No’me and the Great Fire

24 June, 2018
No’me and the Great Fire
They were always deemed a little off. Just a tad, not enough to really make people wonder, but they knew something wasn’t quite right with them. As they grew, they began experimenting. Making crowns from nettles, using masticated berries to dye their hair a variety of startling shades, and asking to be referred to with they pronouns instead of the reasonable he or she. But things escalated when they moved out on their own. To start, they didn’t build the traditional wooden fence around their home. How they expected to keep the dangers of the unknown from their home was beyond comprehension for the folks of the village. Then they began telling the villagers they wanted to be called No’me. That, of course, was blasphemy. The Pursuit of the Self was faith’s founding principle. Followed by: guard your understanding and hedge your hearth and home. No me was a denial of the Great Self. All this is to say, when No’me began tamping out a foundation and laying stones around their house, well, no one was surprised. Concerned, mainly for how this would impact the village and how the already rare trader or collector passing through would shun it, but not surprised.
The villagers grew even more concerned when No’me began saying the Great Self had spoken to them. Well, they referred to Him as the Heart of the We, but it was clear enough to the Elders that No’me was talking about the Great Self. It was not uncommon for the Great Self to speak to the Elders with guiding rules to maintain the purity of selfhood, a sort of communal individuality where everyone could seek the self within the established order. It was unheard of that the Great Self would speak to an outcast like No’me. They were not quite right and what is not quite right cannot be a divine instrument.
The things No’me spoke of were disconcerting, to put it politely. They spoke of a great fire that was coming. It would burn away the walls and leave only the unguarded heart. The fire would cut across the length of the village and would torch every home. No’me insisted everyone could be safe from the danger if they were together. Ridiculous, said the Elders. If we were really meant to be together, the Great Self would not have instructed us to build our fences. That made sense to the villagers. Talk of a fire from a no-self with queer behaviours did not make sense.
Still, No’me worked. Laying down paving stones and surrounding their house with a ring of open space instead of a well-tended fence. No’me was an odd neighbour. They visited each of the houses learning people’s names and talking about how the village was strongest when it worked together. No’me was an odd neighbour. They worked from sunup to sundown in plain view of everyone, waving, and engaging in unnecessary conversation. No’me was an odd neighbour.
Months passed like this until, by midsummer, No’me had constructed a circular patio around their house with a radius of twenty-five yards. There were words inscribed on the pavers, but no one ever got close enough to No’me’s eccentric design to read them. After the last stone had been set, No’me came to the village centre and stood in front of the great fenced-in tree and called to anyone who would listen: It will happen tonight; please, visit the patio and stand with me. The young laughed at them and the adults gave the tree a wide berth. One of the Elders approached No’me and denounced them. No’me insisted the Heart of the We was open and inviting all to a place of strength and safety. The Elders declared them possessed and a threat to the faith.
That evening dark clouds rolled across the sky. Though ominous, the clouds did not bring rain. Instead gashes of lightning rent the horizon and winds uprooted trees and battered fences. In the deepest dark a jagged bolt struck the fenced-in tree and its branches began to smolder. Behind high picket fences, the villagers could not see the smoke, but No’me did and, with quiet diligence, set out lanterns along their patio so others could find the way.
The smoldering and the smoke thickened and another crashing bolt set flame to the leaves. The wind stoked the small fire and scattered burning twigs down upon the fence. Within moments the centre and its tree were a bonfire spitting embers across the sky. These embers leaped and danced, alighting upon rooves and picket fences and sunbaked lawns. Villagers roused from their stupor, throwing pails of water across wood panels in hopes of dousing the flames or soaking the boards enough to prevent it from spreading. Futile actions. The great fire was upon them.
As the smoke weighed and choked and the flames leapt from thatching to plank to lawn, a great wailing could be heard from the houses of the Elders. Many were lost, but some remembered No’me and their promise of safety. Some sought out the lantern light spread across the stone patio and could be seen, by flickering flame and flashing lightning, making the trek across the village toward its outskirts and No’me’s refuge.
The villagers approached, at first, as single individuals looking for a way, any way, out of the inferno. Coughing out burning lungfuls of acrid smoke, they pulled themselves across the pavers. They huddled together in small groups, holding whoever was nearest, and wept. A young woman pulled herself from a group of five who lay panting on the stones. She stood by No’me and took their calloused hand in hers. Together they called to the other villagers.
As the blaze grew, lighting the sky with a false dawn, more of the exhausted and frightened villagers joined them on the edge of the patio. Together, they cleared away grass and leaves, raking down to bare dirt and expanding the circle. Some held tight to each others’ hands and set out in small parties to search for those who had not made it to safety. By the time the morning light cut through the haze of smoke and the wind scattered the dying embers, the entire village had burned to the ground. Many were safe on No’me’s patio but many more had perished. Yet, whether lost or huddling together in traumatized groups, each villager’s name could be found beneath the ash, inscribed in the stone pavers.
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