The Fire-Eaters

My three year old saw it first.

It was just after five and the sun was hanging pretty low in the sky. I was standing at the kitchen sink, finishing the last of the pots and pans from our meatloaf dinner. I noticed the water was running a bit hotter than usual.

She was sitting at the bay window, hugging her blue, stuffed dragon tight in her arms when she said it.

“Fiwedaddy” she said calmly, the r sounding more like a w as it always had.

I shut off the water.

“Excuse me, honey?”

“Fiwedaddy,” she echoed as she let her dragon go limp in one hand, pointing her other up and out the window, “Lava in sky.”

I dropped the loaf pan into the sink and snatched a hand towel off the counter. I dried my hands as I walked toward her.

Together we looked out the bay window and up into the sky. Together we watched as tiny, red spots tore across the late afternoon blue, puncturing and perforating the fluffy white clouds scattered across the horizon. We watched the golf-balls of fire as they plummeted, bursting along the Industrial Border in the distance.

Then they were closer. Much closer.

Across the street, the windshield of Barney’s VW sedan exploded, then the whole car disappeared in a flurry of fire and ash. Served him right, Barney was the worst kind of neighbor. Then Barney’s house exploded. I remember thinking, Okay, that’s a bit much.

We ran to the middle of the house and hunkered down in the tub. I held my daughter tight. We weren’t scared, necessarily. I don’t know what we were. Worried, maybe?

We didn’t have long to our own thoughts before a tiny sphere of flame scorched through our ceiling.

There, in our bathroom, it stopped, frozen in midair. I watched in awe as it spun in place, sparkling and glinting, casting ghosts of red flame across the white tile walls.

It looked at us, not with eyes, but it looked right at us.

Then, it said, “Organic material present. Do not consume parcel 4B8189AAA2.”

Somehow I knew they were in the rest of the house. Clusters of them, examining and consuming. I couldn’t hear them. I could smell them. In there. Burning my couch, our pictures, her toys, my loaf pan.

I remember it clear as day. It’s bright in my mind, glowing like an immense fire in the sky. That was the end of metallurgy. It was the end of mining and processing and smelting and fabricating. That was the day mankind returned to his roots, the day the fire-eaters arrived.

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