Every year they have this festival, this ceremony, this cultural display. A campfire on red earth in the middle of Fed Square. One sacred site on another, newer sacred sight (sic).
It’s a smash-up of the old gods and the new. A way of remembering the city that lays beneath this one. The first city. The one that wasn’t this tall but that still had something alive feeding it. It was never a city in the conventional sense.
The first city was an idea. A possibility of a city. A feeling of a city. A soul of a home. It belonged to those that came before. Between the reptiles and the city’s new inhabitants. People who were more in touch with the ground at their feet. The spaces above their heads. The voices of the past.
The campfire serves as a memory. Like a statue of a fallen king. It reflects and reminds. It was built in a good faith. Wasn’t it?
With those memories comes blood. Nostalgia tinged by red earth and redder blood. The ghosts of vengeance. And hurt. So much hurt. The campfire works in a special way. Drawing on the red earth on which it was built. Drawing on the old powers rather than the new.
The campfire is not a weapon. It is not a bad thing. It is just a thing. A reminder and sometimes reminders aren’t totally happy.
You can read stories of women, women and colonists sharing children. And these women knowing and fearing the pale skin of these children. Knowing they would lose them. Lose them to their pale skinned ancestors. So you read these stories . These accounts of women covering these kids in ash. To protect them. To hide them.
Ash and red earth.
The campfire burns all day and people respect this. As they should. They stay off the ash and red earth. Most of them. There are others who don’t. But the campfire wasn’t built for the respectful ones. Not really.
It’s for the others. The ones who grab handfuls of dirt. Who cross the stone barriers and walk over history with complete arrogance. No respect. Just like the others did. The ones from much early. When this city was still just an idea.
That’s the trigger. The lack of respect. The red earth sticks to the arrogant ones. Marking them out. A blood-red stamp. Hidden but in plain sight.
But still this is not the campfires genius. It’s design. It’s function. That comes next. When the disrespectful ones leave the Square. When they walk through the crossroads nearby. The sacred crossroads. The corners of which are homes to meeting places. A pub. A church. A square. A station.
And underneath a much older meeting place.
There’s a lot to be said about the potency of crossroads. The powers they have. The powers they unlock. The configurement of their lines. The intersecting points. Power lurks at the crossroads in all cultures. And all it takes is a little of red earth wedged into the grooves of a boot or in the palms of hands to make it work.
And this is how the campfire works.
If you read the accounts of the colonists. If you read the right ones. The hidden ones. You might find mention of a ‘Midnight Bastard’. A towering figure with skin the colour of tar. Of midnight. Who leaves ashen footprints in his wake. A creation of children dipped in ash and taken away. A spirit summoned by disrespect of peoples and of cultures.
In these stories, these accounts. This Midnight Bastard sneaks into the ships and tents and houses. Into bedrooms. And he lays his ashen fingers on the people in there. The ones with no respect. The ones responsible for his birth.
You can fill in the rest.
For one month every year there is a festival. During this festival you hear reports, if you listen to the right sources. The right channels. The right kinds of wrong gossip. You hear reports of this looming figure the colour of midnight rising from the crossroads and walking into the night. Using a flaming log from a campfire to light his way.
You hear whispers of ashen footsteps.
You hear stories of lessons in respect. And of remembering. And you can hear stories of campfires. Campfires built to remind people that while there is peace now, there once wasn’t it.
And of what happens if you break that peace.
This is The Urban Sprawl.