It Burns, Burns, Burns


It always starts the same way:

I’m on the bus, late at night, and I’m headed home after work.

There’s another person in there with me – man, woman, whatever – and damn if they’re not interesting. Some smokin’ hot chick or a guy who looks like an underwear model or a kid with a lazy eye or an old woman with a plastic leg.

Like I said: interesting.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. There ain’t nothing sexual about it. Between you and me, I hadn’t had sex in ten years.

It ain’t sexual.

They’re just interesting.

And this, this alarm goes off in my brain, like one of those old-time smoke detectors that won’t stop until you climb up on a chair and pull the battery out? This real shrill burning thing, like a hot iron right against your face. And what it’s saying to me, this thing that won’t just shut the hell up, is that I have to see them again.

Just to see them. I don’t have to talk to them or nothing like that – I imagine you could count the people I talked to in the last ten years on one hand. Maybe two hands, but you could definitely leave your shoes on. I don’t have to get to know them, or be their friend, nothing like that.

I just have to see them.

So I stay on the bus, ride past my stop if I have to, just stay on ’til we come to their stop. I get off when they get off, and then I follow them home.

Not close enough to be creepy, nothing like that. Just close enough to watch.

To see them.

And then they go inside. They don’t stop and wave and say goodbye or nothing – why would they? They don’t even know I’m there.

No one ever knows I’m there.

So now they’re inside, and I’m outside, and still, still, I still have to see them again.

I could hang out there on the sidewalk all night long, wait for them to come back out again. But that would be creepy. I’m not creepy.

So, instead?

I light a fire.

I pull out the Zippo I stole off my old man’s nightstand the night he died and the Gatorade bottle full of gas I keep in my backpack. Then I soak one of the old t-shirts I keep in the bag, light it up, and toss it through the bars on the window.

That’s one of the nice things about living in this neighborhood: not a lot of air conditioning and a lot of open windows. And police that don’t give two shits about another house fire on this side of town? That’s another one.

I got a pretty good arm, so I get the rag in there pretty deep in the house. I soak it pretty good, too, so it don’t take long before there’s a nice one going.

Then? I just take a quick lap around the block, and by the time I get back, there’s enough of a crowd to just melt right in with all the rest of them, all of us watching, seeing the chick or the guy or the kid or the old lady one more time.

Sometimes when it’s late enough they come out in their underwear. That’s interesting, too.

Sometimes, though, they don’t come out at all. Not ’til a couple hours later, or the next morning, when they come out in one of them heavy black bags.

But I’m there when they do.

I have to be.

I have to see them.

One more time.

~ fin ~

Frank Byrns lives in suburban Maryland with his wife and children, where he writes short stories and comics about superheroes, outlaws, and sometimes baseball. His crime fiction has appeared in such places as Plan B Magazine, Beat to a Pulp, Everyday Fiction, Powder Burn Flash, and Shotgun Honey. His most recent collection of short fiction, Adonis Morgan: Nobody Special, is now available from Pro Se Press. Visit him online at