The Charred Man – H. West

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Skin cream was a luxury to him. It was something he never even considered buying before, but now he found himself visiting the drug store on a daily basis just to get his fix. Could you even really call it a fix? After all, it was just a salve that alleviated a miniscule amount of the pain for the briefest of moments.

The pain was always there. Shooting pulses that danced along his nervous system, rendering him incapable of speech or mobility for hours on end. Why had the fire taken everything but left the nerves perfectly intact? Were they so far buried beneath his skin that the flames couldn’t even touch them?

He saw the looks they gave him. People trying to mask their disgust with a faint layer of sympathy. The layers of clothing could only mask so much, and they always seemed to know just where to look in order to catch a peek at his charred skin. It didn’t matter what his story was or how he got there, a first impression is sometimes the only impression.

The story of it never factors in. No one bends over backwards to ask why or how. There isn’t a line of questioning for him to answer, to describe how it happened. Even if there was, he’s not sure he would respond. How do you describe to someone the choice made in an instant, the decision to run into a fire as opposed to away from it? The simple answer, you don’t.

The pig skin grafts never matched up just right. Jagged pieces of flesh haplessly clinging to the contours of his face, leaving him resembling a poor man’s Humpty Dumpty. Every visit to the doctors’ bringing more and more rejection. This donor wasn’t a match. This skin tone was tad off. More pig skin it is.

He was the hero of 42nd Street. When he was in the hospital, cards and flowers filled the room from thankful parents to local businesses proud enough to call him a customer. He had run into that fire with little regard for his own well being, not as a hero, but as a citizen. The fame was brief, less than fifteen minutes.

Skin cream was a luxury to him. It was a nicety he could scarcely afford, but goddamn he needed it. The medical bills piled and continued to pile until they had a suffocating effect. He couldn’t afford the mortgage, barely afford to eat. Sometimes he wished that he hadn’t run into the fire, maybe avoid his mutilation, or at the very least prolong it. The cream soaked into his skin, offering a reprieve, just for a few moments.

Hugh took advantage of our free program for emerging authors. Do you have a story you’d like to share? Share Your Story

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