I couldn’t count the number of times I’d seen him. Every day at lunch, if the weather was nice, I’d leave my office and sit out on a bench and eat my sandwich. It wasn’t a nice spot. It faces a busy intersection, where four lanes cross each other. But it was the only option.
He would usually already be there by the time I sat down. He would sit by the side of the road in his black, tattered clothes. When the light at the intersection turned red, he would walk out in front of the lines of cars, with all the pretense of a performer walking on stage. He would swallow a gulp of whatever was in his clear water bottle, and spit fire high into the air, and in that moment he was always grand.
Then the fire breather would walk between cars holding out a bag for change. If he was lucky, he’d get folded bills handed to him by drivers who never looked him in the eye.
The day his luck turned was no different. Even now, I’m convinced he didn’t know anything had changed. He looked just as dejected as always when he arrived at the corner, yet walked out with the same bravado when the light changed to red.
I swear, I swear he was surprised when he breathed out his fire, and instead of reaching out and then disappearing, it kept going. The ball of fire left his mouth, it grew, and changed, lengthening, shortening, moving. All while wisps of flames, tendrils of white light, swirled around its edges.
It became a phoenix, a great bird of fire. It flew up and over the idling cars and then down, fast, and straight back into the fire breather’s mouth before the light went green.
Of course, now, all the windows rolled down. As he strode between cars, his bag fuller than it had ever been, I saw something come over him. I assumed it was realization, but I’ll never know for sure.
In the coming days, I bore witness to a few transformations. My corner went from a mundane intersection to a tourist attraction of sorts, a Mecca if you will. Pilgrims of all kinds flocked there, from bored gossips to religious fanatics, convinced the fire breather’s creatures were a sign of the end times.
The fire breather traded his rags for fine designer button downs that somehow never looked quite right on him. He still had the same swagger as he approached his line of cars, but now he sent three kids out between them, and two down the sidewalk, running out with bags that gained weight so quickly the boys would struggle to bring them back.
I myself underwent a transformation of sorts. Seeing as I was one of the original witnesses to his first creature, I went from quiet lunch breaks alone to chatting eagerly with the surrounding crowd. I have to admit I enjoyed basking in my own celebrity status, thanks to whatever this was.
His creatures were never the same. He breathed out all manner of things. Animals, birds, reptiles. There was a lion, complete with a fiery mane moving in never-ending spirals, and once a whole flock of perfect doves. The fire even formed little white rings around their tiny necks.
All the spectators had their theories as to how the Fire breather had come by this ability, and they all claimed that the manner of his end was proof of their hypothesis, that this could only mean that they alone were right.
Some said he had bribed some sort of God, and then angered it. Others that he’d traded with the devil, and his debt had come due. Still others thought he was taking some kind of drug, and this was a kind of overdose.
I don’t know about all that. All I know is that I was sitting in my usual spot, watching with everyone else, when the fire breather let out a great bull. It grew out of his mouth, its front hooves hit the ground before its back ones had time to be let out. His stomach curled in with the force of the breath it took to birth the thing. Then it ran through the street and back again. The fire breather opened his mouth to accept it, but the bull did the same. And it swallowed him whole.
Alexa Hailey is a freelance and fiction writer from Massachusetts whose fiction work has been published in Spelk Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Vamp Cat Mag, and others. Alexa tweets at @lexabobexa.
Image via Pixabay