With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.
With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black.
But he knew his mouth had only moved to say hello, and then when she seemed hypnotized by the salamander on his arm and the phoenix-disc on his chest, he spoke again.
He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact.
One time, when he was a child, in a power-failure, his mother had found and lit a last candle and there had been a brief hour of rediscovery, of such illumination that space lost its vast dimensions and drew comfortably around them, and they, mother and son, alone, transformed, hoping that the power might not come on again too soon...
They walked the rest of the way in silence, hers thoughtful, his a kind of clenching and uncomfortable silence in which he shot her accusing glances.
What incredible power of identification the girl had; she was like the eager watcher of a marionette show, anticipating each flicker of an eyelid, each gesture of his hand, each flick of a finger, the moment before it began.
The breath coming out of the nostrils was so faint it stirred only the furthest fringes of life, a small leaf, a black feather, a single fibre of hair.
And the men with the cigarettes in their straight-lined mouths, the men with the eyes of puff-adders, took up their load of machine and tube, their case of liquid melancholy and the slow dark sludge of nameless stuff, and strolled out the door.
Laughter blew across the moon-coloured lawn from the house of Clarisse and her father and mother and the uncle who smiled so quietly and so earnestly.
“I don't know anything any more,” he said, and let a sleep-lozenge dissolve on his tongue.
You're peculiar, you're aggravating, yet you're easy to forgive.
The Mechanical Hound slept but did not sleep, lived but did not live in its gently humming, gently vibrating, softly illuminated kennel back in a dark corner of the firehouse.
Light flickered on bits of ruby glass and on sensitive capillary hairs in the nylon-brushed nostrils of the creature that quivered gently, gently, gently, its eight legs spidered under it on rubber-padded paws.
Three seconds later the game was done, the rat, cat, or chicken caught half across the areaway, gripped in gentling paws while a four-inch hollow steel needle plunged down from the proboscis of the Hound to inject massive jolts of morphine or procaine.
The Hound half rose in its kennel and looked at him with green-blue neon light flickering in its suddenly activated eyebulbs.
It's a fine bit of craftsmanship, a good rifle that can fetch its own target and guarantees the bull's-eye every time.”
And most of the time in the cafes they have the jokeboxes on and the same jokes most of the time, or the musical wall lit and all the coloured patterns running up and down, but it's only colour and all abstract.
Were all firemen picked then for their looks as well as their proclivities?
Books bombarded his shoulders, his arms, his upturned face. A book alighted, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering.
Now, it plunged the book back under his arm, pressed it tight to sweating armpit, rushed out empty, with a magician's flourish!
Captain Beatty, keeping his dignity, backed slowly through the front door, his pink face burnt and shiny from a thousand fires and night excitements.
The woman on the porch reached out with contempt for them all, and struck the kitchen match against the railing.
“A man named Latimer said that to a man named Nicholas Ridley, as they were being burnt alive at Oxford, for heresy, on October 16, 1555.”
He tried to count how many times she swallowed and he thought of the visit from the two zinc-oxide-faced men with the cigarettes in their straight-lined mouths and the electronic-eyed snake winding down into the layer upon layer of night and stone and stagnant spring water, and he wanted to call out to her, how many have you taken TONIGHT! the capsules! how many will you take later and not know? and so on, every hour! or maybe not tonight, tomorrow night!
“Once, books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere.
“Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten or twelve-line dictionary resume.
“School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored.
“Empty the theatres save for clowns and furnish the rooms with glass walls and pretty colours running up and down the walls like confetti or blood or sherry or sauterne.
Towns turn into motels, people in nomadic surges from place to place, following the moon tides, living tonight in the room where you slept this noon and I the night before.”
And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world (you were correct in your assumption the other night) there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes.
They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges, and executors.
Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.
Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won't be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely.
We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought.
Don't let the torrent of melancholy and drear philosophy drown our world.
All of them running about, putting out the stars and extinguishing the sun.
“Well, then, what if a fireman accidentally, really not, intending anything, takes a book home with him?”
The open door looked at him with its great vacant eye.
“It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break eggs at the smaller end.”