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The Essay
Show #440
The Maroon Inferno
David Gunn

From a distance, it looked like an ignis fatuus, an illusory phosphorescent light, as it darted amongst the trees in the tenebrous forest. But as it approached, it became chillingly apparent that the figure was a running man and he was on fire. The only sound that emanated from him was a soft crackling, like eggs sizzling in a frying pan. The man paused by a massive oak tree, but after only a few seconds, the ground beneath his feet began to smolder, then it burst into flames. At the same time, a huge spark shot out of his head, so high that it grazed the branches thirty feet above him, catching them on fire, too. Then he was off again, running higgledy-piggledy, jettisoning embers as he ran.

The man was Jules Crenshaw, and he was on fire not for the first time. For Jules was a member of The Order of the Maroon Inferno, a monastic sect whose ascetic practices included varying degrees of immolation. Most members of the sect quit after only two or three combustive events, giving a literal translation to the term "burned out." But Jules had played the role of The Fireman more than two dozen times now and still showed no signs of burn-out. If anything, he seemed to be on a roll.

He was rolling now, down a steep sandy embankment, at the bottom of which loomed Lake Hephaestus, the terminus of the supposedly metaphysical-only distress of the fire walk. Jules' body hissed and sputtered as it slipped into the water. At first, the liquid around him boiled and seethed, but then it cooled, cooling him in the process. His fingers, which mere moments before had burned with a bonfire intensity, reached a temperate enough temperature for him to brush the ashes from his eyes and ears. Jules glanced around and at once spotted Gillingham, a novice from the Order, standing on the lake's edge, cradling a saffron robe and flagon of rose water balm. Jules waded over to him, immodestly peeled off his asbestos Speedos, and stood silently as the balm of Gillingham was poured over his still steamy body. Then he put on the robe and led the novice back to the monastery.

They walked in silence through the woods, and this was the part of the ritual that Jules most savored. It was for him a time of profound contemplation, and he always found that his understanding of otherwise abstruse ideas crystallized during these moments. The Theory of Relative Humidity, quadraphonic equations, the Second and Third Laws of Theremindynamics, the Big Bangkok Theory--he'd already worked out elegant corollaries to all of them that would likely have lasting consequences on twenty-first century science. Today, his swirling thoughts settled at last on Esperanto pronunciation.

"Mi ne deziri fari denove," he murmured.

"Kio?" responded Gillingham, who had been Jules' Esperantic foil on dozens of occasions.

"Mi ne deziri fari denove!" said Jules emphatically, surprising both Gillingham and himself.

"You ... don't want to do it anymore?" the novice translated, stunned. "But Brother Crenshaw, you are the last Fireman. All the others have remembered previous engagements. And surely I am not yet worthy to perform the firewalk. Besides, I have this bunion that just won't heal. Mia piedoj doloras!" Gillingham exclaimed, abruptly effecting a modest limp.

The two walked in silence for a few minutes more. Jules' thoughts drifted to the Maroon Inferno's abbot, who this morning had insisted that he was both Gorgon and Émile Zola. Brother Hasner, the mixologist, diagnosed the abbot's condition as multiple personality disorder, a time-share of one body by two or more visiting entities, and prescribed a steady diet of Jello Shooters. In exasperation, Jules shook his head, dislodging a Lake Hephaestus minnow from his ear. If Father Abbot was no longer lucid, who was left of the Order from whom to derive inspiration? No, his decision was the correct one. He had performed his last firewalk.

When the two returned to the monastery, Gillingham, abandoning his limp, ran through the buildings announcing the decision of Brother Crenshaw. For the rest of that day and the next, Jules was besieged by pleas from the Order's novices, fakirs, monks, priests and haberdashers to maintain the firewalk tradition. The abbot, smelling of pungent cheese, non-sequitured his respect for Alfred Dreyfus. But Jules was resolute, and eventually his decision was acknowledged.

But it wasn't respected. Until he left a year later to open a highly successful winter melon farm in Costa Rica, Brother Crenshaw was thereafter referred to as Jules of Denial.

Far be it for us to deny that this 440th episode of Kalvos & Damian's Nova Muzika Bazarro is full of scorching tunes and sizzling talk, and here to sprinkle a little petroleum on the flames is Kalvos.