He had one of those sandwich-board signs, you know, the whole “the-end-is-nigh” business draped over the shoulders -big letters on the board in front, another message in the back- but his sign was made out of metal. He’d bought two 3/8″ aluminum squares, three feet wide, four feet tall and had the words cut into the metal itself in fourteen-inch letters:
as I burn
All lower case, no punctuation. Same words on both sides. You could see the sun shining through the cutout letters. He wrote a 27,000 word manifesto. It had been thoroughly proofread, no typos, employing traditional and precise use of the written word. He sent an electronic copy of it to every major news agency minutes beforehand; he printed out copies and left them everywhere.
Those copies he printed are worth serious money now. As near as anyone can tell, he had about twenty made. Shipped one to his mom, one to an old girlfriend, and a couple to a a few old college roommates. The rest were left in office parks, waiting rooms, and liberal Christian churches. He left one in our foyer. I have it in my study. If I auctioned it off I could buy a new car.
The sign itself must have cost him around seven hundred bucks. Pundits are saying the bidding war is expected to end well north of twenty million. Some of the thermite fell off, melted into the front plate. The left side looks like termites have gotten to it. Some of his skin and bone is probably embedded into the pitting. I wonder if you could get his DNA from the sign.
He arranged for at least three cameras to be there, including an HD rig. They had no idea what was going to happen. I assume they expected a press release, maybe the germination of a protest. He stood in front of the main office doors of AlterMist and he threw a copy of his manifesto in front of their main door. That particular copy sold for half a million dollars.
AlterMist had always been considered one of the good guys. They made organic pesticides, supplying the major-scale organic growers with enough natural and USDA-certified weedkiller to keep millions of acres free of unwanted vegetation. They had made several high-profile donations to anti-GMO nonprofits and they spent a hell of a lot of money on marketing and image consultants. This was about to become insufficient.
He was wearing a black cotton beanie with half a pound of thermite tucked inside it. The red iron oxide he used in the mix gave it a burn temperature of around 2500C. As a tribute to what we can only assume was the source of his inspiration, he doused himself in gasoline, knelt down, and applied a cigarette lighter to the center of his drenched shirt. The heat from the gas fire was insufficient to ignite the thermite, but he was aware of this. Added dramatic tension. He lit a magnesium flare (easily hot enough to reach the flash point of the thermite) from the fire that covered his entire body and applied it to the thermite, staring directly at the camera the entire time.
One of the news guys out there abandoned the filming to dial 911. Everyone started buzzing, then they started screaming. He started screaming. The plan must have been for the thermite to slag, melting through his skull and boiling his brain, but maybe the pain from the gas fire had gotten too bad. He made a point in the manifesto that although he had considered painkillers, he wanted to be completely clearheaded to avoid any charges of mental instability or a bad drug reaction. His actions had to be sober, but in his sobriety he couldn’t keep his head upright and the slagging thermite began to slide off, sticking to the side of his face and his arm before splattering the sign and burning a hole in the concrete big enough to stick your hand into. Two days after the event, an enterprising crew came in with a cement saw and cut out the square of concrete containing the hole and the melted slag at the bottom. They sold it to a factory tycoon in Hong Kong. He has it in his entry room.
Emergency services got there in five minutes. They kept him alive, got him in a helicopter and had him in the best burn center on the West Coast in ninety minutes. He lasted about six days. One of the cameramen is writing a book. He’s been on a couple of morning shows already.
Sean Van Sickel is a writer living in Bakersfield, CA, where he works as an English teacher. He’s a former staff writer at The Runner (Cal State University Bakersfield’s student newspaper) and has been published in The Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle. This is his first publication since his time as an undergrad.