Plummer Cobb is a writer and communications consultant based in Arlington, Texas.

What Burned in the Fire

It was a letter. He didn’t want to open it, especially on such a great solo camping trip. By accident, it had ended up in his backpack among some other things he’d brought along. Why was it there? An unconscious desire to read it? He wasn’t prone to excessive self-psychoanalysis.

He felt like he knew what it contained though he could never be sure. After everything that had happened…well, some things are better left for another time. Or never.

He went on these trips occasionally. A kind of spiritual journey? Not really. Just a chance to be alone in nature with his thoughts. It was peaceful.

He threw it into the fire, and as it burned, it changed form, first to blacked flakes of burnt paper, then into something else.

The colors. The movement. The dynamic transformation of one thing into another. Ancient peoples saw meaning in those flames — legends and predictions alike.

He couldn’t read the words as it burned, of course. Instantly, the paper went dark and the ink became indecipherable. They came together and died above the glow of the coals. A romantic destruction of physical and linguistic form.

The smoke danced upward through tree limbs and toward the night sky. The particles, like clouds in a clear blue sky, could have been a natural Rorschach test. There was nothing to interpret there, though. No meaning. No special magic to tell him what to think or what to do or how he really felt deep inside.

He leaned back in his chair and listened to the sound of the crackling fire, the cicadas, and a coyote barking in the distance.

Going Home