Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Evangelism( 11/01/07)
By Jan Ackerson
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As a result of his startling condition, the man lost first his job (in a marshmallow factory), then his wife (prone to blisters), and finally his house (a log cabin). The unfortunate fellow took to the streets, where he sought refuge in the corners of buildings constructed of steel and concrete.
When an episode of conflagration drew unwanted attention, the man would slip away to another area of the city. Thus it was that he found himself one day, his scalp smoking, crouching in the shadows across the street from a wondrous sight.
The mansion was beautiful. On its spacious lawn a fountain of crystal water flowed, with a merrily gurgling geyser. Oftentimes during the day, water rose up from the ground and moistened the grass, so that a fine mist shimmered in the air.
People came often to the mansion, dressed in bathing attire, and the man could hear them splashing in a pool that was tantalizingly out of sight.
How the man longed to dip his smoldering head into the refreshing fountain! Boldly, he stepped forward, hoping that one of the happy people would beckon to him. But although many glanced his way, no invitation came. Some people even quickened their steps, opening the mansion doors and hurrying inside.
Dejected, he slid down against the concrete exterior of an office building. Perhaps an hour went by when two things happened at once. He heard footsteps very near, and as he turned to see who was approaching, flames engulfed his head.
“I may be the only dowser you’ll ever know,” said an earnest-looking young man in a swimming suit. He uncapped a water bottle and poured it over his own blond hair. “See how it’s done?” Looking extremely satisfied, the young man crossed the street and re-entered the mansion.
The man clapped his burning head with his hands until the flames were extinguished. Blowing on his fingers, he sighed and glanced across the street. The geyser was no longer gushing, but several smaller sprays were spurting in a syncopated, liquid dance.
He returned frequently to that watery mansion, and observed the comings and goings of the swimmers so often that he gave them nicknames. It was a pleasant diversion from his scorching troubles.
One morning he saw that Cell Phone Woman had paused on her way out of the mansion to make a call. So fascinated was the man with his observation that he did not even notice he was currently burning. Cell Phone Woman was pointing to him and speaking with animation.
The call complete, she snapped her phone shut and crossed the street, draped in a dripping towel. “I’ve been speaking to the Water Commissioner,” she said. “I’ve asked him to send someone to extinguish you. Don’t worry—help is on the way!” She very carefully patted the burning man’s hand.
The man extinguished his head and sat down to rest.
A few days passed, and the man was surprised to see someone rush across the street during a fiery episode. It was Purple Swimsuit Guy, carrying a pamphlet which he gingerly handed over.
“This should help you, buddy—it’s a list of great quotations about putting out fires. Oh, and look, there’s a diagram, see? Four steps for extinguishing flames.” He stared at the man’s blazing head. “Still burning, huh? Seriously, dude, follow these four steps, you should be cool in no time.”
Finally, frustrated by the unapproachable mansion, the man decided to move on. He was gathering his meager belongings when Red-Haired Girl tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hey,” she said. “I’ve been watching you. I know someone who can help. Can I tell you about him?”
Speechless, the man nodded.
“He invented this hat—it’s got a self-renewing, built-in sprinkling system. Want to meet him?”
“I can’t afford—“
“Don’t worry about it! It’s free!” Red-Haired Girl offered the man her hand. “Let’s go see him, okay?”
“But—why would he give me one? I don’t deserve it.” The man hung his head, which burst into flames.
Red-Haired Girl quickly upended her water bottle on the fire. “He won’t care about that. Please—come with me?”
She brushed back her hair, and the man could see the scars of old burns, long healed.
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