Knowing the Risks

Super markets seem too convenient, these days—people used to have to go to different stores in order to collect supplies pretty much for anything that involved more than two items. The other day, I was at a super market to get my oil changed. During that forty minutes I bought bubble wrap and a snack, sat at a café and hammered out a couple of applications through the free wifi. Doing all that in one setting exhausted me for two days afterward. The possibilities are endless at super markets, maybe, but like I mentioned, they can be…too convenient.

Like for the guy I saw last night while I was, once again, at the super market collecting a rotisserie and some other goods. He was older, maybe in his seventies, but it was dusk and he was wearing a generic brown cap which covered most of his face.

I was loading the groceries into my trunk when I looked up and saw him enter an old brown car, maybe some Oldsmobile, that I did not notice was parked in the pedestrian walk by the front entrance, empty. The man approached the car with a logo-emblazoned plastic bag in each hand. He entered the car, and I went back to my groceries. Weird, but I’ve seen people do crazier things during retrogrades—or in Colorado otherwise. They say Boulder County is “inundated” by growing mental health concerns, these days.

As I slammed the trunk shut, my view went back to the man in the car, who was still sitting in the pedestrian zone about a thousand yards away from me so it was difficult to see the man, who mimed the actions of taking turns drinking and shooting something into his mouth. There weren’t too many people around as the day grew to a close, not enough people to cause a fuss about the car’s position, until he got out of the car a moment later and began to shout—

“Film me! Film me! Everyone needs to know the truth! The truth…” he half got back into the car, reaching to whatever was in the other bag, saying over and over “truth,” like some memory wandering off, but then he came back out and immediately began pouring a large plastic container of slightly yellowed liquid over himself, walking towards people a few at a time, rounding them up as an expert herder. “Everyone needs to know the truth!”

I got in my car quickly, locked the doors, but rolled the window down a crack to listen to the wet man with his arms up, a preacher in the parking lot—

“THEY TELL YOU THE FBI IS HERE TO PROTECT YOU, BUT IT’S ALL LIES.” He took out one of those lighters with the long necks, like for candles that are about to dry up, way down in the bottom of the glass jar. He tapped the little dots of flames to various portions of his clothing freshly doused, calling out, “Do not put me out!” But someone was already yelling “Call 911!” at the same time as the flames quickly spread across his limbs, a soft glow radiating in the early night, set on creating some vision for himself, some vision of turning ghost to haunt us all.

Even through the screams of onlookers I could hear him talking through his flaring face, I was living in the movies where all the plots twist, don’t make any sense anymore, and he saying, “They never let me sleep. All I’m doing is trying to make ends meet and all they’re trying to do is fuck with me! There’s nothing left when everything you try to push through pushes you back—they’re pushing me and I’m done being pushed!”

All this while, people are beginning to go after him with jackets, following the fuzzy hot monster to extinguish him, his words. I sat frozen to the scene, half knowing the ambulance would be on it’s way and in my way in a moment, half stuck in the movie reel. The fire-man slowly crept across the thru-way between the parking lot and store, occupying the space where the most people can view him, a shape of a him, rather, some shadow hanging on under a mass of reddish-orange. Those set to save him finally tackled him down, covered the flames in heavy fabrics until the smoke took its place.

I watched those same people who put the man out run to put the car out, which had also caught fire sometime during the running and ranting that I didn’t catch. About five hundred yards from the car, the coherent and smoldering man sat up and crossed his legs. One man noticed and stood near him, letting the man say without response, “I want to get my message out, tell as many people as you can, tell them my message…” until the sirens came into earshot.

The car was put out, and the cloth-wielders stood through the smoke panting as the blue and red began to illuminate the shadowed volunteers. The rest of the crowd had vanished, a few store employees stood at the doors. Even several hundred yards away, I could see how the man had no clothing left, hardly skin left on his body, third degree burns in the least, all blackened, i swear I could feel the residual heat from his body on my own skin.

I turned on my car and pulled away to the scene in my rearview mirror; EMT jumping out of the white truck with a gurney, sound of helicopter propellers incoming.

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