Agni in the heartland.
“OK, I’ve got a new game we can play,” Gordon said.
“What’s it called?” Andy asked.
Gordon pulled out his lighter and smiled, “It’s called, ‘I’m gonna set something on fire, and you put it out.’”
“OK, but I go first,” Andy said, snatching the lighter away from him.
The two boys walked out into the field and gathered up some twigs, leaves, and dry grasses. Andy piled them all into a small mound, and then lit grass until it began to burn steadily on its own. The twigs sparked and crackled, and the fowl smell of burning pine needles filled the air.
“OK, this is my fire,” Andy smiled, “Now put it out.”
Gordon laughed and began to stomp on the fire with his boots. The flames shot up, sending bits of burning leaves into the air around him, but still he danced upon the flames like Agni in the Vedas. After a few minutes all that remained of Andy’s fire was a small black mound of half burnt debris.
Gordon looked up at Andy, “Now it’s my turn.”
Gordon walked around the field until he found a log where a tree had fallen the previous summer. The log that remained was hard and dry. It had been cut down for firewood the previous summer, and the owner of the field had left only a short, three foot section of the wood there either by accident or out of laziness.
Gordon then looked around for dry grasses, pine needles, oak leaves, twigs, and anything else which he thought might burn easily. He piled them up against the log, all the while Andy looked at him and began to feel a knot tighten in his gut.
Once Gordon had piled up about of foot of debris, he laughed and lit the base of the kindling with his red bic lighter. It took him a few tries, but once he got the flames going it spread quickly. The flames moved through the kindling, devouring it as when a man who has been working in the mill all day returns home and rudely gobbles up the meal that his wife cooked for him without speaking a word.
“Well,” Gordon smiled, “Aren’t you going to put it out?”
Andy began to stomp the edge of the flames with his boots, but the fire had spread too quickly and his stomping only seemed to help spread the flames. He tried to dance out the flames, but the hot whip of the flames against his pants whipped him back. Still, the fire burned.
Now Andy was getting nervous. He took off his jean jacket and began to beat at the flames as when a country housewife beats a rug to get the dust out, but in beating the rug is enveloped in a great cloud of dust, so did Andy now find himself. The flames leapt up higher, and now even Gordon was beginning to see that his game had gone too far.
Gordon rushed in and began to dance upon the flames with Andy, but Vedic Agni had turned against them, and now his flames were beating them back. In reprisal for their boyish hubris, Agni caused the log to catch fire. As the sparks flew up all around them and spread the fire to the dry grasses which surrounded them, Gordon gave up and took a few steps back.
“Andy, let’s go!”
“No,” Andy shouted as he beat the flames with his jacket, “I can do it. I can do it.”
“Andy, let’s just go home. We can call the fire department. I don’t have to tell them nothin. I’ll just call them and tell them that there’s a fire at the old field where the distillery used to be. It’ll anonymous.”
But Andy just ignored Gordon’s words, and kept beating at he fire with his jacket, all the crying out in a panicked voice, “I can do it. I can do it. I can do it.”
Gordon took Andy by the shoulders and pulled him reluctantly away from the flames which were shooting up as high as they were tall. When Andy turned around, Gordon saw that tears had been streaming down Andy’s cheeks, soaking the collar of his shirt.
“I could of done it,” Andy said, rubbing the smoke out of his eyes.
“It was just a stupid game,” Gordon replied, “Don’t worry about it.”
The two boys stood there in silence for a moment, watching the flames. The smell of burning pine and rotten timber was thick in the air. There was a slight breeze which cooled their skin as they stood near the heat of the fire.
And if you listened very carefully, as the fire crackled and the wood hissed, you could almost make out the sound of the gods, laughing.