Prompt: Write a story based on these three words: public, birthday, volcano
The crater of Maragol was the greatest gift a civilization could ask for. It was a volcano, full of danger to be sure, but the silent deity within was kind enough to keep its eruptions regular and predictable. The people living at its feet, between the ripe groves of the leaning trees, knew to get out of the way every four years or so, to spend a week at sea while its spewed liquid fire and expanded their island.
Ildi first realized there was something wrong with him when he was taken out to sea for the first time. He always wanted to go back, to simply step over any lava in the way. He wanted to be there to yell at it, to force it to change course, should it ever threaten his favorite tide pools or his family’s home. He had just as much right to live there as Maragol did.
Three times he went out to sea, dragged by his elders, and three times he’d nearly drowned trying to swim back. The third time, upon his return, he found the lava had cut a now-hardened black path through the bird fields. Where the nests were. He had named many fledglings of the ocean-soaring yellow-wings, but there was nothing left of them after the eruption. No speck of shell. No feathers.
He felt it in the back of his mind, so much so that he screamed at the new black path. It had burned his names away, when he had hoped they would leave the island on the wing. He could stay there, in battle with Maragol, while the birds spread the word of his deeds and bravery. He smacked the new stone, and came away with a blistered hand.
Now, his fearful family, the whole village really, wanted to make it a hundred times worse. They wanted to merge with Maragol, who they saw as a protector. Too long they had breathed in its fumes. Only Ildi and a few other children sensed its anger and selfishness. There was a tremble in the Earth, especially in the sand. It was Maragol’s heart being infirm. The adults couldn’t feel it because of all their nasty calluses.
There should’ve been a chill in the air that morning, but Maragol was spreading the crater’s heat, calling the fools in. Ildi was hidden; he had no chance of escaping every adult, so he had gotten up in the middle of the night and disappeared into the trees, hoping to stay there through the ceremony. He would be the only one left, the only one not trapped by the black stone.
Maragol had lied to their seers, told them that storms were coming. The gods of the sea, mightier than the god of their little island, were angered by the ships crawling across their skin. Maragol said their wrath was coming as hail and lightning. The people would be destroyed no matter where they hid. They needed protection. Maragol only had the land to offer, and they had accepted.
Ildi made his mistake when he peeked out of the bushes five hours into the day. He watched a line of people march up to the crater. Even though he would never agree to this horrid rebirth, curiosity still burned within him. How would they take their first steps in their new shells?
A hand clapped down on his shoulder. He screamed and twisted, biting at their knuckles before he even knew who it was. The adult, one of the medicine men, smacked him across the face. Ildi never wore a shirt unless he had to, so the medicine man dragged him out of the bushes by the skin on his shoulder. Not defeated quite yet, the boy tried to drag his feet in the sand, but he was smacked again. His olive skin turned dark red. He cried, but these were good things. These were the responses of true human skin, of an adventurer’s hide, of someone not afraid of the coming storms. If he was taken to the crater… he would never see a bruise or a tear again.
The medicine man dragged him into the middle of a crowd, at the edge of the crater. A wall of steam rose in front of them. They dared to decorate for the occasion, using up the island’s best flowers to make leis that would just be burned away in moments.
The island, its entire body public aside from Ildi, called it a second birthday. Maragol was going to reinvent them, make them immune to the coming disasters, ‘protect’ them. He knew better. In his mind he called it Petrify Day: the day they lost the wind on their cheeks, the sand under their nails, and the lizards crawling across their chests while they bathed in the sun.
The ceremony began. Everyone cheered, but there were still two hands locked to his shoulders. A young girl, someone he considered very pretty, was the first to step up. She beamed, turned to face the proud public, threw up her arms, and fell backward through the wall of steam, into the crater.
A moment passed. There was a low rumble and then a geyser of orange liquid. A strange stone was tossed back out, spat up by Maragol. It landed with a thud, and everyone leaned in. It was the shape of the girl, curled up like a cannonball. The joints cracked and the man-sized stone rose to its feet. Her face was gone, covered in hardened black lava. Her beautiful hair likely burned up. She was in there somewhere, safe inside Maragol’s shell, but she couldn’t even speak clearly.
One by one the villagers threw themselves in to be reborn as expressionless rock, to lock themselves away. Maragol spat them out. The suits of rock flexed and played to try out their new armor. They bumped into each other and rolled down the hill. Near the end of the ceremony, when flesh had become scarce, Ildi’s father took him from the medicine man.
He didn’t even let the boy argue, just tossed him over. Ildi tried to hold the lava off as he fell, palms out, but it reached up to take him. It swaddled him in oppressive heat, pressed it against his lips even as he screamed for it to stop. Then it spat him back out. Just another rock under Maragol’s protection.
A year passed. No storm had come. Ildi knew the gods weren’t that slow. Maragol was simply jealous of the sea and worried the island’s subjects would leave. Now they never could, as their rock armor would sink and drown them.
His own face was hidden, he couldn’t see how he grew or changed, but disobedience still hammered away in his chest. He just needed the right chisel. His parents never paid attention to him anymore, now that he couldn’t get hurt. That… was up for debate.
Occasionally he thought he heard Maragol try to speak to him, but the god only ever talked to the seers. That hot whisper on the wind was likely just an illusion. If it wasn’t, it was just the lava being annoyed by his ingenuity. He found a way to use the crater, as it was the highest point on the island. He started a routine of throwing himself off, tumbling all the way to the water, and looking at his shell for cracks.
He did this every day for a month. He was getting close. He was feeling pain again. Bruises. On a dark day, when his flesh felt the same way the clouds looked, he stared down at the rolling side of the crater. He threw himself with the greatest force he could muster, and aimed for a projection in the black rock, where trees had failed to take root. Maragol tried to pull him away from it with hot wind, but Ildi pushed in the other direction. He corrected course and collided with the rock spire.
His armor cracked as he rolled off the side and continued to tumble. Piece by piece the black rock gave way. Ildi got his left hand back. His right foot. His knees. His navel. He could see himself again, celebrate the giant purple bruises and his fresh concussion.
The rising tide woke him. He was knee deep in sand, one eye almost swollen shut. He struggled to his feet, limbs shaking, skin covered in bumps from the cold breeze that blew in. He smiled and looked up at the dark rolling clouds. It did look like a storm. Lightning flashed in the distance.
Ildi’s smile faltered only for a moment. Let them bring their wrath. Let them try to hurt him. They couldn’t; he could only hurt himself.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Lothian_Waltheof_II during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!