Ethan abruptly screamed out louder than he ever had before. The steam escaped from every pore his body had to offer. At first it was a colorless heat, the wobble in the air over a boiling pot of water. The more his back arched, chest thrusting high while his heart dug its way out of its skeletal prison, the more the beast racing forward began to change. An array of colors blazed through the fire, flowing without a real identity. Ethan’s eyes rolled back into his skull as he only became aware of being literally on fire.
Ethan obeyed. He opened his eyes and began to walk, as if the voice had flipped a switch on a toy and sent him marching forward like a mechanical soldier. He could feel an empty breeze against his skin as he moved, alerting him to the fact he was completely nude. Despite knowing this, he didn’t care. There was nothing but darkness around him and no destination to be seen.
He understood absolute solitude when he was within it.
At first his conscious thoughts were, “This is death. I am finally dead. The pain has stopped.”
Then he heard himself screaming, a distant echo that didn’t hinder his movement whatsoever. How eerie, he noted, then concluded he wasn’t dead yet. He was simply on the path to the afterlife.
Yes… that must be it.
He batted his eyelids a few times, realizing that darkness may not have been the only backdrop. Ethan could see a gentle flicker before him, like a short-circuiting wire hanging off a wall. Soon the chirp of the spark became a constant motion. He was getting closer with each step, but the distance between him and the light seemed to close at twice the speed of his actual movement. The physics of it made no sense, but Ethan didn’t bother to dwell too long over it.
He drew to a pause in front of a small orange orb. He tilted his head, curious if this was what had been causing so many problems. It looked as if it were made of glass, filled with a flame unable to escape. Huh. How familiar.
He watched strings of light orbit around the small planet. The dim glow was easy on the eyes, enough to make him drowsy. Ethan gave his hands a slow ascent so he could hold it, figuring the last step before he died was to possess this gentle figure for himself. His eyebrows furrowed when his fingertips just grazed past the thread of apricot and the bulb reacted.
From a raw orange orb, saffron steam began to rise. It hazed upward into nothingness, chased by fireflies looking for a Northern life. Ethan watched this film run, interested in its simplistic allure, then returned to its source. He pulled his hands back. It dimmed. Again, near its body; it exhaled.
His lips parted. It was pretty obvious that there was only one thing left to do.
As soon as Ethan’s hesitant palms encircled this world, from it sprang an entire galaxy.
His blue eyes illuminated at what first seemed like nothing but chaos around him. He became the center the light gravitated around. He sniffed as his hair fluttered around his eyebrows and cheekbones, tickling him enough to make him notice but not enough for him to ever want to release his hold on this impressive beauty.
The warmth around him was nothing he had ever felt before. The closest comparison he could get was his mother and father embracing him on a cold night near a fireplace. They used to live closer to the sector wall, which always made for insane temperatures. Some days they’d sit in their own sweat, and others would require a little extra love in the arms of his family. Hot chocolate and fresh, melting cookies included. Tons and tons of cookies they’d have to eat before bed time…
Ethan felt the tears falling from his eyes. He didn’t know why he was crying, but he didn’t have a choice. The nudity didn’t even come close to how exposed this essence made him feel. In this moment, right before death, he would be filled with sorrow and regret.
It’s not fair… Would be his last thoughts.
Or so he thought.
Within this world came a figure of recognizable qualities. A woman born from the power in Ethan’s hands, her own fingers slipping between his over the core. She had no face, no features; just thick locks of pyre sweeping across her pointed shoulders.
Ethan was already stunned by what was igniting around him, but now he had no idea what to believe. Harbinger of death, he surmised? She was sublime.
“I am not here… to take you away.”
He flinched back, nearly letting go of his prize, but she kept him gripping on tight. Her touch was that of a mother to her child, and it put him at ease for the moment.
“Then… what are you here for?”
She said nothing. If she had eyes, Ethan imagined they’d be slicing right into his soul, second guessing if she really did want to kill him or not. Her lips would probably be flat. It was a shame, he thought, that they were all unspoken for.
Yet, when she responded, he could hear her smiling.
“How did you—“
“You’ve already accepted me. You just have to ask.”
He didn’t know what to ask. Where am I? What is this in my hands? Who—
His eyebrows started to rise.
“Who are you?”
Ethan knew that she was beaming, figuratively and literally. Her shoulders shook with laughter he couldn’t hear and her hands stroked along his fingers. She bowed her head, thoughtful, it would seem, and then looked up again, “grinning.”
“Well… I suppose now… my name is—“