December 12, 2007

Southern California was burning. B-u-r-n-i-n-g. Ella cackled as she listened to the radio, intermittently broadcasting frantic pleas for help and ominous static. Her face was a ghastly shade of pale gray, and her hair was tangled and knotted from both the blasting wind and the incessant dust. Ash coated the transmitter, falling like flakes of snow through the trees. The sun had been nearly obliterated in the sky by sheets of smoke that turned it into a red eye waiting for the massacre to be finished.

They said the fire was unstoppable. They said that even massive amounts of water shipped all the way from the Pacific couldn't quell its raging inferno. They said that it could burn underwater. They said it glowed green at night. They said that the feds had made a deal with the devil and borrowed hellfire from Lucifer himself.

Ella laughed again, reclining on the lawn chair in her once verdant backyard. The grass had already turned yellow from lack of sunlight and the clogging, choking debris. She resettled the sunglasses over her eyes and checked once more for the first telltale spirals of smoke above her fifteen-foot wall. It was no use staying inside the house anymore. She wouldn't get sunburned, because she couldn't - the ash effectively screened out any UV rays. The windows were so smeared and grimy that the formerly pristine plastic was useless. And a single spark might set the fragile shack alight, ruining her plans.

She blinked, and the hand in front of her turned into two hands, then three. The fire must have reached the poppy farms. Ella imagined the red flames dissolving the even redder petals, destroying the millions of acres of carmine opium fields, and giggled. Even now, the workers would be screaming in agony, dissolving in a gust of smoke and sparks. Unless they were already dead - the zombi slaves were probably still harvesting, even as they were being consumed by the fire, their brains were too far gone from years of treatment with the same drug they helped harvest. Perhaps this was a punishment from hell - a punishment on the Majestic Republic of California for seceding from the United States. Perhaps the rampant drug production and use had angered the gods.

But there were no gods, and there was no justice in the world. The feds themselves had set the fire - everyone knew that was true, whether or not they wanted to believe it. But only Ella and a few others knew that firefighters and armed guards were waiting just outside the borders; the firefighters with special extinguishing foam, and the guards with rifles to shoot anyone who tried to flee out of the 'kill zone'. And only Ella knew that firemen were inside the border, using hoses that spouted flame instead of water and sirens that beckoned Death.

Apparently the government preferred that their Majestic Republic be reduced to a burnt wasteland instead of an opium-producing cash machine. It was simply jealousy, and a desire to keep the money circulating inside the United States - Ella also knew, for a fact, that the U.S. was the biggest consumer of Californian opium per capita. The fire was just a stratagem, a marketing ploy. Of course, instead of making people lose jobs, it made them lose their lives.

The sound of a wailing siren drifted closer on the ash-filled wind. It was one of the death machines, a fireman himself. Were they coming to burn her themselves? Probably not. She wasn't that important. But as she saw the smoke drifting and tangling in the tops of the trees, she pulled the lighter from her pocket. It was a cheap, clear plastic one, with the fluid glinting clearly inside. About half full, she thought, though it was hard to tell with her swimming vision.

Bright orange, crackling flames could be seen raging not too far from her house. They traveled to the very tips of the maples and made the branches turn black and crumble. Ella made her own fire by flicking her thumb on the lighter. It glowed blue. Laughing once more, she set the tip of the flame to her highly-flammable, cardboard shanty. It caught almost immediately, spreading up and up and mirroring the fire in the treetops. She stepped into her burning house, screeching with eerie, insane hysteria.

Southern California was burning, and she would burn with it.

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