And without further ado the Winner is…
1st Place – Andy Lake “Force of Nature”
2nd Place – Phil Town “Good Things”
3rd Place – Alice Nelson “Fire & Rain”
4th Place -Maud Harris “Fire Opal”
5th Place – Ilana Leeds “Fire”
6th Place – Ken Allen “Run”
7th Place – Heather Austin – “The Light Messengers”
Story with the Favorite Character: Andy Lake “Mike”
Story with the Best Pacing: Maud Harris
Story with the Best Use of Dialogue: Alice Nelson
Anyone who would like to get their vote totals may send an email to liflashfiction(at)gmail(dot)com to request details.
To read all of the stories entered and find out how you can participate in our weekly/bi-weekly/monthly short story contests please go to: http://fiction.wwocz.net/blog/september-28-october-11-2017-flash-fiction-contest-fire/.
Per the new process, Ken Allen has three days to choose the next prompt/theme. Visit http://fiction.wwocz.net/blog/why-and-how-to-participate/writing-prompt-roster/ to view the Writing Prompt Roster.
Force of Nature by Andy Lake
Copyright 2017 – all rights reserved
She parked her Landrover and made her way down to the lakeside. The man sat on a wooden bench, lost in thought under his straw hat. The shadows were beginning to lengthen in the late afternoon, and the water shimmered under the intense summer heat.
“Good afternoon, sir,” said Linda. “Everything OK here?”
He looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun. He studied her green forest ranger uniform, her intense but firm expression, her hair tied back under her peaked cap.
He smiled. “Any reason I shouldn’t be?”
“No, not really,” said Linda, raising an eyebrow. “Old Bobby across the lake called me and said you’d been sitting here alone all day. Just neighbourly concern, is how I’d put it.”
The man nodded. “I’m fine.” He looked back out across the lake. “Just a beautiful place to be. And a long way from other people.”
“I get it, you want to be alone. All the same, do you mind if I join you? I’d like to take a break from my rounds and just sit a while.”
“Sure. I don’t own the place.” He gestured for her to sit. “I’m Mike. Mike Doherty.”
“Linda. Linda the Forest Ranger.”
“Is that hyphenated?”
Linda chuckled softly as she sat down on the bench. It felt hot to touch, even though it was now in the shade of the forest.
“I’ve been watching the birds diving underwater,” said Mike. “Those coots make helluva splash when they go down. Same when they come back up. They always come up pretty much in the same place.”
“But those grebes, the ones with the fancy crest on top, they dive down so smoothly. And stay under a looong time. You never know where they’re going to come up. Could be 50 yards away. I can never guess the right place.”
There was a long pause, then he added. “My life’s been a bit like that. Sometimes I go down. A long way down. I come up again, but I can never tell where that will be.”
Linda looked at him. “You’ve been through some hard times, and now you prefer to be alone?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘prefer’. I’ve tried being with people, and it doesn’t work out.”
“Not really. No kids. That’s probably a good thing. Been married twice, but … You?”
“Well – an in-between stage, you could say.”
“You’re young. You’ll do alright. Just keep away from bad folk. And folk like me.”
“Why do you say that?”
Mike thought for a while, and then rested his chin on his clasped hands. “Some people are just unlucky to be around. My first wife, she left me. I don’t blame her, it was the right thing. My second wife, she died. That was my fault. And maybe not my fault.”
“I’m sorry, I’m not following,” said Linda.
“OK. Here’s a small experiment. When I hold out my hand, touch it quickly.”
Linda touched it, and immediately recoiled. “Yow! You’ve got some serious static there! Neat party trick, though.”
Mike laughed. “That was maybe 20,000 volts.”
“C’mon, that would kill me.”
“Unlikely! It’s very high voltage, but only for a microsecond. It can heat the air and cause a flash, sometimes damage electronic equipment, and …”
He stopped to think, and then changed tack.
“I used to think I was some kind of freak, but after … well, long story short, they dragged me in for some experiments. Seems there are just some people who get this kind of electricity all balled up inside them. And the science of it is, under some conditions – the things you wear, the things you touch, hot and dry atmospheric conditions – pow! Sparks fly.
“Well, Mike, are you sure being out here in a tinder-dry forest is the best place for you to be?”
“You’re right. But the dust-dry city, alongside all the man-made stuff, fabrics, flooring and everything, that’s no better. So I wanted a break somewhere near water. I never expected it to be so hot and dry out here.”
“You sound like a walking fire hazard, if what you’re telling me is true. What did you mean about your wife, by the way? Being your fault ..?”
Mike hesitated. “It sounds nuts but it’s true: spontaneous combustion. I wasn’t even in the same room. But I must have brushed past her, and … No one believed it. They questioned me for days. Our living room was completely burnt out but the rest of the house was fine …”
Linda stood up. “You’re weirding me out, Mike.”
“Forensics showed no man-made cause. Like an intense ball of lightening, they said. Even so, they locked me up for a while. All kinds of psychological tests. And then that research team came for me. After that, I decided it’s best be alone. Can you smell something?”
“I smell burning. You’ve got a fire about 500 yards that way. Maybe I brushed past something earlier, and the breeze is fanning the flames. Or perhaps it’s not me at all …”
Linda rushed back to her vehicle to radio in the fire. She could see smoke along the western shore, just as Mike had said. She ran back and took a picture of Mike with her phone. “You’re the fire-starter we’ve been looking for, aren’t you? What did you use?”
“Don’t go anywhere. We’re going to have another talk about this. With the police.”
As Linda drove towards the smoke, Mike jogged along the shore towards the same point. He saw Linda with a fire blanket trying to beat out new fires starting up from the embers. “Come to admire your handiwork have you?” she shouted to Mike.
The fire was really taking hold now, the heat becoming intense. Linda retreated to the shore, her face smudged by smoke. She looked defeated. “You get a kick out of this?” she asked angrily.
He sighed and walked towards her.
“Keep away from me!” she cried.
But he headed past her towards the fire.
“What are you doing! Are you completely insane?” Linda shouted above the crackling of the flames.
Mike advanced, raising his arms. A huge cloud of fire and smoke leapt engulfed him with a loud swoosh, sending him flying backwards into the lake. Standing chest deep in the water, clothes burnt and hair singed, he weakly gestured to Linda to go deal with the smouldering undergrowth.
As she did so, she called out to him, “What the hell just happened here?”
He didn’t answer, but instead swam out further into the lake. Finally he turned, placed his hand on top of his head, fingers splayed and pointing upwards, imitating the crest of a grebe. Then he dived under the water. She looked hard, but did not see him surface anywhere.
“So tell me about this weirdo you called in,” said her boss. “You think he’s the arsonist?”
“I’m not sure what he is,” said Linda. “Other than some kind of force of nature.”
“Think of something better for your report, OK?” he said, patting her on the shoulder.
“Ow!” they both cried, leaping apart from each other.