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 www.stevetoase.co.uk.
Filed under: Jabberwocky 13