A World on Fire

A World on Fire by Eliana Pasternak - Photo by Sonja Lippmann

The storefront was on fire.

(And in a peculiar way, she felt as though she was, too.)

Sunlight-through-amber flames licked through and around the aged clapboard siding, paint giving way to charred wood in a manner not dissimilar to the burnt-edged paper she imagined treasure maps would be printed on.

It was beautiful, in the way that all devastating things were, so much so that the Hero was ensnared watching, eyes transfixed on the exquisite horror unfolding before her.

A plume of dark smoke billowed up from inside the building, and the ceiling started to cave in with an almost audible sigh of defeat.

This is it, she thought as a metal support beam groaned and fell into one of the grocery aisles. There must have been people inside. Workers, if not shoppers. Innocent people who would have been bagging produce and shelving canned goods right up until the fire started. If only she could force herself to move.

But she couldn’t, so witnessing the disaster would have to do.

A stray curl of mostly shriveled paper floated by her ear, only a gust of wind away from dissolving into ash, and the Hero knew that she needed to do something. Otherwise, the phantom fire rooted in the base of her stomach would burn her. She wrung her hands nervously, sharpening her gaze on the storefront. Instead of the ever-shifting sloping curves of the fire itself, the Hero tried to focus on something she could use to douse the small inferno.

Almost everything inside the store had already burned, and while the adjacent establishments (a flower shop and a pharmacy) were completely untouched, they wouldn’t be much help either. Still, there had to be something the Hero could do.

There had to be.

Because heroes saved people.

Finally, her gaze snagged on a garden hose attached to a spigot just outside the flower shop. Now all she had to do was move toward it and turn the spray toward the burning building. There wasn’t any time to spare, but even before the Hero turned back to survey her surroundings, she knew it was too late. Call it intuition.

The building would be burned beyond recognition and far beyond repair, the flames themselves still nipping at the air, not yet out of kindling to burn away. She knew what she would see, and still, she turned to face it.

Sure enough, her prediction was right.

The storefront was on fire, at least until the Hero wiped at her eyes and shook out her limbs to dispel the rest of the fantasy.

And just like that, the fire faded into oblivion, the building knit itself back together, and the Hero ceased to be the Hero.

She’d been caught in another daydream, and yet, she couldn’t help but think about how to stop the fire next time. How to be quicker to make a move, how to be more efficient in stopping a disaster that hadn’t actually happened and never would. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she was aware of how unhealthy her line of thinking likely was, but she didn’t let it bother her too much. She would do just fine letting the feeling fester and grow deep inside of her until it turned into something ugly.

And when it got to be too much to bear, the way it always did, she could leave it for the Hero to solve.

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Eliana Pasternak is a member of the class of 2023 at the Jack Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She plays on her school's tennis team and participates in a variety of clubs. In her free time, Eliana loves to read, write, and get outside.
Accompanying photo: “Flaming” by Sonja Lippman