“So you’re telling me it has never gone out? Not even once?”
“That is correct.”
“I don’t believe it. No one snuck out for a smoke break and let it burn just a little too low?”
“No. That has never happened.”
“Just leave it Jimmy.”
“Fine. Fine. So what is supposed to happen when the flames go out?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s got to stop sometime, right? Your religion falls apart or the world ends or the place gets bombed. Sooner or later that flame is going to go out. Surely you have a reason for keeping it lit.”
“We keep it lit as it was what we were commanded to do by the angels who gifted it to us.”
“And they gave no warning? No “if this goes out the world is doomed”? Not even a “Here, hold onto this for me for a few hundred years?”
“No. They did not say that. They told us that they were bringing a gift to humanity, the light of the heavens and they tasked us with keeping the holy fires alight.”
Sandra stopped paying attention to the conversation, she was already dipping in and out, mostly to stop Jimmy from antagonising the priest too much. She had been the one who wanted to come here, but she didn’t expect they’d be here for longer than twenty minutes or so. Have a look at the building, the flame, maybe hear a little history and move onto something else. They’d been in this place for almost an hour now. Jimmy kept coming up with new questions to ask and each question got a longer answer every single time. She let out a slow breath, at least it was warm in here. Outside was freezing, what ever the religious reasons for the fire, it sure did its job of heating the place. The fire itself wasn’t as spectacular as she expected. It looked just like a regular fire, the only difference was the pit it was held in. About waist high, white and covered in ornamental carvings. Some panels had swirling, intricate designs, while others depicted tiny people carrying out unknown tasks. Sandra was sure she could find out what the people were supposed to be doing if Jimmy shut up long enough for her to ask. Off to the left was an alcove filled with chopped wood. She had read something in the guide book about it, something like it was only young trees or old trees used. She couldn’t quite recall. What ever wood they were using, it seemed to create a smokeless fire, or at least one that produced very, very little. There was a small chimney above the pit, carrying what little smoke there was outside. Being honest with herself, she had expected a little more from what was one of the worlds oldest fires. A bit more glamour maybe? She shook her head slightly and listened to the conversation for a little bit. Jimmy was now asking about techniques they used to clean out the used ashes of the wood that was burnt. Boring.
“I’m going to go have a look around outside.”
“Yeah, cool, I’ll be out in a second.”
Sandra walked away from Jimmy and the priest, who was starting to look a little annoyed. She didn’t blame him, Jimmy could just keep going and going when he got into the right mood. He’d talk about it all day if he was allowed. She knew that he’d follow her out in a few minutes, he’d start to feel guilty and come running. It always worked without fail.
Sandra pushed open the heavy doors and stepped into the cold, she pulled her jacket closer to herself and dug her scarf from her bag, wishing she had put it on inside. She wrapped it around herself quickly, then put on a hat followed by a pair of thick gloves. She knew it was supposed to bit a bit chilly around here, but she hadn’t expected the extremity of the cold. Sandra had thought it would be a little cool, but not cold enough to snow. A few people she had been talking to warned her that it was colder than all the guides said, but she hadn’t listened. It was a good thing that Jimmy had packed some colder gear for them both. If Sandra had been in charge of packing she would have given them both jackets and not bothered with hats or scarves.
Sandra heard the doors opening behind her, she turned to smile at Jimmy, but it wasn’t him, it was one of the other tourists that had been looking around. They smiled at each other and he wandered off towards the steps. God, she was not looking forward to them. It had been a struggle on the way up, she wasn’t as fit as she had thought, but at least the danger of slipping wasn’t too bad and if you did slip, you could grab the handrail easily. The way down however would be much worse, fall then and you’d go ass over head until you hit the bottom. She peered around at the surrounding area, they hadn’t really had much of a look out here, they had just gone straight for the fire, after all it was in a building and buildings were warm. The trees were a little taller than she remembered, crowding in around the building. There was an empty space off to one side, the cemetery that some people liked to stroll through, sometimes even have lunch in when it was nice out. Yuck. She didn’t want to be eating her food on top of some mouldering dead people and any one who did was quite frankly, out of their minds. There wasn’t much else, apparently there were some nice trails in the woods with rivers and stuff, but it was too cold for that, at least it was in Sandras opinion. Sandra had expected a donation box, or some kind of small shop, in order to support the priests and their endeavour to keep the fire going, but she had seen nothing. Then again, what kind of trinkets could they sell? Replicas of the flames, tiny, already lit candles? Something about that struck her as sacrilegious and the priests did seem to be pretty serious about what they were doing. After all their order dated back thousands of years.
The door opened and Jimmy stepped out of the building, Sandra smiled at him, “ready to go?”
He nodded in response.
“Fine. C’mon, before it gets darker.”
Sandra looked up, it was still early and they had hours of sunlight left.
“Ok, yeah, we can take out time going down, be careful of the ice.”
Sandra looked away, towards the steps, when she looked back at Jimmy he wasn’t looking at her, she saw the faint frown he wore, when he spotted her he smiled. “You can hold onto me for support.”
“Are you sure you’re ok?”
“Yeah, fine. Just really cold out here.”
“We’ll stop into that small coffee shop we passed earlier, it looked pretty nice.”
“Yeah. I’d like that. Get some heat back into our bones.”
Together they started making their way down the steps. Jimmy kept glancing behind himself.
“Are you looking for someone?”
“You keep looking back. You didn’t piss of the priest that much that you’re worried he’s gonna chase you away, right?”
“No, no, it isn’t that. It’s just a nice place is all.”
Just before the building disappeared from view Jimmy took one last look of it. He stood for a few seconds until Sandra slipped and with a breathless shriek she grabbed onto the handrail, Jimmy grabbed her other arm and helped stabilise her.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah, fine. That was a close one, I think I just took ten years off my life. My heart.” She chuckled and shook her head. Jimmy smiled lightly, berating himself for not paying more attention. He would never have been able to forgive himself if she had fallen because he wasn’t paying attention. He held onto her lightly and together, they made their way down the mountain.