Orion Land

Z Helgeson-Budrys

Orion Land liked fast cars and fancy matchbooks. He said the flavor of the sulfur was different, better, the fancier they were. He used to lean against the hood of his maroon Chevy Nova. Resting just between the black racing stripes, he’d stare at a lit match until the flame licked his fingertips then he’d stick the match in his mouth to put it out. 

 

The more adventurous girls would tell you that his lips tasted of burned sunlight, sinfully golden. The good girls would listen to their stories in quiet jealousy, wondering to themselves what sunlight could possibly taste like, surreptitiously chewing on their own lips to see what flavor they were—they’d heard he liked the girls who tasted like Madagascar vanilla.

 

He had black hair that slicked to the side. It framed his dark brown eyes and bronze face like a windowpane. To look at him was to see perfection reserved only for movie stars. Even the most conservative townsperson would walk by and mention how beautiful he was, only to quickly remedy their words and say it was perfection going to waste, and that one day he would burn himself on those fancy matches he liked to eat.

 

One day there was a fire. A perfectly unassuming day, blue sky, molten sunlight streaming from above, the perfect day for a picnic, turned disastrous. No one knows how it started: perhaps it was a faulty wire in a light switch, or perhaps a pot left on the stove caught the edge of the curtain. Perhaps a stream of sunlight filtered through a window and focused through a crystal vase. In any case Orion Land, who never spoke unless spoken to, walked up a sunlit driveway and cut across the manicured Jell-O green lawn to the door.

 

He planned to talk to the girl who lived there, the girl with Madagascar vanilla lips. The only girl in town who knew what sunlight tasted like. He raised his hand to knock and the house burst into flame—all consuming, devouring, golden feathers ripping the house to shreds.

 

There’s still a space where the house once stood. There’s still a Jell-O green lawn and a perfect sunlit driveway. But there is no house.

 

For a while everyone blamed Orion Land for what happened there. The mysterious fire that started so suddenly so perfectly timed with his arrival. But after a while they realized he’d never lit a match he didn’t eat. His burned sunlight lips his way of controlling the flames.

 

Eventually the town wrote it up as a mysterious fire. No one at fault but no one to blame. But there was still this boy—the more adventurous girls would tell you his lips tasted of charred sunflowers and green Jell-O. The good girls would listen to their stories in quiet jealousy wondering to themselves what charred sunflowers tasted like, surreptitiously chewing on their lips to see what flavor they were—they’d heard he liked the girls who tasted like ashes and golden feathers.

 

He was still Orion Land, he like fast cars. He liked to lean against the hood of his maroon Chevy Nova. Resting just between the black racing stripes. He would stare at the empty space where the house had been. He never lit another match. 

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