There were all sort of rituals, you can probably imagine the stuff. Boring, monotonous songs, lot of sitting down and standing back up, strange prayers and exaltations. They slipped into another language at one point, sounded almost like German, but frankly I wasn’t really in the mood for all that. The ceremony went on for a few nights, with brief interruptions of ranting from her at my side.
It’s a terror on my normal life. How do you relate this shit? That’s why I keep writing here. SOS, I guess. I hope maybe it’s like in the Count of Monte Cristo, and someone will just tunnel to me and get me out. Wait a second, that’s not how it went, anyway…
Pete looks like a guilty tween the whole time. Scared, but also sort of half-smiling. He makes another big speech about me. Really going over the top. He condemns the whole village for what he calls their “disgusting apathy.” They all stare at me, holding back tears themselves, but some of the men look angry and unimpressed. They don’t believe the shit about the wolf, and they don’t like the looks of me.
One night, I force myself off the polished bench, we seem to be wrapping things up. There is a prayer circle going on with Pete in the center. I sneak to the back were a number of breads and fruit are set up. There is a red wine bunch, filled with oranges and cherries, and I can smell it from across the room. It must be booze or something, because everyone is sort of staggering around by this time. I can feel Pete’s eyes on me as I walk to the back; he’s paranoid I am going to split.
I would split, but the Muse tells me there’s nowhere to go. “That thing is probably getting close by now too,” she taunted.
I skipped the punch, but do smash some bread, which ends up being like a pumpkin bread. I don’t know if this is a coincidence or not, but it’s also my first night of good sleep in months. I woke up super refreshed the next day, with a lingering flavor of pumpkinspice on my breath.
All that day I thought about my predicament. I felt like a little kid waiting to get beat up after school. My mind wandered, thinking of all the people I knew, desperately searching for some authority who could deal with these issue for me. The more I thought about it, the more paranoid I got, all of them had such flaws. My wife thought I was just too deep into my work (as if any real work has been going on), my parents wouldn’t understand or relate, friends would think I was being obnoxiously eccentric, and probably be quickly annoyed.
A therapist, a psychiatrist, the reader may be urging, but again there are obvious problems. For all intent and purposes I appear perfectly normal each day. I get just enough sleep that I’m not randomly passing out, and in all outward appearances I’m all there. So it would be like hello doctor, I am traumatized by an overactive imagination, please help. Now of course I am well aware the current doctors script pad runs pretty thick, so they would probably have something for me anyway, but the real issues here are the Muse and the Forgetting Forrest. Those are honestly the things that keep me in this awful loop.
Why the fixation on the Muse? I’m not sure. She definitely doesn’t like me. I think she would love to see me all doped up and out of mind. She can’t wait to watch me eat it. Things are definitely getting weird between us. I can tell she’s nervous in all this, keeps saying it isn’t her sort of thing. I like seeing her pausing a bit, but then I realized that if she is scared, I probably should be too; I don’t know why I wasn’t; I am now.
I came to last night and we were shuffling along the path. She was right in my ear from the start. “Goddammit man, look at this shit. Gives me the creeps. You ready for what happens next?”
I ignored her for a second to look around. We are deep in the woods. The path was covered by a strange white rock, that gave off a yellow glow. Pete walked in front of the pack by himself. He was carrying a large stick, with a lantern dangling from it. I imagine this is part of the ritual.
I am at the end of the line with her, and she started right in again, losing her mind. “Goddammit! You son of a bitch. Its just like the fucking Dollar General. You’re not prepared for shit. What are you gonna do when this fucking thing shows up, huh? Tears you to fucking pieces, mince meat, dick head. What are you going to do then!”
I ignored her, looking for a way I can just run off. Before I know it though hands are pushing me up the path, and every is moving to the side and then I am next to Pete. “Are you ready Austin from Iowa?” Like we are just headed to the store or something.
“Not really,” I said.
“Don’t be worried,” Pete he, “it won’t be long.”
“I can’t go through with this Pete,” I said, but Pete is cut off by the loud blowing of a trumpet.
An old woman stepped forward. She was wearing a brown potato sack-looking dress, like everyone else now, but I saw she had a sheer, black gown type thing underneath, and a fat pink-pearl necklace on her neck. That tipped me off and I noticed that everyone had evening wear under their clothes, and I wondered when they all had time for a custom change, and then of course I wondered why no one helped me out with an outfit since I am standing there, now rather embarrassed, in my briefs.
They don’t notice at all, instead the necklace lady started making a final speech. “Peter Crimore the III, Fire Attender of Berryfull Village, we salute you.” I looked around trying to find a way to escape. One way was cut off by the crowd, the other the river, back the way we came was being watched by people as too. They all made a showy and snappy salute, which brought me back to the speech. “Our world depends on the valiant selflessness of the Fire Attender. The safety and felicity of our dear village depends on their collective courage.”
I spied the Muse on the fringe of the forest watching it all, but when I looked again, she was gone. Asshole. The woman’s voice got even louder, and more severe.“Pete Crimore, do you accept your duties with full respect and intent to accomplish them with dignity and honor?”
“Yes, Head Fire Mistress,” he answered.
“Do you swear, upon the penalty of death, to watch the ceremonial fire for no-more than 72 hours, and until the time a representative of Berryful Village is able to release you?”
“Yes, Head Fire Mistress,” he said. There was little whimper from Pete’s Father in the crowd. I felt like joining him in crying because this all felt so morose, but I was too pissed off to really feel anything.
“Finally, Pete Crimore, do you promise, on your life and honor, to not violate or defile the Holy Fire?”
“Yes, on my life and honor, Head Fire Mistress.”
“With those three pledges, we salute Pete Crimore.” There was a collective salute and cheer. The Head Fire Mistress continued. “If the Master of Key would come forward.” A tall man came from the back of the crowd. I’ve never seen such a key ring in my whole life. They covered the man’s whole hand, and in the starry night it was like a disco ball, the way the light reflected off all the trees.
I thought it would take the man forever to find the right one, but a second later the door to cabin was open and Pete and I were being pushed in. The door slammed shut, and everything was quiet and awkward. The crowd began to sing, and Pete began to sniffle and cry a little. It was in that weird language so I couldn’t make sense of any of it.
There was a brushing sound against the outside of the building. The whole crowd was walking around the cabin, pressing their hands against it. There were no windows or anything, but you could feel the vibration of all the people singing and brushing against it outside.
It was a simple cabin, probably 20ft x 20ft. There were benches along three of the walls, and a little pedestal in the middle. I didn’t see anything on it at first, the only light was a small amber strip against the back wall, that gave everything an orangey tint. I was about to ask where in the hell was the fire, but then Pete awkwardly got done on the ground and began chanting in front of the pedestal. Mid-chant he yelled, “Get down on your knees Austin from Iowa, the ceremonies begun!”
“Listen Pete,” I said, “you can stop this bossing business right now. That shit worked with them, but it’s not gonna work with–”
Pete was at my neck in a flash. He produced a large buck knife, which he held to my throat. In the weird light of the room, Pete seemed to age forty years. As he spoke in a harsh whisper in my face, I could smell that fruity bunch wafting off him. “You are my Fire Attender now boy! You will obey my every command, or you will pay the price, you understand Austin from Iowa?”
I told him I did. What else can you do with a knife to your throat. “Fine,” Pete said, hiding the knife. “Now get on the ground and let me get this going.” I still had no idea what he was talking about, but I did what he said and kneeled down in the room.
He did a bunch of chanting, prayers and stuff, right in front of the pedestal. I listened and watched him, wondering the whole time whether I could jump on him fast enough, to knock him out and get the knife away. I would have told you, before he got on me like that, that I could have taken him easy, but he’d been so strong, hand really wrenched on to me you know, that now I was doubting myself.
“Are you prepared to assist me Fire Tender?” Pete asked.
“Sure,” I said, into the ground.
“Excellent, please remove the sacred veil of concealment.”
I sat up and looked around the room and there was still nothing. “Please Austin, remove the veil,” he urged again, pointing to the pedestal.
I stood up and stepped closer and I finally noticed a thin tablet was sitting on the pedestal. It had a black leather case on it. Instinctively and nonchalantly, I picked it up and folded back the cover. Pete was all excited at this. I could hear him breathing hard, and the whole time there was just a mumble of prayers and nonsense falling from his mouth.
“Please Austin from Iowa,” he said, “set it back down gently, with the veil of concealment, pulled back, into the position of execution.” I set it down standing up.
“Perfect,” he whispered. “You’re gifted a Fire Assistant. Please step back now and sit down.”
I did what he said, and with shaky hands he picked it up, entered a code and set it back down. He instantly started to calm down after that, took off his brown cloak and pulled a piece of bread from his pocket. “I would offer you some, but this was all I was able to grab as we walked by on the way out.”
“No problem,” I told him.
He seemed weak again, but still old. “‘I’m sorry about the rough stuff. I just had to get the ceremony done; I promise I won’t touch you again; we need to stay together in this; not be at each other’s necks, you know?”
What was I to do? What would you do? Trapped in the middle of nowhere, with a peg-legged man, who until five minute ago had the appearance of a fourteen year old boy. The strange aging effect continued. He was now a man at least forty years old. His clothes looked older too, dusty, worn at the knees and elbows, but maybe I just hadn’t noticed before. Was that possible?
All the nights went through my mind, all the conversations I had with him early on. In an honest effort to rid myself of her control, I remind you. How naive and forthcoming I was, when I should have been on my toes.
Her beautiful, smiling face popped in my head. She was laughing out there. She said I looked like I was a screamer…