So You’ve Decided to Spontaneously Combust in Front of your Friends (A Beginner’s Guide)
By Sid Mayburn, age 16
1) Are you still on fire?
I cannot stress this enough. Do not be on fire. It’s bad enough you’ve decided to start this thing. Put it out naturally if you can; stop, drop and roll, perhaps. You’re on a beach, so the wind won’t help, but you can run into the water.
Almost all of the following steps are rendered invalid if you try to do them while on fire.
2) Is anyone else on fire?
You survived combusting and are not hospitalised so you’re probably immune to being burned. Now look around you. Is anyone else on fire? They’re pretty much your responsibility, even if they’re a douche like Greg Costin. Remember your health and safety training at your lifeguard job. This is a beach party, so again; the wind’s your enemy, the sea’s your ally.
If someone’s dead… you’ll be in real trouble, even dad didn’t kill anyone and he makes hurricanes. Leave that option for another guide I guess.
3) Were there any witnesses?
No one else was on fire. It was just you, so that’s the best possible result, given everything. Now people will start asking questions. Greg, of course, but also Sophie Skelter, who you were trying to impress. The others you don’t care about so much, some friends from school but they’ve all seen you lift the piece of wood up into the air and it caught flame. Then so did you. This is a social faux pas. Wood and people do not normally catch fire all by themselves.
4) Is there anything to blame it on?
Notice I’ve not said anyone. Blaming going on fire on a person is a high risk strategy, even if it could get rid of Greg Costin. It would only draw attention to the idea that people can make other people, or themselves, go on fire.
The piece of wood, collected when you and your friends were on the way to the beach, is innocent, too. There is no way it would have caught light any better than the rest of the wood.
“Wow, that piece of wood really went up,” you say anyway.
People don’t believe you.
“I don’t know what must have been on it,” you continue, but you’re labouring the point. You don’t even own a lighter. You’re not one of the smokers, they must know that. If you were your brother, you’d have a lighter and you could shape stone instead of fire, so none of this would be necessary.
It’s dark and people were looking for something to start the fire with. There’s only a little fire blazing after your efforts and they can’t see the charred piece of wood in your hand. Hopefully. Just in case, you swear and throw it across the pebbles, towards the water.
Realising that you’re the only one standing up, you’re also the only one standing out, even more than Dominic and his latest in a series of hideous jumpers.
You make a joke at his expense, and the attention shifts on him for now. People are still awkward, a minute ago you were on fire, after all. Your jumper and jeans aren’t fireproof. They’re tatters, smelling of smoke. You were quick, but not quick enough.
You want to say, “I’ll be over there,” and walk off, but then you couldn’t control the story, contain any rumours, so here you remain.
5) Will this get back to your parents?
Speaking of your clothing, you should always carry a spare set if you plan on going on fire. Of course, you can’t control it, like when you held the wood aloft and wanted it to catch light. This means you should always carry more clothing, which you didn’t do tonight as you couldn’t flirt with Sophie while lugging all that dead weight around.
This means that your parents will see your burned clothing. If you’re careful, you can sneak in the house. If you’re lucky, you might be staying at Sophie’s. Again, seducing a human is another guide. One which remains unwritten by you at this point and right now she’s sniffing the air around your burned jumper. This is not a good sign.
Control over your own ability to sneak past your parents is one thing, who else is around you is another. There are none of your kind sat around the fire. You can tell as they’d have helped create a cover story. Most of them are faster than you, they don’t need a written guide for their powers.
6) Was this all worth it?
This brings us to the final question. Was this worth the effort? Should you have gone on fire? The answer is almost certainly going to be no. The best gauge is to look at the people around you. Are they smiling? No. Are they eyeing you with the kind of suspicion a non-human earns when they set light to themselves for the attention of an attractive girl? Yes.
If your friends are eyeing you with suspicion about not being human, the best thing to do is laugh it off, sit down and watch someone else try to get the fire going.
“Are you okay?” Sophie asks. “You were on fire back there.”
“I was,” you reply.
“Like properly on fire. There were flames and everything.”
“It was just the jumper. I got it out in time, so I’m not too hurt.”
“Good,” she says, and smiles at you. “Hey, you want to go for a walk by the sea?”
Maybe it was worth it.