Michael Gillan Maxwell is an American writer, editor and visual artist. A teller of tales & singer of songs, he’s prone to random outbursts and may spontaneously combust or break into song at any moment. He can be found ranting and raving on his website, Your Own Backyard
Out On Fir Tree Point
Spring exploded in delirium filling the air with the perfume of lilacs and cherry blossoms. We walked in silence, listening to the cry of a mourning dove, peepers in the pond and the sound of gravel crunching underfoot. A pair of ducks swam away from the shoreline. We came upon a snake that appeared to be crossing from one side of the road to the other. I realized it was dead, squashed flat and pinned to the macadam by the wheel of a passing wagon. Iridescent blue bottle flies buzzed around the carcass.
We walked downhill all the way to the tip of a sandy peninsula where we joined others who were gathered there. The lake, dense and metallic as mercury, shimmered in hues of turquoise and pink, the water so still, there was scarcely a ripple.
A towering pile of dry brush rose like a mountain from the sand. Three bodies lay on a platform over the top of the pile. It was covered by a shroud. After the Great Sickness came and the System broke down, survivors burned the bodies on-site. The Channels, emissaries of those who had gone before, walked the path of self sacrifice.
The Channel sat apart from the group that encircled the pyre. She stared straight ahead, draped in a blanket that covered her head like a monk’s cowl.
Twilight dissolved into dusk. As the sky grew dark James approached with a flaming torch and touched it to the tinder-dry brush. Twigs crackled and popped, and flames licked like a cat’s tongue, consuming the wood with voracious hunger. There was a tremendous “whoosh” and the fire erupted into a conflagration, the updraft and intense heat carrying thick, black smoke skyward in a cyclonic whirlwind. A rock exploded with a loud pop discharging a shower of sparks that sent us all stumbling backwards.
The Channel stood up, letting the blanket slide to the ground. She reached toward the heavens and turned her face to the sky. Her eyes rolled backwards in her skull and the pupils disappeared, leaving only the whites of her eyes showing as she began to chant.
“We, the Keepers of the Western Gate sing the song of the Death Feast in the Tongue of the Dead. Wainonjää?’ko Sha?’dotgéa Sedwa:’gowa:’nê Sega’hedûs!”
The fire reached the platform which was engulfed by flames. We all sang together and the Channel advanced toward the pyre singing in the Tongue of the Dead. She stopped at the very edge with her arms held over her head and her palms turned upward.
“Wainonjää?’ko Sha?’dotgéa Sedwa:’gowa:’nê Sega’hedûs! I give myself to the flames so that you may live!”
We sang the song of The Death Feast while she appeared to levitate before disappearing into the flames. We could only stand there, paralyzed by awe and horror, as the withering inferno devoured her flesh.