The lights went out. The entire tent was cast into darkness – the kind of inky blackness that you couldn’t help but lose yourself to. It stretched its empty hands into everything, cold and unapologetic, like smoke, relentlessly flooding everything it touched.
Not a soul stirred, and the silence was just as heavy and enveloping as the dark. Wait for a breath, pause long enough for another few, and sit in the nothingness.
The faint smell of smoke wafted through the air, just strong enough to be noticed, but only obvious in the way that a sound is made apparent in a dream – softly, almost imagined, and not altogether real.
Somewhere off to the far right, in the vastness of the dark, a candle was lit. And then another, and another not long after that, each one igniting not only the blackness, but the excitement and the anticipation of the audience. You could feel the tension in the air, hear the breath that hung just out of everyone’s reach, and more candles were lit.
One by one, tiny little flames sprang up, one after another; a line in front of the stage. They were small, yes, but they illuminated much.
There was a face in the shadows; young, calm, comfortable. A boy – white haired despite his age – walked by the candles, stopping a moment in front of each one before it too sprang a flame. He spared not even a passing glance at the audience, and regarded the entire thing in a way one might something sacred, a ritual perhaps, and in a way, it was definitely that. He lit each candle as he passed, and the room slowly grew brighter.
At first, it was assumed that he was using a match, that he was perhaps nothing more than a decorated beginner taking on the important role of setting the stage. However, it soon became quite apparent that there wasn’t a single thing in his hands – a match or lighter or otherwise. He stood before the candles, pausing for a moment before pinching the wick between two fingers. Once he drew his hand away, a brilliant blue flame would sputter to life, twisting and turning in the air as it slowly changed colour, settling on a deep orange.
Whispers were mumbled between family members, and the audience stirred. Already they were forming ideas and theories, trying to explain why this boy was able to create flame seemingly out of nothing more than his fingers. None got it right, because very few people were willing to believe in the idea of magic, in something other than pure science, and the thought that perhaps there was more to this show than mere smoke and mirrors was often impossible to grasp.
In no longer than a few minutes, the last candle was lit. The tent was illuminated by the lights, flickering flames casting small and eerie shadows on the walls. It was cold, the wind was blowing despite the closed space, but the fires danced on. They played on the faces of each individual, and, for the first time since his appearance, the boy turned to acknowledge the audience.
In the orange glow of the candles, he stood in the center of the stage, regarding each and every member of the audience with the same sombreness, the same impartial gaze. He showed neither emotion nor insecurity, and he held them captivated.
He took a breath, and the spectators breathed with him.
Slowly, the boy raised his hands, holding them with palms facing the ceiling. There was another breath, another drawn out pause, and then he smiled. Softly, the corner of his mouth turned up ever so slightly, as if he held a secret that none of them would quite be able to imagine, and his eyes danced in the flickering of the candles.
There were flames that sprung out of each hand. They was small at first, hardly noticeable, but cautiously, they grew, spreading from his palms to his fingers, until his entire hands were engulfed in them. They were blue and orange and licked at his skin as they grew bigger, taller, crackling and spitting and sparking.
He remained calm as the audience murmured, as he regarded the worrying ladies and their concerned husbands, and looked at them each in turn.
As the flames passed over his arms, and then moved down his chest and to his legs, a string of lanterns was ignited behind him, seemingly on their own accord. There was silence and nothing, the tent being cast into the light, eerie and mysteries in the orange shades and shadows, and it remained like that until the moment it exploded.
All at once, the flames on the boy grew rapidly, the transition far too quickly to be noticed by anyone. So much so that latecomers to the show would have simply believed that they had decided to light a bonfire in the middle of their stage. It became impossible to tell that there was a person under the flames at all. They grew and grew until they could no longer grow anymore, and just when the entire thing seemed to be altogether unsafe for everyone involved, the tent was illuminated in what seemed like a hundred lights, the glow from the fire was gone – though the front candles remained lit – and the boy was nowhere to be seen.
The tent erupts in applause.