John Zaharick

John Zaharick grew up in coal country Pennsylvania, among forests and mine fires. He has worked as an assistant editor for a weekly newspaper and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in ecology. His fiction has appeared in Not One of Us and Allegory and his poetry in Strange Horizons. He can be found online at http://gplus.to/johnzaharick

John Zaharick grew up in coal country Pennsylvania, among forests and mine fires. He has worked as an assistant editor for a weekly newspaper and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in ecology. His fiction has appeared in Not One of Us and Allegory and his poetry in Strange Horizons. He can be found online at http://gplus.to/johnzaharick

Fossil Fire

I learned the secret of Justin’s fossilized fire shortly after I realized I wasn’t in love with Melissa anymore. We were drinking on the hill over Shenecker’s farm in the evening, like when we were kids. I wanted to tell him I didn’t know why I was married, that I had been playing along for the past few years, hoping things would fall together, only to realize pretending wasn’t going to make it real. Instead I asked him about the fire.

He sold shards in bottles at the flea market. They stood out from the homemade jewelry, blankets, and wooden ducks. The red and orange pieces curled about themselves, thin as leaves, but hard as stone, like twisted sheets of mica, a flame trapped in a single moment, never changing.

He wouldn’t tell anyone how he made them. If you asked his wife, she’d mention his workshop in the basement, but knew nothing else. I’d been in Justin’s basement, seen his hobbies. He had no kiln, no way of blowing glass. Besides, his flames looked nothing like glass.

They were his secret. So maybe it was the alcohol that loosened his tongue, or our friendship, or both.

“If you know where to look and how to look, you can see it–the second sun.” He stared across the fields and spoke with a seriousness that should have been mine, discussing my marriage. The grass was a few inches high, but would be a few feet come summer. Beech and maple trees grew behind us, but in front headlights drifted down two lane roads around plowed fields.

“Where is it?” I asked. “The other sun?” He didn’t make any sense, but this was the first time he ever said anything about the flames.

“Look to the right of the sun. It’s there.” He pointed to the sky with the hand that held his bottle of lager.

“You’re gonna make me go blind.” I smiled and took a swig from my beer.

“Then don’t worry about it. I’m the only one who can see it, and I’m fine with that.” He finished his beer and placed the empty bottle in the cardboard six-pack. “Where’s the bottle opener?”

“You’re full of shit.” I handed him my keys. “We all know you make them in your basement.”

“Keep on knowing then.” Justin popped the cap off another bottle. He always looked in need of a haircut, and random tufts stuck out of the back of his head.

We didn’t say anything for a few minutes. The sun was behind the hills in the distance. We still had enough light to see without the glare being annoying. Spring peepers chirped in the trees, growing louder, replacing the overbearing light of the setting sun with the overbearing cries of frogs.

“I don’t think I’m in love with Melissa,” I said.

Instead of responding Justin sipped his beer, and then, “It’s too late for that.”

“I know. I don’t dislike her. I just don’t…she’s just another person, and I always thought a wife should be someone I feel passion for.” I looked at the homes below, some lit, some not, spread out among the farms.

“Are you cheating on her?” As secretive as he was about himself, Justin was blunt with everyone else.

“No. I haven’t replaced her with someone else. I feel like I’ve lost something.”

Despite the frogs, I lowered my voice. Justin stayed monotone. “When did this start?”

“I realized it about a month ago, but I think I’ve felt this way since Sarah was born. I’ve been too busy thinking about her and trying to support them to notice.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“I don’t know. I seriously don’t know.”

Justin took another drink. “That sucks.”

“Yeah. Thanks for listening to me.”

“Don’t tell anyone about the sun. Okay?”

I smiled. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone how crazy you are.”