The Fire Strome Festival

A letter from the Firestorm Archive sub. cat. Hackers, Makers, Shakers.

For the attention of Aten NB – Jess.

I shall start with the blazing tower, it loomed over us with its metal carcass exposed and in some places melting. It looked super sci-fi and alive. It was a sculpture and it was beautiful. Kali and me were there for the flames, we loved combustion, felt drawn to it, always had done, both of us and our kids were the same.

It was supposed to be a fun thing, family time being spent at a festival, We’d failed to get exhibitor passes and had had to buy our own tickets and book time off of work but it was, we thought, worth it. Of course what we really really wanted was to be at The Burning Man Festival in the US but that was a no go due to border control. Hell, we were lucky they hadn’t looked the counties down at that point.

With the exception of Scotland the UK was still open for travel, or at least the mainland was. Too much brain drain, terrorism and people from other countries – or that’s what we were told.

What ever it all was, we got to go to the festival. It was set in an industrial estate, the squat buildings with large metal fronts that could run up on rails to make it a square cave and forecourt. Workshops and storage and grease and dust and bunting made from old drinks cans, the sort that aren’t made anymore as the aluminium is too expensive.

Kali held my hand, the baby strapped to him as we left the car park and followed the bunting. Kusha, our 8 yr old stopped to dig up a red metal flower – I took it carefully from her and held it up to the smog light (it was a bit too early in the morning for us so it hadn’t burnt off yet).

“It’s a tap!” I told her. She didn’t believe me, but pocketed it anyway. Ced was gripping my hand tightly, at 5 years old he was far clinger than his sister and not handling the new baby well. He’d also inherited Kali’s darker complexion, making school… difficult.

There was a welded-from-junk dragon at the entrance, its cog and wheel body stretching out lizard-thin in an arch. Kusha instantly tried to climb it and gave us the ‘oops sorry’ guilty look when I barked at her. She’s a little wild thing in many ways.

Once within, the day was consumed with gazing upon metal being melted and animatronic creatures that moved and breathed fire. Some of it was attached to little trucks and buggies and forklifts and other vehicles – all of which had been cunningly disguised to be part of the fire breathing creations they carried on their backs.

I snapped photo after photo with my eye tap, and streamed video to my father back home in Brum (the emphasima was too bad, he couldn’t have taken the smog let alone the fumes from the exhibits). He kept pinging me with requests of stuff to see.

The kids found the pet-chem tent and started making things burn different colours and got to play with the fire fighters’ simulation. I took cute photos of them all wearing the fire helmets including little Cloe who was pretty much sleeping through the whole thing.

I was glad we’d had our family early, there had been rumours that quotas would soon be set and that people like us would already have reached the limit of what we were allowed. And though Kali didn’t know yet, I was pretty sure something had gone wrong and that another was growing within. He was so stressed I didn’t want to add to it right now.

Around 11, the smog began to burn off properly and the full metallic majesty of the festival site came into view. There was a fire maze and, to Kusha’s delight, a climbing frame made from scaffolding. Kali got us churros for breakfast at the same time as I lay out our fluffed blanket on the oil darkened dust ready for lunch – it was picnic time!

We ate the churros first as they were warm and sweet and the chocolate synth was thick and smooth. We’d picked a good spot for the picnic as it was in front of the stage where bands would be performing. By the end of the churros, there was the sound of guitars and angle grinders and sparks and jets of flame, we all knew the big stuff would happen after dark! But for now there was music and entertainment and food – lots of food.

The picnic was expansive and we took several hours over it whilst watching the stage. A man with shocked up red hair approached us to try and sell transfer tats, I shook my head and no amount of whiny pleases and big eyes from both of the older ones was going to change my mind. I’d seen the results of some of the transfers, make up hadn’t been safe for about 5 years as contraband chemicals were cheap.

Even food was dicy, I tried to ignore that, though, as we had to eat – we didn’t have to decorate our bodies.

To my surprise the man seemed angry, not just put out but furious with me. Kali told him to bog off and we continued to watch the stage shows, but it broke it slightly for us. I felt alarmed by his reaction and we packed up the picnic and decided we’d have it and some hot chips for dinner. The kids were excited about this as they love putting salt and too much vinegar on the things.

We could smell all the delish food from stalls and things around us as we ventured deeper into the estate. Food vendors were there with a multitude of foods, seasoned with spices that I knew no longer existed thanks to the fungal diseases and bad farm practices. Sometimes it was a curse knowing these things – it meant the food was synth, not a bad thing as of itself, but not two years ago there was a horrible horrible thing that still makes me cry when I think on it – tainted food.

They said it was a synth factory that just got it wrong and that sounds about right to me – but thousands died and we were so lucky, so so lucky. It got into the hospitals, and old peoples home and the kids homes – it’s the last one that knots my stomach, but it’s my dad who nearly copped it and it was only his stubbornness and refusal to eat anything processed that saved him.

Any of us could have been in there – a lot of the hospital wings never re-opened, I’ve even heard rumours from friends that they never cleared the bodies away – just sealed the buildings off. It’s enough to make you gag.

The man’s comments seemed to follow us and though most of the festival goers seemed friendly and just into their pyrotechnics here and there there were others. People who kind of didn’t quite seem to fit with the scene.

They looked ill at ease in the grungy or way out costumes they sported, but not in the way of geeks who do not inhabit their bodies entirely. They also seemed tense, to be on the look out, scanning around looking for the trouble.

“I think they must be security or police,” Kali said and that seemed about right to me. I tried to ignore them. A woman with red turn table eyes smiled at me and offered cups of fudge, she took Bristols and bits but not Brits as currency. I declined and she gave me a thin lipped smile but recovered herself and gave the kids stickers which I allowed to be stuck on their clothing.

The kids then found a giant engine to explore and we staked our camp site inside one of the empty units. We set the picnic blanket up again and waited for Kusha and Kali to cart our bedding and stuff from the car.

We laid out foam plastic tiles that had once been a toy for toddlers and had been far far too big for our flat and threw the pop up tent in to the air where it flipped into shape. It was big enough for Kali and kids and I hoped I wouldn’t need to sleep in there.

Sleeping bags all set out, we assessed the food supplies and boiled up soup on a camp stove which we popped in thermoses and headed back out for the festival. We lurked around the large sculptures in the middle, the centre of which was a huge tower of junk made from a lorry and washing machine and many other things besides.

It stretched up and up, above most of the squat workshops and garages that surrounded us. And the whole thing was painted in sparkly metallic colours that seemed 3D and somehow alive.

“It’s like an oil puddle rainbow!” Ced squeaked and I smiled – it was and it was beautiful.

My heart dropped when I heard a woman shout, “no no honey don’t climb on there, come down!”

Kusha was gone, as I darted around to the other side of the structure I knew what I would see. My 8 year old with snake plates and patched trousers she’d made out of odds and ends was grinning and waving at the gathering crowd – she was about two stories off the ground and making no attempt to climb down.

“Kusha get down here!” I shouted but she gave me a cheeky grin and climbed higher.

“I’m just going to see what’s making the EL-wire work mum!”

“Get down here now!” I screamed, Kali appeared and did his still quiet thing then started to unclip the baby but before he could pass her to me and attempt a rescue the blonde woman with stupidly long nails next to me called out.

“I have a mock up circuit and the schematics down here! If you come down you can have a play!” My child froze mid climb and looked down.

“Really? Is this yours then?” she asked. The woman nodded and Kusha started climbing down with an “ok” and decisive nod.

I held my breath until she was on the floor again but before I could steam roller her for bad behaviour the blonde woman took her hand and gestured for us all to follow. We were led into one of the units, it was neat and very clean for a work shop. There were butterflies etched into the tools, mostly hydraulic, and a car I could not resist.

It was beautiful, a lovely lovely thing, all elegant curves and shimmer. The paint work alone must be worth a fortune.

“Ah, I see you like Solarice, she’s a good car she is.” the woman smiled and I noted that her outfit and make up matched the car.

“This is your car?” I breathed.

“I’ll take you for a spin if we can get to the track before the fire dragsters!” I grinned, I couldn’t help it! I may even have done the little happy skip dance.

I was planning on watching the race and then us heading back to watch the fire show, there would be fire poi and fire works and of course the BLAZE TRAIL where all the sculptures would burn. I glanced at the tower again, it was a strangely beautiful thing to burn.

“What’s your sculpture called?” I asked.

“Oh, The Tower, it represents our technological advancement and the narrow base on which we build. It’s…. ah here it is!” and she was holding a flimsy. Rolling out the electronic paper she made it glow with the schematics. “Do you need me to show you how to navigate?” she asked Kusha; the girl shook her head and grinned gap-toothed, and I wondered at how she got away with so much stuff with strangers.

“Cute little engineer you’ve got there! She got a school place?”

Kali went tense, “for now.” He said.

She nodded, and changed the subject, showing she was more perceptive than I normally am. “About that car ride!” she said grinning.

I kissed Kali and followed her out. To say the ride was amazing would be an understatement – she had built the car herself, cars were her passion, metal work her pastime, nails and clothes her hobby. I forgot to ask what her job was.

We were half way through the drag race with flames jetting before I found out her name, Ced of course asked it.

“Amelia.” She laughed and ruffled his hair.

I could spend hours describing the cars as they raced or the set of her jaw, the show of acrobats with fire crowns and lazer hola hoops but I don’t think much of that really matters. At some point whilst we watched the flames leap and dance around a half naked man, the turn table woman appeared and smiled at me, her eyes were dark pits.

“Glee!” Amelia cried and began introductions. I smiled shyly and felt unsettled, she was friendly and attractive, definitely attractive and unlike the others I’d seen, she seemed to fit her clothing, she was not pretending but something still was not quite right.

But I soon forgot such worries when it came time to blast the BLAZE TRAIL. I love fire, I do not think I can explain to you just how much I want the heat and the lick of the flame, how the flicker mesmerises and how explosions seem to come from deep down in my soul. Ced and the babe had ear protectors, Kusha was transfixed – we all were watching the flames spit sparks into the sky and crescendo down in a fire fall, flowers bloomed of flame and consumed and it was breath taking.

The tower was a beacon in the middle of it, the flame traced pattens around the structure, I’d never seen such precision and then the little explosions setting of chain reactions that ghosted each other up and up until until the fire itself seemed to sing in the crack and crackle and pops and hisses and jetted itself into the sky.

We stood a long time in it’s dying light, feeling content. Kusha produced marshmallows from her ruck sack and we shared them with those who remained.

“How the hell did you do that!?” I asked feeling warm and wondering if I was flame scorched or not.

“Ah, it’s a secret!” she laughed and winked.

Ced had a melt down from tiredness at this point, Kali kissed me and took the kids off to sleep.

I switched the eyetap to record instead of live stream. Someone appeared with drums, someone else with guitar and the beats started up and we swayed. “Are we going to dance or just kind of swing from side to side?” she asked and I blushed. She grabbed my hand and dragged me into the pulsing rush of the music. Glee swung her straight black hair and I had a moment’s fear it would catch and then forgot it as I danced in the dying flame light.

I awoke nestled in Solarice between them and I smiled, it had been a very good night in the end.

We hunted out breakfast items amongst their workshop supplies and talk once more turned to fire and schooling. “You daughter needs to get at least an apprenticeship – you know that, right?”

I nodded and shrugged, “It depends what there is, we are barely coping with school fees.” In fact we weren’t coping with the fees at all and were having to send the kids in on a monthly basis – the longer months were just that little bit too expensive. Kusha was keeping up, no problem, but it was making Cedric’s bullying worse and he was retreating within; I couldn’t home school, I needed to work and my dad was really far too sick. It was a horrible knotted mess.

“I suppose you earn too much for the assisted places?” I nodded and shrugged once again, the panic and fear – what the hell would we do if I was right and number four was growing? I didn’t want to snuff that life out…

I tried to smile – it kind of failed.

“You know I reckon we could find her a place here in a few years, can’t we, Glee?”

Glee’s eyes slide away from mine; there was a moment of fear and pain there. I felt a slick coldness in my gut, Amelia looked at the other woman and frowned.

“I need to get to work,” Glee mumbled and left us, it was brief and abrupt, she hesitated in the door, not quite looking at Amelia and then she was gone.

“That wasn’t right.” Amelia said softly. Then she seemed to remember I was there and smiled, “want to come and see how the fire worked?”

“Yeah!” I said feeling shy and a bit juvenile about my reaction. But by this point she was on her feet and offering me her hand.

“It’s actually a three part reaction, I am very proud of it! I think it will make the mining and construction industries a lot safer and may help with stuff like earthquake zone building design. Once the system is set up there are no moving parts!”

I thought back on the previous night and the sound of the fire as it zipped around making the pictures. I smiled and did that annoying half nod to myself, “it’s sound activated!”

“Compression waves,” she said grinning. “Here!” she threw a flimsy at me. “WarningL you can’t steal it as it’s already off at the patent office etc… and that’s only if you can understand the chem!”

“You’re a chemist then?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s funny this came about because I naughtily bought my work home – basically I was making disinfectant, a new class of the stuff and I spilt it in here with all the paint and stuff – saw the resulting reactions and BAMB! Literaly!!!!” Her laugh was infectious as we stood together, she slid her fingers into my hair, and that was when we heard it, the slick of sound and deep rumble of boom, screaming followed.

Running to the door she swore, I skidded up behind her. The man with the red shock of hair was rolling a barrel out, “No no no!!! They have the fectant!”

She turned to me and gripped my upper arm so hard her nails cut into me, “get your kids out of here! There’s enough stuff there… just get out!!!” She shoved me and I started running, I wasn’t thinking, I didn’t stop – I sometimes think of what could have been if I’d grabbed her instead of letting her go out there to face them. Then I think on what was the likely outcome if I’d done that and I feel sick. Kali pinged me as I slid around the corner, almost colliding with him.

“We must get out,” I panted.

“I’ve not finished packing.” He said, then another scream cut the air and his eyes darted back to mine, his jaw set he nodded, I scooped Ced up, only then realising I still had the flimsy, I tucked it into my pocket. And only shouted at Kusha once for wondering off. But the car park was in pandemonium, there was panic, more of the strange guard type people from the previous day seemed to be detaining people.

Kali was seriously worried now, I could tell by the tension in his body. But he squared his shoulders and giving me the look which meant play along he strode up to the nearest of these check points.

“What is going on?”

It was his I AM IN CHARGE voice. Normally it just made me giggle but I knew he relied on it at work.

“Erm… there has been an incident so suspects are being taken out of the queue.” There was a scream as someone was pulled to the side.

Kali gestured to the baby and started on about milk supplies and then about Ced being epileptic, he’s not so this was dicy, either of the older kids could correct us and then it would be game over. I didn’t know if Kali had guessed but from what I’d seen they were there to steal the fire toy Amelia had made and we had spent all evening with her – we were in danger.

The man seemed to panic under Kali’s barrage and waved us through, we were in the car and trundling slowly out of the car park when I saw her, red and black turn table eyes and a gun. My heart seemed to move into my head, thudding so loud I couldn’t hear. Kali stopped and she pulled me out of the car. He made the right decision in not locking her out.

“Where is it!” I looked into her pits for eyes, the illusion is always lost close up. The whites of her eyes showed round the edges and they were red – sore. Later I realised it had been from weeping.

“W… What?” I stuttered but she was already pulling it from my waist band.

“Did you read it?” she whispered.

“No… there was a scream and..” She sighed and kissed my cheek.

“Go NOW! Do not look back and do not speak to anyone, deny you were here!”


“Go! I’ve lost one lover today…”

And I was on auto pilot, getting in the car. Kali drove slowly out of the grounds and the next few roads – just making sure that all the guard type people were gone and then we sped, for the first time ever Kali speeded. We still felt the bang several hours later.

There was drivel on the news about the festival getting out of hand. I sat cold for a long time holding my eye tap, why hadn’t any of them taken it?

It was old – did they think I was just retro looking? I didn’t know and I’d let Glee take the flimsy, handed them the recipe book. Things were about to get real bad, I could tell.

Then the reports, friends of ours that went and got out of the festival – they were dying in bizarre ways. We burnt the clothes we took, fearing some sort of plant and sold the car – no one tracked car owner ship properly anymore. But it was a waiting game.

No one came and we thought about the insistence of the tattoo vendor and food that had been pushed at us and we both knew that was were the trackers had been.

We carefully explained to my dad that his vids of the event could not go out on the net, we were unsure whether we needed to delete them – we weren’t sure we could do a thorough enough job on that ourselves anyway. Everything leaves a trace.

Then Kusha bought it to me… the schematic flimsy, “Mummy, I don’t understand these bits.”

And that was when we realise what we had – a second copy of Amelia’s work, but what to do with it?

Dad mentioned you guys and, well, the rest you know.

Posted: Thursday, August 13th, 2015 @ 5:28 pm
Categories: Flash Fiction, The Punks World.
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