The Public Burning of a Nicolas Cage Stunt Double

Elijah Sparkman

I was deep in it.

Five Stroh’s and four shots of cough syrup from Poland, the blackberry brandy that the Polish call Jegynowka. The stuff is sticky like syrup. Sweet like the roof of a tooth.

I don’t remember who set it up or why they were doing it, but the deal was that the number one Nicolas Cage stunt double in the world was in town. I don’t know what perimeters made him the number one at his craft, but he was here to set the Guinness World Record for the longest amount of time being set on fire.

I had my sunglasses on, and I walked down the sidewalk all tinted in summer. I was with my best friend. My best friend was also fucked up. We were so happy, and it was a Friday night. I had a clean T-shirt on. I had worked hard that week at my job. I felt good about myself.

The public burning was to be done in a baseball field.

When we arrived there were kids playing tag and there were people asking each other if they’d ever seen someone get lit on fire before. And there was also some people setting up a caution tape fence. All black and yellow. Neon vests with the word: volunteer. Time continued. The sky grayed like a goatee.

The twilight came full on and people started to gather around that make-shift yellow. Then some cops pulled up. My best friend and I passed a flask back and forth. Just Jameson mixed with a little bit of leftover Maker’s Mark. The only Maker that you want to meet. Only a finger of it. Cops had their blinkers on, but no sirens. A strobe light machine on four wheels. Red and blue and red and blue against the moon.

We smoked a Camel Blue. Then, out of the back seat of one of the cop cars came the Nicholas Cage stunt double, but, to be honest, you couldn’t even really tell it was he. The human-shaped figure just looked like a scuba diver, he was so covered in fire-retardant materials.

That’s when everyone started to chant.
Everyone chanted: Burn this man! Burn this man! Burn this man!
And it’d be a lie if I told you that wasn’t the eeriest noise I’d ever heard.
The sound of a mob, all chanting: Burn this man!
I looked at my best friend, and I said, “That’s kind of fucked up, right?”
My friend gave me what could only be called an “inquisitive look,” eyes like a rabbit peering out of a burrow, a paranoid kind of look. Man, was he stoned.
My best friend said, “Yeah…”
He said, “Yeah… I can see what you’re saying…”
Another shot.
They lit the scuba diver up.

He started doing jumping jacks for some reason. He had fire in his armpits. He had fire on his head. On his goggles.

I started asking around at that point, any stranger around me, “Do you know what the record is actually? How long is he trying to go for? How will we know if he won?”
But nobody knew.
And they all started to count in unison.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
Everyone’s voice together, a chorus from hell, or at least somewhere like it.
Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.

I scanned the crowd, and I thought to myself: I ought to memorize the face of every single person here, because I will never trust any of them ever again. I may never trust anyone again. People are a fucked up entity. People, as an entity, are fucked up.

Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen.

Like a rocket ship. Like a game of hide-and-go seek. Like Jeopardy. Like teaching kindergarten. Like dealing cards. Like stretching before a baseball game. All of this counting.

Sixteen. Seventeen. Eightee….

And then the man fell to the ground, finally, and started rolling around. Three cops sprayed him with fire extinguishers. They took his mask off, and two paramedics rushed in with an oxygen tank.

Briefly, everyone in the crowd booed the man. Apparently, he had not set the World Record, the number one Nicolas Cage stunt double in the world that he was.
And then a wave of cheers overpowered the boos.
People whistled and hollered.

We just shook our heads, and slowly everyone dispersed. The evening rather chill compared to the warm breeze of the day. This summer day. This summer night.
I looked at my best friend, and I said, “That was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I feel like I’ve been tricked. I want to vomit.”
My best friend said, “That’s a lot to wrap one’s mind around.”
And then he said, “Honestly, like, what were we even expecting? Why did we ever think that wouldn’t be horrible? That was always going to be horrible.”

And we lit up another square and took a last shot in the dark of the baseball field before we headed off to the next bar.
Fireflies were in the distance, and empty paper Pepsi cups were on the ground. I made a point not to step on any of them.
Maybe there was still a band going. Something that sounded good, with a riff, and with a beat, and with a melody.
Either way there was surely a lot of cough syrup to be had.
The blackberry brandy.
That the Polish call Jegynowka.