The Eternal Flame
by Cynthia D. Witherspoon
God abandoned us on the day of September 8, 1900. Those possessed with their grief shouted out among those of us who remained, screaming over their Bibles that we would see the end of the world in less than an hour's time. Yet their hour of supposed deliverance passed into the next, and all I could see were the wretched and swollen bodies of those less fortunate than I. Or perhaps they were the fortunate ones, for they were no longer present to witness the aftermath of the worst storm ever experienced by man on Galveston Island.
I picked my way through the mounds of fallen beams now serving as grave markers for those we hadn't found to go towards the town center. They shifted beneath my steps, threatening to drop me beneath their heavy weight where the darkness could swallow me whole and I would no longer be forced to deal with the weight of our plight. But I was not so lucky; for they stayed solid despite their movements until my feet dropped down to the cobblestones of the town center.
It was the first place cleared of the wreckage so that men could meet. Planning our glorious revival, they said. Yet these brothers of mine were crazier than those feverish with their religion. Galveston could be rebuilt of wood and nail, that was certain. But a return to our days of glory would never be. There was too much fear now. Too much damage to ever resemble what we once were.
“Mr. Grant, over here, sir!”
I glanced up to throw a wave at Mr. Joseph Irwin, the new mayor of our town. The old one was laying at the top of the putrid pile that he and the others had gathered around. It was my neighbor who spoke up with the disgust that only a Catholic could feel at what was being purposed on this horrible day.
“You can't be serious, Mr. Irwin!” George Smith grabbed the mayor's arm to capture his attention. “How will their souls know where to go, if they are to become nothing more than...”
“The very same way they knew when we threw them into the gulf.” Mayor Irwin pulled his arm free. “If we are ever to rebuild, we must clear them away, George. I am sorry...”
“Sorry? Sorry for doing the Devil's work?” Smith snorted as he turned towards me. “Tell him, Grant...tell him that he can not go through with...”
His words faded into the creaking of wagon wheels coming ever closer to our location, and I fear I had to put my sleeve up to my nose to cover the stench. The bodies of our comrades, our families, and our children had become a blight most dangerous. It had been three days since the storm ravaged Galveston. Three days spent gathering our dead and giving them a burial at sea most becoming of the men and women of port. Yet now, God continued to mock us with each body that washed ashore on His tide. Perhaps the Jesuits were right. Perhaps we were all damned. But at this time, we had no other choice. If the rest of us were to survive, there was only one action to take.
“I can't argue, Smith, for if you wish to continue to live, then we must do something. This is just as good as any.”
“Then it shall be you that will light this hellfire. I'll have no part in it.”
I considered the man a good friend. Sheltered him through the storm in the underground bunker I'd built after my childhood filled with the wind storms that often ransacked my home in Kansas. Yet, he turned away from me. From his beloved Galveston as Mayor Irwin handed me one of three torches. He took another, and the other was passed to the only priest who survived his God's wrath. Mayor Irwin nodded that we should begin. I stopped, staring at the flame in my hands before looking around at the crowd that stood on the shifting beams to watch us. They were the very same that had been screaming to the heavens for their deliverance. Yet now, they were silent in their prayer.
I moved then, closing my eyes as I touch the torch to each bloated hand or head within my reach. I couldn't bear to look at them, for if one face became recognizable, then I would have dropped the flame and ran. Joined Smith in his coward's station amongst the ruins. The air became putrid, rich with the sweetness of death. It wasn't until the crackle of their clothes and the flesh began to melt from bone that I stepped back with the others.
Watching the eternal flame that would burn through the days and nights. The light of hell had come to the shores of Galveston, and here, it would be fueled by the souls of those we had known. Loved. Laughed with. Lost forever from God's grace and our own remembrance as their ashes drifted down to blanket what was left of this unholy place.
Cynthia D. Witherspoon’s publication experience includes “Something’s Got to Give” (2004-2005 The Concept) as well as “Chorus of the Dead” in Whortleberry Press’ short story collection entitled It Was a Dark and Stormy Halloween. For 2012, her accepted stories include “The Necklace” (No Rest for the Wicked), “Angel of Destruction” (Dark Tales of Ancient Civilizations), and “Black Widow” (Nasty Snips II). Under the pen name Cynthia Gael, Witherspoon has had several stories published with K.G. McAbee. Her first novel collaboration with K.G. McAbee, Balefire and Moonstone, reached #65 on Amazon.uk’s Love and Romance Bestseller List in November 2010.
Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
Anywhere and everywhere. I can see a news article or be walking through a parking lot. Inspiration can hit you at anytime.
What inspires you to write and keep writing?
My love for the art of writing. There's nothing like creating new worlds and people to go in them.
What do you think is the most important part of a historical fiction story?
What they tell us about human nature. We all think of history as dates and names, but we forget those names had lives and loves attached to them.
What do you think is the attraction of the historical fiction genre?
There is a fascination with the past, I think, that goes hand in hand with our need to understand our human natures.