He doesn’t do it for the attention.

That’s what they want you to think: that he’s sick in the head. That he’s starved for human contact. That Daddy beat him. It ain’t that way at all.

He’s loved, and he loves in return. His adoptive family always coddled him, as the youngest of five boys. He was never shy, always talking, always surrounded by friends. It was only sometimes that he’d feel the fire come upon him, and he’d need to be very alone for a while. Just a little quiet time, way out in the woods by himself. Alone with a can of gasoline and the family cat.

He ain’t sick, and he ain’t a menace to society. That’s why he became a fireman like his adoptive Daddy before him. (The old man had died in a freak oven explosion. The funeral was closed casket, of course.) He became a fireman so he could save people – young, strong, clever people. He can tell the good ones at a glance – simple people who deserve to be saved from a fiery death. He cuts them free and he drags them to safety, emerging through the flames a hero.

Then there are the others.

A fireman can go just about anywhere. Nobody stops you at the door or asks for a warrant when their house is crumbling into cinders. He’s saved people in rich houses and in poor houses, in crack dens and luxury hotels, and in his experience the wicked people can turn up just about anywhere. They’re the drugged-out parents, oblivious to their starving children. They’re the ones with bookshelves full of smut and bedside drawers full of sick implements. They’re the obese ones who need to be levered out of their chairs. They make him sick to his stomach. They make him want to burn things.

Normally, he lets the fire do the work for him. If it needs a little push, he can give it that. Sometimes, if he’s feeling merciful, they get the axe. Sometimes.

It’s all over so fast. He does it in the deepest heart of the blaze, and the fire conceals his tracks. There’s no evidence but burning embers, nothing to say that he hasn’t done his job. Well, there was that one time with Pete, but he took care of that. They gave Pete a real nice funeral down at the station, and his family should be compensated by the state.

He doesn’t do it for the attention. He’s not starved for human contact, and he doesn’t hate himself. He’s not sick in the head. It’s just that when the fire speaks to him, he listens.

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Xander Bennett rearranges words for fun and profit. Read a preview of his new book at www.cagescomic.com.

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