Dancing With Fire
by Caroline M. Yoachim
The pond where I grew up was swampy and buzzing with insects. I slept in a bed of stargrass, and Mother whispered lullabies in the gentle current. Mother grew up in the ocean, and she hated our pond. Too many memories of Father lingered beneath the surface, long after drought had stolen him away.
"Why don't we go back to the ocean?" I asked.
"I'm too old," she said. "I don't flow as smoothly anymore, and cloud hopping is for the young. Go play."
There weren't any other water spirits, so I did mud magic with the earthy kids. We made soldiers from dirt and water and green swamp sludge. Every night, the soldiers got soggy and fell apart, ending the war until we remade them the next morning.
I was making mud soldiers the first time I met Seraphina. She was a fire spirit, inquisitive and bold, drawn to our games because she'd never seen mud magic before. She flickered in and out of existence in bursts of orange and indigo. When I invited her to join our game, she danced around the pond. Her flame turned the mud to stone, and the soldiers fought for weeks without getting waterlogged.
When we tired of armies, we made geysers and dragons and steam-powered trains. She asked me how I could breathe beneath the surface of the pond, and I asked her if she continued to exist when she flickered out of existence.
Then one day her parents came and hauled her away, fuming with black smoke. They told her that she was too old to play outside her element.
My cozy childhood pond became stagnant and confining. I longed for open water and strong currents, and I was tired of hiding from Seraphina's parents. Mother told me stories of her childhood in the ocean. She encouraged me to go to the ocean, to find another water spirit and start a family, but I didn't want to leave.
Seraphina came to my pond at night. We talked about magic and far away places and what her parents would do if they found out she was with me. We touched hands in a puff of steam. Her flames cast beautiful reflections on the water, and I told her I loved her.