The Fire Breather

by Shawn Allen

I stood where the three roads meet and watched the fire breather as he spun and teased the gathered crowd with his act. Drawn by the leaping flame, I found myself ever more fascinated by the man, his movements and his presence.
His hands were large and clever: in one the burning wand, the other dancing with wild abandon, when not drawing the flask of alcohol from his pocket to his lips. Bare-chested and gleaming in the light, as he came close I smelled the deep woods and plant smells of the oil that covered and protected the exposed flesh. Rings adorned his fingers and his ears, and colorful designs wrapped their way around and up his long arms.
His bare feet slapped the bricks of the road creating the rhythm to which the flames and the man danced. For many minutes he performed then, with a final, beautiful and dangerously large ball of fire, he bowed. The crowd showered him with coins and applause.
He smiled broadly, his white teeth reflecting the orange and scarlet of the fire, and his eyes flashed with intense glee.
Though the others dispersed, I remained under the gas lamp of the old town, watching him as he gathered up first, the money, then his tools, putting them in their places. I watched as he moved, effortlessly, around and about the crossroads; I could not pull my gaze away from the sight of him.
As he finished packing his things, he noticed me standing, staring and he again gave the broad grin from the show’s end. Yet, there was a new thing in his eyes as they met mine – an untamed thing.
Embarrassed, I turned my own eyes down for a moment.
When they came back up, he was before me, and I felt his left hand grip me under the chin, turning my face to his.
I had only a moment’s glimpse of those wild, burning eyes before I felt his lips pressed to mine, his tongue pushing into my mouth and his breath of fire push its way into my body. He asked no permission for this, as though it had been given; and as my body became limp, I realized I had given it.
In that moment, I also realized this: the wand and flask were but props. The fire came from within the man.
Bending with me as I fell, his lips never leaving mine, he lowered me to the cold stone street; supported by only the hand under my chin.
Filled with the fire, his eyes were the last thing I remembered seeing for what must have been some long minutes for, when I became again aware of myself, he was gone. I lay, as one intoxicated, on my back in the center of the three roads.
I stood on unsteady legs, and looked about. It was as if I had been left in some strange city; everything seemed odd, as if all the angles and doorways were just off true somehow. And I realized with a sudden insight that it was not the streets and buildings that had changed – it was I.
A couple came around the corner to my right and, seeing me, their steps quickened. They nearly rushed down the sidewalk, away from where I stood like they had seen a ghost, or some other supernatural creature. On the faint breeze I could smell their fear and longing at the sight of me.
Slowly, I began to walk, the act of it almost strange to my body. I knew something profound had happened from the way I felt things, the tastes and scents I found myself suddenly experiencing. It was I, I understood, that no longer belonged entirely to this place, this world.
I could feel the other man’s gift, that awe-full fire, within me. It burned on my tongue, in my throat and my gut. My sight was brighter than it should have been in the night’s shadows. My fingers felt hot; I was certain my fingerprints were aflame.
I paused for a moment, raising my hands before my face. Those hands were larger now, and moved much more cleverly.

(c) Shawn D. Allen.