparing for the long sleep. Soon the day of longest night will be upon us. This is a time for reflection, for meditation. As the Earth slumbers, the veil between this world and the next draws thin. The spirits of Nature walk among us, unseen, unheard. It is a spiritual time. It is a time of rest.”
Beautiful words, which I found comforting, but she was overdoing it a little with the outfit, in my opinion. Her name was Nancy Goldwin, and she was a key account manager for a travel agency in Edinburgh. She also happened to be the High Priestess for our little Wiccan group, but I had to admit, she had a gift for ceremonies. Any other day, I would have found her speech very interesting. I had always believed in the power of nature, and I had looked for a long time for a group of people who shared my own beliefs: that the Earth was alive, and the natural world had power. It was good to have found others who thought like me, even if sometimes they went overboard with the ritual dancing and ornate chalices and everything.
Now, though, there was no peace for me in the ceremony. I was too nervous. Too scared. I knew I had to tell them—if anyone would believe me, it was my brothers and sisters of the night. But…
I kept my trap shut as we offered sacrifices to the Old Gods in the flames of the bonfire. Token things, really; we weren’t going to kill an animal—that would have been gross. And cruel. Our sacrifices were fruits, vegetables, things from the harvest. Their fragrance mingled with that of the burning wood, and the flames threw dancing shadows on the grass at our feet. It was a beautiful night, at least for Scottish standards. There was hardly any wind, no rain, and the chill in the air was almost pleasant. I followed the familiar cadences of our wintertime ceremony with ease.
I had just decided not to say anything after all when we reached that point in the ritual. The point where each of us had to say something.
“The time has come for us to share what is in our hearts,” Nancy said, giving each of us a matronly smile. “Seldom do we have so many with us, and my spirit is joyful that a new person has decided to join the circle. Brother Allen, would you tell us something about yourself?”
A tall guy I had noticed earlier in the night was suddenly the center of attention. He was new, and cute. He had a buzz cut, and his jaw was shadowed by dark stubble. His eyes were dark, probably black, and they looked intelligent, partially hidden behind a pair of chic glasses with thick frames. He was wearing a stylish city coat that did not entirely hide his lean, trim physique.
Definitely my type. I hadn’t talked to him at all, though, because he had come with Jessica, one of the newer members to the group. He hadn’t left her side all night, so I had mentally crossed him out as another hopeless straight case.
“Um, hello, everyone,” he said, his voice rich like that of a radio host. “My name is Allen Greenspan. I’m a dance instructor in Glasgow. This is my sister, Jessica. She convinced me to come. I’m not really a believer or anything, but… Yeah. This is nice.”
“We are glad to have you with us,” Nancy answered smoothly in her best High Priestess tone. “Our circle is not about hard belief, like other religions. Wicca never proselytizes. It is about sharing, about being in the moment, and about tapping into the life energy of our world and all the creatures in it. ‘If it harm none, do what you will’. Just by being here, you have enriched our experience. Company is one of the most treasured gifts a person can give another. So thank you, Allen, for the gift of your presence.”
“Aye, no worries,” Allen said awkwardly. “Glad to be here.”
Nancy went around the circle asking others to share their deep thoughts or mystical revelations or whatever, but my attention was now on Allen. Dance instructor? And Jessica was his sister? My gaydar was beeping, and I tried to catch his eye. Unfortunately, he was standing at the opposite end of the bonfire, and unlike me he was paying attention to each person as they shared something with the group. He was quiet and polite, but I could tell he was a bit uncomfortable. Maybe he thought we were all a bunch of tree-hugging lunatics. Or maybe not. I had to talk to him before he left. I didn’t really get along with Jessica, but I could use her to introduce us. And afterwards…
“Brother Jacob?” Nancy said.
Startled, I recognized my name. “Sorry?” I said. There was an awkward silence while everybody looked at me expectantly. Including Allen.
Duh. It was my turn to share.
“Oh. Right. Sorry about that. I don’t actually have much to say tonight, really—”
But then I saw it. In the fire. The creature with hair like flames.
The one who had told me the world was ending. It was looking at me, its flickering outline like that of a tall man, and I heard its voice in my head.