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You stoop to inspect the baked treats featured in the cabinet. Red velvet cake, salted caramel brownies, almond croissants. You could have it all.

The barista interrupts your thoughts: ‘Any sugar in that one?’

‘Sure, thanks.’

He grabs a spoon, grins, and reaches for a bowl, then bursts extravagantly into flame. Heat pulsates outwards, air cracks and ripples, the ceiling is scorched. Silence falls. It’s over, the barista absorbed into nothingness.

His colleague stares for a moment, then picks up another spoon.

‘Let me help you with that,’ she says.


On your way into the office, you narrowly avoid being trapped in an elevator with a man who starts combusting as the doors reopen. Sidestepping the flames, you press a button to alert the maintenance team: the lingering ash could drift into any number of mechanisms, generating chaos.

At reception, you pass Roger, your rival. He’s upbeat, gripping a takeaway cup from another cafe, scrolling through Instagram as he strolls into Meeting Room Three (the Terracotta Suite). This is infuriating: you’ve never been invited to a Terracotta meeting. You hope it’s the result of a double-booking, or some kind of administrative error. Roger isn’t Terracotta material.

You know this because Roger wears blue suits that don’t fit well. He maintains a spreadsheet with notes on everyone he’s ever met so that he can ask appropriate questions about their personal lives. He owns an actual-size Stormtrooper helmet that he keeps on a stand in his living room. All of this is to say that you don’t think Roger has a personality, but he somehow manages to fake one. You hate this because you suspect that you don’t have one either, but there’s no real way of knowing.

You make it to your desk and log on to your computer, entering a world of Excel-based delights. Soon enough, you enter a flow state, one you were taught about during your years at university. You can almost lose yourself in pivot tables and macros, the only distractions from everything you’ve ever known. This lasts for a few glorious minutes before your manager taps you on the shoulder.


He sits across from you at his desk, red tie sharply contrasting against the crisp blue and white stripes of his shirt. He’s a parody of an eighties Wall Street villain, though you suspect this is his desired aesthetic.

‘Look,’ he says. ‘I’m going to be honest with you.’

‘Thanks,’ you say. You’ve learned it’s best to keep your responses brief.

‘I know they say all this combustion stuff is completely random, all right? And we basically have to ignore it. Build it into the cost of business, you know? Pay out the families, implement rapid hiring practices to replace anyone who disappears, make sure multiple people are trained up for each role, that kind of thing.’


‘But we’ve hit on something, possibly something very big. We’ve had some actuaries looking into this for a while now, and we think we’ve identified a few risk factors. Age, gender, health, habits, all that. Key variables we can pull out to make decisions. Really savvy stuff.’


‘And I’ve just been looking at your, uh, profile, here.’ He waves a sheet of paper. ‘This was generated for everyone on staff. Nothing personal, you get me? We didn’t single you out, or anything. But according to our research, it looks like you’re at severe risk. This is, you know, an unprecedented situation. Our best legal advice is that increased likelihood of combusting isn’t covered under any kind of state or federal discrimination legislation.’


‘So, I’m sure you’ll understand,’ he says, with a performative shake of his head, ‘I’m going to have to let you go.’

Through the window, in the kitchenette, you see a sales rep burn up and vanish.

‘It’s been great to have you,’ your manager says.

‘I’ve really enjoyed this experience,’ you say.


You pace down the street holding a cardboard box filled with your belongings. It’s nice to feel like you achieved something. Custom stationery, a photo with a celebrity ambassador, certificates for various corporate fun runs—all the essential memorabilia.

When you reach the tram stop you pause, unsure whether any routes have been delayed. They’re getting better at managing fires that start on board, but they can still cause significant disruption. Restaurant trams had to be phased out entirely, as did all manner of activities that took place in confined spaces. A uni friend had gone bankrupt when their escape room business was forced to shut, which was unfortunate, as you never did get to try the fantasy-themed room.

An older woman sits under the shelter, a businessman with an exercise bag strolls up and down, speaking on his phone, and a group of teens huddles near the route number sign. You look on as an agitated man with a buzz cut and loose T-shirt approaches them all, attempting to engage in conversation. He holds a large board that reads FIRE = PASSION and appears to have a lot of opinions. You catch a fragment of his speech to the businessman as he mutters that corporations can’t control us anymore, then realise that you’re the only other person left. He immediately catches your eye.

‘Hey, do you know anyone who has flared out?’ he asks.

‘Flared out?’

‘Combusted. Caught on fire. Burst into flames.’


‘I know. Statistically, it’s impossible that you don’t.’

‘Then why did you ask?’

‘I don’t believe in statistics. Because what’s happening is a complete and total rejection of statistics, of data and numbers, of breaking us down into little tiny corporate pieces, right? The system can’t cope with it, it can’t absorb it, it’s not like anything it’s had to deal with before, it just isn’t,’ he explains.

‘It’s a rejection of data?’

‘Hell yeah, it is. But it’s happening more and more. You can just kind of feel it. Haven’t you noticed?’

‘A lot of people say that it is. But it’s hard to track, with all the people faking their own deaths.’

You board the tram as it arrives, but this doesn’t end things. Instead, he follows you, still talking as you find places to stand along the aisle.

‘Ignore the fakers, right? What this really is, is incredible. Unbelievable. Every day more people disappear. Where are they going? You ever think about that?’

‘They’re dying, so it really depends on your belief system,’ you say.

‘No, no, no. It isn’t death, not at all. They’re just shifting into something else.’

‘Shifting into what?’ You’re genuinely interested, given the actuarial news you’ve just received.

‘It’s like, you know, transcendence. Like you shift back into the universe once you’ve fully reckoned with yourself. I’ve been looking into it, got books and everything. You heard of the idea of the sublime? We’re it, now, all right. We’re the sublime. And I can feel it in you.’ He thrusts a finger into your chest. ‘You’re ready. That’s why you talked to me.’

‘I just got fired because some experts said that I matched several high-risk categories. That doesn’t feel sublime.’

‘No, hey, I keep telling you. There’s no such thing as a “risk category”. Look, like I said, this goes against all our, what’s the word, capacity, capacity to measure or make sense of anything. There’s a reason it’s fire, yeah? People aren’t just slipping into thin air. They’re moving into something new. They have something in them we don’t have yet. It’s fuel, it’s burning, desire, passion.’ He taps his sign, then says again: ‘Passion.’


At home, you sit watching television. There’s big news: the Victorian premier is gone, as are two federal ministers. Speaking from his parliamentary courtyard, the prime minister says that even after three years, the government is no closer to determining why this is happening. He adds that he is mourning two colleagues and friends, as well as one political rival he has always held in the highest esteem, and asks for some privacy at this time.

During a brief question-and-answer session, one reporter asks if democracy can function in a society where elected officials might disappear at any time. The prime minister opens his mouth but doesn’t answer. For a moment it seems like he’s about to go too. But he doesn’t, and the news moves on.

Your housemate emerges from their room to heat up some leftover risotto. You watch them at the kitchen island from your place on the couch. They ask how your day was. You know they’re not really interested, but you tell them.

‘Well, that’s bullshit,’ they say. ‘You can’t predict if someone will combust.’

You explain to them the risk factors.

‘No one knows what’s going on. If they had any clue, the government wouldn’t have just lost two ministers. They’d get people they knew would last.’

You explain about the man who said it was transcendence.

‘That’s bullshit, too. People can’t deal with things they can’t understand.’

You ask how they’re dealing with it, then.

‘Me? Embracing chaos,’ they say, grating some parmesan over their bowl. ‘The only sure thing is that I’m going at some point. Like, I tried to make sense of it with science and even tarot and whatever, but nothing helped. Fuck, I mean, your boss told you you’d probably go soon, statistically. Some guy on the street told you that you had, what, a vibe? There’s no real way to know, but I guess that sounds about as sure as this thing gets. You should tick off some bucket list shit, at least.’

‘I’m not sure what I want to do.’

‘I’ve got a doc somewhere I can share. I’ve been looking into some stuff, for when I get a chance. Just need to work out how to save some cash.’ They pause. ‘Hey, also, I mean, I’m sorry to ask, but given, uh, yeah… I just want to check if you think you’ll be okay for rent for the next little bit?’

‘I’ve got some savings.’

‘Yeah, cool. Of course, we could work something out if you didn’t, but if you do, great.’ They wander back into their room, already eating.

You settle onto the couch, ready to numb yourself with relentless light and sound. It’s always a pleasure to escape some of the other senses. But then—a ding from your phone.

Glancing at the notification, you frown. It’s come from one of your preferred industry media outlets, and the update is grim. It seems that Roger has been promoted and will now be managing sales across the region. The Terracotta Suite meeting had not been an error after all. If anything, he could soon be holding regular gatherings in the Bronze Suite.

Roger, who so blandly traipsed across the landscape. Roger, who had never met a person who remembered him after one encounter. Yes, Roger, who had a degree in business and a background in accounting, who loved nothing more than to offer unsolicited investment advice, who wore his high school rugby jersey to work on Fridays. He had been promoted while you had been fired.

But, somehow, you feel nothing.

You surprise yourself with this response, one other than blind rage. Maybe the tram man was right—something has shifted in you. A whim, somewhere, in the office or the beyond, sealed your fate. There’s nothing you can do about that.

You lie down on the couch, close your eyes and slip into sleep.


When you wake, you make your way to the kitchen for some coffee. Your housemate sits at the bench, already eating cereal, and glances up as you enter.

‘We need to buy some more Special K,’ they say, then explode into infinity.

They’re gone so fast they barely leave a mark, ash drifting back down like bleak confetti. They hadn’t had a chance to share their doc with you, but you suspect it was a mostly unfinished list.

As you look around for a dustpan and brush to clean up, you wonder—for the first time in a long time—why them? You run through variables your boss might have identified as risks, but you don’t share any with your housemate. You try to conjure up spreadsheets and criteria that could point towards your imminent immolation. You also have nothing in common with the premier, and neither the premier nor your housemate seemed particularly enlightened or self-reflective—they were hardly primed to reunite with the universe, or whatever that man had intended to communicate.

Abandoning your search for a brush, you return to your room and open your cardboard box. You pull out a pile of paper and some folders, one of which you know contains a record of your measurable achievements against your KPIs. Weighing it in your hand, you consider your position.

Oblivion has never felt so close.


The morning air is cool and bright, the sun hanging low over the city. Your heart pounds as your tram races along the street, homes and stores giving way to apartment blocks and larger towers. The coolness tilts into something else entirely.

Through the window, you see a man who is trimming a hedge explode, fire racing from his fingers along leaves to carve out a singed and darkened hollow. On the footpath, a woman on a skateboard shoots licking flames into the sky, the board still rolling as she slips into the void. The distant barking of a dog is replaced by a whoosh of pulsing heat, a squirrel fries from within and scorches a bench. All creatures are shifting now, all matter is rolling into pure warmth. A plane tree is an inferno, powerlines become a track for searing light.

You disembark, watching as an abandoned pair of sunglasses melts into a patch of scorched earth. Above you, a bird soars, leaving a trail of sparks and fire, a phoenix fully realised, finally, glorious and fleeting as it streaks swiftly into absence. The sky blurs, rippling and orange, the sun now utterly indistinguishable. An airplane streaks toward the ground, light absorbed into ever more blinding light.

For you, the road warps and footpaths melt, leaving only glowing embers. Your body melds with your clothes, with the air around you. The earth’s core pulses.


You burst into the open-plan scene, mouths agape on heads that turn to stare. You charge through the office to the filing room, fully aware of what you’re likely to find. Behind you, a small group pushes through the door, the room filling with their warm bodies and desperate souls. Some disappear instantly, others linger.

You pull open drawers, sending papers flying. Files fall open on the floor, checkboxes marked carefully by objective assessors. Your close colleagues’ names leap out at you among those of strangers as you frantically flip through to find your own. Some folders turn to ash before they hit the floor, several filing cabinets are already incinerated.

A cupboard tips over, triggering a minor avalanche of stapled pages. You grab a fistful and scan them, attempting to enter your coveted flow state. Several catch fire before you can read their contents, others are already charred beyond recognition, but eventually you find a document on company letterhead that remains cool to touch: the one that you were looking for.

In painfully constructed language, the briefing paper advises that the only risk factor is increasing frequency in the phenomenon overall, so hiring and firing, cutting costs, promotions and the like should be done at random.

You tear further through the pile. The only way for the company to respond to randomness was to embrace it. Roger had nothing on you. No one had anything on anyone else. You were all the same.

Through billowing smoke you finally glimpse your file, a generic form with your personal details typed out in Courier New. Beside your name, a heading in all caps, is a rough handwritten note: ‘Heads, Tails, Tails—Redundant.’

When you reach the Terracotta Suite the door is ajar and ablaze. The room beckons, the circular table inside covered with small bowls of peppermints and jugs of rapidly evaporating water. Roger is there, his sleeve smoldering. Your boss sits at the table, attempting to project an image of calm authority. An intern stands in the corner, gripping her notepad and staring at the opposite wall.

As the mints sizzle and crack, you all reach a moment of shared understanding: your times have undoubtedly come.

‘Look. We didn’t know it would be like this so quickly,’ your manager says. ‘We were just trying to adapt our business practices for the times we found ourselves in.’

The intern goes first, followed by Roger. The room itself begins to catch.

You feel a burst of heat through your veins, your bones. You look up at your boss, his usually droopy face drawn tight in shock. You look at your hands, aflame. You’re pure and brilliant.

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