The Firebird


That “trick-cyclist” I saw when I first booked in here three months ago was rubbish! Always rolling his tongue around expressions like “obsessional neurosis” and “frustrational trauma” just to give well-shaved jaws some exercise.

Of course, I’ve got my collection of porn mags and an interesting assortment of anatomical prints which our Doctor Freud certainly wouldn’t approve of – but who hasn’t got his own daydreams?

The fact is, I have always been a bit of a lone wolf, always preferring a good book by the fire to bingo or the cinema. Ethel, my wife, used to nag me about it. “Why,” she would whine, can’t you take me to the pictures sometimes. They’re showing ‘The Woman Without’ at the Pantechnicon.”

Without what? It sounded promising but my natural apathy got the better of me and I only smiled and joked, “Go yourself my dear. You may meet some nice young man there.”

Some hopes! Pictures! If only she knew! I had other ways of spending my time when she was out.

As soon as the door closed behind her, I settled in my armchair before the glowing fire in my study – a proper coal fire, none of your gas or electricity for me. The house was quiet, my study in semi-darkness, no light except that from the coals.

Soon, with the quiet and warmth I began to feel distinctly drowsy. My surroundings were becoming ever more faint and shadowy, whilst the conscious part of me seemed being drawn into the landscape I saw in the heart of the fire.

Yes, here I was right in it, and a strange scene presented itself. Through canyons which glowed orange a rocky road wound upwards towards a huge building, the incandescent towers of which I could see in the distance, while on either side I was surrounded by streams, hills, and valleys all of the most incendiary nature. Strangely, I was not conscious of any discomfort, only of comfortable warmth which enabled me to keep on my way along the upward road.

Turning the corner of the bend of the road, I came in the site of the massive castle whose towers I had glimpsed before. It looked fiery and forbidding and I was about to take another route when I heard a faint cry, an unmistakably feminine sound coming from the topmost tower.

“Save me, save me!”

With trepidation I mounted a massive steps, pushed the big door which swung silently open, and prepared to enter, but before I could do so the sea of orange flame around me began to fade, the air became cold and at the same moment I found myself back in my study, stiff and cold, in front of the dead fire.

Ethel just then came in from her everlasting bingo and nagged me for letting the fire out, but I was only half-listening to her, my mind on my strange experience.

Had I dreamt it or not? If it happened again I would be bolder and quicker and nip inside to rescue my dream girl. I had, as you can see, already made up my mind that the voice was that of a beautiful lady, destined to be rescued by me and to be the one love of my life.

Hardly a fortnight later, Ethel announced she was off to bingo again. And I sank hopefully into my chair before the fire and soon, O joy, was being drawn into the fiery vista once more, my steps determinedly on the upward road.

Sure enough, I heard the girl’s voice again.

“Help, save me.”

So this time I absolutely bolted, between luminescent rocks, up the road to the castle where a beautiful maiden with hair like flame, and her arms like soft coils of white smoke leaned from a high window.

“Chuck us a rope down,” I called, “I’m coming up.”

She disappeared for an instant, then returned with a silken cord which she threw over the window ledge.

“With you in two shakes,” I shouted and, seizing the rope, began to clamber up.

As I climbed, she told me her troubles. Seemed some giant who fancied her had locked her up whilst he went out laying waste. And he was coming back too!

Up to and up I went, hand over hand. I was amazed how strong I was. “My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure.”

Perhaps that is why, when I was within a yard of the window, my grasp slipped and I fell to the ground with a shattering crash. Once more I awoke to find myself in the study with Ethel savagely heaving coke on a dying fire. She nagged me so much that time I resolved if ever I was again lucky enough to return to my incendiary bolt-hole I would stay there.

Weeks went by. Ethel threatened to have a gas fire installed but luckily her plans came to nothing and I was left in peace. Then came the week before Christmas. Bethel, with pious regard for religious observance, went off to her church bazaar instead of her usual bingo, warning me she might be back in early.

I nodded smugly and went to the study, put some call on the fire which had been lighted – they should be no mistake this time – and prepared to enter my erstwhile kingdom. Soon I was on the familiar road, rounding its bend, entering the castle, storming the tower room.

At last I was face to face with my beloved.

“Follow me,” I gasped, grabbing her by the end, and together we ran down the glowing incline towards the exit the bottom.

Down we went, down, down, until to my alarm I caught sight of a bulky black figure waving her arms threateningly at the foot the hill.

Ethel! She had somehow found a way in. It was monstrous. Such a thing was not to be borne.

Rushing passed her with my love, I shoved her off balance and saw her go over into the furnace of a fiery ravine like a sack of Kitchen Brights, whilst I with a firm grip on the arm of my delectable consort hastened on down

But hell! What was happening? Once more the light was dimming as I searched desperately for a way of escape, concerned only to get back home with my gorgeous firebird.

But it was not to be. For a moment I couldn’t make out what was happening. Then I heard the strident clamor of a fire bell and found myself once more back home in a smoke-filled study.

Firemen burst in and bundled me outside. Ethel, they told me gently, had just perished in the fire which, most considerately from my point of view, had destroyed the upper part of the house first.

Well, I have been thinking a great deal about it all, wondering whether I really finished Ethel off, and where my firebird got to.

Everyone seems to think the fire has given my system a serious shock, and perhaps that is why they insist on my having my own special nurse here until I am well again.

It’s strange, but she reminds me strongly of some one I once knew. She’s beautiful with smoky black eyes, a luminous skin and red hair. She herself insists it’s chestnut, actually it’s as red as fire.



short story collections in our bookshop