Written in Fire by Len Kuntz

We watched the monks burn, one after another.

Awash in fire, they sat so still that I thought they were fake. Flames rippled off their heads like molten hair. Each explosion caught me unaware, and I’d jerk my beer can. The grainy, black-and-white crowds on screen didn’t seem scared or surprised one bit.

“Why would anybody do something like that?”

My roommate laughed. He’d found the clips online while researching for a term paper.

“They were protesting the Vietnamese regime back in the ‘60’s.”

When I stood, the room swiveled.

“Don’t go. The best one’s coming up.”

I barely made it. I retched hard. When I was done, I started packing.


After that, my paintings were all infernos or burnt-out pits of ash.

My fiancé got nervous and ended us.

I lost friends.

My father came to see me. He said, “It’s obvious you have issues. I mean, all these strange paintings. And look at you. You’re about to explode.”

That was the point, of course.

I’d led a privileged life, with slick cars and cashmere socks.

I’d had so much, but nothing I cared about.

That night I took a gas can with me. I sat in the middle of the outdoor mall, ready to make myself explode. But first I tried to tell them.

I’d made a sign denouncing war. I gripped the wood handle and squeezed till my eyes bled.

People passed by. Some giggled, some tossed coins.

It took flames to get their attention.


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Filed under Len Kuntz

15 responses to “Written in Fire by Len Kuntz

  1. The cashmere socks got to me, the luxury and guilt of them. Powerful stuff. Peace…

  2. The inner turmoil was clear. What surprised me more was the roommate’s callousness *enjoying* the spectacle. And the hint of the cycle repeating, an endless wheel.

  3. Len

    thanks, guys. i appreciate your reading.

  4. Randal Houle

    Yes, this story says a lot about the character. Well done.

  5. Oh…..just a little twisted in a touching way. Well-done.

  6. John Riley

    I like the juxtaposing of the inner war and the outer war and the hint of doomed repetition. Good job.

  7. I do remember the TV shots, the cover of Life Magazine. I remember laughing at “let’s play Buddhist monk.” But the reality of life misunderstood was always there. Your story reminds us.

  8. Doris dembosky

    The emotional distance between TV and real life is enormous. I love the father saying “it’s obvious you have issues.” I also like that he took his pain to the mall in that at the mall you touch the people who need it most.

  9. Kim Hutchinson

    The cashmere socks were a great detail, and the fact that it took flames to get people’s attention is so sad. A touching story.

  10. have to agree, the cashmere socks were what got me too, and the last line. So many good, short, precise lines in this piece.

  11. “It took flames to get their attention.” You paint a picture of the effects of “news,” of reporting, of our global village/self so well. It reminds me of all the wars, social and political horrors we see in our tv screens and the corroding effect this “glut” has on our ability to recognize distress and empathize …

  12. grey johnson

    I was struck by the way the character seems to feel empty and to identify closely. Interesting tale.

  13. estelle bruno

    sometimes it takes horror to wake people up. This story should do it. Very well done.

  14. Pingback: Week #33 – Spontaneous combustion | 52|250 A Year of Flash

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