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Dancing Flames

     “Very late. Late, late, very, very, late late,” sang Alice under her breath as she scrambled around her room. A large bag lay open on her bed with an untidy assortment of clothes, some scorched looking juggling balls, a handheld fire extinguisher, and even a pair of extendable batons. She growled in frustration as she searched. If she didn’t bring her own supply of fuel to practise then she would be forced to use the coach’s, which she would have to pay for.

     “Aha!” She was on her belly reaching into one the bottom corner of her wardrobe where the can of fuel was hiding under a fallen shirt. She glared down at it in her hands. “You,” she seethed “have made me very late.” She shoved the can into her bag where it was lost once more among the debris. Wrenching the door open Alice sprinted down the stairs. At least she tried to, half way down she slipped and slid down the rest of the way on her backside. As soon as she’d scrambled back to her feet she stood, still as a statue, in the hallway. Her eyes narrowed in thought. “I’ve forgotten something.” She began to bounce slightly, fully aware that she was becoming later and later by the second. Yet there was something keeping her there, something important.

     “Drink!” She dropped her bag and sprinted into the kitchen, eyes searching for her bottle. Though some say she could do without it having a drink with you was vital. It was very easy to get dehydrated when you were in fire dancer training. She had seen for herself the consequences of it when one of her fellows had passed out holding a flaming baton. From then on if you didn’t bring a drink to training then Bella, the dance coach, would send you home. Still bouncing on the spot, she thrust her bottle under the tap and waited for it to fill. She snatched it away as soon as it was full enough, slopping water over her hand and onto the floor. There was a good chance it was going to leak, she thought, as she pushed her bottle into the bag. Finally, she could get going. She had reached out her hand for the door when it happened.

     Pain like nothing Alice could even conceive was consuming her entire body. At first, she thought her fuel can had exploded somehow. Every inch of her, every nerve, seemed to be alight, burning with impossible agony. Then it was too much; she could think no longer. Everything, inside and out seemed to blaze, searing within her. Why? Why this terrible, insufferable, torture?

     Then it was as if she’d had been doused in cool water. The pain stopped. She blinked, bringing her surroundings back into focus. Given that everything was sideways she figured she must have collapsed; lying on the carpeted floor of her hallway and curled into a foetal position. Her breath came in harsh pants as she slowly pushed herself up. Her bag lay beside her, the can of fuel was poking out, still sealed. Examining her limbs, her chest, and legs she saw… nothing. Everything seemed fine. Cautiously she got to her feet. There wasn’t even an ache. It was as if the pain had never been. What was that? A seizure?

A minute or so passed as she continued to search her body for a mark, a bruise, some sign of what had just happened. She tried to remember, screwing up her face in concentration. Got changed, filled her bottle, heading for the door and…late! She was late! Her mind raced but she couldn’t bring herself to move. It probably wasn’t wise to go; in fact she should probably go to the hospital. Indecision gnawed at her. Everything felt fine, better than fine. It was as if she was suddenly wide awake and ready to go lift some cars. She had to decide now. Guilt made her bite her lip as she pulled open the door and left the house.

***

     “All together now!” called Bella. They moved as one. Twirling batons and trying to look mysterious and otherworldly through the shimmering heat. Alice moved fluidly, the pain of earlier forgotten in the joy of the dance. They practised with unlit batons first; it was important to make sure you didn’t burn yourself as soon as they were lit. For the first time Alice had pulled off every move perfectly on the first try. Bella had had to tell her off for grinning as she danced; they were supposed to look mystical, not like a Barbie doll.

     “All right, time for some flames I think.” Everyone darted to their bags to pull out their cans of lighter fuel, eager to light the batons. They always practised outside, safer, but colder too though it hadn’t bothered Alice at all. It would be plenty warm in a moment “Everybody over here please,” said Bella. She was standing next to a blazing torch, its light flickering across her skin. One by one they swept their batons through the flame, the fuel-soaked ends catching, dripping molten fire as some of the fuel fell off the baton.

     “Careful,” said another dancer, Dan, as Alice lit her baton and it spat as it ignited. Her eyes widened slightly as she gazed at the flame.

     “Once more everybody!” cried Bella. Snapping back to attention Alice hurried into line with the rest of them. “One…two…three!” Bella raised her arms and began to sweep them through the air like a conductor. They began to dance. Alice barely had to think about where her feet were taking her. The baton twirled, light trailing through the air. Alice let slip a little laugh. It was like controlling the power of the sun, an ancient heat. The fire blazed bright in agreement. Suddenly it was as if she was the flame. A glowing fire sprite that leapt and curled through the air trailing light and heat behind her. It burned white hot, filling her vision.

     “Get the extinguisher! Get it now!” Alice halted. She hadn’t even realised people were screaming. The entire dance team had dropped their batons which were now steadily setting alight to the grass around them.

     “Alice get out of there!” cried Dan his face panic stricken. Slowly, dreamlike, she stepped out of the flames. The heat licked at her skin but she did not feel afraid. It would not hurt her, somehow she knew that. Only then did she see what had happened to Bella. She was on the ground trying desperately to push herself away from what moments ago had been a torch. It had been engulfed in flame, a tiny pillar of fire. It seemed to have sent tiny burning embers shooting in all directions causing the plant life to begin to smoke as it too was set alight. Her clothes were pockmarked with small holes where the fire had spat at her, and some of her skin was an angry red.

People were running, snatching handheld fire extinguishers like hers from their bags and turning them on the growing inferno. Someone had picked up the large extinguisher they kept on hand and tackled the fire beside Bella. Alice stared around, eyes itching from the smoke. The air waved, rippling with heat. Through it, Alice narrowed her eyes to see, the door to the back of the building was being steadily consumed. One of the burning embers must have reached it and was gleefully destroying the wood. Without thinking Alice stepped forward raising her hand as if to scold it.

“No!” she shouted. What a stupid thing to do, she thought, shouting at a fire. Next second however the fire flickered and died. Snuffed out so completely it was if it had been doused in water leaving only charred wood and bubbling paint. She stood staring at the burnt door a tingling sensation in her fingers. The absence of heat, the darkening air around her made Alice turn to see that most of the fires were out, though the ground was now white after the liberal spraying of the fire extinguishers. A few people were sporting burned hands and arms, holding them gingerly. Giving the door a last curious look, she jogged over to join them.

***

 

     Alice lay in the dark, her covers pulled up over her head. After ensuring that no one had been seriously hurt Bella had sent them all home. The burns were minor, and they were all given a week to heal up before they even thought of returning. Alice wouldn’t be surprised if many chose to give it up though. It was always a possibility, everyone knew that, but they had foolishly thought that they had complete control over the flames. Something like this had never happened before, a few miniscule burns of course, but that kind of chaos? Alice had never seen anything like it. Bella had put it down to too much lighter fluid, both on the batons and in the torch beside her.

     “It happens,” she’d said, shrugging “We knew it might.”

     Alice supposed she was right. Fire dancing wasn’t exactly the safest hobby. Her thoughts became muddled and nonsensical as she felt herself beginning to drift. Blackness crept across her vision but once more the image of the fire vanishing from the door flitted across her mind. Strange she thought before sleep claimed her.

***

There was a high chiming as someone rang the doorbell. Alice kept her eyes closed, hoping whoever it was would give up and leave. It rang again. She peered at the clock. It wasn’t even seven o’clock in the morning yet. The doorbell went off again.

Grumbling, Alice unwillingly pushed off the covers and stood, determined to tell whoever it was to go away so she could crawl back into her nice warm bed. She stomped down the stairs, putting her anger into each step so that the person outside knew exactly how annoyed she was. Pulling the door open she readied her face into an irritated glare. A soldier stood there. A large man with a haughty, proud face. Her glare melted away.

     “Miss Anderson?” he sounded posh, the stereotypical English accent that Americans always imagine. She opened her mouth to answer but before she could he was stepping inside. “I am sorry to call on you at such an early hour but it is of vital importance. I am Lieutenant Colonel Lowe. I am here with important information regarding the announcement made by the prime minister yester-”

     “What announcement?” asked Alice still standing with the door open. He looked scandalised that she’d dared to interrupt him, though it was probably the only way to get a word in.

     “The announcement,” he said slowly as if talking to an impatient toddler “in which the prime minister stated the activation of the Donatus programme.” Alice pulled a face to illustrate her confusion. “We are aware that you have come into certain abilities within the last twenty-four hours, yes?” Flames blossomed in her vision then went out as if smothered. There must have been something in her face that confirmed his suspicions for he smiled smugly, as if he’d drawn the truth out. “Indeed. Let us sit then and I shall explain the nature of the Donatus programme.”

 

For a moment Alice hesitated. Rude as this man was, he had answers. She closed the door.

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