by Steve Toase

Sky had been addict­ed to fire­works since first tast­ing them scorch through her in Chi­na over a thou­sand years ago. 

To try and explain the nar­cot­ic rush of these chem­i­cals would not trans­late into our lan­guage. Noth­ing else com­pared.

The burnt fuel of air­flight was weak and insipid. Sky watched human­i­ty devel­op the hydro­gen bomb with bare­ly con­cealed antic­i­pa­tion, every cloud of her wait­ing for the hit. The intense con­cen­tra­tion of sub­stances only brought a sick­ness beyond any overdose.

But the sub­lime infu­sion of fire­works spread­ing through her water vapour? That was euphor­ic; her whole self trans­formed into warm soft feathers. 

Part of the joy was sheer vari­ety. The unex­pect­ed com­pendi­um of forms, cop­pers and mag­ne­sium, sparks of iron all infused with a bare­ly dis­cernible hint of salt­pe­tre. No two hits were identical.

There was a del­i­ca­cy to the spark­ing of lithi­um and stron­tium salts. She sent pos­i­tive stream­ers and step lead­ers to char the earth but the result was not the same. Light­ning lacked elegance.

So Sky con­spired. She rarely involved her­self in the affairs of humans, dense clum­sy creatures. 

But for that explo­sion of colour there were few depths to which she would not stoop, scrap­ing around for her next fix. Yet Sky’s view of time was a long game, a prism through aeons and scut­ter­ing sunsets.

The rat­tling of case­ments in the mid­dle of the night unset­tled one con­spir­a­tor enough to pen a let­ter to Lord Mon­tea­gle, uncov­er­ing the Clerken­well plot to kill the King. 

While this denied Sky the taste of gun­pow­der and shat­tered stonework, a rare del­i­ca­cy in the 17th cen­tu­ry, the seeds were plant­ed for a longer term har­vest. Of course a touch more inter­fer­ence was need­ed encour­ag­ing Mon­tagu, Knight of the Bath, to draft the thanks­giv­ing act for the anniver­sary. Lit­tle effort was need­ed to shape breezes into a like­ness of human speech. Sleep­ing men were espe­cial­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to suggestion.

For many decades the year­ly shot of fire­works was Sky’s annu­al indul­gence, the tinc­ture of wood-smoke a del­i­cate seasoning. 

Over time the peo­ple of Albion lost focus, let­ting fire­works off long before the fifth. The ear­ly tastes dilut­ed the nar­cot­ic rush and left her crav­ings unsatisfied. 

Many looked upon Sky as a vast enti­ty beyond reck­on­ing and sub­tle­ty. Yet she could act with the great­est of finesse, espe­cial­ly when her own addic­tions were at stake.

Any edu­ca­tor will tell you how heavy winds mix up the chem­istry in children’s heads, send­ing them charg­ing around play­grounds like föhn kin.

A gale here to dis­tract atten­tion, a small gust there, just to car­ry a stray fire­work. All it took was some fin­gers burnt beyond sav­ing for the law­mak­ers to tight­en up leg­is­la­tion. Sky nev­er under­stood why humans were not grate­ful to be more stream­lined and contoured.

Oth­er times she cra­dled sparks, feast­ing on every last taste as she low­ered them into box­es of unlit explo­sives. While the rush burnt through her she ignored the smell of burn­ing skin and the fam­i­lies stum­bling through her air cur­rents, look­ing for cov­er and shelter.

Sky lis­tened through the years as the win­dow for release became nar­row­er, con­cret­ing either side of New Year. Rock­ets and horse­tails were sent spi­ralling above the hous­es before this time of course, but Sky just viewed these lit­tle inter­ludes as a way to taste the prod­uct before indulging in her annu­al nar­cot­ic treat. 

The hours ticked by. Sky felt a change echo through her from one side of the globe to the oth­er, vibrat­ing out from Kir­iti­mati across the pacif­ic seaboard and beyond.

The colours slipped into her air cur­rents, scorch­ing through vir­ga, each indi­vid­ual spark tast­ing like obsolescence. 

The chang­ing of the year shift­ed like tradewinds, com­ing clos­er and clos­er to Europe. Sky danced across cities, feel­ing the mass of pop­u­la­tion move out into the streets, into her ice cold caress. She touched their skin, kiss­ing their eye­lash­es and cheeks for the high they were about to gift her.

First Westminster’s tow­er struck the death of the old year. A spec­tral glow spread through Sky’s atoms, every flake of burn­ing met­al danc­ing through her like a dying swan. She embraced them, twist­ing each on ther­mals and eddies of air till it fell to the ground grey, spent and dull. 

Time passed and Sky wait­ed, still and cold, bring­ing rime to bricks and beards.

In Paris and Munich the hour reached mid­night and the cities explod­ed in a for­est of flame. Time Rain and Cros­settes glanced through her, each one bring­ing a rush of ecsta­sy as Sky enveloped them. Bar­i­um, cesium and Rubid­i­um burnt in mag stars and horse­tails. Per­cus­sion forced the explo­sions ever high­er. Sky fed them more oxy­gen, extend­ing the high, the cold hal­lu­cino­genic indul­gence. She spun the colours into tapes­tries of fire, each explod­ing card­board tube tast­ing like the brush of a thou­sand cir­cling sharks.

Sky vague­ly felt the sound waves near the earth change, mil­lions of small waves lap­ping against flesh lined wells. Even as she chan­nelled more atoms of oxy­gen to the flames she felt her car­bon diox­ide drop­ping. Soon the first mol­e­cules of decay dif­fused through her, grow­ing in inten­si­ty over the next few days. Sky no longer noticed. She was far beyond know­ing, burn­ing in her arti­fi­cial chem­i­cal dream.

Since 2010 Steve Toase has been send­ing out tat­tered phan­toms dis­guised as sto­ries to haunt var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions such as Sein und Wer­den, Cafe Irre­al, street­cake mag­a­zine, Weaponiz­er, nth­po­si­tion and Byk­er Books. So far over thir­ty have found new homes in the wider world. His sto­ries tend towards the unset­tling and unre­al, deal­ing with revenge, loss, faery, chess play­ing bears and ancient gods. In his writ­ing Steve explores the places where oth­er worlds seep into ours.

He recent­ly came third in the Chor­ley Writ­ers Nation­al Flash Fic­tion Com­pe­ti­tion, and in 2010 came third in the Mal­ton Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val Short Sto­ry competition.
Steve is also a book review­er for Fortean Times and, under his nick­name Her­mann, writes reg­u­lar­ly for BSH Cus­tom Motor­cy­cle Mag­a­zine. Vis­it his web­site at

Sorry, Comments are closed.