I burned my first house down when I was six. It’s one of my earliest memories, watching the flames from across the street–first the garage, then the kitchen, and finally the ugly pig-shaped weather vane. I laughed the entire time it burned. My therapist said it was my way of channeling grief over my father’s death in the fiery car crash when he hit a propane truck.
They were wrong. It was fate that brought fire and me together. The day I was born, a hospital wing caught on fire, and a building where my father worked burned to the ground. The final seal of divine providence came in the form of a meteor shower that blessed the sky with brilliant streaks of fire on my first birthday. I could not ignore these auguries.
After two more houses, a school, and a few cars, I ended up in an institution where everyone was very nice and told me they’d make me well. They lectured me, plied me with drugs, and gave me a good education. When they pronounced me cured, I turned to the only career I felt suited for–a firefighter.
That was where my real education began. I never knew there were so many types of fires you could create with the right combination of ingredients. I was like a young painter at the feet of Leonardo da Vinci.
But the big mystery in my life remained. Why was my art not appreciated? The Bible contained many references to fire. And without the fiery reactor known as the sun, there’d be no life.
Philosophers understood. Marcus Aurelius said it best, “Nothing is evil which is according to nature.” And so, I absorbed the wisdom of Aristotle, the commentaries of Shaw, the fearless visions of Nietzsche. As an adult, I burned no building that contained books–no schools, libraries, or museums.
“He doesn’t mean to be bad,” my mother had pleaded before a parade of social workers. “If you could just give him a chance.” I’d always thought she alone of all God’s creatures understood me. But maybe the effort of understanding was too great because she committed suicide when I was thirteen.
Maybe she also sensed that as a divine implant on a thankless earth, I knew what was wrong with humankind. They’d cut themselves off from their Paleolithic lineage with their technological trinkets. They didn’t understand the cleansing nature of fire like their ancestors–the need for land to be burned in order to live.
I’d been thinking about the plight of humankind a lot. Trapped like rats in a maze of poisoned water and toxic waste. And like rats, crowded so close together, humans were turning on themselves. Great minds had puzzled over that, but no one had solved the problem. This is where the philosophers let me down.
The captain at the fire station considered my obsession with philosophy books odd. “Why do you bother reading those things?” he’d asked. “You think you can solve the world’s problems or something?”
What would the captain think of the sticks of dynamite I now held in my hand? Cool and smooth to the touch, deceptive for so much potential energy. The wires into the timing mechanism didn’t look like a work of art, but it was the canvas that was important–the warehouse at 780 Dexter Avenue I’d painted inside with a prismatic pool of gasoline.
As I finished wiring the detonator and placed the finished bomb in the middle of the warehouse floor, it occurred to me–what if all the ideas from human brains since the dawn of reason were off a few degrees. What if world harmony was simpler than anyone dreamed?
Yes, I could see it, like a nebula in the darkness focused through the lens of a divine telescope. Why hadn’t anyone considered it before?
The breathtaking beauty of it produced a smile that stretched across my face. Here was the pinnacle of philosophical thought, something only I knew. A gift from God.
It was the last thought that would ever cross my mind because I looked at my timer again–I’d set it wrong. I already imagined I was seeing the warehouse and me transfigured into a great, multicolored fireball reaching high into the sky as if to embrace the stars.
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