A fireside chat

He slowly inhaled a large breath of the evening’s cool air. Each measure of the life-giving oxygen he drew could be seen as it fed through his corpuscles, first in deep amber, then in red and then healthy glowing pink.

A slight wheeze could be heard the air moved, his aged cells having turned rough and brittle. Whatever moisture that remained in him sputtered with subtle aquarium-pump gurgles.

He held the breath for a few moments, seeming to consider whether it would be good to allow something so good to leave his being. But as the breath’s oxygen was spent, he released it back into the air for the nearby trees to snatch and rejuvenate with more oxygen to be used in future breaths. The glowing pink, and then the red and deep amber, left with the exhale.

And then it was repeated, another deep breath with renewed life and color. Another exhale.

Thoughtful, he was, listening to those around him babble with their nonsense while he carefully considered what to say. Watching him breathe had a sort of hypnotizing effect that drew senses toward him, and then into him. With every inhale, he reached within and touched the soul – first cautiously touching it to allay fears, then gently wrapping his fingers around it. And then, like a thief in the surrounding darkness, he withdrew the soul, and bared it for all to see. His intent wasn’t to harm the soul, but only to open it to life’s truths. He then gently soaped the soul in gently warmed water to wash away the grime of the daily worries soiling it.

It’s easy then, your soul in his care, to become mesmerized by his actions.

But as quietness and stillness grew, he surprised with a bull-whip’s snap that called the need for those mesmerized to pay attention. He had something to say.

He turned aside and spat, more of habit than of need, to assure that he had his audience’s complete attention. The bull-whip snapped again, and he threatened the sting of a white-hot coal unto anyone not listening.

Finally, he spoke in a rough whisper quieted to not disturb the owl that started its own discourse from a nearby tree. The sound of his voice brought sporadic light applause from the surrounding leaves; applause polite to fit the moment without whistles or yells. The depth of what he would say, the leaves knew, required digestion that would make his fans want to yell, “Bravo! Bravo!” not this night, but tomorrow.

His words came clearly, with the air of those spoken only by the most learned teachers. There are learned who can’t teach, and teachers who aren’t learned, but he what he spoke immediately made it apparent that he certainly was learned and certainly could teach.

The words were firm, gentle, joyous and melancholy all within each thought.

He spoke to his audience about things that should be known, things that shouldn’t be known; about youth lost, youth still held; about pains, pleasures; about love lost, love found; about lows, highs; about sickness, health; about debts, riches; about coldness, passion; about the past, present and future.

He tickled smiles and he pricked tears.

The depth of his inhales and exhales intensified as he spoke, taking his complexion far beyond its previous ambers, reds or pinks. The moment turned him a pulsating white-blue with heat – colors that in another setting might mean cold or death, but which then sparked the peak of living. That life visibly swirled within him, his soul’s ghosts revived with each thought he espoused.

The audience intently listened to all he said. Each time he’d spoken, all walked away feeling better than before, and this night promised to be no different.

Listeners always learned more about themselves, others and the land than they knew before listening to him.

Though he would have so much more to say, his audience could stay no longer. Lost in his messages, the audience hadn’t realized the late hour that brought the night’s dew onto brows. Even the owl had concluded its speech, perhaps in favor of a seeking that night’s dinner. Gnats and mosquitoes earlier omnipresent had given up their bloodthirsty quests and disappeared into the blackness.

Fireflies that earlier provided a disco-ball background to his teachings had ascended to add to the Milky Way’s twinkles.

Understanding the need for his audience to depart, he quieted into midnight’s stillness. His breathing slowed. Without speaking, he decided to have a late-night smoke – unfiltered – and on an exhale blew rings of smoke toward his departing audience.

On the smoke he returned the souls he’d taken under his care. Though cleansed, the souls re-entered their hosts much more clumsily than they’d been withdrawn, stinging eyes and irritating coughs.

There would be other nights for him to say more, other nights for him to cleanse and give care to souls. But for then he was left alone in the early morning darkness to enter an ashen slumber.

— Scott Schultz

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