We are going to die out here.
You, me, Erika over by the trees, and definitely Daniel who thinks that hiding behind the burnt trunks is going to help. It’s not. We are the last line of defence, the last hope for the firefighters, and we are the runts of the litter. We don’t control water or fire; we can barely control the wind around us. Daniel has breathed in too much of the smoke and his coughing sounds like the burning trees around us. Erika’s hands have been seized by fingers of flame, swollen and yellow with regret. She trembles as she falls back behind the tree line.
It’s up to you and me, but even we can’t do much considering we weren’t meant to be here. But the government wants to have everyone like us at their disposal, and this is the task at hand. Wildfires should be dealt with by those who can control the elements. But you, you can bring your artwork to life and control it at will. But what is living ink going to do against fire? Me, on the other hand, all I can do is control sound. I can move the fire away, but I can’t put it out.
You ask me what the plan is.
First things first, we need to get Daniel and Erika out of here for medical treatment.
You retreat with them, ink creatures picking them up and carrying them away under your careful watch, ink spreading over Erika’s injured hands in an attempt at healing. Your return is slow, but the fire is gaining on us. Backburning has done little but fuel it further. We have rained down on this wildfire with everything we had, from rain to fire to wind. Nothing has worked. I have a plan, but it’s risky. The embers flutter past my hair in the breeze that pushes the fire closer to us. There is nowhere to run, it’s now or never.
If I tell you the plan, you can’t say no.
You sigh, pushing your glasses up the bridge of your nose. You nod in response.
We’ve spoken about this before in the training camp. Those days when it was just the two of us against the world. Days when we were backed into a corner with no way out. If we do this, one of us isn’t coming out alive. If we retreat and the wildfire destroys the city, we’ll be killed. It’s a lose-lose, but if we do this, at least one of us will make it through another day. No words need to be spoken from now on, we work in silent synchronicity. You take out your ink jar and fill your quill with it, pressing it into my exposed shoulder until black mixes with red. I do not wince, not this time, and I take a deep breath before expelling it from my lungs. The sound waves mix with ink, smothering the flames as far as my voice can carry. I can’t stop until my voice breaks, so I breathe in deep and repeat the process over and over again until the fire has been stopped by the viscous liquid on the forest floor.
You ask if we did it.
I don’t respond.
I lie on the ground, shallow breaths the only noise I make. You sit beside me, ink spilled over your hands and torso. We both hear the footsteps of the soldier’s approach. I know from the slow movements that they know the severity we’ve faced. They’re waiting for me to expire. They don’t want to try and save me; despite everything I have just done and the sacrifices we have endured together. As they approach, you shield my body. There’s no more ink for you to use, it’s too impure.
They tell you they aren’t here to bring us in, they are here to help.
You demand they tell the truth.
They repeat their sentences, cleaning up the area and handing you a blanket.
I’m lifted onto a stretcher, a doctor attending to me as we move to the helicopter. You sit beside him, never once letting me be alone with them. Your hand grips tightly around my wrist, my heartbeat pulsing under your fingers. It’s steady, at least for now. If we get on the helicopter without hassle, we don’t have anything to worry about. For now, at least. There will be a time for healing and recovery, but with a new display of abilities, this is only going to put us in more dire circumstances. People like us live until we’ve spent our usefulness. Once that line is crossed, we’re left for dead.
One day, we are going to die out here.
Täralyn is a third-year creative writing student who writes poetry and fiction about LGBTQ+ themes and mental health issues. She has been published in ScratchThat Magazine previously with a horror fiction piece.