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A Fiery Affliction
By Brittany Redd
They didn’t have much time left; an hour at most. Hand in hand, they sprinted to the familiar clearing in the woods behind the park. This was their spot—the place where they first realized it would only be a matter of time before they became infected.
Love — second only to hate in the scope of its destruction. It was only in the last century that society had finally faced the fact that mankind had suffered its wrath long enough. The fickleness of human emotion was not conducive to a prosperous civilization. They created the fire after the end of the Eighth World War; everyone was inoculated by the end of that year.
She didn’t mean for it to happen. She was just walking home from her shift at the factory and accidentally bumped into her, carrying a sack of provisions. She didn’t realize it at the time, but the moment her gaze locked with those honey brown eyes as she reached down to pick up the apples that had fallen out of her bag was the beginning of the incubation period; she had traced the days back well enough to know.
Without really understanding why, they both followed that same path in town at the same time for the next several days, in hopes of recreating that first meeting, helplessly drawn to one another. The day they snuck off together and discovered their refuge in the woods was the day they first felt the fire.
It was slow in the beginning, the smallest of embers peeking through their ribs. The sparks gave off a faint glow, glittering like little flecks of gold in the moonlight. They liked the way it felt then, the way the heat rose every time they touched.
But then it started to spread, crackling out into a fiery web across their skin. In the weeks that followed, the surrounding tissue began to fall away in some places, melting the previously flawless canvases into a collage of hideous scars. They hid their affliction well until it started to penetrate their more vital organs. Each day brought more struggle than the one before until she could hardly get out of bed to make it to her shift at the factory. It was in her lungs now. Far too often, she was sneaking out to expel the blood and ash into a napkin.
They couldn’t ignore it any longer. They had to make a choice: extinguish, or succumb to the disease. If they chose to have the fire put out, they would never see each other again. The process required a quarantine, followed by lifelong isolation in a lab carefully designed for optimum quality of life and continued contribution to society.
The other choice was to burn.
She never went back to work. They spent a few glorious days in bed, too sick and exhausted to move, but beyond content just to be in one another’s arms, now covered in charred blood and blisters. Last night, neither of them could sleep. They both knew today would be the end; somehow the fire let them know that. Without even discussing it, they drug their scarred and bloody limbs out of bed for one last moonlight rendez-vous.
It took every last ounce of energy they had left to make it into the woods. Somehow, they were able to run; the fire was feeding off of them and they it. Their bodies were almost entirely engulfed in flames by the time they stopped in the clearing, leaning in for a final embrace.
Their bodies blackened in the fire, but she couldn’t feel a thing. Bit by bit, their skin fell away and their bones disintegrated into ash, but she could still see those honey brown eyes, the fire dancing brilliantly in the amber irises. The flames rose higher and higher, and with it, so did they. Their charred remains blazed below them, but they were both still there, ascending into the stars, two golden embers in the cold, black night.