I live in a world where to die is to burn. It didn’t always used to be this way, some say, but maybe it did. That might be a dream. In the same way, there’s the legend of the phoenix. It’s a bird that bursts into flame and burns to ash, dying, but from those ashes a new one is born.

We’re like that, except we’re no phoenixes. We flame out, and there’s no rebirth. Just ordinary death, flickering until there’s nothing left. People sometimes ask if it hurts, but there’s no way to know. When you touch something too hot, it hurts, but that might be different. We don’t have a lot of heat around anyway. When you’re flammable, you tend to avoid fire.

Some people carry matches around. Just to be exciting, I guess, to show how tough they are. Every once in a while, that’s how someone dies – to get set on fire by someone else and burn to a crisp as they watch you wither. That is a nightmare.

The crazies go around with gasoline. Obviously, it’s a banned substance. But you can get hold of it, there’s a whole black market just for things to catch on fire. Sparks, they’re called, usually. Gasoline’s a bit more than a spark, but it’s in the same category. Anyone carrying any kind of spark is arrested right away, because that’s much too dangerous to go around. The problem is that the ones with gasoline usually set a whole town ablaze before anyone gets the chance to stop them.

Nobody knows what happens after you burn, either. It happens so fast, and often so suddenly. But there’s so much speculation about people after they dissolve into cinders, and leave only the smell of smoke drifting into the air. Some like to think that there’s a soul, and that stays. The soul is the middle of the flame that burns searing blue, and when the flame goes out the soul becomes part of something – the stories are different. Most people like that the soul goes into the sky, which makes sense to them. There are stories too, though, of ashes floating on the wind and watching all that happens below. I don’t really think any of it makes sense, because once you go up in flames there’s just nothing left of you. The fire burns you away, soul and all.

Lots of people think it’s a holy experience. They spend their lives preparing to burn, hoping that their flame will last as long as it can. Something like that, anyway. They’re kind of like the suicides, the self-immolators, who are exactly the opposite. They despair, because if you could catch at any moment then they don’t see why to live at all. As in, if life is something that can be eaten by fire in a few seconds, they don’t want it. The religious nuts and the suicides often burn in public, to show everyone with a flash of light that they believe. Either in the meaning of life and death, or in the complete absence of meaning at all. When you see someone burning on purpose, you at least know they believe one or the other. They do at least usually burn far enough from anyone else that nobody else catches fire. Sometimes they do it together. But mostly alone, mostly on the corner of a sidewalk or the middle of a town square. They burn so bright, the flames reaching up and grasping at nothing until they die out completely.

It’s strange to live when you can die by fire. It’s difficult, sometimes, because even though you want to live so much before you catch, it’s hard not to despair. It’s hard to live without wanting to choose, only once and so deliberate, to spark and flame so bright you’re blinding, until you’re gone.


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