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Open Features: Master Smoke - 1

...“Stop looking so worried and confused! Look into the fire and you will stare right at me!”...

Alfred Mielacher begins a most intriguing tale.

Alfred's story was edited by Anne Coetzee. Watch out for further episodes in Open Writing on forthcoming Sundays.

First evening

It all began one early evening in late summer.

Summer around here is supposed to be the rainy season, compared with winter - which is sunny and dry. However, during the past summer it didn’t rain as much as it ought to have. Hence, the weather bureau warned us of a very cold and prolonged winter; still dry and sunny during day hours but with freezing night time temperatures!

I was sitting on the veranda of my house composing an email to a friend. The warm summer evenings were seemingly a thing of the past. It wasn’t too cold yet not to enjoy some time outdoors. After darkness fell however, the air cooled down enough to announce ‘winter is approaching’. In these latitudes on the southern tip of the African continent one hardly experiences autumn, or spring for that matter, the way one does in Europe for instance. There four seasons do exist. Summer, autumn, winter and spring with definite weeks of change-over. Here, on the other hand, one feels as if summer is simply being pushed aside by winter, and similarly winter surrendering to summer!

Over the last couple of days it became apparent that summer had come to an abrupt end. I wasn’t sitting out here for longer than a short email and already chills crept up my spine - although I had changed my dress code according to the sudden change of season. A few days ago I had worn shorts - now I was in a thin track suit covering my legs. The short sleeved T-shirt I had replaced with a long sleeve of the same material. A few days ago I was able to write long emails, but this evening there was only time for a short one; winter definitely had arrived!

In the lounge I have a ‘Jet master’ that does its thing efficiently when the evenings grow too cold to sit on the over-roofed veranda. I still had some fire wood left over from the previous winter. The village I live in is called ‘Sabie’ which translated means ‘dangerous river’, because a long time ago crocs had made it their home. The hills surrounding the small town are covered in pine tree and eucalyptus plantations. Various saw mills in the area work the precious trees, which take about 25 years to grow to a sizable harvest, into floor boards and ceiling planks. The off-cuts are freely available for the public to collect for firewood. Pine, being fast growing and therefore a soft wood, flares up and burns away fairly quickly without forming coals. But I do enjoy the ambience created by the flames which produces a source of warmth in my Jet master.

As soon as I had sent my short email into cyber space, feeling rather chilled, I moved inside and decided to start the ‘first fire’ of the approaching winter. I had developed a certain technique of starting up a fire in my Jet master. There was no need for fire-lighters or such lazy-camper-items!

I collected cardboard egg boxes during the year which are the cheapest form of starting a fire; well, I had to pay for them by buying the eggs in the first place. I halve the bottom or top part of one 6-egg holder, set it alight, place kindle on top and surround the lot with slightly bigger pieces - and before long the base of a solid fire is flaming away happily. Then bigger sizes of wood get placed on and around it, and whoop, a gently roaring fire soon is reality!

Seated in my grand-father-high-back-chair right in front of it, thawing, encapsulated by the three Led Zeppelin ballads, sipping Milk Stout, smiling from the inside out, I suddenly became aware of a soft voice, whispering “I am here! Here I am!” Oh shit! Someone had found a way in through the locked and chained back door! Astonished I turned to look that way.

In nervous anticipation of meeting an intruder I got up and walked to the back door leading out of the kitchen. But the door was solidly locked and bolted. Returning to the fire I told myself I was hearing voices as a side effect from too much Milk Stout! I stocked up the fire and settled back into my chair.
As I was pondering over those words I supposedly had heard – ‘I am here! Here I am!’ – I was wondering what my subconscious was up to. Then I heard the same whisper once more – ‘I am here! Here I am!’

Slightly freaked I stood up saying to nobody in particular: “Who is here! Where are you?” – Then I started laughing. This was ridiculous! Nobody was here. I was alone in the house. I walked onto the veranda to make doubly sure that I am alone. Of course I was alone! Smiling at my own silliness I returned to the fire and my glass of beer. I took a jovial sip and nearly choked because those words knocked at my eardrums yet again. “Who is it?” I blurted out, looking around frantically! Gosh! I had not consumed enough alcohol yet or any other voice inducing substance to justify hearing voices!

“I am here right in front of you!”

“What?” I heard myself say, wondering if the email I had just sent was haunting me (not that I had mentioned anything bad in its content) but I clearly and undoubtedly had heeded spoken words.

“Stop looking so worried and confused! Look into the fire and you will stare right at me!”

“What? Look into the fire? Well, all I can see are burning logs!”

Who am I talking to? Who am I listening to? The last Milk Stout must have been past its expiry date and caused brain damage! This kind of ability to hear voices, causing me to imagine that the fire is speaking to me, only happens in horror films or children books and not in reality!

“You are seeing right! It is me who is talking to you! And Milk Stout is not causing hallucinations!”

“What? Who are you?” I stammered, jumping out of my comfortable chair, stumbling.

“Be calm now!”

“What do you mean, be calm now! What is this? Who is this?”

“Is it true what we have heard the other day? Is that lovely lady really coming to live with you?”

I had to think hard what this means; being talked to by flames in the Jet master. As far as I knew nobody ever spoke to fire unless of course in fiction books or movies. But I am not a key character in a fiction novel written by some want-to-be author or well established writer. Nor am I the main actor in the latest sci-fi production. I am a simple guy sitting in my lounge enjoying the warmth emanating from an open fire. Perhaps I should play along and see where all this is leading to!

Staring into the fire I saw three brightly blazing logs on top of the heap of smouldering wood. Smiling to myself and relieved of any absurd pending danger, I replied, “Yes, Sir Log, it is a fact. Isn’t that brilliant news?”

“Sure is because your home is in dire need of a woman. For one this maid of yours is by far too lazy around our host, the Jet master, for us heat providers not to get dirty before we are able to do our job!”

“Hey, hey, hold on here!” I interrupted. “The Lady is not coming to live with me to clean your host, you hear?”

“Well? Then?”

“I know, I know! It is my job. I make you a deal. Your host will be dust and ash free before you guys commence doing your job tomorrow evening, Okay?”

“That’s my man!” said the voice. “And you better get hold of many more of our kind, you hear? The storage area down in the garage looks rather bare!” he announced ever so stern and gruff. “Before the lady arrives, you understand?”

“Yes, Sir Log! I will look into it tomorrow! At least I will try!” I replied, feeling a tiny bit ridiculous conversing with a flaming piece wood. “Now please tell me who or what you are. Having a conversation with burning logs only happens in children’s books and not in real life...”

“And you are not dreaming or acting in the latest sci-fi production.”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking before. Who are you?”

“Master Smoke has chosen you to be enlightened about what is going to happen to you Earthlings.”

“Master Smoke? You are joking, aren’t you? Who the heck is Master Smoke?” I said. This is crazy! Chosen by some Master Smoke and talked to by fire in order to be enlightened about what is going to happen to us Earthlings? This really is crazy shit!''

“No it is not. Trust me; you humans are in dire need of serious enlightenment.” I heard the voice say. “Master Smoke is the Superior WILL and not connected to your physical world. There is a lot you Homo Sapiens don’t understand. And trust me, it is not crazy shit.”

“Wow! Come on give me a break, will you? Superior WILL and stuff? What are you talking about?”

“That’s for me to know and you to ponder over. The fact remains that we will speak again. As long as it is cold enough for you to make a fire, I will return!”

“Sir Log?” I said stunned to no end. “Hey burning piece of timber? Are you still here? You can’t leave now and let me hang in mid air like this.”

I tried for a while longer to convince the flames to talk to me again but only silence prevailed. Before this evening I knew I wasn’t mad nor had I ever heard voices - like some people say they do. Not me though! And it was too late to prick myself to wake up from a dream. I knew, it wasn’t in a dream, I had been spoken to. But there had to be a logical explanation for the voice to know that my new found Love was soon moving in with me. And about the fact that I have hardly any fire wood left. Thinking about it deeper I came to the conclusion that my dear friend Felix was playing a clever prank on me. He knew about my new lady and the lack of fire wood in the garage. The shithead must have installed a microphone and speaker yesterday whilst looking after the house. I promised myself I would get him back dearly for that practical joke. Just to make doubly sure I called him but unfortunately only got his usual ‘You have reached Felix and if you have something to sell or wish to tell me bad news, don’t you dare and call again. Otherwise call me later.’

“Felix! It’s me. Pick up the phone. I know you’re there so pick up the darn phone. I have to speak to you urgently – I’ve nothing to sell nor do I have bad...”

“Hi buddy. How are you doing?”

“I’m great. Just a quick question. When you were over here last night, what exactly did you do?”

“Watching TV. Why?”

“Was anyone visiting you?”

“No! Why do you ask?”

“No specific reason. What are you up to tonight?”

“Going to bed early. I just finished packing. Remember I’m going to visit my old lady for her 80th early tomorrow morning.”

“Oh, I forgot. Sure. Drive safely, hey? See you when you get back, Okay?”

“Sure. Cheers now!”


I placed the phone back in its cradle and knowing Felix well enough I realised that he wasn’t the prankster. But then who or what had been talking to me earlier out of the fire? Perhaps it’s one of those mysteries that one can’t explain or rationalise. However it made me uneasy to accept the fact that I was communicating with fire!


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