“What are you doing?”
Joe peered quizzically over Anton’s shoulder and watched, transfixed by fascination and fear, as his friend sparked the lighter into life. The small yellow flame held steady, held the power to set them free, and held the capacity to imprison them forever. Neither wondered how something so small could irrevocably change the world. They too were small and knew they had the same possibility within them.
“Thinking about starting a fire,” Anton finally answered. The words were passionless but his eyes danced with pain.
Joe looked from his friend to the flame and back again, “Why?”
Anton shrugged and snapped the lighter shut with a well practiced flick of his wrist. “No reason in particular,” he muttered and looked into Joe’s face to see if his friend was going to read more of it than he should. Anton didn’t need another lecture from his parents. Not that day. Not ever again.
He felt Joe’s eyes slide away, sheepish and dull. It wasn’t what he wanted to see, but it was better than the fear that might have been there.
“Come on,” Anton jumped up, “let’s go climb the slide tower at the park.”
Joe perked up, relieved, and nodded in smiling assent, “Okay.”
The two kids raced down the block, their steps ringing in echoes on the suburban street. Anton slipped the lighter into his backpocket for later. Joe tried to push the whole thing from his mind, but would never forget the pain he’d seen in his friend’s eyes.
It hadn’t just been Anton’s pain there. It had been the whole world’s. The starving. The dying. The bullied and abused. The hurt. The sick. Anton felt it all and couldn’t process it, couldn’t handle the darker truths of the world. Joe knew it was only a matter of time before the lighter sparked again, found a fuel, and unleashed Anton’s desire to see the world burn.
Joe didn’t understand completely. He didn’t feel like his friend did. The darkness didn’t eat at his soul. But, he did know that sometimes, like a forest fire, you need to raze what is existing to make room for change, for new life, for something better.
The thoughts clung to him, burned him, even as he smiled and laughed and screamed as he and his friend romped around the park.