Up in Ashes

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They light the fires when dusk begins to darken beneath the trees. The children come first, gathering the wood, piling it together, adding the sticks and branches and needles they collected in the forest. They bring the wood solemnly, and I can see the apprehension in their dark eyes when they look at me. Everyone knows I have the most to burn tonight. The most to leave behind.

The elders set the wood alight. Steel strikes flint, sparks catch, and the needles are the first to burn. Then the kindling. The others gather as the fires grow, and some of them have tears in their eyes. Tomorrow we’ll celebrate the arrival of a new year, a fresh start, but tonight we mourn the passing of the old.

A few of the women are the first to come forward. The things they throw into the fire begin to burn immediately. A bead necklace, a few feathers, a child’s doll. Others follow them, burning the things they don’t want to take into the new year with them. A dead flower, an old talisman, a leather tie. Old grudges, old griefs, old thoughts. The smoke rises to the heavens, wreathing the stars. I stand up. They’ve been waiting for me, a son who’s lost his father, who’s been forced to lead his clan too early. I have much to burn tonight. Too much. But it’s time, and I can’t wait any longer.

A new beginning awaits.

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