This One Time, 55

This one time I had a vision of fire.

Go figure. I mean, I am a firefighter. An old one, at that. I’ve done my share of climbing up ladders and passing out from being too hot in the suit and being too cold from being drenched and coughing my lungs out from breathing God knows what. The best part of what I do these days is teach. I teach about what fire is and where it comes from, about how it changes the world around us into choking poison, about how it renders your fat into fuel and sucks it out through your pores, about the mysteries that summon it here and how to banish it.

It depends on who you’re teaching whether you treat fire as a science or as a supernatural force. I prefer science myself, because man can control science, but sometimes I think I’ve seen too much to be able to buy it as 100% science myself. When you’re in a place that ought to be familiar, and you’re looking through a dirty, water-streaked mask into a room so dark all you can see are the creatures of flame leaning up against the walls and climbing across the ceiling, laughing and gesturing like guests at a fancy party, and you banish them and step away and they pop right back up, or circle around behind you — that’s when you know you’re fighting the devil and his minions. Fire does impossible things.

We tell people it takes three things to summon fire: fuel, oxygen, and enough heat to get it started. The oxygen part is a bit of a simplification, but seeing as this is earth and that’s the element that powers it here under most circumstances, we try not to complicate matters. We save that explanation for the kids that aren’t comfortable unless they know why. But those are the ones that really start having trouble once they start seeing the demons and start trying to figure out what they’re saying in the roaring hissing whistling popping cracking language of theirs.

It’s starting to seem like there are other sources of fire these days. That the triad of fuel-oxygen-spark is, you know, just kind of a guideline. I don’t like that. But it’s true. Stars, for instance, make fire just by squeezing hydrogen really really hard. And if bullshit like that works, you have to wonder what else might. We’ve learned fantastic ways to make light without heat, without that cascade that starts with something rich and ends with ash. Maybe fire’s killing attendants, the fat-melting, desiccating heat and the strangling, lung-tarnishing smoke, are free to travel without fire’s supervision. Maybe fire itself, the standing flame, can wander afield, harmless. Like a mob boss you can’t pin anything on.

I prefer to know how things work. Without a bit of consistency, there’s no hope to the job.

But, you know, a few days ago I was down in our little weight room with the boys trying to keep some muscle tone on my arms and keep my black ass from spreading from all the sitting around. We had all the doors open since it was a nice day. From where I was spotting for the guys, having done my rounds with the gear first, I could see out to the street where people were walking past, and I could see out the back to where there were public tennis and basketball courts. And, as best as I could tell, the world was on fire.

There were flames, ranging from the size of a dog to twice the size of a man, moving around out there like extra people on the sidewalks, extra people on the courts. Maybe four people out of five had one right nearby, or maybe even wrapping around them, and then there were flames that seemed to be walking around unattended. I could see a tree or two from where I was walking around, pretending nothing was wrong, and they were enveloped in flames. But nobody was being burned up. No pain, no screaming, no smoke, no soot, no ash.

But, a few days ago — that was only the first time. It’s gotten worse.

I don’t know what it means. Are the flames actually demons or angels or our own spirits? Is that the fire of living, of us using up the fuel and air we have as we go about our business?

I wish to hell I knew. Because otherwise I’m just going crazy.


February 24, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


Leave a Reply