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The Fireman

by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

Jonas sat by his desk and counted his toes. He had never yet reached a number higher than ten, but he had had the theory for the past months that if they were counted often enough, the number would increase. Nothing had progressed so far. Jonas was beginning the 43rd count of the day when the phone rang.

“Killing-service; can I help?” Jonas answered casually.

“Good... I don’t know where to start... Can you come down to the fire station?” asked the client.

Jonas showed up at the station and met the client, who turned out to be a fireman. “As you may already know, there have been a great many fires recently. We think you can help us a little with that,” said the fireman.

“Do you want me to join the fire department?” asked Jonas.

“No. Not quite. We just want a little peace. There is an arsonist on the loose, see, and he sets so many fires that we can’t keep up. We couldn’t even go on Easter holiday. The whole emergency watch was busy putting out fires!”

“Ah. And do you know who it is?” asked Jonas.

“Well, no. But the other day he left this note ...” The fireman reached down in his pocket and pulled up a piece of paper, all yellow and crumbly from heat and fire. He handed it to Jonas. It read: “Bonus will burn before the 15th.”

Jonas read the whole note. It did not mention which 15th, or which outlet of the Bonus stores it indicated. But he had not had anything to do for many months, so he took the job.

Jonas took to watching the news — something he’d not done since he was ten years old — to monitor fires in the town. And it was true what the fireman said, there was a fire every day, and sometimes two.

Jonas observed the course of events for a few days, plotting their location as they happened: a garage was set on fire, and Jonas marked the event on a map. Some trash was set on fire, and Jonas marked the event on a map. A car got set on fire, and Jonas put that event on his map.

And on the 14th, a pattern had appeared. On the map were a series of dots, which formed an arrow that pointed directly at one of the Bonus stores. Jonas deduced that this must be the right Bonus store. He gathered all his weapons and left.

He sat down outside the store and waited for all the customers and the staff to leave. He then picked up one of his handguns, for which he only had four rounds, and sneaked away.

Jonas only made sure he had bullets. He never practised, as he had an unfailing belief in his own abilities with the weapon. Besides, he did not have any more rounds, but he was expecting a shipment of 150 more later in the week. He had also brought the shotgun and a few knives, just to be on the safe side.

Jonas drilled the lock and sneaked in, believing that the perp would set the store on fire from the inside. Jonas had a seat and waited and listened. Nothing happened. Jonas stayed for two hours without hearing a thing. There were no signs of life inside the shop.

Then something happened. Jonas saw a glimmer of light and smelled a faint burning aroma. He believed that this was the arsonist moving about, and he sneaked forth, weapon in hand.

Smoke was rising from one corner, and Jonas sneaked over to it. He looked around the corner and caught a glimpse of the perp: in front of him, about five meters away, sat a fire man; that is, a man made entirely and solely of fire. And he was rummaging about in the cereals. A great burning smell was emitting from him.

Jonas spoke to the being, and it stood up. The entity saw Jonas and darted away from him, leaving burn marks on the linoleum. Jonas fired after the entity, but he saw that the bullets just went through, making holes in the Cheerios.

Jonas was not too impressed, but he ran after the being anyway, hoping that his shotgun would work better. He shot after the fire man at the next corner, but few things happened except that fire got into the crackers.

Jonas lowered the shotgun, and had a long and hard thought. Conventional weapons did not work on that bugaboo, and it could move about freely in the store, laugh at Jonas and set fires at its discretion. Jonas watched the phenomenon dance around the store for a while. He wondered how to kill the phenomenon, and — or rather mainly — what on God’s green earth it was and how it had come to be.

Jonas was still thinking hard when he happened to glance at the wall. There he spotted a weapon: a fire extinguisher loaded with carbon dioxide. He confiscated the extinguisher and entered the aisles again.

The fire man was still dancing around, setting little fires here and there. He did back flips and great leaps, crackling with joy. Jonas stood by the Cocoa-Puffs and waited for a short while, but soon realized that the fire man was busy doing other things. Fiery things.

He decided to go outdoors and wait, wondering on the way why the automatic sprinklers didn’t work. He looked up and inspected the ceiling, and spotted the automatic sprinkler system, well hidden in the smoke. Why did it not start? He thought about it and went looking for pipes. He found them and was quick to see what was wrong: somebody had turned off the water.

Jonas grinned. He walked a circle around the store, which was already burning strongly, and made sure that all doors and windows were properly closed. Then he turned on the water and ran outdoors. It was very good to get into the air outside, as the store was on the inside like a bar in a weekend. Jonas hefted the extinguisher and waited.

Water rained down inside the store, and the fire man did not look very happy about that. He tried to cower under some shelves for a moment, but the water on the floor caused him pain. Spray went into every crack and corner, and the fire man saw he had to get out. And there Jonas was waiting for him with the extinguisher. It didn’t take him long to hose the man down, and when he’d done that, there was nothing left but steam that rose to the sky.

Copyright © 2014 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

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