The Night Caught Fire: Chapter 3

Chapter 3

“My, how you step!” I head a voice near me cry out.  “It’s enough to call a rhinoceros!”

“Excuse me,” I said to the nothing all around me….  But wait.  It was not nothing.  And as my eyes grew more accustomed to the tinyness of that world, my cones and rods captured colors and wonders previously unseen.

A great blade of grass canopied my vision; its green glow faded into a soft, cool blue.  And behind it, a sprits of spring as water gurgled and pooled beneath rocky falls.  A mist rose from the churning and sweetly salted the scene in a pristine glow of crystal and water.  And the sound of the falls echoed and danced around that terrestrial tundra, creating a symphony of auditory splendor.

So you’ll forgive me (just this once) when I didn’t first hear my newfound friend’s reply…

“Excuse me?  ‘Excuse me,’ it says.  Bah!”  And he looked up at me with squinted eyes and a squinted nose.  And all the while I was still soaking up the wonder of the falls.

“It says, ‘Excuse me,’ as if excuses are freely given.  Bah!”  But this time, however, I heard my little friend.

“Not freely given, I’m sure,” I began, hoping to charm him to a better mood.  He made no reply but that of his first squinting, and I took a moment to peruse his person.

He was an odd character, to be sure; of that there was no doubt.  Short – much shorter than I (even in my diminished stature), with a hunch in his back that frowned his face.  Both his arms and legs had a bow in them as if he’d been riding a horse with his stomach to the saddle while gripping tightly beneath the stirrups.  His little feet were not so little (compared to his frame), and stuck out much further than was couth.  But it wasn’t necessarily his feet… but his toes – his long, stretched toes.  Each almost reaching the length of its namesake’s finger, yet twice as thick.  Must do his fair share of climbing, I told myself, and then went back to my examination.

His skin had a tint of green to it.   Not a bright, not a vibrant green – but a dull glow of a green.  Like soup that had sat out too long.  His hair was a starfish mat of pale yellow, and sat most unceremoniously on the crown of his wide, oblong head.  And his nose – his still squinting nose – was hooked like a talon, and just as sharp.  And draped over his seemingly wretched frame was something like a brown sackcloth – all stained and tarried.

“Bah!  Rhinoceros!” he said, and troddled off.

Now, mind you, there was nothing told or implied either one way or another to assume his gender.  Nothing specifically led me to the conclusion of classifying him as a member of the male species.  The assumption, however, came from the fact that he simply could not have been female.  And this, I had decided early on.

“Wait, my friend!” I said excitedly, placing my hand on my hat in an attempt to catch his pace.

“Friend?  ‘Friend,’ it says?  Bah!  To befriend a rhinoceros is to get one’s toes trampled on.  No friend here.  Bah!”  And he scampered a little further.

“Wait!” I said.  How he does move quickly, I added to myself.  “Wait!  What shall I call you then?”

“Call me?  Call me?” he said, as he turned his scowling face up to greet mine.  “It wants to call me something, does it?  Well, Rhinoceros!  Call me what you like.  Bah!”  And with that, he turned once more, and was out of sight.

I stood dumbfounded at his disappearance – hand on hat; the other clenching closed my coat – and stared wide-eyed and wider-mouthed.  No amount of nothing would not the knowing of his departure.  Of that I was sure.

Perhaps he fell down a hole, I thought to myself, but quickly shelved the thought, for I could see no holes (or divots or dips) anywhere along that colorful, yet muted canvas.  Just as well, I told myself.  Not that he would feel obliged to give me any answers.  So I closed shut my mouth, dimmed the shades of my eyes, and walked undeterred into the lush landscape that now awaited me.


“My, how you go on!” I heard a voice over my left shoulder say.  “It’s enough to make one giddy!”

“I beg your pardon?” I said.  And as I did – spinning like a top all done up the wrong way – I cranked my neck in a vain attempt to see this newly found disembodied voice.

“No good that,” it said, and smacked its lips.  “No… there’s no good in that.”

“And no need to beg either,” it continued, once I had successfully stopped spinning like an inverted top.  “Not for pardons or any other thing.  Nope.  No begging required.”  And again, it smacked its lips thrice as if to put punctuation on the statement.

“It’s an expression,” I said, this time trying to peer over my right shoulder (in hopes of catching it in my vision).  “It’s something one says when…” and just here, I couldn’t for the life of me think of why anyone would say such a thing.  “Bother!” I said with a forceful puff of air (yet half under my breath).

“None of that, if you please,” the little voice said.  “Or you might just bother me right off your shoulder!”

“There, that’s better,” it said once I slowed my breathing.  “Now, shall we off for tea?”

I could think of nothing to say but “yes, thank you,” and together we trotted forward toward tea and toast and trifles.


“I’ll thank you not to stare,” my newfound friend said once we were sweetly seated.

We were in a cramped hovel of a room, and the exposed roots that crafted the roof led me to the unmistakable assumption that we were indeed underneath a mighty tree.  Though, how we had arrived there was still a mystery to me.  I remembered nothing of the trip – not since I thanked my host for the previous invitation to tea – yet I knew we simply must have traveled.  For there was nothing jarring or unnerving about sitting down at this set table.  Nothing in the slightest.

And yet… it was set.  “Almost on purpose,” I mumbled to myself – my gaze downcast on the tea set before my person.

“And I’ll thank you not to mumble,” my host remarked as he jellied his toast.

He, I said to myself.  Is that a ‘he?’  It most certainly was something – no one could deny that – but when and whence did I categorize this creature?  I rubbed my eyes, just now realizing that I could indeed see him (so unlike our previous encounter), and opened them as wide as my dark surroundings would allow.

At first, I marveled at my inability to see this creature previously.  For he was not unlike the long toed being from before.  Same face, same hunch, same color; but the similarities would end nearly where they began.  For this creature – this allusive host of a creature – had toes where fingers should be.  Mind you, not short, stubby toes that both you and I are accustomed to seeing, but long, finger like toes that were seemingly predominant with this race of beings.  And it was with these elongated finger toes which were placed meticulously on his hands that he now jellied his toast.

“But, why not call them fingers?” you may ask.  Well, to be sure, one knows fingers from toes.  And these, my friend, were toes where fingers should be.  Of that, I am quite sure.

But my certainty shot up tenfold (if you’ll allow me) when I saw (or didn’t see) the rest of my host.  For he was seated on his chair opposite me at the little table… yet, not seated as you or I.  For there were no more toes to cause discrepancy… nor legs for that matter.  And as I looked, I noticed he was more egg shaped than I would have liked – being himself but an oval with two arms and a head.

Yet, still he went on, jellying his toast with his knife – his toe fingers wrapped talon like around the handle of the blade.  And as he did, he hummed a sort of tune – dreamy it was – and made me think of my soft bed… behind my soft door… along my soft path…

Dave Burns

About Dave Burns

"Writing is dreaming with your eyes open." - Dave Burns Available Books and Works: The Movement: A Children's Story for Grown-ups The Movement: Revisited Edem's Flight The Movement: Concluded - The Completed Anthology Pieces of Me a million little gods: the clearwater chronicles UnApologetic Uncarved: The Literature and Arts Magazine Volume 1 Uncarved: The Literature and Arts Magazine Volume 2 Uncarved: The Literature and Arts Magazine Volume 3 For a complete list of books and works, visit the author @ or
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