The two lanes wound through the city, cars streaming like a river towards the downtown. Colin banked right then left, steering from memory, pressing the gas pedal as the road began to climb. The leaves, fresh and green, rustled in the breeze. Colin pulled to a stop at a traffic light and felt the wind dance in his open window. It was cool and fresh. The light turned green. He pressed the gas.
As the car climbed, Colin saw smoke. It was billowing skyward from something over the crest of the hill. With every turn of the tires the horizon sank, revealing more smoke whirling in the breeze, dark against the blue sky.
The wheels turned, the car climbed, and Colin looked. The horizon dropped. What was burning? He couldn’t see.
Then the flames were there, dancing over the pavement skyline, red and yellow among the bricks. The fire strained for the sky, leaping and jumping. One more revolution and Colin would see what was burning. The car crested the hill at a stoplight—red—and Colin pushed the brake pedal. Across the street, standing on the sidewalk next to the intersection, stood a man engulfed in flames, burning.
His eyes were closed, Colin could see that. And his face was taut. His teeth glistened through a grimace. He held his arms out from his sides at an angle, both hands balled into fists. He seemed to be dancing, hopping from one foot to the other, red flames licking their way up his body.
His clothes were not yet burned away. They seemed to breathe fire all around him, drawing it down his shoulders, along his legs, up into his hair. A soft breeze fanned the flames like a flag and left the leaves shuddering in the trees behind him.
Colin sat at the light, both hands on the wheel. A woman in the next lane was also staring. A man and a woman were walking together on the sidewalk, laughing, unaware of the man and his flames.
Colin’s gaze returned to the man, still caught doing his strange shuffle. His clothes were melting, fusing into his skin. His lips were burning away from his teeth. The man opened his eyes—Colin couldn’t tell their color beneath the flames—and scanned around him through a veil of fire.
And then he stopped, his eyes on Colin. Through the intersection, the windshield, the glare of the traffic light, the red of the flames, the man’s eyes locked on Colin’s, even as the fire ate his eyelids.
And Colin stared back. They were transfixed—the burning man shuffling from foot to foot, Colin with his hands on the steering wheel, eyes locked across the divide. Colin could feel the sweat on his back, beaded and cool, something the man would never feel again. He held the man’s gaze and watched as the tissues around his eyes charred and turned black. He was unable to look away.
The light turned. Green. Colin rolled forward, still transfixed, still unable to turn. The burning man followed him as he passed.
Colin crossed the intersection, pulling the wheel to the left and glided into an open space. He leapt out of the drivers seat. The burning man had lost control of his muscles and fallen to the ground. From either side people ran towards the charred body. One was carrying a fire extinguisher, bright and red.