Contemporary Fiction

Burning Man, a fable

Dennis Edelen

It came to him suddenly, as he ran down the street screaming and on fire, that he was making a spectacle of himself.
After all, this was a modest neighborhood of well-maintained lawns and sensible driveways. Garbage pick-up was twice a week, and everyone recycled. These facts had contributed to his choosing to move into the neighborhood in the first place. In addition, it was located within convenient reach of several highly regarded schools. He had no children, but still, things such as this were important.
These thoughts in mind, he slowed his blind careen through the streets to a more sedate walk and stopped shrieking. His throat was raw anyway, his lungs aching, and it was Sunday afternoon – his neighbors would be looking for a little restful peace and quiet, the better to prepare themselves for the coming week’s labors.
He was feeling quite embarrassed now by his earlier behavior, and further dismayed at the realization that most of his clothing had burned away. It really wouldn’t do to be seen now. Imagine the talk, if one of his neighbors were to look out a window and catch a glimpse of him in this state! He’d most likely have to move. No one would say anything to him, in the grocery store (conveniently located; actually two grocery stores – a friendly mom-n-pop that featured hard-to-find items, and a shiny super-mega-mart that always gave double the discount for coupons), or the drug store, but he would know they knew, and knowing that would be bad enough.
However, the coast looked clear – no one was calling out or coming out into their yards in response to his earlier screaming. The men were probably napping in their loungers in front of the TV, the women busy in their kitchens with the roast, the children... well, no one ever knew where the children were, but it wasn’t a cause for concern – it was a very good neighborhood.
Ducking his head, trying discreetly to shield his face with one blackened, blistered hand, he turned back up to the road and headed home. Even through the glare of the flames licking about his face and eyes, it was easy to spot the pillar of smoke that marked his house. The front façade had completely collapsed, and he decided that it was definitely a good thing he had joined that discount club at the DIY store (located, as was convenient, conveniently). He would save 10% on all his purchases.
The pain was really quite intense, and the scent of his roasting flesh was not at all appetizing, but, he told himself as he levered his shriveling body down into his living room lounger, everyone had their crosses to bear. It had really been thoughtless of him to make such a fuss.
The TV was still functioning, and through the rippling heat distortion of the fire that now fully engulfed the room, he watched a phone commercial about a father and son, long separated over a minor misunderstanding (these things do happen), reconnecting and having a game of catch in the front yard. He started to cry but all that came out was steam.


Image of Dennis Edelen

Dennis Edelen

I like to see where I've been. That's why I ride backwards on the metro.

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