OK, the title is a little misleading – I didn’t really set my brother on fire, well, not entirely. Nor did I enjoy it – at least, not the burning part.
Let me start it this way…
This happened when I was younger, probably around ten years old, which would make my brother around eight. If I recall correctly, this was in the late summer or early fall – September or October. I remember it being fairly warm out, but not hot, and my brother was wearing pants. This will become important to the story later.
The sun was up. It was afternoon, probably around 3:00 or 4:00 PM. Throughout the day, my brother and I had been playing with a magnifying glass. We’re not alone in this, it would seem, as I’ve swapped many stories with friends about using a magnifying glass to burn things – ants, grass, plastic action figures, Matchbox cars, you know – typical boy shenanigans. Anyway, my brother and I thought it would be a really cool idea to burn some newspaper. So, we grabbed a newspaper out of the trash that our parents had thrown out, went outside the garage to the driveway, and started focusing the sun’s light.
At first, we only got a smoldering spot that caught an orange glowing ring. Well, darn! We wanted to see flame! We wanted to see fire! No problem, we said, let’s keep trying. So, since the sun was off to the side of the sky, my brother picked up the newspaper and held it at an angle so I could focus the light more directly. We expected more smoldering and smoke. What we didn’t expect was –
WHOOSH! The entire surface of the paper caught fire! Not just a little spot of flame, but an inferno! Well, to eight- and ten-year-old boys, it was.
My brother yelled out in surprise and a little fear, “AAAUUUGGHH!” He threw the paper down onto the driveway and picked up his foot.
Stomp! Stomp! Stomp! He tried to stomp out the flame. For those who have seen paper burn, you know what happens after a few seconds – it curls up on itself. This paper was no different. It curled up, and around my brother’s foot. I saw the flames licking the hem of his pants leg. I thought I saw his pants catching fire.
“AAAUUUGGGHHH!” He started to panic a little more. I could see the flames touching his pant leg, and I got scared too. I lifted my foot, in the same way as my brother, and –
Stomp! Stomp! On the flame I came down, hard. The flame, however, was on my brother’s foot.
Stomp! went my foot.
“OUCH!” yelled my brother, who promptly fell back on his rear end. He shook his foot, trying to throw off the burning paper. I kept on stomping.
Stomp! “OUCH!” Stomp! “OUCH!” Stomp! “OUCH!”
“Stop hurting my foot!” “Stop moving your foot!”
Finally, the paper came loose. My brother and I stomped out the remainder of the flame. As we calmed down, out of breath, we heard an angry voice behind us.
“What the hell is going on?!” My father scared the bejeezus out of us, moreso than the fire. “Um, we were using the magnifying glass-” “And the paper caught fire-” “And we tried to put it out-” “And it stuck-” “And my foot hurts-” We blurted out like a couple of scared kids, which is what we were actually.
“You mean you were starting fires… with this?” He grabbed the magnifying glass from us. “And you tried to stomp it out, when the whole time you could have used that!” He pointed angrily at the coiled up garden hose, not five feet from us.
My brother and I, in unison, replied, “Uhhhh…”
My father yelled a little more about not playing with fire, and getting hurt and all that, and sent us to our rooms, both of us feeling rather stupid.
I never forgot that lesson – use a hose on a fire when one is nearby, and take the magnifying glass farther away from home.