I remember the hot silver flash as the floorboard severed all my toes from my left foot. I remember the steering column sailing over my shoulder. I remember the eruption of glass that seemed to be everywhere around me. When the car finally came to a stop, I hung upside down, seatbelted. I could hear the hiss of various gases escaping the engine and the tires still spinning outside, above, and there was the creak of metal settling as the car stopped rocking, a pathetic turtle on its back.
Just as I was beginning my drift into unconsciousness, there was the explosion. Not a movie explosion but a small real-life explosion, like the ignition of an unhappy gas oven that holds a grudge against its owner. A flash of blue flame skittered across the roof of the car, which was at a slanted angle underneath my dangling body. Out of my nose crawled a drop of blood, which jumped expectantly into the happy young flames springing to life beneath me. I could feel my hair catch fire; then I could smell it. My flesh began to singe as if I were a scrap of meat newly thrown onto the barbecue, and then I could hear the bubbling of my skin as the flames kissed it. I could not reach my head to extinguish my flaming hair. My arms would not respond to my commands.
I imagine, dear reader, that youve had some experience with heat. Perhaps youve tipped a boiling kettle at the wrong angle and the steam crept up your sleeve; or, in a youthful dare, you held a match between your fingers for as long as you could. Hasnt everyone, at least once, filled the bathtub with overly hot water and forgot to dip in a toe before committing the whole foot? If youve only had these kinds of minor incidents, I want you to imagine something new. Imagine turning on one of the elements of your stove--lets say its the electric kind with black coils on top. Dont put a pot of water on the element, because the water only absorbs the heat and uses it to boil. Maybe some tiny tendrils of smoke curl up from a previous spill on the burner. A slight violet tinge will appear, nestled there in the black rings, and then the element assumes some reddish-purple tones, like unripe blackberries. It moves towards orange and finally--finally!--an intense glowing red. Kind of beautiful, isnt it? Now, lower your head so that your eyes are even with the top of the stove and you can peer through the shimmering waves rising up. Think of those old movies where the hero finds himself looking across the desert at an unexpected oasis. I want you to trace the fingertips of your left hand gently across your right palm, noting the way your skin registers even the lightest touch. If someone else were doing it, you might even be turned on. Now, slam that sensitive, responsive hand directly onto that glowing element.
And hold it there. Hold it there as the element scorches Dantes nine rings right into your palm, allowing you to grasp Hell in your hand forever. Let the heat engrave the skin, the muscles, the tendons; let it smolder down to the bone. Wait for the burn to embed itself so far into you that you dont know if youll ever be able to let go of that coil. It wont be long until the stench of your own burning flesh wafts up, grabbing your nose hairs and refusing to let go, and you smell your body burn.
I want you to keep that hand pressed down, for a slow count of sixty. No cheating. One Mis-sis-sip-pi, two Mis-sis-sip-pi, three Mis-sis-sip-pii.i.i.i At sixty Mis-sis-sip-pi, your hand will have melted so that it now surrounds the element, becoming fused with it. Now rip your flesh free.
I have another task for you: lean down, turn your head to one side, and slap your cheek on the same element. Ill let you choose which side of your face. Again sixty Mississippis; no cheating. The convenient thing is that your ear is right there to capture the snap, crackle, and pop of your flesh.
Excerpted from The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson Copyright © 2008 by Andrew Davidson. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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