Far away, in another land, at another time, with a different wind blowing, laid a little town known as Saffburg. The town was neither large nor small, the houses simple, and its days were peaceful. The citizens idled their days away napping under the sun in the summer, harvesting the fields in the fall, huddling together in the winter, and preparing the fields for the coming year in the spring. Year in, year out, it was the same routine.
The town was much like any other in most ways, except for a single detail. The town was surrounded on all sides by a thick, musky, verdant swamp. The swamp was lush and its water clean. It was built of sturdy trees taller than any building in the town. The water from the swamp flowed through the town in two streams that crisscrossed through the center. A large fountain was built where they met. It was believed that the town was long ago built from the trees of the swamp.
Despite drinking the water from the swamp daily, the people of the town held a deep fear of it. Plants from the swamp would spread and at the beginning of each season the people of the town would patrol their borders and rip up or burn the swamp plants. As a result of these actions, the animals of the forest grew fearful of the people living in the town as well and avoided it. It had been a number of years since the town had seen a real animal, and it had begun to doubt their existence and believed that they must be monsters. Not seeing the animals was something the town rejoiced in.
They believed that smoke and flame kept the animals at bay, so for the people of the town the greatest festival, which they held once a year was “The Great Burning.” After gathering everything deemed unneeded at the town square, the people would turn it into an enormous bonfire. The smoke would rise high into the sky and keep the creatures of the swamp at bay. The charred remains were placed into the streams and drift into the swamp, while the soot from the bonfire fell from the sky and coat the town.
This ritual continued for many years, and the people of the town were happy. They had everything they needed to live and protection from the swamp. They ripped and burnt the plants throughout the year, gathered the remains and whatever they else they could find, burnt them, and repeated the cycle. However, this cycle could not last.
Unfortunately, the townsfolk's fear of the swamp began to grow. They thought, “Our festival keeps it at bay, but what if it should fail? What if our fire is insignificant?” At first, the changes were small. The festival began to be held twice a year instead of once. The bonfires weren’t as large, but the town believed it would be okay.
A year came, however, when one of the men from the town had an idea. On the day of the festival he made an announcement.
“Today at the festival,” he began, “I plan to light my shed ablaze, so that we can guarantee success.”
The people of the town rejoiced at this marvelous idea. The man had the town move his possessions to another shed and his storage shed was lit up; the flames roared throughout the day. The people celebrated the flame and merriment was had.
At the next festival, another man spoke in response to the success of the previous festival; he proposed that they do the same again. The people agreed and repeated the act. Over the next few years this trend continued, but eventually when the festival came, the people of the town realized that they had run out of sheds to burn. They didn’t dare approach the swamp to collect more wood and had no trees of their own. The people began to panic until the first man spoke once more.
“At this desperate time, sacrifices must be made,” he said, and with that he brought a torch to his own home, still filled with his possessions. The people of the town were shocked by this act, but after a time they embraced it, believing their festival would be a success once more.
This became the new cycle, every year the town would be short one more home and the remaining houses became more and more cramped. It made the winters easier but the summers were hellishly hot.
Eventually the year came when the only building still standing in the town was the Town Hall. It was needed to house the entire town but unfortunately it couldn’t, no matter how much it desired to. And so the festival came, and with heavy hearts, the people of the town lit their final building ablaze. The people watched as what remained of their town burned to cinders. They cursed the crackle of the flame that had once given them such comfort.
The first man who had burnt his buildings spoke for a final time to the people. He said, “We will never be free of this wretched swamp. We’ve ignored the obvious answer for so long now but now it’s taken too much from us.” The people watched as he took a still burning plank from the wreckage of the Town Hall and marched towards the swamp. With a heave and a toss the plank landed amidst the trees and smoke began to rise.
The people saw the flames dancing amidst the branches and leaves, the trees that they had once seen as a wall now seemed so frail. One after another they used what was left of their town to bring fire to the swamp. The trees burnt, withered, and crashed to the earth. The fire roared and the skies were filled with smoke and ash. The inferno raged for days and the people believed it would never end. In their rapture they failed to notice that their waterways had dried up. Their fields were destroyed, and their air became painful to breathe. The people slowly began to fall one by one, and so too did the flames wither to embers.
Eventually only a single child remained: the youngest and smallest of the town. A little girl named Julie. She sat in silence knowing not what to do. She just watched as the swamp plants slowly began to creep into the town as they always had this time of the year.
She watched as tiny balls appeared on top of the plants. She watched as they opened up. Her eyes began to water as the plants all began to slowly open one at a time. She’d never seen such colours. They were red, blue, yellow, and everything in between. Her town had known of such colours but hadn’t seen them outside the fire, the sky and the sun. She looked towards the swamp and saw the buds spreading throughout its floor, peaking through the charred damage and ushering her towards them.
Nicholas Wrixon-Wood was born, raised, and is still living in Ottawa, Ontario. Nicholas is a fledgling writer with a primary interest in fantasy and science fiction, though he can appreciate a well-written story of any flavour. Currently studying at Algonquin College, he has an interest in exploring the different options that exist within the professional writing world.