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Refining Fire

by Rudi Dornemann

The city burned with slow fire. The burn line moved about a block an hour, tongues of flame dancing with underwater grace. As soon they heard about it on their police band receivers, members of the Phoenix League began getting the word out by phone tree, blog, and Twitter. In half an hour, everyone who wanted to know was on their way to a railroad yard a couple hundred yards from the line.

I didn't want to know. Even if the fire worked the way the Phoenixers said it did -- and all the studies said it didn't -- I was happy the way I was.

Nobody else felt the same way, though. My teachers always said I was unfocused; my friends said I was too cautious; my dad said I was shy; my mom said I was too proud to ask for help; my girlfriend said I was too sensitive to what other people thought.

The lot of them must have planned it months ago. There was no way to know when the fire would start, or where, or which direction it would spread. So they must have had everything ready: the chloroform, the duct tape, the handcuffs. (It may have just been the wooziness, but I didn't know Aunt Harriet could drive like that.)

They handcuffed me to a chain link fence in the railway yard, gave me a speech about how this might seem cruel but I'd thank them later, and hugged me. All of them. Even my cousin Burt who's in the Marines. Then they left me.

The Phoenix-folks walked around, set up folding chairs, chatted -- from the stories they swapped, it was clear most of them had done this a few times.

"It doesn't hurt, exactly," said a heavyset fellow in a suit. "Third time's the charm," he said. "I know I can be even better."

He and all the others were disappointed when the wind changed and the fire went somewhere else.

An hour went by. Two. I wished my family had left me my iPod.

The Phoenix-leaguers were starting to pack, some in tears, when the van drove up, Aunt Harriet still at the wheel.

They had me out of there in seconds.

"I don't know what we were thinking," said dad.

"I love you just the way you are," said Fiona, and everyone else's eyes said the same.

I could still feel the fire-heat in their hands.

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