Burn

Posted: February 23, 2012 in Fiction, Test Subject

I follow Doctor Allison into the chamber. She stops to let me past, then pushes a black, mushroom -shaped button on the inside wall. The doors slam shut again. The interior of the blast chamber is about fifteen feet in diameter, with a high ceiling made of steel grating. I hear a rush of wind. Fans must be supplying us with air from somewhere. With the exception of the window ring, the whole of the place is tiled in some kind of black ceramic. “You ever think about adding a little color to the place, Doc?” She ignores me and sets the tray down on a rolling cart. There is some apparatus on the lower shelf of the cart, but I don’t really recognize it.

The doctor picks up a cotton ball from the tray and beckons me closer. “Hold out your left arm,” the speaker at her waist hisses. I comply, and she wipes my arm. The evaporating alcohol gives me a shiver. Or maybe that’s the nervousness. I can’t tell. She turns and grabs more stuff from the tray. She hands me a silvery pellet. “Put that in your mouth. Don’t swallow it.”

“What is it?” I hold it up to my face to inspect it.

“It’s a wireless thermometer. It transmits your temperature to the monitoring station.”

“Where’s this monitoring station?” She points to the cart. There’s a portable screen there. Ah. I put the thing under my tongue. I resist the urge to ask what would happen if I swallowed it. It’d probably just suck to have to fish it out of the toilet. Doctor Allison holds up a syringe. “Gonna make me stab myself this time?”

“Not yet.” She takes my left wrist with her hand and places the needle on the clean spot on my arm. I’m pretty sure she’s not on a vein, so I ask.

“You don’t want the vein?”

“You would bleed much more, and some of the compound would be lost.” Oh. That makes sense. “In the future, I have a much more efficient delivery system in mind.” Then she stabs the needle in. The puncture itself isn’t so bad, really. I was braced for it. It’s the next part… Just as I’m thinking about how much better I’m handling it, my arm starts to burn. I wince and grit my teeth. The fire spreads through me, creeping down to my fingertips and up into my chest. I start to panic – did she poison me? Am I allergic? I can’t breathe for a second. It burns so bad! And then suddenly it stops.

I open my eyes. I hadn’t realized that I closed them. Black spots swim in my vision, but they fade quickly. I unclench my teeth. I take a deep breath. “That kind of sucked,” I tell her. She doesn’t respond. She’s holding out a Zippo. I take it. “What’s this for?”

“Light it, then run your hand over the flame as slowly as possible.” I flip open the lighter and spark a flame with my right hand. I run my left hand over the flickering orange teardrop of fire. “Slower.” I do so again, more slowly. The flame gutters and dances around my fingers. I wait for the pain of burning, but it never comes. I place my hand over the flame and hold it steady. My palm starts to blacken, but there is no burning. The doctor is busy fiddling with the apparatus on the bottom of the rolling cart, but I’m too busy to pay it any mind. I flick the lighter closed and examine my palm. I wipe away the black to reveal the undamaged pinkish skin.

“This is fucking amazing!” I hold my palm up to the doctor, but she’s busy shouldering something. There’s a small grey tank with a strap that is now hanging from her shoulder. Also attached to that tank is some sort of box that I would guess is a control mechanism and pressure gauge. A pair of hoses run from the tank to a wand that the doctor is aiming at me. Suddenly I know what I’m looking at. I have a thermometer in my mouth. I’m holding a lighter that has failed to burn my hand. She checked to see if I had worn my favorite shirt. “No! Wait –”

“Hold still,” she says, and a gout of flame streaks into my chest.

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