The old man watched as the house burned.
The fire spread from room to room in a crackling orgy of smoke and flames. The smell. The noise. The heat. There was a strange beauty to it—a fatal, blackening dance that consumed everything in its path.
The old man was not sure how long he stood there alone with the fire and the flames. The house was on the end of a long winding road deep in the woods. The nearest town was at least 40 minutes away, and the closest fire department was even further. He made no move to call either, or to fetch help. There was no point.
Eventually a fire truck came, the siren blaring in the night. Someone must have seen the fire blazing like a lighthouse in a sea of trees. The firemen knew their jobs and they acted quickly, expertly. It was too late for the house, of course, as the old man knew it would be, but they strived mightily to keep the flames from spreading.
The trees and brush were unusually dry for the time of year, and a forest fire could have consumed a whole swath land. There had already been three in the past month. An epidemic or a plague.
One of the firemen asked a serious of questions in a low, calm voice, as if speaking to a child, and the old man responded slowly in a monotone voice.
“Where did the fire start?”
“Was their anyone else in the house?”
Just me. I live alone.
“Are you hurt?”
They left him alone after that, although he caught a few worried glances. They thought he was in shock, of course. Only natural. But he wasn’t. He was simply lost in the flames.
“Do you have anywhere to go?” the fire chief asked finally. He was big man with a greying mustache, caked in soot and ash.
“I have my hat,” the old man said. “And I have my coat. Don’t worry about me.”
The fire chief frowned. “Are you sure? One of my men could…”
But he was talking to the air. The old man was gone, as if he’d never been there. Leaving only footprints in the dirt.
“Where did he go?” the fire chief demanded. The others shrugged. They had been watching the fire. “Did you even catch his name?”
There was a suitcase waiting in the bushes about half a mile down the road. The old man reached down into the bramble, ignoring the minor cuts and bruises, and retrieved the battered, leather case. It was nearly as old as he was, and untouched by any flames.
He turned at the end of the lane for one final glimpse of the fire. A wisp of a smile crossed his face and then he was gone.
It was not his house. He just liked to watch the world burn.