The Element of Surprise
A short story in progress by Jacob Rivard.
Fire and Water were arguing again.
It was the same fight they’ve had for centuries.
Fire would complain that Water ruined their work before it could really get going. Water would argue that Fire was too impulsive and would never help clean up the mess they made. Whenever Wind tried to join in, their voice seemed to make things worse, whipping Water into a frenzy and sending Fire on crazy tangents. Earth remained silent, only speaking when they had to.
Fire’s most recent outburst nearly took out an entire forest. Water had put a quick stop to Fire’s fun with a rainstorm. By the time Wind got there, Earth had already broken it up.
Thus, the Council of the Elements gathered to determine how to resolve their conflict.
Everyone was here. Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water all gathered at the center of the large white procession hall, each standing upon different corners of the compass that dominated the room’s center. The Periodic Table huddled in a nearby corner, eagerly awaiting their involvement in such matters. Art, who was never really here nor there, delighted in conflicts like these; somehow, large-scale events like these consistently managed to fill them with inspiration.
Even Order enjoyed Council meetings: they delighted at the idea of filling out the paperwork in a neat and orderly fashion once the meeting concluded. There were as many Elements present as there were chairs to take. On any other plane of existence, the room would have reached capacity multiple times over, but Time and Space, the leaders of the Council, ensured ample room to exist and plenty of opportunities to hear all sides of the conflict.
Time and Space presided over the hearing, with Negotiation serving as a mediator between every Element. Time, who always seemed anxious to get these meetings going, nervously checked their wristwatch for the fifth time since entering the room. The dial still had yet to turn. Space, on the other hand, roamed the room without a care in the world, stepping over tables, desks, thrones, and even chandeliers on the ceiling. Every step, every leap, and every bound seemed to change their shape and size. Where Time was an older, wizened Element, Space was like a child, growing every day while remaining eager to explore every crevice of the Council it discovered.
“We have gathered the Council of the Elements to hear the case of Water vs. Fire, Case…what case is it again? Order, will you help me out here?”
In a quick, flurried motion, Order withdrew a small missive from their briefcase, handing it to Time.
“Thank you. Will everyone please be seated?” When Time spoke, it felt as if ages had passed. Some yawned, while others felt a lingering back pain they’d come to accept as a norm later in their lives.
Everyone took a seat in chairs of their own making: Earth rested upon a mossy log, while Wind leaned back on a cloud. Water created an ornate throne of ice while Fire crossed their arms atop a large pyre.
“Let’s start with you, Fire! Tell us what troubles you, brother,” Space, who seemed everywhere and nowhere at once, spoke in a voice that echoed throughout the Council. It was a whisper and a shout, a mumble and a roar.
“Hmph.” Fire pouted. “I don’t understand why I can’t do a single thing without Water raining on my parade. I try to make one fire — just one fire — and all they do is shout it down.”
“Mhm…interesting. Go on,” Negotiation muttered. Negotiation was the most reasonable of the Elements, often seen as a level-headed medium between opposing parties.
“So there I was, partying through Australia, enjoying the sun and the stars and the beach, when all of a sudden here comes Water to snuffle out all the fun. In the past, the people used to worship me for my power — worship me! How am I supposed to get back to my old ways when Water, the fun governor, is always around the corner, ready to ruin it?”
They pointed a smouldering finger at Water, who pulled their head back and glared.
“Maybe if you weren’t so destructive,” Water began, their voice a soothing counterpart to Fire’s accusatory roar, “We wouldn’t be in this mess today.”
“Really? This, coming from the tidal wave-filled Element? Who are you to police me, you shark-infested psychopath?!” Fire began to glow as they felt fury boiling within them.
“Well someone has to. You’re childish and out of control, you blazing little baby.” Water began to appear more treacherous, waves of caution rolling across their body.
“ELEMENTS! I THINK WE NEED TO CALM DOWN HERE!” Wind said, a large gust escaping their mouth.
Fire and Water turned and glared at Wind.
“Stay out of this, Windbag!” Water shouted, flustered from fury.
“Here you go again, Water, shouting like you always do. This reminds me of the time that you and Wind were down in Louisiana, and I-”
“Let’s not lose track of where we’re at, everyone” Negotiation said again, their voice a remarkably relaxing timbre. “Now, Water, what’s your side of the story?”
Water sighed, gathering their thoughts before speaking. The moment they opened their mouth, they began to weep uncontrollably, tears pouring from their face like a relentless waterfall.
“I was just trying to make the world a safer place! Why can’t Fire understand that?? They’re being mean — they’re always mean! Did you see how they yelled at me? They made me oh so upset and I just wanted to do the right thing,”
Empathy began to weep, patting Water on the back in solemn solidarity. Fir groaned loudly and stomped their foot, evaporating the small puddle that gathered at the Council’s feet.
“Oh save it, waterworks,” Fire huffed. “Your slick, slithery manipulation won’t drown us here. Go kiss an eel.”
“You’re just jealous I’m a key building block to Life, while you’re only a force of Death,” Water retorted.
“Are you kidding??” Fire scoffed. “I warm people, all you do is suffocate them!”
“Now, now, let’s be reasonable here,” Negotiation pleaded. “Let’s try to reach a compromise, shall we?”
“Why does everyone have to compromise when you’re involved, Negotiation?” Chaos interrupted, flailing their arms wildly while leaping headfirst into the conversation.
“Because we all have jobs to do and we’re sick and tired of seeing this happen every year,” Order said, straightening their tie while typing absentmindedly on their computer. “Not that you’d know anything about a job, Chaos…”
“Have you tried talking it out?” Communication said, cocking their head to the side.
“Who needs to talk? Action is what you need,” Destruction bellowed, smashing a fist into their throne of swords.
“Oh, but think of the creative projects that will arise from this conflict!” Art mused, doodling a sketch of Fire and Water’s duel.
The whole council erupted into arguments. Chaos giggled while Order glared. Wisdom pleaded with the group while Ignorance played on their phone. Character urged Negotiation to straighten up, who became entangled in everyone’s disagreements. Cooking and Avoidance focused their minds on making coffee. Conflict delighted in the battle of words, whispering in everyone’s ears to make things far worse. Every time Wind spoke, they seemed to escalate the conflict further. The moment it seemed Fire and Water were about to trade blows, Earth finally spoke up, standing atop their tree stump.
“SILENCE.” Earth shouted. The room began to quake. The Council quieted down, directing their attention to the source of the voice.
“EVERY TIME YOU FIGHT. I HURT.” They placed a thumb to their chest as the room shook again.
“I AM TIRED OF FIGHTING. EVERY YEAR IT’S THE SAME THING. AN ENDLESS STRUGGLE FOR ATTENTION. I’VE HAD IT WITH BOTH OF YOU.” They slammed their foot to the ground, knocking Cooking’s coffee to the floor.
The glass shattered, spilling the warm, dark liquid across the ground.
“But how are they supposed to reach a compromise?” Negotiation sighed. “Neither of them will listen.”
“Wait. I’ve got it,” Surprise manifested out of nowhere, perching themselves atop Order’s table.
The Council turned to address Surprise, many of them crossing their arms. Nobody, save for Certainty, could predict what Surprise had in mind.
“Not this again…” Order muttered.
“Look at Cooking’s coffee for a moment. Do you see what I see?” Surprise pointed at the mess.
“Nah,” Ignorance muttered. “Don’t care.”
Surprise shot them a sly smile before continuing.
“Coffee is made with fire and water. Without the two of them, all you’d have is beans. No offense, Earth.”
Earth shrugged as the rest of the group leaned in to listen.
“What I’m saying is…you two need each other. You can’t have one without the other. If it were all just water, everyone would freeze or drown to death. If it were all Fire, everything would burn down. You might seem like opposites, but…together, you’re unstoppable.”
“THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN TRYING TO SAY,” Wind bellowed. “BUT NOBODY WANTS TO LISTEN TO WIND UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE.”
Negotiation’s eyes began to sparkle as they regained their confidence. Noticing the perfect opportunity, they spoke with pride.
“Fire…? Do you have something you want to say to Water…?”
“I…I’m sorry if I get too hot-headed at times.” Fire said, looking up at Water cautiously. “I know I can get too ahead of myself, but…I’m passionate, y’know? I just really care about what I do.”
“I know, and I’m sorry, too,” Water replied. “Sometimes I move too fast and ruin your fun. Maybe…we can work out a way where we can both have our storms at different times. Would that be okay with you…?”
“But we have to keep them unpredictable. That way, everyone will always be on their toes, okay?”
“I like the way you think.”
“INCLUDE ME TOO,” Wind shouted. “I LOVE BEING INCLUDED.”
“Oh Wind,” Fire said, patting them on their back. “We couldn’t do any of this without you. You know that, right?”
Wind giggled in glee, sending a warm breeze through the entire Council room. Space seemed the most delighted of them all, while Time kept their eyes glued to the large clock in their hands, sighing quietly to themselves.
“What do you think, Earth? Does that sound like a good compromise to you?” Surprise inquired.
“THIS PLEASES ME. I WOULD LIKE TO REST NOW AND CONCLUDE THIS MEETING.”
“Oh, um, one more thing,” Hydrogen of the Periodic Table interrupted.
The Council turned to address the tiny table.
“We, um, would, err, like to know how we fit in with this mix,” they spoke, sputtering almost every word.
Logistics, who had tallied every minute of the meeting, put an arm around Hydrogen, a grin manifesting on their face.
“Don’t worry, I have a plan to give you all a chance to make an impact.”
“This pleases the Table,” Cobalt agreed.
“Well,” Time groaned. “I suppose…that means…our Council is adjourned, if you’ve reached an amicable solution…?”
“It has. Thank you, everyone,” Order spoke in a monotone voice.
With the Council meeting concluded, everyone, save for three Elements, vanished to return to their business. Curiosity approached Surprise, fiddling with a reporter’s notepad littered with ink.
“I have many, many, many questions for you.” Curiosity prodded, nagging Surprise with every syllable.
“Would it shock you to know that I’m a busy Element, Curiosity?” Surprise crossed their arms, cocking their head to the side.
“That answers one of my questions,” Curiosity replied, drawing a line across their notepad.
“But, if you have time for one, I need to know: why did you do all this? What was there to gain?”
“I did it so they could acknowledge me again.” Surprise said candidly.
Surprise pointed at the third Element in the room, the one whose eyes remained glued on them since the moment they spoke.
“It’s nice to see you again, Certainty,” Surprise mused.
“I can’t say I didn’t see this coming.” Certainty replied, their eyes swimming with knowledge.
“You know what they say: once Surprise leaves, Certainty reigns supreme.”