Late spring in Tennessee meant trees stretching their vulnerable green new growth and soap-making season. Claudia lifted the lid on the double burner to pour the ethanol into the dissolved glycerin and oil mixture, stirring it twice with a wooden spoon before fitting the double boilers concave lid in place, grabbing a handful of ice, and strewing it over the lid to cool the ethanol so the evaporated gas didn't escape. She sat in a patio chair to wait for the next stage. The butcher block table standing on the corner of their patio, looked eccentric, especially with the hand-rigged lampstand and electric cord running back to the house. The light cast shadows across the yard as the day's moist heat coiled like a dog's breath to be blown away by the evening's twitching wind.
The digital thermometer beeped as it reached 165 degrees and Claudia stirred the soap spritzing it with alcohol. She put the lid back with more ice as Rapunzel, their German shepherd, raced through the backyard to chase a possum. Rapunzel squeezed between the butcher block table and the lampstand, jarring the table and knocking the bottle of ethanol over to glug as the clear liquid splashed across the cement. Claudia grabbed for the container. The lampstand swung back and forth and the lamp's hook slipped off the stand and the electric light fell smashing the backyard into darkness as flame erupted from the patio. Claudia reached down to pull the electric cord out of the fire and her hands, still soaked with ethanol, flickered with flames.
She held her hand before her face and watched the flames jump from finger to finger, expecting the skin to pucker and blister and blacken. But there was no pain, just words.
"Who are you?" The words crackled.
She stared at her hands as the patio flames flashed, blades of grass on the edge of the patio turning bright white and and then blackening to smoke. Her hands couldn't be talking.
"Hungry..." the same crackling voice. "More fuel." The white flame on her hands flickered and disappeared. "Dying."
A chorus ululated from the porch. Screams of hunger, fuel, and loss. Claudia was going mad. She knelt down at the edge of the flames to ask, "What can I do?"
A voice carried over the keening, "The theories are right. Hurry, we need more fuel. There is too much cold and water here."
Claudia poured a splash of ethanol on the patio.
The last drops of ethanol spattered onto the patio catching flame, dancing as the drops bounced and skittered. It wouldn't keep the flames burning long. Claudia ran into the house to grab a candle returning to the patio, dark with the flames extinguished except for the spindly coals of grass at the edge of the patio. She held the wick of the candle to one of the grass coals until the candle sputtered to life.
"Alive!" A cacophony.
"Am I going mad?" asked Claudia.
"No," chattered the candle. "First contact."