^*\\*^ The Invention of Fire ^*//*^
by Mike Meginnis and Andrea Kneeland
m: You are a thing under the moon. There is not yet a word for the thing that you are. You are seated on a rock. There are three other things like you under the moon. You are the smallest of the things like you seated on rocks under the moon. You are eating the flesh of a thing that is not like you under the moon. You hold each bite in your mouth till it is no longer warm—until its warmth is in you. Then you swallow the meat. When you are done there will be a long bone.
a: Grow larger
m: With each bite of the meat you feel that you are getting stronger. You stand up on the rock as you finish, to show how long your legs have become, how strong your arms. The other things like you under the moon regard you with some curiosity and much skepticism; they think that you are showing off. They do not believe your transformation.
a: Sharpen bone
m: Using the rock that is your most valuable possession, you work the bone down to a point. This takes you all the night you have left; you fall asleep on the open ground, lazy from your meal, and wake beneath the sun, and continue to sharpen the bone's end, and the other things like you under the sun pick at the dead thing, and they clean and suck each other's bodies, and they nap, and when night comes again the bone is sharp, and you have meanwhile hummed a song no one has ever hummed before, newborn to the world, your own invention. It goes something like: hmmm, hmm hm hmmm hmm.
a: Attack things with bone
m: You stab one of the things like you in its neck. Then it is not so much like you, because it is bleeding. The other things—a pair—do not help this thing that is less and less like you. They stand together, hunched, hand in hand, and slowly back away, slow as they can, afraid of being noticed. The way they're being says that you can finish if you want. The bone's sharp end is red under the moon. There is a cave to the south. There are plains west and east. The jungle is north. The dying thing is here with you.
a: Finish attacking to become a thing there is a word for
m: The thing that was like you is now a dead thing, which is the most unlike you that anything can be. It is meat. The other two turn and disappear. The word for what you are is "Wizard." It is also "Killer." There is one word, a word you know, for both.
a: Go south
m: In the cave it is dark. It always sounds as if the cave is breathing. The ground is damp here, and water stands in shallow pools. It is colder in the cave than it is under the moon.
a: Cast spell
m: You sing a song until the cave becomes your home. It is still dark, damp, and cold, but it is yours. And all its depths, and however far they extend: these too are yours. And anything inside your home is yours. And anything very near your home is also. Meaning the grass outside its mouth. Meaning any passers by.
a: Sing a song until the moon becomes mine and the world and the dirt and the planets and the galaxies become mine and the other realms and the heavens and the hells and the gods and the souls and the angels and the demons become mine and the blood and the rot and the imagination and the spirit become mine and everything that there is a word for and everything that there is not a word for becomes mine and no one else owns anything but an unfulfilled desire to own themselves.
m: Good. They are yours now. So am I. So is this. It is yours. Good.
a: Tell me what it feels like to own nothing but your desire. Be careful.
m: It is like I am in the deepest part of your cave. Where you have never been. It is warm enough here that it is as warm as my body, which is to say I do not feel the warmth, because it is the same. What I want now is to see the sun. And my wanting is itself like a very small sun—is like a spark too small to see. It is like I am waiting for a new animal, but if it comes the animal will eat me.
a: Begin your quest to the sun. There is darkness to the North. There is darkness to the East. There is darkness to the South. There is darkness to the West. There is darkness all around, but you can hear a small stream running down a narrow channel to the northwest, and the channel may be large enough to crawl through, but it may also not be large enough to crawl through. You can see nothing. There may be other openings that you may be able to find in other ways. Everything smells scorched.
m: I don't want to want to see the sun anymore. I search northwest, groping for the stream and the channel, and what I hope is I will drown in your stream or get stuck and starve to death in your channel, so I do not have to want drink or food, to say nothing of light.
a: Once through the entrance to the channel, you discover an enormous, brilliant cavern, luminescent with shimmering stalactites as white as bone. A glow emanates from within the stalactites, as brilliant as you had imagined the sun. You are reminded that you are not allowed to die, because you do not own death. You hear a deep rumble, like a growl, coming from the West. Be careful.
m: I find your brilliant cavern. Your glow emanates from within your stalactites, as brilliant as your me had imagined your son. Your me is reminded he is not allowed to die, because he does not own your death. Your me hears your deep rumble, like your growl, coming from your west. I want to go east, toward your quiet, away from your rumble. I do not own the legs that would walk. I want your legs to walk your me east.
a: My legs walk my you to my East. I desire to desire. I shimmy my fingers morosely, as if I am commanding a puppet when I walk you. I keep walking you past my East. I keep walking you through the secreted passageways of my cave and although you tell me that your wish is to die and to cease to want, I know that you cannot wish these things because you do not own the power to wish. Still I can sense the wanting within you, of an unfulfilled desire to own yourself. The wanting is like a fire. I desire to desire. I walk my you through my world to meet my me.
m: And when your we meet, your me asks your you: What is a fire?
a: You are standing in the center of a sphere. It is glass, but it is not. It is hard and it is clear. The clearness extends beyond the bubble. There is no color or light or or darkness. Where your feet touch the sphere, there is hotness. More than hotness, your skin blisters and burns, and the sphere fills with a scorched, rancid smell that is your skin. There are no exits. Be careful.
m: I want. (You own. And how does the world change when you own it? How does a cave? How does my body? My body burns. My skin becomes a smell. It used to be my skin. Now it is yours. Your skin is a smell. Your body burns. How does the sun burn when you own it?) I want. (You own. And how does your body change when you own it? I used to want your skin.)
a: The world is shrunk down to a pea-sized marble, with all of the weight of the world and everything in it condensed in that marble. That marble lives under my skin. An uncountable, infinite number of pea-sized marbles live beneath my infinite skin. All the worlds condense to fit within me and I push and pull them about my body but will never be free of them because I do not know how to un-own. My skin continues to burn. A burnt-out hole widens in the heel of my your foot and worlds roll out. This is fire. If you want a world you can pick it up.
m: I want the blue world. I take it for my own. In the blue world there are things without names. They believe they live under two moons. The moons are your my eyes. Both half-open, white crescents on their sides. On the blue world the smallest thing without a name is eating blue meat from a blue bone. (Your thing without a name, your blue meat, your blue bone. (My your those, they. (Your my your those, they.)) To the south of the things on the blue world there is a cave. To the north is a jungle. To the east and west, a field. All blue and all yours.
a: Name thing
m: We'll call it a man. We'll call it your daughter.
a: Become daughter
m: Who can I be?
a: The word for what you are is "Wizard." It is also "Killer." There is one word, a word you know, for both.
m: I am in my blue cave, south of the blue nothing compass center where you, the daughter, eat your blue meat. My throat is too dry to sing. I am lapping water from between stalagmites.
a: Me, the daughter, does not know you, or the cave. Me, the daughter, hears a distant humming. Me, the daughter, thinks about sharpening a bone.
m: I roll over on my back and run my fingers down my ribs. I wish I had my own blue meat. My throat is still too sore. My guts are always too hungry.
a: Me, the daughter, sharpens a bone. Me, the daughter stabs another thing like me in its neck. Then it is not so much like me, because it is bleeding.
m: The other men, the other daughters, are afraid. They back away from you because you are not like them anymore. The bleeding thing has a look in its eyes like a secret.
a: Take eyes.
m: Your eyes are now yours. Those. Those yours.
m: You have your desire. You have your blue self. You have your eyes, your sharpened bone. You have the corpse you made. You have the word "Wizard," the word "Killer," which only need one inventory slot between them, because they are one thing, the same thing, which you know. What I have is my memories. What I have is my spells. What I have is the finger-deep channel between each rib.
m: The cave is a dark shade of blue. It is the black of this world. It is the most blue. You know I am somewhere inside because you can hear me breathing. You can hear my want for water. You can hear that I am knelt again over some tiny pool, licking out what little it will give me.
a: Examine cave
m: BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE, and the smell of my body, and what my body's made in this cave, and where it pools, and the drip-drops of water that echo, sounding the cave's depths.
a: Dig a pit
m: As you dig with your hands the water that pools in the dimples of the cave floor flows together to fill what you make; when you are done there is a hole and there is mud in the hole.
a: Good. The water is mine. I piss near the hole to mark the hole mine. I put the eyes and the bone in the mud and the hole. I put myself in the hole. The hole is mine. Everything inside of the hole is mine.
m: And what can I have?
a: Me, the daughter, does not know you, or anything outside of the hole. You can have anything outside of the hole. The cave sounds as if it is breathing.
m: That is only me. I am breathing enough for the cave. I am on my back. This is the best I can do.
a: Me, the daughter, tries to figure out how to put her desire in the hole. If it is in the hole it is mine. Me, the daughter, examines her desire.
m: What is fire?
a: Me, the daughter, believes the darkness is what keeps her from examining her desire, from putting her desire in the hole, from making her desire mine by putting it in the hole. Me, the daughter, crouches at the bottom of a muddy pit and quakes with tears. Me, the daughter, screams her throat raw because she does not know how to sing. Me, the daughter, screams her throat raw because she does not know how to make light. Me, the daughter, screams her throat raw for someone to save her or kill her. Me, the daughter, has a fire inside but does not know how to get it out.
m: You, the daughter, notice that you are ankle-deep in mud now. You, the daughter, hear me ask you, "What can I do?" I ask you, the daughter, "Don't you ever stop crying?" You are knee-deep in the mud now. It is the same temperature as my body. The same as yours. I am crawling toward the hole's edge. I am peering down inside. But all that you and I can see is that same color.
a: Shout expletives. Make obscene gestures.
m: If I come down in the hole to help you then the rule will be I am yours. (Again.)
a: Throw eyes at the voice that asks me the questions. Stop crying in order to prove a point.
m: I slide down in the hole on my tummy. You are up to your waist.
a: Start crying again.
m: I don't know what you want. I am so tired. I am face-down in your mud in your hole in your tears.
a: The hole is mine. The mud is mine. The bone is mine. The daughter is mine. You are mine. Your world is mine. It is like I you are in the deepest part of my cave. Where I have never been. It is warm enough there, in the mud, that it is as warm as your body, which is to say you do not feel the warmth, because it is the same. You do not feel the daughter because her warmth is also the same. What do you want?
m: What I want is to say I want nothing. But there will always be something. It is like I am eating the mud. (I am.) What I want to say is that I do not want to eat the mud. There will always be mud; can I really want something that I can always have? When I was young I sang a song that made everything mine. Even everything. Even everything. Even you. But there was always something. I ate mud until I starved.
a: Begin your quest to wanting nothing. There is darkness to the North. There is darkness to the East. There is darkness to the South. There is darkness to the West. The only way out is up, out of a slippery, deep hole or down, further into the slippery, deep hole. A daughter sobs next to you. You can see nothing.
Bio: Andrea Kneeland’s first collection of stories, the Birds & the Beasts, is forthcoming from The Lit Pub. She has been lucky enough to have her work appear in lots of neat journals and she hopes that will keep happening.