We Are Fire -- The Dance of the Devils by Michael Sealey

It is two o´clock in the morning in Calpe on the Costa Blanca. On duty at the top of the main high street is a fire engine. Waiting alongside it are six firemen prepared for action. Flame proof suits and yellow helmets; fire extinguishers to hand. Down the street, sloping between shops and apartment blocks all the way to the beachside square of Plaza Colon, are groups of anxious people. Not all of them are young but all are tense in anticipation of the event. They are dressed in trainers, worn jeans, and jackets zipped to the neck. The highest risk takers wear hats and scarves to cover their faces. They are there for the Fire Running (*Correfoc).
With every passing minute our apprehension increases. Nobody knows where the warning explosion will come from. All of a sudden the electricity supply to the town centre is cut off and the streets are plunged into blackness; no street lamps, no shop illumination and no traffic as the access roads were blocked by police. Everyone is silenced in that deathly hush which only the still of the early hours can bring. The tension mounts until an ear-splitting, window rattling explosion from a side street rips through the darkness.  Groups of startled people glance nervously in every direction and jostle for positions of advantage in the road or on pavements, in doorways, behind bus shelters or beside the slender trunks of orange trees planted along the roadside. But there is no hiding; the theatre of fire is about to begin and the entire high street is its stage.
Without warning a cacophony of sound, a wild, demonic techno beat from a blacked-out mobile disco machine rushes out from a side street. It screams an insidious, panic provoking rhythm that throbs decibels to send us deaf into hell. From out of nowhere comes the attack. A dozen devil dancers in satanic garb run from concealment in the side- street shadows; each under a peacock fan of fire sprayed from an arc of pyrotechnic tubes projecting from backpacks. They dash into the crowds turning and twisting as they dance to the frenzied techno discord. The bravest onlookers dare to taunt the devils in defiance of their attack whilst others scatter to the middle of the road, out of range of the fire and the sparks. They think they are safe but above their heads a giant catherine wheel, suspended on wire, screeches and spins into a flaming life that showers its sizzling sparks onto the fire-runners below. They run down the street but the fiery wheel spins downhill along the wire in pursuit of them. There are shrieks of fearful excitement as the furies of hell run amongst them again with lances spitting volleys of sparks at their feet and above the heads of everyone in their zig-zagging path.
We danced beneath the incandescent showers; a reckless rave in a surreal world unpoliced by personal safety. The more that danced and didn’t catch fire, the more joined in and the street became a seething stomp of pyromaniac abandon. We were River dance on hot coals.  From behind us came the revving of a frenzied engine. A motor bike from Mad Max gunned its engine amongst us; engulfing us in a pall of crimson smoke as it released festoons of rockets and fireworks in every direction. Its apocalyptic driver ignored the difference between roads and pavements; there was no escape. The crowds scattered once again only to be confronted by the contorted snaking of a Mephistophelean dragon firing salvos of volcanic brimstone from its cavernous throat.
Possessed by the pandemonium, we writhed and spun in a mythical world like spectres in a banshee storm; suspended in a timeless tale of good in defiance of evil. We ran the fire till we reached a sulphurous blockade in the square below. Plumes of smoke rose to obscure a bristling armoury of pyrotechnic might mounted on a platform like a launching pad to Hades. Onto the platform leapt the devil dancers, gyrating grotesquely to the relentless, pounding beat as all around them an incendiary arsenal of fire-crackers, and bazooka muzzled rockets with comet-like tails erupted skywards and cascaded down in awesome fountains of colour.
When the last cluster-bursts fell to earth like the golden fronds of a hundred palm trees, the devil dancers pranced with raised arms beneath the burning legend SOM FOC - (WE ARE FIRE). The crowd applauded and roared their approval. The theatre of fire was over but our adrenalin told us we craved for more. At three a.m., we turned towards our homes. The lights came on in the town centre. We showed each other the scorch marks in our clothing, like the scars of battle. Some had small red burn marks on hands or necks. A town hall banner hanging from a lamp-post had caught fire. Nothing serious. We had survived the fire-running. We had challenged the wraiths of evil and we were aglow.

*Correfoc and Som Foc are from both the Valencian and Catalan dialect where the fire-running originated in the twelfth century.

Michael Sealey moved to Spain with his family in 1991; since then he has worked as an English teacher and translator. His interests are the well-being and success of his family, writing, ecology and local festivities and history. He has been involved with a campaign to prevent the development of Calpe’s natural resources.

"We are Fire -- The Dance of the Devils" was highly commended by Graham Mercer, the 2017 judge of the I Must Be Off! Travel Writing competition. He had the following to say about "We are Fire -- The Dance of the Devils": 

'The “Fire Running” festival is (at least outside Spain) a little-known and obviously exciting cultural event. The writer captures the excitement by using predominantly short sentences, giving the article a fast-moving immediacy and tension. And I like the refreshing Spanish indifference to over-officious “health and safety” regulations that in countries like my own would have this “River Dance on hot coals” stopped or robbed of its vital intensity.'  


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