The ledge hangs from nothing, mountain rock hovering in the face of heaven. The moon and stars stand guard as trapped crystals peek from ancient rock. They glisten, pleading with the sky for freedom. This is their prison: the hole Creation stuck them in.
I face the edge looking out, hues of purple and blue gliding across the earth below. I feel them moving. Tribes, towns, and cities of phosphorescent billions crisscrossing like apathetic phantoms. They shuffle past, on, and through each other, never interacting. Hearts and minds, untouched, separated by history.
I call out for them. The people I know, the ones I never will, every name in the face of creation in the hope of finding one who will look up and save me from this place.
Only silence answers.
Behind me the unmistakable whisper of flame catches my ear. I turn and find a fire pit raised on a granite platform, boxed in by four massive tree trunks posing as makeshift benches. Drawn to the light and the warmth it promises, I move slowly towards the fire, dodging between the small crystalline tombs.
I reach out to warm my hands and something speaks to me, the ground trembling as the flames seem to surge higher, its tips spinning and twisting in soft, unnatural circles. Something in the fire flourishes, the red and orange heat forging itself into a human face nearly as tall as I am.
His eyes, almonds of white heat, stare into me — hair, beard, and moustache giving shape to a feral mane that ripples out like the surface of the sun. He speaks my name, his unnatural and dark voice carrying with it a bellow of ash and ember-laden smoke that sends me stumbling backwards over the log, the bend of my legs smacking hard against the unforgiving wood.
I crawl backwards, palms dragging the rest of my body over the trunk. The man of fire watches with a sneer, scolding me with a flowing mess of syllables that offer no meaning outside the obvious disgust he has for my reaction. I open my mouth to scream, to beg him to stop, but the fire explodes, spitting a plume of ash and smoke into my face.
Blind and mute, my hands instinctively move to cover my face, the sound of soaring flame cracking the air. I pry the burning soot from my eyelids, feeling the heat dragged away on my fingers as my throat tightens in choking panic.
My eyes open to the man of fire resurrected whole over the granite fire pit. Standing a full two stories tall, he’s dressed in an ancient armor I don’t recognize, its details obscured in the raging current of his flame. He steps from the platform, sending another gust of wind and glittering ash into the air.
Panic pushes me to my feet, racing me back towards the edge of this free floating rock. I look back down at everything, knowing they can’t see or help me, begging them to anyway. The man of fire speaks again, something in his voice dragging me back around to face him. I close my eyes, the last rebellion I can muster, but another uttered syllable forces them open.
I feel his eyes digging into me from across the platform, forcing every muscle in my body tightened into iron until I’m can’t even blink. I can only watch as he bends down and dips his massive arm into the fire pit and pulls from it a giant, flame-drenched hammer, nearly as tall as he is. He grips it, wielding it as an extension of himself, like a warrior should.
He slides his hand down the handle, letting the hammer’s enormous head fall and hover just in front of my face, the heat singeing my nostrils. He begins to speak, gesturing the hammer towards the unreachable world below. He looks down at them, still talking, finger tapping against the weapon handle in idle anticipation. Eventually, his voice trails off and he turns back to me, face plastered in a wide, inscrutable grin. He takes a small step back and settles the head of his hammer against the ground to support his weightless form, marking his conclusion with a grunt of satisfaction.
Both of us know what is coming, but he waits, still looking me in the eye, searching. He shakes his head finally, readjusting his grip before bringing the weapon to bear once again. He draws it back behind his head, smile crushed back into a grimace. I try to move, to pull myself free from him, but feel every muscle in my body still rooted in place.
He swings the hammer down, its giant flaming head, rushing just past my head and into the stone earth in front of me. Everything freezes into a still life, the snarl on the man’s face and the flames that shape him hardening into place. The color of the world seems to dull, marking its anxiety.
Where there should be been sparks from the force of the blow, there is only a void, like a hole punched through painted canvas. The sky, stone, and earth begin to crack, darkness fracturing out in every direction. The man of fire and the world beneath him splintering into a stain-glass memory as my ears fill with the cackle of impending ruin.
Everything shatters, the broken world cascading into the chaos around me, leaving me plummeting endlessly into the void. The once living fall away until they become so distant my eyes can no longer detect them.
I never stop falling.