Wicker Series: Mississippi House, BY MONTANA WILSON

You run.

Your feet hit coarse sand as you sprint, lungs ablaze, your friend racing next to you. He is fast, and you’re faster, but your shadows are winning, coasting along a string of shallow water. The beach is a special place at night. The shore was blazed for you, you alone, and silver moonlight stripes the sea.

You exhale as you stop, as you win.

Your friend, he claps your back and rejoins the others, but you find your shadow and say hello. It greets you with familiarity. Not enough people take time to mingle with shadows, let alone their own, because they fear the realm where only blacked-out silhouettes exist. Perhaps they’re justified in their fear—shadows seem to be of another world, one where physics has its own ideas of even the most indisputable of laws and rules.

You observe.

People are here with you, friends and friends of friends, but they’re all the same in shadow. Laughter floats up, sparks, and settles down, embers, in waves. You’ve always thought bonfires on the beach are strange and poetic—the ocean swells feet away, yet people build flames. There’s intentionality involved in that, and hubris, too, but control is a drug. Everyone delights in it. Your friends throw powder into the fire; it causes the fire to burn blue, pink, green, purple, white, causes it to flash brightness against the inky night. They laugh. You do too, but you want more. You want more colors, want to know the in-betweens of the spectrum, want to answer an impossible question.

What happens when fire burns black?

A black flame, even one chemical-born, would only be a shadow. Would it be hot? Would it burn and cause blisters? Would it exist if you couldn’t see it? Fire burns with color, but this flame would burn with nothingness. It would bend reality’s rules, it would be an exception and a defiance and a creature across worlds.

You wonder how its shadow would appear—an orange flame has a liquid shadow, mere suggestions of shapes rendered in distorted brushstrokes. It would have to have a shadow, because everything does. People like to forget that. Only artists seem to acknowledge that another realm lives in tandem with our own; only they seem to care enough to learn the anatomy of shadows—their movement, their formation, how even if one is not fully present, you recognize a shadowed gaze. They’ve earned a terrible reputation, too, of things of nightmares, but you know a shadow is not to be feared. Beautiful things can blossom in darkness; terror can take over in the purest sunlight.

You know that.

Do the others?

Do they know they’re seeing reality and unreality tangled together? They don’t seem to, with their laughter and drinks and races, but that’s okay. You know it enough for everyone; you watch as two people sit together, as they talk in low voices, as their shadows brush together on the ground, as they lean closer to the fire. You grin, happy just to be there, to watch.

The black flame burns in the sand alongside its orange twin. •