Reflections of an Arsonist
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You ask me why I did it?
Do you want to know why?

You look young. Too young to have fought in the war. Maybe you've seen the movies, or the footage, or read the papers, and think you understand. You look to me as if I am entirely alien to you, as if I was not as you were years ago. Perhaps I was never as you were, though.

I was first burned, truly burned, when I was fifteen. We've all been burned before, as children. Place your hand on a hot stovetop, pick up a burning piece of metal, reach too close into the allure of the flame; we all know the searing which follows. These burns are trivial things. They do not persist as a true mark of the chosen would, they fade and fade until they are indistinguishable from the skin around them. You, you could not show me where you have been burned. You might hazard a guess, recall your childhood accidents and vaguely point to discolorations on your skin and claim that you, too, have suffered, but I do not wish for you to indulge in such things. To be burned is to bear a true mark.

When I was younger, what seems like a lifetime ago, my home burned around me. My family had escaped before it was too late, but I was trapped within. I succumbed to the smoke shortly thereafter. By some miracle, a fireman had pulled my body from the wreckage, almost unrecognizable from the burns and soot which coated my skin. I woke up much later. By some divine miracle, I did not pass on that day. In my every waking moment, I wish I had.

You, my friend, do not know the feeling of waking up as a prisoner in your own body, entirely beholden to the pain you now feel. I can tell, because you still hold a spark in your eyes. Few things numb the pain. Nothing takes it away.

But on that day, I was cleansed. I was cleansed of the innate uncleanliness of that which is human, I was cleansed of the insecurity and fear and inhibition that once plagued my daily life. I was free. If I had survived the fire, I could survive anything. I knew then, that I was chosen.

You did this.

I joined the Army when I was nineteen. Barely passed my physical, but they let me in anyways. I excelled in basic, though. I guess the fact I was in constant pain already made it a little easier to adjust to. When I finished, I was to be assigned a position, and sent to the Front. Some higher-up must have thought it was funny sending me to a flamethrower unit. Either way, I had found my work.

I grew to love the fire I held in my hands. Wielding the very instrument of my salvation against my enemies seemed very fitting at the time, and I took to this grisly work with enthusiasm. Those faced with the jet of cleansing flame, though, failed to survive its glory. Enemy entrenchments fell, pillboxes were cleansed, and bunkers rendered empty. None yet had survived the cleansing which I had. I suppose I saw this as a sign of their inferiority, their weakness. They had perished where I had survived, and this gave me power over them. Perhaps they were simply not ready. Then again, I wasn't either.

I found a sort of safety in it. When the flames were licking the enemy and not me, I could no longer feel the burns. I felt no pain, only the gentle warmth of the swath of fire. I suppose that's quite ironic, if you think about it. I didn't care.

Well, I should get down to business.

I hear things. When I'm alone, I hear the roar of the flamethrower inside my ears, inside my head. It doesn't go away. It grows to drown out everything, just as it had when I stood against enemy bunkers, watching the flame consume all within, the orange glow filling my eyes.

And yet you still ask why I did it?

I suppose I should finish my story. You never fought. You never bled or burned on the field with the rest of us. Do you want to know what you hear when the fuel runs dry, and the flame sputters out? When all around you has been cleansed in your fire and your rage? When the air stands still and hot, reeling from the outpouring of pure human suffering? When the crackling of seared grass and flesh ceases, and the blaze subsides?

I don't hear you anymore.

You hear silence.

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