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On the coldest of nights, where dew frost and frigid winds created an iced glaze blanket atop all solid surfaces, a single blast emerged. Another followed, then another, and two more in quick succession. Two chert rocks collided, forced to attack each other like beasts with horns, both within the grasp of dirty, calloused fingers.

They did not seek to determine the greater of the two, or which was more durable and substantial in mass. Instead, they worked together, friction upon friction, generating a spark of energy.

“What’s all this?” chert on the right asked.

“We’re a fine-grained, sedimentary rock composed of cryptocrystalline quartz,” replied chert on the left. When our craggy nodules—”

“No, no,” chert on the right said. “I understand our geological principles. What I mean is, what is that bright burst? That thing that explodes every time we collide?”

“Beats me.”

“I am beating you, and I still don’t know.”

“You’re not beating me at anything,” left said. “Notice how I’m the rock striking against you? Man is holding you still, and I’m creating the friction necessary. Now be quiet so Man can concentrate. You’ll distract him.”

Right scoffed and said, “Oh, look who suddenly feels a wave of self-importance? If it weren’t for me, you’d be waving through the air in silence like the nasty droppings of one of those flying, flappy things splattering hither and yon. I’m the foundation of this energetic experiment. That’s why I’m still. And by the way, genius, it’s not Man. It’s WoMan. That’s a female member of their species.”

“How can you tell?” left asked.

“Listen to her,” right said between several blows to its craggy face. “The males grunt more. She’s silent. Focusing her attention on the task and not on how difficult the task is. Oooh, look. It seems we have a development.”

With the twelfth percussive crack of rock on rock, a burst of heat and energy cascaded from the rough surfaces down onto a pile of dried grass and dead leaves.

The energy immediately ignited a new life, expanding its reach beyond the microburst as the dead flora fueled a deep yellow and orange glow. WoMan lowered the two rocks on each side of her and added more spindly twigs and crunchy grass to the growing energy source.

“What’s that?” chert right asked from its new location on the left.

“Never seen it before,” chert left said from the right.

“This is very new,” the orange glow said. “To be, or not to be? I guess I choose ‘be.'”

“Hello?” chert right said. “Hi. Good evening. We’re chert rocks, your parents. We brought you to this cold icy plane. So glad you’re here.”

“You can’t be my parents,” the flickering orange heat source said. “I don’t look a thing like you.”

“Would you look at that?” chert right said. “First moment alive, and he’s got a mouth on him.”

“Don’t talk back to us,” chert left said. “We’re rocks. We’re the oldest, most durable thing around. You best treat us with respect.”

“Sorry,” the flickering orange heat source said. “Apologies. I’ve only been alive for a few moments and… Wow. Is all that coming from me?”

Flickering orange heat source grew by the second.

Its undulating heat touched new material and expanded its reach.

“Seems that way,” left said.

“We’ve never been able to view much when the sky isn’t bright,” chert right added. “Sometimes the round white rock up in the darkness sheds light, but that’s not you, is it? You resemble the hot yellow thing surrounded by brightness. Are you friends with the yellow hot thing?”

“Like I said,” the flickering orange heat source answered, “I got here seconds ago, and I’m learning on the fly. Please tell me, since you two seem to have been here a while, all this stringy crunchy stuff added to me, how’s it doing?”

“What do you mean ‘How’s it doing?’” chert left asked. “It’s not saying much other than ‘crackle crackle.’”

“What I mean is, it starts in a crunchy state, and once I touch it, I grow bigger, and it seems to disappear. Is it supposed to do that?”

“Not sure,” chert right said. “We’re rocks, not tour guides.”

“Would you please be nicer to our new friend?” chert left admonished. “He’s expressing concern about the grass’s well-being.”

“Not ‘he,'” flickering orange said.

“Sorry. SHE seems concerned—”

“No,” flickering orange said. “Not he or she. Me.”

“Not he or she?” chert left asked.

“Whatever,” chert right said. “Don’t worry about the grass. It doesn’t have a well-being when it’s this cold. It’s dead.”

“Dead?” Flickering orange heat source gasped. “Did I kill it? I hope I’m not responsible for its demise. Oh dear, WoMan’s adding more.”

WoMan smiled as a glowing warmth emanated from flickering orange heat source.

She dropped more dead grass on top and then touched the end of a larger stick to it, watching flickering orange spread.

“Don’t you worry about that,” chert right said. “It grows and dies and grows and dies, over and over. Doesn’t like the cold much. In fact, you seem to be solving the cold problem. You’re quite warm, and look how much you’ve grown in a few short moments. I’m so proud of you.”

Flickering orange heat source flourished with life as it consumed the dead resources added to it.

Except flickering orange filled with concern and regret, and not comfort.

“I’m not so sure about this, cherts,” flickering orange said. Its voice quavered as its reach and power expanded further and further.

“How can you be so glib about grass?” left chert said. “You treat the birth and death experience like a casual happenstance.”

“There’s nothing casual about the life cycle of the plants around us. How dare you accuse me of—”

WoMan touched her finger to the flickering orange heat source and howled in pain.

“It’s not an accusation if the truth presents itself.”

“You wasted no time passing judgment on the slithering tongue-flicker yesterday.”

“Oh no. I can’t stop spreading the heat source. WoMan doesn’t know how to prevent further damage. Do either of you rocks know how to remove the oxygen from the air?”

“The slithering tongue-flicker is a dangerous and untrustworthy being. Did you see its eyes? Pure evil if you ask me.”

“What possible threat could the tongue-flicker pose to you? It doesn’t consume rocks. It eats small scurrying furries, and hopping slimers, and even the wing-flapping, turd-dropping things if it catches one. Honest to Erda, in three billion years, have you seen a quadruped eat a rock?”

Flickering orange heat source had now spread far beyond the confines of the original pile of leaves and grass. It grew at an exponential rate, spreading to a nearby bush, an open patch of petrified, dead grass, and the fur of the cloak wrapped around WoMan’s torso. She flailed around, swatting at the quickly spreading flickering orange as it furthered its reach while the two chert rocks argued about semantics and the value of life. Flickering orange heat source bemoaned its existence, regretting sparking to life as every square inch of the wooded pasture was consumed and destroyed by the growing and ceremonious first use of flame.

Jay Heltzer

Jay Heltzer writes attention-challenged fiction, plays bass trombone, digs sloppy fountain pen sketches, and is in pursuit of the perfect cheeseburger.

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