Magical Thinking


Though many claim to have the answers, my origins remain largely obscure. Some claim that I had a conscious creator; perhaps a mischievous child or a bored, drunken logger. Others believe that I was created by a dazzling bolt of lightning of divine derivation. Recently, however, I have adopted a far humbler genesis story; I was probably conceived spontaneously from a smouldering heap of compacted soil. Whatever my source, I started life as a tiny spark in a bed of dry grass, deep in the forest.

I was a very curious, energetic, inquisitive youth, tearing through the arid undergrowth in search of…something. Even in those early minutes—as I flickered and struggled to survive against gusts of midnight breeze and staggering, nocturnal humidity—I managed to ask some questions. Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose?

As I pondered these perplexing problems, I danced around the forest floor, living on a meagre sustenance of detritus and shrubs. In a playful, childish haste, I destroyed everything I touched, leaving behind a path of refuse. I did so without any real forethought or feelings of personal responsibility. There was a gigantic forest around me—surely, what little harm I did was negligible when compared to the vast forest, which I still revered. Besides, I was doing what was necessary to survive.

With this justification in mind, I bloomed, now absorbing ferns, saplings and hedges. This stoked my heat so that by the first dawn, my core simmered at a comfortable seven-hundred degrees. It was slow progress, but I was quickly building steam and just getting started. My first faunal kills; an ant colony, a group of moths, a hummingbird chick. I hardly noticed. I was too absorbed with my flow, my heat, my power, my spectacle. I had been giving much thought to my earlier questions, and—in reflection of my new-found confidence—come to some grandiose conclusions:

First, I was master of the forest and of my fate, ruler of all I saw and free to do as I saw fit.

Second, I was the product of the Sun, an omnipotent projection of myself and the ultimate source of all energy; whose heat and benevolence would support me in all that I did.

Third, my sole purpose was to thrive and multiply, growing so that in time, I would become the new Sun.

By chance, I caught a dying tree, which seemed to invite me. In seconds, I climbed up its thirsty, twisted branches; consuming the beautifully crafted towers of interweaving hydrocarbons, which had taken half a millennium to erect. The mammals—opossums, I believe—that had called the tree home for generations, were licked up by my cackling flames, while I grinned brightly from the thrill of the hunt. I engulfed the tree, gluttoning so thoughtlessly, that I failed to notice the tree’s architecture, or the cute ‘possums playing dead during their last moments. My sole focus was expansion, always hungry for more.

I spread, at last, to living trees, evolving and spreading in the name of the Sun, and prosperity. Once one tree was aflame, I moved right onto the next. I grew hotter and bigger, but this only made me more ravenous, as the quantity of fuel I needed to stay alight increased with every passing moment. I soon encountered obstacles: river to the East and South and mountains to the North and West. As the situation became precarious, panic led to violence. Red flame fought against yellow flame which fought against orange in a senseless wrestle for oxygen, kindling and control.

I would not be deterred. I pushed myself to do the impossible, sending embers over the icy mountains and cinders across the great river. They caught, and I didn’t hesitate to expand into these exciting new territories. I combusted explosively, spreading from tree to tree, grove to grove, valley to valley—my ambition and arrogance swelling with every action. Even on those few days that it inevitably rained, I was too hot to be phased by such pitiful resistance.

Surely, my mission of proliferation was backed by divine providence; surely, nothing could stand in my way. I was omnipotent and completely unstoppable. Nothing—no other force of nature—could compete with me now. Trees of the greatest magnitude burned like small matchsticks before my awesome power.

By daybreak of the third day, my fervour surpassed that of the Sun, and my smoke—spread across the sky from horizon to horizon—eclipsed its light. My devastating indraft redirected the course of the winds, and my incessant roaring silenced all other sounds of the wilderness. For a time, the world was mine, but not once was I ever satisfied.

“Why am I not satisfied?” was the most recent question.

Was my purpose not to grow? And had I not grown so great as to eclipse the Sun itself? How was it that in fulfilling my divine purpose, I felt no joy?

I looked to the rivers, so calm and content; to the mountains I had yet to destroy, steadfast and satisfied. Even the Sun, burning endlessly, seemed to share in this clandestine secret of joy. Would I ever find peace? Or was I cursed to be my current self; raging ravenously and restlessly for the remainder of time?

Then I saw a herd of deer; calling out in pain as I surrounded their numbers and washed over them. A team of geese, flying overhead, were blinded and asphyxiated by my smoke and fell into my fiery jaws. A twinge of guilt hit me. Was it right to destroy these beings in my quest for power? Did they not move and breathe, eat and grow as I did? Were they not conscious like myself? Did they not feel the same restless desire for more that I struggled with?

Then I arrived at the heart of the matter: Who is to say that I will go on living forever? Who will advocate that my path of destruction was excusable? Had I not mindlessly killed hundreds of thousands, all of whom had their own quests in life? Would I not one day run out of fuel? Or suffocate myself, as I spew tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere?

No sooner did I ask these questions than the treeline approached, with nothing but a void beyond it. Though I burned brighter than ever, the sight of such a frightening prospect was humbling.

So here I await my fate, burning myself into oblivion, with a conscience far from clear and death beckoning me. It’s hard, in retrospect, to believe that I had any manifest destiny or divine favour. In fact, it is quite possible that I served no purpose at all.

I leave that for you to decide, once I’m gone.

And somehow, there is still a part of me that clings to that age-old, magical fallacy:

That I will go on living forever.


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Magical Thinking

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