Dreams of Cold Fire
The man’s ancient ancestor sighed. The ancient man looked at the hot sun above, and he wished he had a cool place where he could go rest. He thought about the cave in the middle of the desert, but he would have to cross too much of the big, barren desert before getting to the cool cave. So the ancient man just looked at the sun and sighed.
The ancient man wondered if he could build a hut and somehow keep it cool. He wondered if his science was developed enough to figure out how to cool a hut with his own ingenuity rather than waiting for cool weather to come. It was not.
The ancient man thought about fire. He thought about fire that kept him and his family warm when it was cold outside. He wondered what kind of fire he could build that would keep him and his family cool when it was hot outside. The ancient man wondered why the gods had given the secret of hot fire to humans but not the secret of cold fire.
The ancient man laughed. He did not believe in the gods. But then he laughed again because he knew it was just a figure of speech to talk about the gods that way.
But the ancient man still wondered why ancient science had not yet discovered cold fire when humans already had enough hot fire. More than enough. Enough to become destructive when its caretakers were not careful.
The ancient man wondered what a forest fire would look like if it was a cold fire. He wondered if great vertical icicles would dance across the forest leaving nothing but simmering puddles in its wake.
The ancient man wondered if cold fire would burn wood. He thought maybe it would burn water instead. Then the man wondered what the nearby lake would look like if it was ablaze with cold fire.
The ancient man found some shade and sat down. He did not feel any cooler than when he had been in the direct sunlight.
The ancient man thought about his descendants. He thought about how spoiled they would be when they found the secret to cold fire. He thought about how his own children never appreciated the things he did for them. Why would their children be any different. They would be able to walk into their huts at any time of day, in any weather, and feel a comfortable temperature without even thinking about how much their ancient father had suffered for their sakes. How much he had suffered to make such a comfortable life for them.
The ancient man did not become angry. He did not become angry, but he did become annoyed. His descendants would have the secret of cold fire, and they wouldn’t think about him at all.
Then the ancient man’s conscience started to bother him. What about him? What about his ancient fathers? Did he think about what they had to suffer when they hadn’t even had hot fire? The ancient man laughed and said he was thinking about them right at that moment. Of course he thought about his ancient fathers. He appreciated them and their sufferings. Much more than his descendants would appreciate him and his sufferings, that was for sure.
The ancient man wondered what it had been like for his ancient ancestors who first understood fire. Hot fire. Who first brought the hot fire into his hut or cave. He thought about how much understanding his ancient ancestors needed to develop to create a well-drafted fire. To understand how to put a fire in an enclosed space without suffocating the inhabitants of the space.
The ancient man wondered how many of his ancient ancestors had died while learning how to keep a hot fire hot and safe.
Then the ancient man wondered how many of his descendants would die in the discovery and development of cold fire. He tried to imagine what difficulties such a cold fire would have. What characteristics of the cold fire would unexpectedly hurt people instead of make them comfortable.
But as the ancient man could not think about what cold fire fundamentally would be, he could not think about what harmful side-effects might accompany its discovery and development.
Then the ancient man thought about very cold fire. Cold enough to not just make him comfortable in the hot weather, but cold enough to keep his food from spoiling any time of year. Any time of year except in winter when the ice and snow came to preserve his cow’s milk for a week instead of a day. He thought about even colder fire that would keep even his meat from spoiling no matter what the weather.
The ancient man thought about his relatives who lived in the deep cave in the desert. He thought about the water source in the deep cave that was cool all year—even in the height of summer. The ancient man remembered being out in the hot desert sun and then entering the cave and taking long drinks of the cool spring water deep in the cave.
The ancient man became thirsty. He imagined what it would be like to go into his hut and find a box of cold fire that kept his water cold just like the hot fire kept his wife’s soup always warm. The ancient man wanted a drink of cold water.
The ancient man again thought about his descendants, and he knew they would discover and develop cold fire, and he was just as confident they would forget about him and his suffering without cold fire. They would forget about his suffering without cold fire just as they would forget about his own ancient ancestors who suffered without warm fire.
Then the ancient man laughed. He laughed and laughed and laughed.
He laughed because he knew that no matter how well his descendants would discover and develop cold fire, they would still suffer. They would still suffer from something they had not yet discovered that their own descendants would discover and develop. And their own descendants would forget all about their suffering. The ancient man knew the cycle would continue throughout time, and he took comfort in knowing that the sufferings of his descendants would be forgotten just as they would forget his sufferings and the sufferings of his ancient fathers. It would serve them right.
The ancient man laughed, but he still dreamed about a drink of cold water. Maybe even some cold wine. He didn’t usually drink wine, but at that moment he was so pleased with his musings on the fate of his descendants that he was prepared to toast all of his forgetful descendants who would drink cold drinks any time they were thirsty. He would toast them and drink the cold wine in gladness of spirit and get drunk on the knowledge that they would continue to discover and develop and forget.
The ancient man wondered if the gods would make him the vehicle of discovery of cold fire. Perhaps he would be the nameless, faceless ancestor his descendants would forget was responsible for them enjoying all the benefits of cold fire. Perhaps he would be the one they would invent silly myths about how some silly divine creature had blessed or punished him with the tools of cold fire.
The ancient man would not. He would not be the blessed giver of cold fire. However much he tried, the ancient man did not discover, let alone develop, cold fire.
But every night the ancient man fell asleep with the taste of cold wine in his imagination and with a good laugh at the fate of his forgetful descendants.
To read more stories in the series, see the Becomes One Hundred Stories page.