Are They Burning Too? by Erika Johnson

The old men caw at me. Shouting a lengthy speech that I do not understand. My hands bound behind me. Unable to touch the other. With splinters sticking on my arms through my wool sleeves as I struggle in discomfort. A game that the old men like to play. One of the them in a dark hat holding a black leather book; chant more nonsense to me. He takes something out of his pocket. With it a match strikes and is tossed into the kindling beneath my feet. In the cold air, I can feel the faint heartbeat of warmth eating away at the branches. I shift again, feeling pricks in my ankles.
My mother covers her face in the corner of my eye. In the crowd of people gathering to
watch. She is holding her hands up to her lips. Whispering secrets to them. I’ve seen many people of the town do this. What good can their secrets do?
I begin to cough. Sending a new wave of shouts and chanting. Perhaps it’s working. But as I look out, I see my friend begin to cry. He’s clutching his father, hanging onto his sleeve. His eyes red with tears. While he watches the flames curl around me. I cough more, feeling pain twisting my feet. A few moments ago we were waving sticks around. I heard old stories about words with power that did not come from books. Nor words that came form something else, but ourselves. My friend didn’t believe me so I wanted to show him, and I waved the sicks in the air. Saying whatever came to my mind. When I turned around he was gone.
I’m beginning to feel dizzy. The old man extends his wrinkled claw with the leather book
opened. I cough some more. My chest rattling and dots in my eyes. Pain numbing my legs. I can’t keep my head up. But when I see the old man’s eyes, kindness no longer glazes them. Instead red blotched, his lip curling into a grim smile.
Hot tears drip down my face. Only to disappear when they touch my chin. Stop. He says
something else, revealing his yellow crooked teeth. Stop it! His crinkled fingers clawing the air around my head. STOP! I scream. My whole body is screaming. Everything starts to fall darker and darker. Out to my gaze more people whispering secrets into their palms. Tears staining my mother and friends eyes. Everyone yelling and shouting.
Suddenly, I am no longer in pain. Tears are no longer flooding my cheeks. The small flames curling around me lift me off the ground. And when I look down the flames are no longer at my feet, but the whole world looks like it’s on fire.