The Boy Who Carried Fire
"Does it hurt?" asked the girl.
The boy jumped up and threw his hands behind his back. "Does what hurt?"
"The fire. In your hands. I saw it. I can
I can smell it burning your skin."
"Oh. Sorry," said the boy, kicking at the ground embarrassed.
"I don't mind."
A businessman in a suit pushed between them in the busy city plaza and grunted an apology.
"You a refugee, too?" asked the boy.
"Yeah. Mother sent me with a smuggler. She stayed behind. It was all we could afford."
"Us too, but my mom is here," the boy pointed to the edge of the park where a small, sad woman was draping clothes over a metal park bench to dry the salt water.
"Does that hurt?" asked the girl again.
"How'd you get it?"
"From my mother. My father was killed by rebels who broke into our home and slit his throat and didn't even say why." For a moment, the flame in the boy's hand flared large and made the two pairs of eyes surrounding it glow red. He breathed in deeply and the flame subsided.
"My mother caught fire the next day. Her whole body. She couldn't eat or drink. Everything that came near her burned up except me. I put my arms around her and the fire went out and jumped to my hand. I hid it behind my back so she couldn't see."
"Who's going to take it from you when it starts to burn you up?" asked the girl.
The boy thought for a minute. "I'll be fine. It's stayed small. Maybe I can keep it small."
"It's going to be getting dark soon," said the girl. "Where are we supposed to sleep? I've never been this long without my family before." She wrung her hands nervously and looked around like night might come in the form of a physical monster.
"Hey!" said the boy. "Your shoulder!"
The girl looked where he was pointing and there on her shoulder, the small blue beginnings of a flame rose up like a sun glare.
"Oh!" exclaimed the girl.
"Let me take it. It'll start hurting and anyway I'm used to it."
Before she could protest, the boy reached his char black hand and scooped the small blue cotton ball flame from her shoulder and returned his hands behind his back. "Thanks for not just asking me why I don't put it out," he said.
"Well, I figured you would if you could. And anyway, I saw the look in your eyes before you noticed me watching you."
"Like you needed it. Maybe you need the pain for now. And that's ok, I don't mind it. I can take it from you for a while if you want?"
A different sort of fire burned up in the boy's belly, and he decided this was a fire he wanted to keep close. He smiled at her. "Yes, thank you. Maybe I'll just go dip my hands in the sea for a bit. It's been a long time since I've felt cold water on my hands."
Evan is a writer living in a bowl of a city surrounded by swamps and brimming with stories and music.