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The woman knelt beside him on the lawn.
The boy rolled over and covered his face with his blackened and tattered shirt. His hands had been burnt black, and he had no eyelids. He smelled of gasoline.
He seemed to be looking up, searching for her in the sky. "I'm sorry, mam. I was a good lookin' boy, but not no more. The fire took it all away."
"They got doctors can fix you right up, pretty as you ever was."
"They ain't no doctor can fix me. Not a hunnered doctors in the whole state of Mississippi."
"Don't you believe it. My uncle got his leg ran over... caught up in a combine. Didn't even look like a leg no more. Now he can walk about as good as most other people."
"Damn right! They's a lots of people got burned up and now look good as new, or at least recognizable. Tell me, why did you throw that gasoline all over Miss Millie? She do you wrong?"
"No, mam. Miss Millie was always kind to me. I was possessed. That's all I can answer. I walked to the gasoline filling station an filled my ice cooler with gasoline with plans to do some mischief. I knocked on her back door, and she answered it like she always does, didn't matter if it was a stranger, her best friend, or somebody holdin' a ice cooler full of gasoline. She always carried herself a pistol. I didn't figure she was gonna shoot me. It was just her habit. Besides, she would have been in her perfect right to do so, considering. Like I said, I wasn't thinkin' straight, so I took the lid off and tossed all that gasoline on her, never realizing half of it was gonna spill on me. I took out my Zippo. I only had to strike it once, and all holy hell come risn' up like purgatory itself, the flames comin' up to meet me. I just turned and run from her porch, screamin and hollerin, "Lord, help me!" I never knew such pain. I lost my eyesight and was afraid of runnin' into the street and gettin' ran over by a truck! Then I was afraid I wouldn't. That make any sense?"
Oh, you poor, darlin' boy. I didn't know it was your gasoline and you was out for mischief, but I'm perty sure you killed Miss Millie, and prolly a couple of her dogs.
Don't tell my mamma!
She's bound to find out. Word spreads.
Can you say a prayer for me? I don't believe I'm gonna live til some doctor come around.
I would be honored.
Can you do me one more kindness? Will you hear my confession?
Yessum, I will.
When I was growin' up, I used to sneak into the neighbor's orchard and rob them of their peaches and apricots. They had apples, too, but they was the kind to give you a stomach ache. I also had me a paper route. I'd get up before daylight and take the bundles of papers, separate them using rubber bands so I could toss them on people's porches or in they yards, all the way from a hunerd feet. I also sneaked into their backyards and stoled clothes off their clothes lines. Always dressed nice back then even if I regret it now. When they was a light on, I peeked into people's windows. Didn't seem no harm in it. Tell me, what does the Bible say about gasoline?
"They weren't no gasoline when the Bible was writ."
"What about setting someone on fire, a fire they set themselves out of mischief?
"Well, it does have things to say about fire and mischief. The Lord, he loves you with all his heart, but even if you accept him as your savior then you go on sinin' and ignore his commandments, he will cast you into the flames of hell. But it's only Jesus can do that. We're supposed to stay away from lightin' folks on fire, no matter what they done or didn't do. You understand that?"
"I think so. Only our loving Lord has the permission to set people on fire. When I throwed that gasoline on Miss Millie, I was risin' above my station, doin' the Lord's work, which weren't mine to do. You think he's gonna toss me into another lake of fire? They really ain't much left of me."
"Depends. Have you asked for forgiveness and accepted him as your Lord and Savior?"
"Yes, I done that long ago."
"Well then, from my bible reading, I don't think you got much to worry about except dying, but after that you should be just fine and we'll all meet in heaven, including Miss Millie and her dogs. You can be friends again."
"I think the Lord lied to me, broke my heart when he cursed me with a voice that weren't my own, tellin' me to do such a thing. You think he might as do that again?"
"Looks like you gone have to wait and see. The Lord has his ways, and his love is greater than any other. We'll all see soon enough."
"How I'm sposed to go to heaven lookin' like this?"
"Plenty people gone to heaven have done worse, lookin' worse... now hush."