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by James R. Gapinski

There comes a point in your mall food court burger-flipping career when you consider the grease traps. You slide out the compartment — hardly ever cleaned, even though it’s on the weekly checklist. You look at the weeks, months, years of accumulated drippings. You press your hand through the liquid sheen, feeling the half-congealed innards. This vat of grease is nearly endless. And in this moment — as you consider the grease traps — the pilot light flickers and whispers “it’s time.” The fire rages softly for the first few seconds, then it hits the stale buns and thawed patties, and it flares. Your fellow employees do not know that this fire contains grease. They douse the fire, and it laughs, and it spits boiling liquid back at them. The fire finds the propane line. It ignites. It rages into the rest of the mall, seeking new grease throughout the food court and devouring new fuel in the clothing boutiques. You run alongside as the fire grows. You yell “Yes! Yes! That’s it! You’re doing so well!” The fire consumes the entire mall down to its bones — metal and concrete outline what was once a massive structure. The fire hovers in that burnt space for a moment, flickering and fading. The fire crackles and says “I’m sorry,” turning toward the last remaining fuel in this desolate place. You weep and wail. The fire does not care. It flicks back your moisture and claims the dry pieces as its own.

James R. Gapinski is the author of the novella Edge of the Known Bus Line (Etchings Press, 2018) and the flash collection Messiah Tortoise (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2018). His short fiction has appeared in The Collapsar, Hobart, Juked, Monkeybicycle, Paper Darts, and other publications. He is managing editor of The Conium Review and an instructional specialist at Chemeketa Community College. Find him online at http://jamesrgapinski.com and on Twitter @jamesrgapinski.