The exquisite smell of roses filled the evening air. The sun cast its last rays on the clouds floating high above the horizon. It was growing colder, and the clouds began to change colour: bright orange slowly turned into crimson and purple.
Yet the man remained on the porch, staring silently and dreamily into the darkening sky, looking at the vague movements in the murk that enveloped everything, until the first twinkling stars appeared.
With a sigh he sat down in his wicker chair, and reached for the glass of brandy on the ebony table at his side. The dusk had turned the amber liquid virtually black. He picked up the glass, gently stirred the brandy, and took a sip. Thinking about nothing in particular, he suddenly looked up--
--and saw the burning woman for the first time.
She was running far, far away, at the very edge of his vision, between the barely visible shrubs and trees; one moment, he thought he could hear her tinkling laughter reverberate in the night air.
It must have been his imagination.
He slept peacefully that night.
When the sun went down in a sea of flames, the following day, he poured himself another brandy, and went straight to the porch. There was no wind, no sound.
He sat in his wicker chair, staring silently out over the fields beyond the garden's fence for maybe half an hour. He had nearly finished his brandy, and simply admired the perfectly cloudless sky and the stars.
Then, suddenly, he looked right in front of him--
--and saw the burning woman again.
She was closer this time, maybe fifty meters away from him. He felt his heart throbbing furiously, could clearly hear the woman's bright laughter, noticed she was running barefoot. Underneath the flickering flames she wore a translucent gown reaching down to the ground. She was running fast, much too fast.
He slept well that night. He dreamed of a hearth-fire, its bright orange flames dancing around the logs of wood.
The following night he was actually waiting for her, sitting in his wicker chair, his heart throbbing frantically, his eyes scanning the darkness. He paid no attention to the empty house behind him and the stars overhead, and failed to notice the smell of roses that suffused the atmosphere. He just sat there, yearning for her.
At last his patience was rewarded--
--this time she was a lot closer to him; he could see her running along, shrouded in flames, her long, red hair streaming behind her.
Now at least he knew without a shadow of a doubt who she was laughing at. Her light-hearted laughter filled the air, dispelling the smell of roses and the evening chill. Slowly he rose from his chair, took a few steps forward, and gazed in her direction until she disappeared from view. His pulse slowed down again. Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow. She had been very close today.
He went back into the empty house as if in trance, drew the thick velvet curtains, glanced at the dust-covered books lined on the shelves, the Chinese vase adorned with magical symbols, sniffed the chilly evening air, and sought refuge between the satin sheets of his bed. Tomorrow? Maybe tomorrow?
The following night he didn't bother to take a glass of brandy with him. There was a faint breeze. He sat silently in his wicker chair, a book on the table at his side, unread.
When the sun changed into a richer colour and finally disappeared below the horizon, he grew nervous and restless. Today the woman would come very close,... maybe right up to him?
She appeared again--
--he saw her coming from far away, cavorting between the bushes, throwing her long, light gown into the air, shaking her mane of hair, flames licking all over her body.
Her laughter resounded loud and clear, and when she was only a couple of steps away from him, she smiled and whispered, "Tomorrow, tomorrow," turned her gaze away and ran off again in a torch of light and heat. He wiped the sweat from his forehead, and stiffly followed her for a few hesitating steps. He kept staring at her for a long time, until her sharply limned silhouette was too far away to be seen.
That night he tossed and turned. He dreamed of forest fires, funeral pyres and the acrid smell of sulphur. "Tomorrow," she had said, "Tomorrow." Flames washed all over him, and grumbling he rolled over on his other side.
When he saw her hurrying along in a whirl of fire, the following night, he knocked down his half-finished glass of brandy. The precious liquid spilled all over the table and his trousers. He did not even bother to clean up the mess.
He looked up--
--and saw how she came running straight up to him, laughing aloud, her arms reaching out for him. His heart was now beating furiously, and he tottered, but managed to regain his balance. Then he reached out for her too, and closed his eyes as her flames engulfed him, and she pressed her fiery lips against his...
The children knew they had strayed too far from home, and were likely to be taken to task for it when they finally got back. They decided to take some rest before they set off on the return trip.
One of them took the chance to enter the house, but she saw no one. She called, but there was no reply.
Then they all went inside.
Fearfully they checked the entire house, but they ran into no one.
--on the porch they found the body of a man. It was completely charred.