Jack looked and he watched and he waited, just as he had since the last embers of daylight smoldered and the waning light lost its cosmic war to the unrelenting dark. The fire crackled. Blue gave way to orange to yellow then drifted as embers and ash into the night sky. Jack felt peace.

It was a quiet night. Barely an insect chirped or cricketed from the shadows of the swaying trees. The moon, a bright yellow crescent against a stretched black canvas, shed soft twilight around Jack where the fire’s light and warmth did not reach.

Jack kept looking, and watching, and waiting. The world seemed different out here. Newer. Fresher. A log shifted as the kindling below it collapsed, throwing up a cloud of embers towards the gray clouds above. There’d be rain tomorrow. Still Jack felt peace.

It hadn’t rained in days and he would’ve been glad of the change. He knew he’d spend the day indoors, as he had so many days recently. Tonight was his first respite. The fire was his haven, his final escape. He knew it wasn’t safe.

He looked and watched and waited. Logs split beneath the fire’s strength. The inferno gobbled more and more fuel through its black and red maw. He had more wood to burn but he made no move to retrieve it. This much felt like the perfect amount.

Gentle gusts rustled the trees around him, shadowy giants that bent and swayed, all at once protecting him and holding him hostage. The browning leaves shimmered and fell to the ground in ones and twos. One landed in the fire and was consumed.

Jack looked and watched and waited. The cool condensation on the glass in his hand felt refreshing against the fire’s warmth. A sip of the chilled whiskey sent a burning into his belly. He sighed deep, reveling in its smoky, caramel flavor.

The night grew colder as it deepened. A hint of the coming winter rode the wind into Jack’s lonely valley of one. He treasured the silence. But that didn’t mean he didn’t miss the hell out of human contact.

Jack was still looking and watching and waiting when it finally happened. Another log split, cracking down the middle. But this log was different. The bark’s charred flesh melted away to reveal a green glow. It pulsed bright, brighter than even the fire’s light.

Jack leaned forward, senses dulled by the whiskey yet alight with curiosity and anticipation. The fire died down as if blown out by the breath of a giant, except the flames crept inward toward the green glow. It seemed to swallow them, absorb them.

It would eat everything if allowed.

Jack rolled up his sleeves and took the pulsating light in his hands. He could feel its energy, it’s life, like a great visible heartbeat. His heart raced, matching the vital pulsing. That same energy had consumed everything and everyone he’d ever known.

Now it was his turn.

His skin seemed to melt, to rip, to pull and shred. Every fiber of his being tore towards the green glowing light. Jack no longer needed to look and watch. His waiting was over. His final thoughts were of the gentle peace of his fire and how he’d failed to save even one person, including himself.

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