Elemental

Two
Burning

It’s so hot. I can feel the heat of the liquid hot magma on my face, on my hands, on my feet. It’s so hot it’s almost unbearable. Even the sky looks hot. The clouds are yellow, the sun white hot, even the sky itself is coloured a deep orange, reflecting the colour of the lava at my feet. Or is the lava reflecting the sky? It is hard to tell. Everything is too hot, glowing intensely red from the fire.

My eyes, squinting at the wavy heat and bright light of the sun above me, scan the lava pool, searching through the red for a soul pinprick. A tiny figurine of glowing red light. The doll I know I must claim as my own. I feel the sweat dripping from my forehead, the drops growing large enough to roll down my face and into my eyes, blurring my vision. I wipe my arm over my forehead, but it is just as wet, and produces little effect. I shake my hand, sending more drops off my fingertips and falling into the lava, sizzling as they land.

Finally I find it, the tiny, palm-sized, glowing doll, a pinprick of crimson hovering above the lava. I would never have spied it had I not known it was there. I take a breath of the sizzling hot air, so hot that it wobbles, distorting my view, but I can still see the doll.

Slowly, carefully, I step off the platform of rock and onto a small island in the lava, a circle of rock no more than a metre in diameter, and reaching just a few centimetres above the melted rock. Why it isn’t melted itself I do not know, but I know it will support me. I step out onto the next island, the heat of the sun and the magma burning my skin. Cautiously I make my way over the freak stepping-stones in the swirling pool of red-hot rock, my eyes forever focused on the doll.

Eventually I reach it. It is almost within grasp. But there are no stepping-stones near it, not within four metres. I must make the leap of faith. I lick my lips, tasting the salty sweat that is now rolling off my reddened skin. Even my hair is dripping from the sweat on my scalp. I almost choke on the horrible dry heat, but I know I must go on.

I step back on the stone as far as I dare, my left heel on the back edge, my right toes a step in front. I lean back on my left foot, then lunge off my right towards the doll, arms outstretched. But something is wrong. The tiny platform crumbles under my toes and I stumble. I lose sight of the doll and just struggle to keep myself from falling into the lava, but it is too late. It all plays in slow motion. I twist on the rock, turning to plunge backwards into the lava. There is no splash, I just sink into the burning liquid. It consumes me, folding itself over my body. I’m burning, burning…

Elly was panting heavily, still feeling the pain all over her body from the lava. Her heart thumping, she looked at her clock. Six forty three, that’s when the dream had woken her up yesterday. As the pain subsided, she realised how hot she was. Yesterday had been a hot day at the pool, just the kind of weather Elly loved, but the hot nights brought on by days such as these were less than comfortable. Having a dream about burning in lava didn’t help the cause.

Feeling her pillow was damp from sweat and tears from her fear of dying in her dream, she slid out of bed and sauntered off to the kitchen, enjoying the cool kitchen tiles on her bare feet. She half considered not going back to bed and just sleeping on the kitchen floor, but decided against it. Instead she ran herself a glass of cold water and dropped a few ice cubes in it, then took it to bed.

The ice cubes served more than one purpose. They weren’t in the glass merely to keep her water chilled, but also served very nicely as temperature control. She slid the first cube over her face and through her hair, then ran it down her nightie, making it wet with the cool water.

When she reached her waist, she felt some strange solid lumps under the fabric on her sweat-soaked skin. Curious, Elly switched on her bedside light and sat up in bed, lifting her nightie to inspect the lumps.

What she saw made her eyes widen in horror. She screamed, staring at her stomach in disbelief.

“This is not real,” she whispered, shaking her head, “This is not happening, I’m still dreaming, this is not real, oh my God this is not real, I am not believing this...”

Soon enough she heard her mother’s worried voice calling down the hall, followed by her footsteps. She came to the door and turned on the light, her eyes full of concern.

“Are you okay Elly? What happened?”

“Yeah, I’m okay,” Elly replied, her wobbling voice anything but okay. She swallowed and took a deep breath, trying to steady her voice, “I just had a nightmare, that’s all, I’m fine.”

Her mother walked to the bed smiling. “Oh, that’s a relief, I thought a burglar had broken in or something.”

Elly smiled, her arms hugging her stomach, her mind still repeating over and over again, this is not real, this is not happening, I’m still dreaming.

She felt her mother’s arms wrap around her shoulders, and it was all Elly could do to return the gesture and cry freely into her mother’s nightie. She felt safe in her mother’s arms. Nothing could hurt her here, nothing.

When she woke up at a more respectable time for a Sunday, Elly’s first reaction was to feel her waist. The lumps were still there. She walked to her wardrobe mirror to inspect them further.

A string of ten round crimson jewels burned into her flesh, evenly spaced around her waist. They were all level with her belly button but for the front two, which dipped downwards. Each jewel burned with an inner fire of their own, ten glowing balls of flame in her skin, burning more intensely as she breathed in oxygen.

Elly dropped her nightie and ran her fingers through her hair, repeating the words, “Oh God, oh God, they’re real, oh shit, they’re real, they’re actually real…” as she paced her room. She took one last look at the jewels and collapsed onto her bed, trying to figure out what was going on.

The last thing she was going to do was to show anyone, least of all her family. If she showed her mother, she would faint, her father would think they were some accessory modern girls had gotten into, either that or an excuse to skip school. Her brother? She couldn’t guess. Being a younger brother, he’d probably blab it to everyone and Elly would successfully become a freak of nature.

She thought again of Charlotte’s dream. There were so many similarities between the two it was scary. Both of them dreamed about trying to reach a glowing doll so important they were willing to risk their lives just to lay their hands on it. In the end, both of them died trying to obtain the glowing doll. In the dream, they each knew exactly why they needed the doll, but after waking up, the meaning of the glowing figurine was lost.

There were also total opposites between their dreams. Charlie’s dream took place in an underground cavern, where the only source of light was that of the doll, while Elly had to search for hers because of the intensely bright light. Charlie had to swim through cool water, but Elly had to brave the forceful heat of the fiery lava. The dreams were totally opposite to each other, and yet had burning similarities that led Elly to believe they weren’t just coincidental. And then there were the jewels.

Elly dove for her phone, hitting the speed dial button for Charlotte. It rang a few times before Charlotte’s father answered.

“Hi, it’s Elly here. Could I please speak to Charlotte?”

“Sure Elly, I’ll just get her for you.” The receiver clattered as Charlotte’s father put it on the bench top to fetch his daughter.

It clattered again when Charlotte picked it up. “Hi Elly.” She sounded as though she had been crying.

“Hi. Um, are you okay?” Elly asked.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just had that nightmare I told you about yesterday again.” Her uncertain laugh told Elly there was more to it, and she had a feeling she knew what.

“Anyway, what I was ringing about, do you want to go into the city today? There’s a sale on at Tarjay if you wanna come along.” Target was a clothes shop in the city that sold generally cheap clothes. Everyone called it Tarjay just to make it sound more exclusive.

“Yeah, sure!” Charlotte agreed heartily, “Meet you there at, say midday? Can have lunch and see a movie, if there’s anything on.”

The rest of the conversation continued as any seventeen-year-old girls’ conversation would, but through it, Elly had in the back of her mind the nightmare that had now woken her up two nights in a row.

Elly climbed down off the bus five minutes after twelve, her straight blond hair left loose and flopping down her back.

“Ready to hit the shops?” Charlie was leaning up against the bus stop shelter, a cheeky grin on her face. Whatever was bothering her before wasn’t now. Or at least it didn’t appear to be.

“Ready as you are!” Elly replied, pulling her top down to conceal the burning jewels. She still felt as though she was in a dream, and at any moment she was going to wake up to a smooth stomach, but it didn’t happen.

As the two girls were perusing the summer-wear rack, Charlotte turned to her friend. “So how come you’ve got that top on? Don’t you usually go for something that shows a bit of skin?”

Elly’s eyes dropped to the ground, and she sighed. “That’s kinda why I wanted to talk to you, I just didn’t know how to bring it up.”

Charlotte looked puzzled. “Come again?” she asked, hooking a blue single strapped top back on the clothes rack.

“We should probably go to the change rooms or something,” Elly replied.

The two of them walked into the same room, where Elly sat down on the bench and sighed, wondering how to begin. “You know how you had that nightmare?” Charlotte nodded. “Well, I’ve been having a similar one to you.” She went on to explain her dream, noting how Charlotte’s expression changed when she mentioned the glowing doll.

Both girls sat in silence for a short while, each thinking about the dreams.

“So, um, how does this explain the conservative top?” Charlotte asked, though she sounded almost as though she knew the answer, or at least had a fair idea of it.

Elly stood up and lifted her top, revealing the burning red jewels, glowing just as much as they had done in the morning.

Charlotte’s face registered some surprise, but when she lifted her own top, Elly figured it must only have been because hers were burning crimson, while Charlie’s glittered turquoise.

“Charlie?” Elly whispered, her eyes shining.

“Yeah?” Charlotte’s voice was wobbling again.

“What’s happening to us?”

Charlotte didn’t reply. Neither girl had the faintest idea, but they were both dead scared about it.

three