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Shortlist Saturdays: Cinders by C.E Hoffman




It started at twelve. Got worse at thirteen.

            He was dying to hold her hand. That’s what makes us all first burn: desire, particularly for acceptance. Any ache that makes us vulnerable and real.

            The crickets egged him on. The sun trickled on the trees like a melting creamsicle, apt for an August day.

            They were two kids, two bundles of sticks, two firecrackers ready to light their fuses.

            She took his hand. He squeezed.

            She screamed.

            They stared at her trembling skin, more pink than hard candy.

            Passion was the problem.

            She grew up; so did he. Left town for college like a good boy should, came back like a good man would. She went to college too, like the bad girls, and he couldn’t hide his elation when he heard she returned the same day as him.

            Love tears time apart. No matter how long they’ve been gone, it’s too long, and no time at all.

            Her nose had grown, and so had her hips, but she remained that same girl, and he the same boy.

            When she raised her hand, he saw the scar.

            Hers.

            His.

            For years, he suppressed his fire.

            Seeing her, he lit up.

            The heat was always there. He could hide it, but never eliminate it.

            Pecks were safe. Smiles across tables. Waves across parks.

            Affection was fine.

            Love smoldered.

            They tried a few times: his kisses scorched her thighs. He didn’t dare try higher, or deeper. His tears steamed on the mattress. Her tears salted the wounds.

            The closer they got, the worse she burned.

            They wanted it to be like a love song. To fade in to each other, to leave the light on and never want the night to end.      

            They wanted a love that didn’t leave scars.

            Her arms were full of love marks. Her lips would never be the same. She claimed she learned to like it; he knew she lied to be kind.

            They tried everything. Turned glaciers into hot tubs. Made out in restaurant freezers.

            Nothing cooled him down.

            All curses bear the taint of holiness. It only flared up when he felt something real--at first.

            Later, the burn took over.

            It gave him heartburn. Night sweats. Made his skin crack and cry hot blood.

            It hurt.

            He slept in the basement on ice packs; she’d visit him after changing into her bathing suit. Sometimes she couldn’t see him for the steam.

            When you’re already on the edge, all you need is a nudge. It was a fight about more than what they fought about. Maybe they battled over laundry, or rent. Voices rose, sparks exploded.

            No time to grab anything. Not her books from college. Not her mother’s old clothes.

            He engulfed the past in flames.

            No flesh left. Everything was fire. It didn’t hurt him anymore, but that meant he’d only hurt others more.

            He watched her run, and knew he had to let her go.

            Loneliness was the solution. He sweated in deserts, set forests aflame, until he found the coldest lake in the world, just cold enough to keep burning from the whole place down. He remained submerged from his toes to his neck, and sat Shiva with his fire.

            Nothing would make it leave. Nothing could get her back.

            He had to learn to live with it.

            He got older; the earth got colder. The ice caps everyone feared would disappear dominated. All bears turned polar or faced the consequences. Trees’ leaves became needles. Cows adopted the tusks of their ancestors.

            No fire could survive this cold.

            Except his.

            Loneliness wasn’t the answer. Only his passion could save him--and others.

            He melted ice, cooked food, cleared paths. His fire cleaned metal and powered light. He left scraps of himself all over for people to build their huts around.

            It wasn’t the same as holding her, but it was as close as he could get, and it was close enough.

            He was still a burning man, but could do more than burn.

            Now his cinders kept the world warm.



C.E. Hoffman is a Canadian screenwriter, author, poet, publisher, lyrical journalist, and cat lover (not necessarily in that order.) A grant winner, Elgin Award nominee, recipient of a Silver Honourable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award, and winner of the 2022 Defunct May Day Chapbook contest, they wrote their first novel at eleven years old, and have continued writing ever since. They’ve been published widely online and in print since 2010, and edit Punk Monk Magazine/Press (2012-onward.)  Current releases include SLUTS AND WHORES (Thurston Howl Publications, 2021), BLOOD, BOOZE, AND OTHER THINGS IN NATURE (Alien Buddha Press, 2022), GHOSTS, TROLLS, AND OTHER THINGS ON THE INTERNET (Bottlecap Press, 2022), and NO ACTUAL SIN (May Day Press/Defunct Magazine, 2023.) LOSERS AND FREAKS is forthcoming from Querencia Press Summer 2024. Find more at cehoffman.net 

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