I was there at the diner just gazing really when all of a sudden there’s Stilts not much more than a pig-toss away alight with fire head to toe, and he was moving like hell through the park, thinking I guess he could outrun the flames, and behind him was this black drift of smoke and behind that damn near the entire school, teachers and all chasing after Stilts, sorry old Stilts, who I had just heard that morning giving one of those speeches he was so fond of giving. I blinked more than a couple of times and there he went, a mad bull broke out of the underworld and with not a single one of the St. Joseph’s people gaining any ground. This point I can feel the bodies piling up around my booth and a couple patrons got to pointing and screaming all high-pitched and cacophonous-like to the point where Chief Elroy looked away from his stories for the first time all afternoon, turning from the counter to ask just what in God’s name was going on. Nor did he get much of an answer as Stilts moved across the window like an orange brushstroke.
I thought to myself poor Stilts done finally lost his mind. And by the time I crossed into the park the sun’s light came through the trees and hit me like a dart catching me half-blind, and all I managed to do was scream, just like pretty much everyone else except for a few cooler heads who got to calling Drop and Roll, but old Stilts, all he did was zig and zag.
I had a hero’s heartbeat, and I won’t lie to you, for a second there running across the baseball diamond I saw myself saving old Stiltsy, even pictured the two of us sharing a good laugh about the whole thing over a couple of beers. Although in truth Stilts never did touch the stuff, and anyway as it turned out I wasn’t any more help to him than the rest of them, the drivers that kept on honking their horns, the teachers yelling at each other to call 911, and I swear to you the pair of girls who gave up chasing and stood there with their phones out, screaming the both of them but recording nonetheless.
The thing of it was, Stilts was like some attic bat. You climb up those stairs intent on getting it, but as you’re up there and the thing gets to flapping its wings, you can’t really be sure if you’re trying to get the bat, or if the bastard’s trying to get you. What I mean is that when I did finally manage to get near enough to try to take him down to the ground, a fleck of sun jumped from his skin to mine and with the sound of fire working on Stilts like a plane about to take off I winced, just for a second mind you, but long enough that off he went on and on, until eventually he snagged a tree root and flopped down on the grass and soon enough the fire exterminated itself, on its own volition it seemed, by which time I had come close enough to see that Stilts was no longer Stilts.
And at the funeral some days later the priest spoke a whole lot about Stilts’ eternal soul, about how he had some hard times and he struggled damn near his entire life against the evils of this world and how he kept on struggling right on to the end there when he passed from his world to the next with the devil’s lasso tight around his neck. But I was there in that park, and if you ask me, there’s nothing left of Stilts, spirit and all. Just a pile of charred limbs with eyes deader than ping pong balls that the medics hid behind a mummy suit and hurried off with, leaving nothing of old Stiltsy but some kind of stench by the big oak there that interested the neighborhood yapping dogs for a couple of days, but it wasn’t long until they started pulling their owners onto more pressing concerns.
//Mark Jay is a co-founder of The Periphery.