Faulkner. I picked the description of a forest fire and tried to use it in the suggestive, metaphoric style of Faulkner in "The Old Man." There is no attempt here to work out a story or much of a structure beyond the description itself, using a Faulknerian, omniscient, third-person voice where the narrator is given permission to do just about anything. Play with the metaphor, stay focused. No more than a paragraph.
So he went on. Pausing to catch his breath only because the climb was steep along the side of a thickly covered ridge. His eye knew the ground, every inch of it though he had never set foot on it before, knew it in a place of primeval oneness with it never taught him nor learned in any book of craft nor any lecture nor any old-timer's experience of it. It made him understand without asking that the strange white color of the cliffs had nothing to do with roiling patterns of sky or with the way the sun struck the mountain. When he turned and looked back against the torn dirty sky, the Continental Divide was shrouded in huge cotton clumps of smoke, in long, motionless, gauzy veils hanging brown and yellow, discoloring the sky from one end of the horizon to the other. The fire was still behind him, the main body of it still along the eastern slopes, in the arroyos and flatlands near the South Fork, the whole area below him a massive and inert thundercloud like a separate continent sitting on top of the land, a covering like the atmospheric shroud of a hostile planet, protective and solid and mysterious--but which, in reality, was only a single layer of the fire itself that moved in its own ineluctable way out of whatever smithy of the deep produced it (sky-tearing dagger of lightning, the mocking inch of a match), many layered., slow, quick, gentle, violent at the same time, the bellows roar of it an invisible blistering cataract sucking the air itself into its mighty vortex, its killing power not just in its peeling angry reach of flame but in its violent inward and unseen concavity the inverse whirlpool of a force great enough to drain from lung and sky its own formation, its own definition, the capacity not to burn but to explode from the inside out, bowels and bones, ichor and rings of great trees, roots torn from the ground, the screaming of saplings boiling in their own hearts. Then there was the feeding part of it, slower and easier, that chewed ruminatively and deliberatively, almost bovine in its mindlessness, taking its cud of wood, homes, square barns, orchards, whole forests, drooling long liquid streams of slow flame like saliva leaking from the jaws of still standing timbers. When he turned back into the forest, towards the edge of the ridge, where he was going to set the backfire, bolts of flame were already leaping from tree to tree across the tops of the tall pines, firebursts from nowhere in the streaming and still ribboned and opened body of the mountain.
To Contributors page
To Of(f)course home page To Index of this issue.