The Flare

By Rory McAlpine

A flare in the darkness. From nothingness it flares. Charring the night darker. 

The glow seeks out the moth-eaten holes in the curtains and peppers my body with tails of light like those that trail comets. The light spills onto my bed, my face. The light like oil seeping into a grating machine to get it working again, ratcheting open my eyelids. 

I know where it comes from—mossmorran they call it—an ugly grey plant you can spot just across the Firth on a clear day. You cannot miss those twin columns, austere altars to Prometheus. I know the process that labours in its belly. I have read up on it many times—as have all those that live around here. 1. Gases are drawn from the seabed. 2. They are funnelled through a network of underwater pipes. 3. The gases enter the plant where reactions divide them into ethane, propane, butane, and methane. 4. Gases are transported away and used to power the national grid. It’s scientific, well documented, real. And in cases where the noxious vein that winds along the sea floor pumps in too much gas, or waste is left from those reactions, then those are the times we get it: the flare. A gas flame spitting from the chimney high above the ground. 

You cannot miss those twin columns, austere altars to Prometheus.

That is the theory, no, the reality. Yet I find it incomprehensible that the ethereal flame I see could come from this. A thing that glows among the stars, so bright it turns them dim and the moon pallid by comparison. I cannot link it with the inner workings of that facility. To me they are distinct. Such a mundane process could not possibly explain the flame, a thing which needs no explanation (or one I preferred to not have one). 

As the light claws itself across my room, I float from my bed, out onto the balcony, sure I would ascend into the sky if the railings weren’t there to catch me. The flare burns above me and before me, twisting and billowing against the night sky. The darkness shrouds the plant beneath it; out of sight (I choose not to peer too closely). As I watch it, flames burst over the coals of my pupils, one in each eye. I felt like it is just for me, the light seeking out only me. I am transfixed, bundling down the stairs, barefoot, running across the dunes, door ajar. Running across needles morphs into running across sand. I fold myself into the water. Once I’m in it, I’m waist deep. It’s so cold. But it cannot get rid of the image suddenly seared into my brain as if by cattle prod.  

The flame: like a helium balloon held by some string that would if cut: 


Up. And set the heavens on fire.  

Eels of light swim around me cast down from the flare, as I kneel contorted in some interpretation of a prayer. I suddenly taste the pollution in my mouth, charred by the flame but still whole. It banishes my trance, my appreciation for the flame collapsing around me like a film set. A fiction. A mirage.

…my appreciation for the flame collapsing around me like a film set. A fiction. A mirage.

The flame grows and stretches, “Who feeds you?” the words tear at my throat, but I know a mirror would tell me that. I had chosen not to see the flame for what it was. None of us had seen it for its truth, or we had chosen not to. Gutting the body of the Earth and sowing her land and sea with poison. I was alone. At a candle-lit vigil, my candle dwarfing me and floating far away. A vigil for the dying, for the dead:

In memoriam

The Earth.

(we chose not to see)

We lit the flame. The sea swelling around us, the accumulation of salty tears. The flare was no longer beautiful: it was greedy. It had taken from the earth, the coal, the oil, the gas and now it was reaching, unsatisfied, to take from the heavens too. Everything. 

For those that play with fire are bound to get burned. 

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