There is a place, far away from everything you know. It is located between fitful sleeplessness and dreamy nothingness, hidden away within the darkness between blinking, built upon the foundations of thoughts we are sure we almost had, but surely never did.
This place is the School of Wax and Tinder; so-named for simple reasons, for whatever reason is worth in this place. Few find their way to the school and even fewer ever return; but what should you see, should you be one of the questionable number who find it?
As you approach the gates the school will appear, a great building wreathed in smoke. Not smoke; for there is no fire yet, it is a blizzard of white ash, falling so gently it looks to be still. Perhaps it is, for here there is nobody to demand gravity fulfil its duty. Open the wicker gates and you’ll see the track the wooden post leaves in the soft earth. The ground is white and ready, a blank canvas of wax so impressionable yet so easily erased.
Climb the steps, menacing and unsure; the road to knowledge is forever paved with challenge and hardship. But should you climb each step, each step that is larger and less willing than the last, you will find yourself at the door.
The door will be open. The only test to enter the school is one you will have already passed by finding yourself at the gates, but still the willpower needed to cross the threshold will be great. For you will know what is within, and you will have to press on regardless.
At that threshold you will realise just how easy it would be to turn back. To walk away. To abandon the school and walk through the ashen blizzard to find that you had simply dozed off, or that you had only briefly gazed into infinity. Should you succeed however, you will find yourself in the main corridor, the heart of the school.
What particular avenues of enquiry are available to you will of course depend upon the mood of the school, how easily kindled it is willing to be. But the rooms will look the same at first. Wooden desks, ancient chalkboards filled with impossible teachings, and the waxy ground gently dripping into the ceiling.
Your learning will be limited, of course, as you will have to endure this molten uncertainty all the time you are studying. This knowledge is delectable, yes, but every morsel has its price.
The nature of the school will change once you enter. It will be subtle at first, you may not notice it for hours; but eventually you will become aware that the temperature is rising. The desks will catch alight in due course, but most students barely notice that. The knowledge offered at the school is truly fascinating.
But all notice, in time. The heat grows ever stronger, the candle-built walls begin to buckle, even the floor beneath your feet loses its willing consistency and becomes mired in introspective melting. It is then you will have to choose. The school will be burning, all will be fire and transience and the ending of all things, and you must choose whether to go or stay.
Knowledge never leaves the School of Wax and Tinder. All are sure they can hang onto it when they return to their obeisance of reality, but it drifts, dreamlike, from your head. Like ash and smoke from a fire, it all goes within moments. Even the loss will evade you in time; nothing can remain of the school, should you leave it.
Or you could stay. Stay, and burn, and become ash with the school. Be thrown into the air upon the undercurrents of change, eventually to fall as an ashen blizzard upon some new mind. Your body, your mind, your self: they will be lost, but your knowledge will live on. You will never forget, never have to lose what has been taught to you. You will only add, contributing new wealth to the hallways and classrooms and libraries.
This is what to expect, should you ever find the School of Wax and Tinder.
Illustration by Merle Made Tales
Did you like this short story? Interested in helping keep this site running? I’m now on Patreon, where fans can directly support creators and the work they produce! You can see my Patreon page here.