"And So It Begins." Flash fiction stories of up to 500 words that begin with a first sentence we provide. The first sentence for issue one is "I had never seen a tree on fire before." (First place - three way tie)

The Phoenix

By Ericka Lutz

I had never seen a tree on fire before. Or a house, a car, a screaming dog. Did you know dogs can scream? I felt oddly far away; I was invincible. It wasn't my day to die. You know that sometimes, don't you? You've heard the little inner voice that some people mistake for God or angels telling you that you're not going to die today, that you need to stay and fight. In times of great danger you step back one level of reality, aware of the larger scheme of the universe and, even in the destruction of war and pain you know it's okay, that you're going to be okay, even if you die. But that you aren't going to; today is not your day.

On that day, honey, I was seventeen years old. Just a month from my eighteenth birthday. I'd never have dreamed I'd have you sitting near me all those years later. In my arms, so sweet.

I wandered through the fire. It went on forever, trees exploding and burning in green and black and flame yellow. The smoke, so thick. My shoes melted. I took off my shirt— it had been white and in my bra, now black and gray, I walked and watched and knew I was alright.

By nightfall the fire had swept through—not much was left of the city. It was quiet except for the distant sirens, the occasional cracking of a still burning tree or building. I was so thirsty, my tongue thick and cluttering my mouth. My eyes had pebbles, boulders, in them; they stood out red in my blackened face.

Around the corner from where the city hall and federal buildings had been, an odd sight—a refrigerator standing alone. The refrigerator was untouched -- white almost, barely sooted gray. It looked out of place, an alien ship, something airlifted in. I crunched over still burning coals, stucco fragments, burnt metal and wood. The handle had barely melted, a softening of the shape like a Salvador Dali clock—The Persistence of Memory. The inside of the refrigerator was still cool, a pale wind on my parched face. I stared inside. Row after row of vegetables; carrots, kale, broccoli, spinach, a veritable produce section. Bottles of clear, blue liquid water. And everything inside the refrigerator was wrapped tightly in plastic.

Listen to me, honey. We get what we need, when we need it. When the wind blows from the west; the smell of the ocean breeze from far away.