That of Fire, that of Faith
"I have a question."
The Old Man's raspy chords sounded like an unclean, unkempt set of fibers wound to an equally uncouth cello. Jasp watched his grandfather sway back and forth in his old rocker. It creaked slightly as if complaining of its own aches and pains. As he swayed, the Old Man let out a blanket of smoke from his decayed mouth.
"Can we open the windows? It's not that hot out," pleaded Jasp.
"It is so that hot out. I'm fine, thank you."
"I wasn't asking for you."
"Would you like to open the windows, then?"
Jasp slid from the couch and onto his feet. The first window to be opened, he had already plotted, was the one directly behind the Old Man. Jasp moved cautiously, purposefully, while holding his breath.
"I still have a question," said the Old Man.
"Just a moment." The wood shrieked against the rusted metal as Jasp slid the old pane upward. He breathed in the fresh air. "Yes?"
"It's a serious question." The Old Man stared straight ahead, lost in the vapors there were being thrown by the wind across the room. Jasp waited patiently. Then he continued liberating the living room of the thick smog the Old Man was producing.
"What's the question?"
The Old Man blinked and smacked his lips. He stood up and turned around. Jasp finished with another screaming window pane and noticed the Old Man waiting. They stood there, eye to eye. Jasp felt the Old Man's intensity searing through his own being. "What's the--"
The Old Man walked away and out of the room. Jasp stayed put. Sweat beaded down his forehead. One drop slid its way into the corner of his right eye, which stung it sharply. Jasp did not move an inch, not even to blink.
- - -
The sun slank down the horizon that night with such malaise, such half-heartedness. The Old Man was outside, watching the orange sky grow darker and darker still.
Jasp looked out the kitchen window, studying the Old Man's peculiar behavior. He sat next to a small twig fire. As he sipped from a bottle, he kept the fire fed just enough to sustain an orange glow even long after the sun had dipped their end of the Earth into ethereal blackness. Finally, Jasp decided to join him.
The Old Man gazed into the fire, fixated. He blinked when he heard the porch door creak as it swung open.
"You still didn't ask me that question," said Jasp.
"Still as serious as before."
Jasp came to a muted halt as he reached the Old Man's fire. "Then I think you'd ought to ask, don't you?"
"It ain't easy to ask it."
The two were mute as they gazed over the small, dying fire. The Old Man took another swig. The contents inside, Jasp noticed, were near finished. The slosh was high-pitched and unheavy. He was very much concerned about this.
"Do you have dreams, Jasper?"
"Well, yes," Jasp replied.
"Bad dreams?" The Old Man aimed his eyes at Jasp's. "Horrible ones?"
"Suppose so. Every once and again."
"I'd like to make mine go away." The Old Man turned toward the orange flickering again. "I'd like to... Dig them out and burry them."
"Don't know if that's the way to do it."
"Wasn't asking you."
"Have you had enough?" Jasp lightly motioned toward the bottle. The Old Man scoffed, "I'm your grandpappy, not your son. Anyway. I wanted to ask if you'd still think of me the same way if I did."
"Dig them out and burry them again."
"Depends," Jasp stated unwaveringly.
"Why you'd do it."
"Doesn't matter why. Just that I need to."
- - -
He was above the clouds, soaring. What an amazing sight it was below, how the greenery collided with metropolitan growth. The sensation of flying never left his stomach, which bounced this way and that inside of his metal war capsule. But, it was time now. He knew it. He felt it. He heard the chamber doors open, felt them shift the airflow around the B-29. It was hot, too hot. He rubbed his forehead from the moisture that leaked from his helmet. It was warm, sticky, and crimson.
He turned to the pilot. He was gone. He screamed back to the crew. Nothing came out. Just the piercing sound of a whistling bomb, descending upon its victims. He cried as the blood trickled down his face, down his cheeks. He cursed. He ripped away at his flight suit. And then it was there. That brightness, that loudness. It blinded him. It stole his soul away.
- - -
The Old Man stood in front of the plane. It's nice outside, he thought. He gazed at the worn metal, the worn script on its nose. Maybe another walk today, at sunset, he thought. He sighed and looked at his feet as a father and son walked in front of the plane.
"You see that, son?" said the young father. "You know what that is?"
The little boy was not even ten, but replied nonetheless, "That's how we won the war?"
"That's right," cooed the father, "We won, but at a great cost."
"After," interrupted the Old Man, "After we had firebombed upwards of seventy-percent of their major cities." The father turned, slightly disturbed, and nodded. "And after a relentless year of toiling with their boys on the Pacific Islands. God damn, insanity."
"Hey, sir, I'm just trying to teach my--"
"Fucking blew themselves up rather than become our war prisoners. Understandable, really."
"Then, after all of that shit, then we drop two, fucking two of those... Monsters."
The father rose to his feet and shoved the Old Man. "You've got some nerve, pal." The Old Man continued, "Do you know what it feels like to get boiled alive? To have your skin seared off from light alone? Do you?"
The father paused. He felt the Old Man's soul reaching for his. He felt the intrusion of anger, despair, and grief enter his very being. After faltering at a reply, the father grabbed his son's hand and said, "Come on, son." They walked off hurriedly, leaving the Old Man to himself once again.
The Old Man stood, quiet and subdued. He stared at the plane. He felt the heat of the sun as it shone through the large glass windows and onto his black jacket. "No. I don't," he answered himself, "I can only imagine it. I can only imagine..."
- - -
Jasp drove his old truck back home from work two weeks later. It was already dark out. He had spent the entirety of the daylight driving nails into lumber, constructing a new house not three neighborhoods away. It was a hot day at that, in mid-summer. The AC was busted and so only blew out hot air. Jasp writhed in the sauna, unable to escape it. It felt hotter, he thought. It's getting hotter.
He saw it then, the black smog hovering over yonder. Before he even saw the orange glow, he knew exactly what it was. He knew the Old Man was gone. He just wished he knew why.