This is first-rate prose. I am enamoured of the style. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A Case Study in Natural Selection and How It Applies to Love
Eric Guignard, 2018
Yesterday I saw Jamie Goodwin burst into flame.
He was just sitting on one of those cheap aluminum-back chairs we all have, eyes closed in the shade of Hester’s old RV, trying to get some relief from the heat, same as everyone else. I was checking the stock of coolers, seeing if any held even a bit of water left to siphon out, when Jamie let out a tiny gasp like he woke from a bad dream. If it was a bad dream he had, he woke to something worse, ’cause little glints of light popped and fizzed off him like the sparklers we used to wave around on Fourth of July. Smoke or steam or something else rose up, then Jamie’s eyes went cartoon-big and he turned into a fireball.
Jamie’s the fourth person to spontaneously combust this month. Two women burned last Wednesday, and old Tom Puddingpaw blazed the week prior. Before that, we averaged only one or two fireballs a month, but now it’s getting worse. And after Jamie burned, Ms. Crankshaw didn’t even cancel lessons like she normally did, as if coming to terms that folks fireballing was the new natural order of things.
“That’s another lesson in evolution. One day we’re apes, then we’re humans, now we’re fireballs.”
She didn’t really say that, but she might as well have.
At least Loud John and Rudy were there when Jamie burned, and they contained his cinders so it didn’t spread like when Quiet John caught flame. But I still saw the whole thing, and it still scared me, even if others pretend to somehow be getting used to it.
“I watched him die,” I tell my friends. “Jamie didn’t scream. I think he tried, since his mouth opened wide, but nothing came out except flames.”
“Why is this happening for no reason?” Ogre asks, though that question is rhetorical because he doesn’t expect an answer. His voice hitches and he overcompensates for it by yelling, “When’s it going to stop?”
That’s rhetorical too.
We’re not supposed to be outdoors because of the heat, but we’re wearing protection, and sometimes out in the desert is the only place we can talk without everyone else listening in.
“I told you we weren’t safe,” Liz says. “Ms. C.’s wrong or she’s lying to us. Anybody can fireball.”
“No one ever tells us the truth,” Tommy adds. “It’s stupid going to lessons if everyone shields us from what’s really happening. I mean, what’re we learning? Facts or make-believe?”
Me and Tommy and Liz and Ogre are shooting at sand lizards with a pair of slingshots. I oughta clarify we’d shoot at anything daring our range of rocks and marbles, but it was too hot for anything but lizards to come out under the sun.
“The adults don’t want us to know…” A red bandana covers half of Liz’s face, so her voice is muffled. “I think we’re all gonna die.”