by Matthew Sanborn Smith
Up the ancient North Highway, once Pojur has been left far behind yet the traveler is not yet halfway to Lucia, just before the great stone overpass blocks out the starlight, the Burning begins. Far to the east the fires burn, sometimes close enough to make an orange smudge low against the night. Usually far enough from the traveler not to seen. But the smell never goes away.
It is always night on the North Highway. The ones who know keep their heads down. The young search the sky for the smoke and the flames and get only chills for their efforts. Once they look, they can no longer turn away. Their hearts fill with the Dread as they wonder about what is out there, not far beyond the woods. The Burning has been since before their great- grandfathers' times. It never encroaches and yet it is never so far away that it is not to be felt. The young search the darkness and feed their nightmares. The fire out beyond is greater than any other they will ever know. The fire out beyond isn't wild. They know someone out there tends the Burning. They know someone out there brings more fuel.