A violet rashlike spume of vapours circumnavigated his ankles and then spread over his shins – freckled, smeared with age spots – until, reaching the conflagration point, he burst into a senseless mass of orange flame. Presumably he didn't writhe or squirm because by the time the fire hit (or perhaps before) he was unconscious. The position of his chair indicates that he probably had his heels up on the windowsill. Staring off at the lake with his feet up, the bottle tucked in his crotch, he was resting in a wicker chair, which of course remained miraculously unscorched. People found the things that weren't burned astonishing: the chair, the curtains, the porch, the cottage itself. Above his skull, on the ceiling over the chair, a large blister of seared paint had formed. The first fireman on the scene couldn't help himself. He popped it with the tip of his axe.
There's the undeniable physical reality of the evidence: the skull, cleaned of flesh, resting on the green seat cushion; window curtains – blue swirls of highly flammable Dacron – twisting in the lake breeze, perfectly intact after the conflagration, not even a singe except where, years ago, McGee's ex-wife had let the iron rest a little too long. Again, the ceiling blister, so obviously the result of aggressive heat, but still only a blister. (Admittedly, the ceiling tiles had some asbestos fibres to retard fire, but not enough to prevent flames from driving through to ignite the furring strips and up into the dry-baked rafters. Presumably, a fire that was hot enough to carbonize bone – with the weird exception of the skull – would be enough to ignite a structure. Too neat, the fireman thought, seeing it. Too damn tidy.)
Full S.H.C. events leave nothing but a very faint trace of ash and a shadow of the deceased, if even that, and in rare cases a lamina of glass coating the object upon which the victim (for lack of a better way to put it) stood, sat, or reclined. Most often the victim is seated with some view or vista at hand: a lakeside or seashore or the broad expanse of some grand river, and in rare cases a wide field, or a savannah, and in even rarer cases no view at all except a television screen, in which instance the device is invariably implicated as the cause – or spark – of the event: blame placed willy-nilly, in the grope for an explanation, squarely on the shoulders of the boob tube (as it was called) and its ability to create flashes of stupid heat, produced out of the dull vagaries of mind-numb sitting when – the theory goes – all deep thoughts are purged to leave a void that is quickly filled with a flux of bodily processes: regiments of cells rebelling against a vegetative state and going haywire as they break into a symbiotic self-eating festival. A somewhat absurd reaction, admittedly, but perhaps justified, depending on the view.