The fire burned through the paper, and I let it. Watching it leap and grow, the flames curling upwards, dancing across the table, feeding off the fuel of the newspaper .
As it grew larger, so did my own hunger, a raging hunger deep within my chest that pattered as I watched the flames, calling for me to extinguish it, to feel its end.
Finally I couldn't wait any longer, standing up I pushed the chair back and grabbed a water jug that had been waiting nearby. Leaning closer I felt the heat from the fire warm my cheeks, and then, closing my eyes, I tilted the jug over the burning pile. I heard the hiss of the water as it smothered the fire and soon felt the puff of smoke as it enveloped my face, drifting around my nose, burning my eyes, coating my cheeks.
It excited something in me, something that felt more than just a rush of dopamine in my brain, something that felt more spiritual. As if in this moment, when the smoke enveloped me, I was able to feel the very essence of fire, not the roaring passion but the quiet subdue that existed in the bottom of the blackened newspaper.
The moment was brief, the puff of smoke soon becoming little whispers that tickled my ears and blew through my hair.
The feeling subsided as the crinkling of the newspaper faded and I am once again aware that I am in my small apartment, and that if I didn't open a window in three minutes the smoke alarm would begin going off again.
We were kept busy at work when there was nothing truly important to do. Put through drills, told to clean the equipment, filling out paperwork that the superiors, who sat in the office all day, didn't want to do. We were little slaves within that workshop doing chores far below our stations, just waiting and hoping and praying for when the alarm would sound throughout the station.
It rarely did; I guess that is what you get for living in a small town, but when it did that little station was alight with activity. Men and women rushing about, gathering equipment and changing as quickly as possible. Big, shiny black boots pulled over the baggiest pair of yellow pants you will ever see in your life, gathering up as many oxygen masks and axes as we could possibly carry and rushing towards the big red trucks that waited patiently on standby.
I always tried to get on the outside of the track, a practice now rarely carried out due to the large amount of unnecessary deaths. They only allowed it if the truck was absolutely full or if the firefighter was running late. I would try to run late, ignoring the yells from my sergeants and grabbing onto the pole as it began to take off, tearing down the small streets with the sirens blasting. I would cling to the pole, my arms wrapped around it and muscles tight, the chin strap of my helmet pulling tight against my neck while the wind wiped through my ears.
However, the best part about riding on the back of the truck was smelling the tails of smoke drifting from either a house or an out of control bonfire long before it was ever in sight. No matter how many times I put out a fire, the feeling never went away. The turn of the hose and the spray back of the water sprinkling in my face, the increase of black smoke fluttering higher and higher into the sky as the fire fell lower and lower until the windows, once alight, now were dark and grimy. The hiss of it was so much louder than the little fires I had at home, the smoke so much more powerful.
My parents were the ones who first turned me on to the idea of working as a firefighter. They noticed my obsession with candles, lighting them only to put a drop of water on my fingers and pinch the wick, and began to get me involved with the National Junior Firefighter Program. They believed it came from a place of innocence, a desire to put out the chaos and they wanted to help nurture that desire. It did nurture a desire, but not that desire, not the desire they wanted. It took a desire I already had, a violent desire that had already caused others pain, and showed me how to reroute it into an all-consuming flame.
They didn’t know, they couldn’t know, couldn’t know how the smoke infected my body and fueled me. I always wondered that if they did, if they had been able to see the fire behind my dark eyes, would they have stopped me?
We had a call to an abandoned building, a fire having been started by some floaters who were just looking for a warm place to stay. Saf Wu and I were sent in, oxygen masks on and axes in hand, to search for any wanderers who had become trapped or for any out of control blazes.
I glanced at Saf as we slowly walked through the smoke filled hall, her eyes staring straight ahead, comparable to steel as the flames jumping from the walls reflected in them, the tension within clear in the way she gripped the ax tightly or how she kept her hand on her radio at all times. Neither of us wanted to be here. The fire had weakened the house’s structural integrity and the whole thing creaked and groaned as the fire tore through its bones. Any minute now it could fall down around us and we would be buried.
“We should split up,” I said into the radio, watching for Saf’s reaction. “We can cover more ground that way, get out of here faster.”
Saf paused for a second before nodding and vanishing into the smoke of a room to our left.
I stood there briefly, watching after her, as if I was waiting to hear the room collapse in wards, but it never did and I resolved to enter the room to my right.
In here the smoke was not as thick, the flames not as ferocious; it was more calm and kind. For the most part, it was empty, a few blankets scattered the floor, leftover moisture keeping them from completely burning. I checked under them and around the room, but there was nobody there, only the quiet crackle of the flames.
“Danior,” a voice quietly said, breathless and strained.
I whipped around, looking for Saf, but I couldn’t see her. “Saf? You ok?”
I heard grunting as a reply, as if she was lifting something heavy. I imagined her trapped under a burning pile of wood, skin beginning to bubble.
“I need you in the hallway! Now!”
I hurried back, looking around but I couldn’t see her. I began to walk into the room she had disappeared into only moments before but then she emerged, with a dark figure wrapped in a blanket and slumped over her shoulder.
“I need to take him outside!” She called into the radio. “He needs oxygen ASAP! Can you finish up without me?”
I nodded “It’s only one room anyway.” I smiled slightly, causing the sweat that had pooled on my cheeks to fall. “Meet you outside.”
She gave me a taught smile in response, exhaustion beginning to set, and then she was gone. In the blink of an eye I was left alone in the silence. Alone to face the comforting, yet suffocating, hallway. A hallway with a burning door at the end of it.
This fire was more ferocious than the ones we had encountered previously. Angry. Even through the still closed door it leapt from every crevice imaginable, like hands trying to escape the cracks of hell. It was so hateful that by simply approaching the door I felt a sudden rise in temperature.
The door opened quickly, bits and pieces beginning to crumble away. I felt a rush of heat and smoke slam into my face, finally being given its freedom. It made me stop in surprise and, in that pause, I finally and truly saw the room.
The entire room was alight with the largest blaze I had ever seen. It leapt from the walls and the floor, lashing the ceiling and causing the ash to fall away and back into the roaring flames. It consumed everything, as if this was the fire at the center of the earth. The heat produced the most intense sweat I had ever experienced; it felt as if every orifice was crying in its presence.
It was angry, so angry, raging and thrashing, yet it was also calm and still as if it knew it was the most powerful being on this earth. It was two worlds colliding, this was the only explanation to explain how anything could have this much power in one room.
It was more than anything I could have ever imagined. Something I had never even dreamed of.
At some point, admidst the flurry where the world stood still, I must have radioed it in. I know I must have as in that moment water passed through the open window, dousing the great fire, and through its death came a great puff of black smoke that quickly filled the small room. Consuming everything within it.
I let it burn, just a little longer, watching the fire burn through todays paper, its meager flames licking as high as possible.
I watched it, hand steady on the water jar, but I no longer felt that same excited feeling. It felt dull now. A pale mimicry of what I had already been witness to .
I leaned back, hand falling limp to my lap.
The fire burned through the paper and began to bite into the wood. My eyes stared out the window, eyes empty and brain barely registering the stinging smell of smoke, mind lost in the fantasies of a building alight and crumbling from unmatched power.
Someone called my name, and I turned around, searching for whomever was trying to get my attention, but even before I spotted him I knew who it was, his distinct accent giving him away.
Matteo strolled towards me, his curly hair slicked back with sweat from having just finished the obstacle course for what felt like the 100th time. Yet, despite that pain I knew we shared, he had a big bright smile smeared across his face.
“I swear,” he said, slapping a hand against my chest when he caught up with me “no matter how many times I do that beast, those ropes!” He then let out a sound that could only be comparable as a mixture between a war cry and a wolf’s howl. “Man! I swear that had to have been devised somewhere deep in the devil’s mind!” His southern drawl annunciating the consonants in ‘devil’.
Matteo was my closest friend. He was the opposite of me, outgoing and funny, always wanting to do something spontaneous or find the best, most underground parties. People were just naturally attracted around him, instinctively drawing closer with every flash of that white toothed grin .
It was that same alluring flash that was in his smile as he began to run ahead, challenging me to beat him with the incentive of the loser forking over half their lunch.
Matteo tucked into one of his classically large lunches, along with half of mine. He was so consumed with finishing in the little time we had to eat that he didn’t talk, and thus I resorted to small talk with Saf about her moving in with her current partner.
The clatter of dishes across from me caused everyone’s attention to be turned to Casey sliding clumsily into her seat, her thin blond hair drifting uncomfortably close to her food.
“You know that abandoned building fire we just worked a few days ago?” She paused only for a second, making sure everyone was listening before continuing “ I heard from Nathaniel that it actually wasn’t started by the floaters but instead some teens who had been harassing them. They knocked over one of their burn barrels and then ran. Because the building being so secluded and none of the floaters having the ability to call the police the fire got much worse than it should have been.”
Matteo and I exchanged a little glance as Saf dutifully responded with some questions.
Casey was one of the older firefighters, being 47. She was married to an arson investigator at the station who had graduated from Princeton (a fact Casey was quick to remind us of). She was always eager to talk about his open investigations. I found her stories boring, on and on about situations that she was not involved in, wanting to feel as if she played a role bigger than her current situation.
Her voice began to fade into the background and my vision began to blur so that all the individual shapes and colors became one haze. An orange haze. A huge, burning haze.
Movement caught my attention and I saw Matteo taking up his dish and vanishing into the workroom. A bit of my arm felt numb as the haze dripped away.
I imagined this station being consumed by a great fire, silence settling over it.
I stayed there until it was time to leave, never disturbed, absorbed in my fantasy of power.
It used to be a house owned by a small family of five. After all the children moved out the parents moved into a retirement home. No one really wanted to sell it so it had been abandoned and after 60 years of no upkeep it had begun to decay.
I got into the house through the back, scaling the fence and dropping into the overgrown grass, which was littered with trash, cigarette butts, and small silver nitrate oxide canisters. The porch was in a similar shape, banisters cracked and broken down with glass embedded all throughout the white wood. The door was still intact but the rusty lock was hanging loosly, having been broken a long time ago. It creaked open with relative ease.
I dropped my bag onto the dust floor and looked around. The walls were cracked, wallpaper ripped from age and people tearing at it. Windows were broken so that a light musty breeze could flow through. Around the broken windows was a rash of mold. Scattered all about the floor was the same trash as outside, except tenfold and accompanied by empty bottles. Everything about this house screamed teen rebellion. Good. This meant that by burning this house down I would be ridding this neighborhood of those runts and delinquents.
I got to work. First, walking all throughout the house in order to ensure that there were no left over partiers or vagrants about. While I did this I scouted each room for potential lighter locations, as well as familiarizing myself with the many bedrooms and bathrooms within the house.
Once I had peace of mind that there was no one left in the house I began to walk back through it again, except now pouring gasoline I had purchased while on my way here onto as many surfaces as possible.
I picked the large sitting room as my main, covering not only the ground and furniture but also the walls and ceilings until it dripped, a sopping mess.
The excitement and anticipation was already starting to get to me so I quickly put on my firefighting uniforms, gloves, and boots, which I had brought from home, as well as a black cloth to cover my mouth and nose.
Then, grabbing a box of matches, I began to walk to each room, lighting a match and throwing it into the room before quickly moving on to the next one, leaving behind a trail of smoke that followed me throughout the house.
Finally, I arrived at the sitting room once again, my whole body electric as the crackling of the flames surrounded me and the smoke emanated from every room.
Quickly, I lit four matches and stood there for a second, feeling the little fires work down through the wood towards me, before I tossed the matches out into the room.
It exploded, fire blazing from the little matches into four entities that all moved towards the middle where they collided and shot up in a blaze, traveling up and down the walls, across the ceiling. I had to step back quickly to avoid a rush of flames that licked at my boots.
I stayed admist the smoke, breathing it in deeply through the cloth. I could feel it waft into my eyes, making them water and run, making tracks down my ashy face. I stayed until I could feel it fully filling my lungs, pushing back the air until I felt my body begin to convulse, heart spasming and muscles twitching. A rush of adrenaline shot through my veins and my hands began to twitch, my knuckles tingling as if it was, once again, beginning to bruise. It filled my brain with a familiar buzz that made me feel more alive than I had ever been.
My hand was on the back door handle, pushing it open until I stumbled back into the yard, the smoke rising out of the air, pulled up into the blue sky. I wiped my eyes with the inside of my shirt, and then gazed at the house.
Fire erupted from every window and door, it seeped through the walls and exploded from the chimney. I could hear the weakened wood creak, burn, and crash from the erosion. Even the grass around me, dry from a rainless week, had started to catch ablaze.
Pure, unbridled, power. A power that could not be contained. I stood agape, listening to the roar of the beast as it curled and rushed around the house, filling every room with its body.
I could hear sirens approaching. I didn’t think anyone would see it. I thought I was far enough in isolation that once I was satisfied I could call them myself, but I had underestimated the strength of the fire.
Quickly I grabbed the fence and scaled it, leaving behind all the empty gas cans to burn inside, the labels no longer visible.
I ran across the street and into the woods, crouching in the bushes and pulling the cloth up higher over my face. A fire truck arrived only a minute after I left. It pulled up alongside the burning house and the firefighters began to run around, getting everything ready, screwing the hose into a nearby fire hydrant.
A sound, loud and hissing, then an explosion of water shot out of the hose nozzle with so much force that it caused the firefighters holding it to stumble backwards. The water met its mark and soon the house, firetruck, and firefighters were enveloped in the smoke of the fires dying breath.
And then I saw someone, standing just on the edge of the smoke cloud, his strangely long trench coat billowing back from the war inside the house. In one hand he held a notebook, the other a handkerchief that covered his mouth.
A fleet of people then began to emerge from the smoke as it was beginning to dissipate. A few held badly burned gas cans, another was bagging something. They said something to the man.
I felt a sinking feeling in my gut as the man began to look around, his black eyes crossing over where I was hiding, hand brushing through his hair.
It was July 4th and the sun was just beginning to set below the oceans horizon. From outside the fire station the boom of fireworks became audible.
I reclined against the wall of the fire station’s garage, the concrete cool beneath my hot palms which burned with ecstasy. I listened to the fireworks go off, imagined the people below cheering as the explosion of color rained down onto the earth. I closed my eyes and felt my vision engulfed in blue, red, and orange flames, the fireworks becoming the flames of a giant fire, consuming a green house, causing the green plants to crumble to black.
Someone sat down next to me and I turned over to see Saf sliding her back down the wall, discarding the cleaning supplies she had been using.
“There. That’s it. There is nothing left to do.”
July 4th has always been a busy time for firefighters. Firework mishaps, bonfires that raged out of control from lack of attention, and numerous other fire hazards that occur as a result of people not understanding the dangerous power of the fire they foolishly tried to control. Because of this the fire station was packed with fire firefighters, as many as possible on call at the same time so that they could respond to anything that would occur. However, the night had proven to be slower than anticipated, with only five trucks having gone out. As a result many firefighters had been delegated manual chores to carry out in the downtime, Saf and I were assigned to keep the fire trucks clean; however, because the night had become so slow we were left with nothing to do but recline against the wall and wait in silence.
I liked Saf. I liked to be around her. A fire station was typically a chaotic place, with lots of loud personalities battling for dominance, yet Saf offered a calming presence. No matter what seemed to be happening she was in the middle of the chaos, eyes carefully surveying the scene and then offering the best solution. People usually listened to her because of this reputation.
However, the thing I liked most about Saf was her ability to detect even the slightest shift of emotion, meaning that she was always able to respond appropriately to any emotion presented by the person. She could always tell when I was sad, staying by my side that day and helping me with the littlest things, or when I was happy, always pointing out the most ridiculous things or urging me to try new things While I admired this quality, it also terrified me. I had to be genuine with her, always genuine or else she would know. Sometimes it is best to put up a front in order to protect those around you from the torrent inside, but that was impossible with Saf.
I was reminded of this quality when her voice cut through the silence, asking,
“Have you ever actually worked an arsonist fire before?”
My heart stopped for a second and my fingers began to tremble. I cut a glance to my left, her eyes were still closed. I laughed lightly as a way to cover up my sigh of relief before responding.
“Not to my knowledge, but I also never really inquire into it to be honest. The majority of arsonist cases are insurance scams anyway so its not like there is anything interesting to begin with.”
“I worked one four days ago.” Saf stated, eyes still closed, body shifting slightly against the wall.
I straightened a little. “I heard about that one. House soaked and completely consumed by the fire.”
“Yeah. It felt like it took us forever to put the entire thing out. Every time we thought we were done we found another rash of fire had sprouted up somewhere else.”
“Wow. I can’t even imagine the type of accelerants they must have been used…,” I muttered through a small smile.
“The investigator is still testing the house for any others, but Casey told me that it seems to be only gasoline.”
The investigator. The man in the smoke, staring at my house.
“Wait, there is an investigator on the case? And how would Casey know about its progress?”
“It’s her husband on the case.” Saf turned around, opening her eyes a little bit, and smirked. “Or has her constant chirping reminders slipped your mind?”
I let out a weak chuckle, still on edge with this conversation. “So was it really that big of a deal? I mean, no one died right?”
Saf’s smile faded just slightly and her eyes narrowed on me. My ears went hot and quickly I diverted my eyes to my hands.
“Technically no, but it’s always dangerous when someone has a sick fascination with fire. It always escalates further.”
I didn’t respond, choosing instead to continue to watch my feet.
I wasn’t looking at Saf, but I knew she was watching me. Studying my reactions, the way I fiddled with my hair or clothing, the little ticks and mechanisms she was so good at picking up. I didn’t like it.
After a minute or so Saf shifted and I felt like I could breath again.
We sat together in silence, absorbed by the room that was so big, yet felt so small. As I thought more about what she had said, it felt as if the room was getting smaller, as if somebody was now sharing what was mine, and mine alone.
A roar of a fire truck pulling into the station startled me and I jolted up as those aboard began to dismount.
Saf slowly got up, grabbing the cleaning equipment and began to head over to the truck. I went to join her but was distracted by the sight of curly hair.
“Hey!” I called out as I quickly made my way to Matteo, who was busy taking off his gear. “How was the fire?”
He gave me a strange look as I regretted my phrasing, before turning away and answering “Just some dumb kids who hit a car with a firework.” His voice was tired and his movements slow as he slipped off his heavy-duty boots.
I waited for him to look at me again, maybe to say something else, but he didn’t. He didn’t acknowledge me.
“So neither of us are on duty this weekend, do you want to do something?” I asked excitedly. We had discussed a few times about why we never hung out outside of work but never made any plans to redeem that.
“I’m actually busy this weekend,” he said, closing his locker.
“Really? What are you doing?”
“Just some party.” He began to walk off. I followed.
“Sounds fun! Where is it? I could come.”
Matteo paused, before turning and facing me.
“Look man, it’s not really your type of scene. Lots of drugs, people hooking up. You’re just… too clean for that.”
I felt a beat in my head, rattling around my brain.
“I don’t know where you would have gotten that idea from? It actually sounds really fun! Plus, it would give me a chance to see you in a different environment than focused-at-work Matteo.” I smiled desperately.
Matteo’s jaw clenched suddenly and I saw a flash in his eye that I had never seen before.
“Seriously dude, I don’t think you should come. You just wouldn’t have a good time and then you would complain and want to leave and it would just be this whole thing. We can hang out at the station on Monday but its probably best not to hang out after work.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, trying to keep up my smile. “You’ve never seen me in a situation like that. Come on! It would be so fun!”
“No!” Matteo snapped, whipping his head around to face me, something burning within him. “No! You can’t come. I can’t have you always wanting to follow me around everywhere. It’s bad enough here, always turning a corner and there you are, like a stupid puppy who can’t live without its master. We can be friends here, but that’s it. Only work friends, and the sooner you get that in your head the happier both of us will be.”
It crumbled, it all crumbled as he turned nd stormed away, slamming the door behind him, leaving me alone within the deafening silence.
I felt her eyes on my back.
312 Robin Way was an office building on the corner of a druggie alley and a closed down homeless shelter. It was 7 stories or so, however only one of the floors currently in use as a paper company. No businesses wanted to rent it out due to its degraded condition, and the building owner could afford upkeep because no one would rent it. Thus the building had fallen into a depressing cycle of disrepair and was set to be foreclosed in a few months.
The ground of the alley was littered with trash and people. Bottles and people, propped up against the walls, unseeing but still I felt them watching. Needles open with crusted blood around their tips lay next to a few men asleep in a circle.
I had to gingerly step around the people, trying to be as quiet as possible as I prayed that they were to high to notice a small man with a giant backpack entering a building that was soon to be ablaze.
The doors of the building were still locked, or technically the frame was still locked, but the glass in the doors had been smashed so that anyone could pass at will. I stepped through, careful to avoid the glass which covered the floor, and once I was inside I was able to look around.
The lobby of the building was barren, a security desk with nothing behind it but a chair, a shattered pot, and rows of chairs bolted to the floor with the cushions missing. But what seemed to mask the emptiness was the music that drifted around the room. It was faint, and quiet eerie. It gave the broken building an even more frighting aspect.
I rubbed my arm and shifted the backpack, the contents sloshing around. Quietly, I headed towards the stairway and began to head upstairs, specifically towards the 6th floor.
The stairway was grimy. Moss and a strange liquid dripped from the walls and lined the railing, so much so that I was hesitant to hold it. However the continual creaking and shaking of the stairs made me put all my faith into that railing.
The further up I got the louder the music became until I could recognize it as EDM. As it got louder, the shaking of the walls got more violent with the continual thumping of rhythmic movement. Based on the visual structural integrity of the building I was surprised the whole place had not collapsed around me.
While climbing the stairs I was ables to glance into each of the empty office rooms, all filled with dust, cobwebs, and various garbage pieces lying about. However, when I reached the 5th floor the door was actually locked and chained. Through the reinforced glass I could see a decently furnished office, with desks, chairs, and, what I had been looking for, reams of paper lying all about the office.
Finally, I reached the 6th floor. At this point the music was so loud I felt like if I tried to talk I would be unable to even hear myself, and the dancing so violent I felt like every bone was rattling. The door to the office was closed but the lock itself was missing in its entirety, and thus it swung open, warmly welcoming me.
This office was just like all the others, barren and dusty. The reason I had chosen this room was because of the paper company situated below. When the weakened floor would finally give way and fall into the office full of paper, the flames would burn everything, engulfing the building.
I began to unload the gas, as well as three cans of cheap alcohol to hopefully make it more difficult to be connected to my other fires.
As I began to unscrew the lid of the gasoline, and the harsh smell began to waft around the room, I remembered what just three minutes ago I thought I couldn’t forget. The music blaring all around me, reminding me that there were people here, people I would be unable to get out of the building safely without still keeping my identity secret.
I began to question doing this, and for the first time I was uncertain of my reason. What if this really was the wrong thing to do.
And then his face was there, his face twisted in a way that held so much anger and scorn, directed at me when all I wanted was to be close, to act like friends, to know what it was like to be accepted.
Unwittingly, I imagined him watching me now as I prepared to light the building. How that anger would become tenfold, how he wold judge me, rebuke me. How he would turn away, or punch me. How, if he saw me like this, he would reject me again.
I knew it wasn’t just him though, it would be everyone like him. All of those above me valued the same things he did, meaningless dalliances. I valued something real, something stable, and so far the world had kept that away from me. They had kept that away from me.
They all judged me, with narrowed eyes and sneering lips, talking behind my back whenever I entered a room. They would laugh at me, reject me, just like he did.
I hated them.
Why should I spare them? Allow them the ability to continue to mock me? What would I gain? Nothing but misery.
They all deserved to burn.
He deserved to burn.
I dumped the gasoline.
We were all called together into a big room, seats lining the walls and floor so as to fit everyone. And by everyone I meant everyone employed at the station, those both currently on and off duty, all called together.
As I walked in I spotted a man standing at the front, dark eyes scanning over everybody as they entered. He had dark brown hair that was slicked back over his head, highlighting his large forehead and high cheekbones. His eyes seemed fixed in a unique shape so that it constantly looked as if he was squinting in a suspecting way, observing your every move.However the most notable aspect about him was the long trench coat he wore, the pockets bulging with notebooks and pens.
I knew him, but why? This type of presence was hard to forget, how he was able to intimidate without ever moving a muscle. I watched him, the way he moved, how he shoved his hands into his pockets or brushed them through his hair. That movement, it was familiar, familiar with smoke blowing from the rush of elements colliding, how he had stood outside it all, unfazed.
Why was he here? Had he…
My thoughts were interrupted when someone clattered into the seat next to me and I realized that the room was nearly full. Quickly, I glanced about to catch a glimpse of Matteo, to see if he was looking for me like I was looking for him, but before I could find him the man began to speak.
“Can I have everybody's attention?” he announced, his voice strong and deep, bouncing about the walls. I spotted CaGrsey near the front, eyes gleaming with pride.
The room swiftly quited, all eyes upon the man. “My name is Nathanial Griffin and I am the lead arson investigator assigned to the case concerning a recent rash of arson fires.” Before continuing he glanced at his notebook briefly.
“Unfortunately I do have to inform you that I am not here under cheerful pretenses.” He took a deep breath. “As many of you know there was a fire at 312 Robin Way this past night.”
My face flushed and my heart leapt into my chest. My fingers began to clench against the arm bars and I braced myself to stand quickly, scanning the room for exits.
“The fire was found to have been started on the 6th floor, however on the floor above there was an illegal party underway. When the fire spread to their floor most of the goers noticed and were able to escape the building in time. However, some of the more inebriated individuals had trouble getting out, which resulted in many admitted to the hospital and two being pronounced dead at the scene.”
Noise in my head, the fire crackling, the screams I had heard as I exited the building, mingling with the fleeing party goers.
“Unfortunately, this is where it is my solemn duty to offer my deepest regrets as I announce that after extensive investigation into the identity of the two dead, we have concluded that one of them is in fact Matteo Ricci, a brave firefighter from this very department.”
Everything stopped, quickly and suddenly, as if the world had slammed on the brakes and I had bashed my head into the seat in front of me. I heard people gasp, murmurs erupting around me, but I stayed still. Body stiff, eyes staring straight ahead, a scream echoing.
His hand raised and the hush returned.
“We believe the person who started this fire is the very same one who caused the fires in the Magnolia House, Pelican Fields, and the Pilgrim Greenhouse. If this is the case then we have a serial arsonist and up until now they have avoided civilization. But something has changed within them that caused them to have escalated.” The man paused and took off his round glasses, cleaned them with his shirt, and placed them back upon his face. “I am here to assure everyone here that I will do everything in my power to catch this maniac, not just so that we can put another fire bug in jail, but also to avenge the death of one of our own, a brave firefighter who was killed by the very thing he worked so hard to protect others from, and killed by the kind of people he despised .
The room felt as if it was holding its breath, waiting for his next word.
“Therefore, I ask that you all be vigilant in any and all fires you attend, and keep an extra close eye out for any suspicious materials or people about.” He looked around, as if gauging everyone’s reaction. “You are free to return to your normal work.” He then turned and left, two others who had been standing by the door followed close behind.
The room began to empty, the noise a mix of crying and grieving for Matteo, and yet notes of hope and encouragement with the belief that they could change something.
And then me, alone, frozen, frozen in that moment when I poured the gasoline. In that moment, where I desired for Matteo to burn.
It had been a foolish desire. One made in the heat of a moment, but one that had burned deep in my heart and made a deep impression into my life, and for whatever reason, the world that had always denied me what I wanted had finally listened.
I didn’t go to work for the next few days following the news of Matteo’s death.
In his final moments, I hated him. Every fiber of my being had burned with rage as I wished for his death and it was when I remembered those moments that I questioned why I was grieving for him. But it was the other times, the times he did seek me out, just to talk or catch up, forsaking the others who were probably nicer and better conversationalists than me, just because he wanted to.
I grieved for those moments, for the Matteo then.
I learned to forget the Matteo as I had last seen him, purposefully lamenting on how our relationship had been.
I was scared to light fires. Fire had always helped me, a way to exhale passion and power, anger over how the world treated me and a way to finally feel at peace. But the destruction of the last fire could not be forgotten, and each time I thought of fire Matteo’s burned corpse and the knowledge that I had killed him shook me to my core.
But then the emotions overwhelmed me, held in for too long, my hands shaking, breath uneven. I couldn’t focus on anything or anyone. It was if I was a wind up toy, unable to stop form bounding about the room.
One time it was so bad I lost control. I lost all control. And before I knew it I had lit a small fire. A bundle of newspaper on that charred spot on my dinning room table, just as it had always been.
The flames leapt and rose, smoke drifting further and further away. I expected the guilt I felt to increase, but instead it subsided as I stared into the depths of the small fire.
When looking at the fire I remembered Matteo as I wanted to remember him. His kind eyes and big smile, seeking me out and wanting to be with me.
I then I realized what this meant. What all this meant. Why the world had answered that desire. The truth I wasn’t accepting, but now, finally, could face.
Matteo’s death had not been a curse, something evil I had done, but instead a blessing, the greatest blessing that could ever have been bestowed upon me. By burning, Matteo’s ethereal spirit had become one with the fire I loved. And now, whenever I lit a fire, there he was, seeking me out, standing beside me, supporting me.
I felt a new fire within my soul, new ideas springing to my mind of the places I could go, new ideas of interesting processes. But, more importantly, I understood the power of my fire. How I could affect others with it, punish them for their views of me, change them. Show them that this belief I had in fire is neither ridiculous nor insane as they argue it is, but as reliable as their beliefs in money and sex.
Except fire is powerful, far more powerful than their beliefs, and I can us this power to force them to respect me.
I went back to work Thursday, five days after finding out about Matteo’s death. Upon arrival it was clear that the station was exactly the same as it had always been, people behaving as if no tragedy had actually taken place. The only thing that had changed was a new picture on the Wall of Fallen Heroes. Matteo’s glowing green eyes, bright with excitement of starting a new career in saving people, now watched over everyone.
It was a slow and boring day, nobody really seemed interested in doing the work around the station. They only thing truly exciting that was occurring was the continuous gossip about the arsonist and how they had recently set fire to the Swan Hotel on 134th Street.The smoke had been sweet and kissed the sky, and although no one had died many were still hospitalized when they ventured to close too the angry flames.
And, with no surprise, Casey as in the middle of it all.
You would have guessed her husband was the President of the United States the way she bounced from group to group, loudly proclaiming the things her husband was investigating.
“Did you know Nathanial has been looking into all the grocery stores within a fifty mile radius of the city? Gathering lists of the stores that sold more than seven gallons of gasoline to the same person three days or less before the fires. So far he has found two stores and is having them describe the person to a sketch artist,” Casey boasted, grinning wildly from ear to ear, letting all those around her eat it up or praise her husbands efforts or curse the arsonist.
All that day I was in close proximity to Casey, always within earshot or within the group itself, listening in order to hear any other insights from the investigation. I blended in, blended in more than I ever had in my life. I concurred with their judgments of the arsonist, called for justice alongside the numerous cries that arose.
But, one person saw through me. I knew they did, for as I blended in with the crowd and counted my voices among them I felt her eyes burning on my skin, seeing through my facade to the true reason anger seeped out of me.
Casey had been helpful, but not in the way she probably wanted to be.
I wasn’t very worried about the artist’s sketches. I’m not dumb. When I began to burn bigger I donned a blond wig so hopefully that should confuse the dumb cashiers enough. However, it was good to know where Griffin was at in his investigation, what pitfalls to avoid so that he could not find me out.
Last week I went to to six different stores, at each one getting five cans and using a different wig for each one as well as different facial accessories. I was pretty confident that these informed precautions would cause Griffin’s investigation to dead-end.
That thought alone made me smile. Griffin pacing in some stupid office, with his stupid Princeton degree on the wall, outsmarted by a kid expelled from high school and his big-mouthed wife.
This was all fresh in my mind as I entered the Runningwater Galleria, giving a slight nod to the security guard standing by the door, backpack feeling heavier by the minute as I imagined him asking me to open it. But he didn’t. In fact, he barely glanced my way as I entered the Galleria alongside the group of of people who had just dismounted the 4:30 bus.
I had been here a few times before, looking for the best, most secluded place. Eventually I had settled upon the mens room in the back part of the Galleria between a Claires and a NEXT. I found this to be the best place because of its secluded position and, being a bathroom, it was not uncommon to find strange liquids on the floor.
As I walked towards the bathroom, hands stuffed deep into my jacket pockets so that they could fidget without drawing people’s attention, I spotted a cleaner’s cart parked outside a womens bathroom, a ‘Sorry for the Inconvenience’ sign hanging off the back.
Quickly I slid behind someone and grabbed the sign, stuffing it under my jacket in a matter of seconds. I glanced around, but no one was looking at me so I assumed I was in the clear.
I began to approach the designated bathroom, spying the security camera positioned outside and pointed at the door.
Turning my head away from the camera I opened the door and went in, but not before I placed the ‘Sorry for the Inconvenience’ sign on the door. I wasn’t sure how many people it would stop. If anything, being a firefighter had taught me how illiterate the people in this city were, but at the very least I hoped it would dissuade them.
Once inside I slammed my bag on the counter top and and checked the stalls.
The bathroom was decently small, only ten urinals and five stalls and only one of those stalls was occupied, a fact a very angry man was keen to reiterate when I knocked on the door.
Satisfied that my good luck was perpetuating, I returned to the sinks and waited for him to leave so that I could begin the process.
I took that time to adjust my disguise. The brown wig I had used was a little lopsided, and if you looked close enough you could begin to see a little of my naturally black hair peeking out. Alongside this the make-up I had used to make my facial features look different had smudged a little. It took me forever to do this… sighing, I took out a make-up pen and began to fix it up again.
I had never taken precautions like this before, but I had also never had someone coming after me like this. One slip up now, one chance to recognize me, that was all he needed. All he needed to lock me away to a place where I would be abused, ignored, disregarded as human trash, a waste of resources.
I heard a flush and the stall door swung open. A burley man exited and joined me at the sinks to wash his hands. I noticed him watching me from the corner, his eyes switching between studying the ways that I changed the lines on my face or the bulging black bag at my feet. I saw a suspicious look begin to come over him, and as he left he paused just a few moments more, our eyes meeting, before the door closed behind him.
He saw my face. He knew. Did he know what he knew? Would he tell? Would he remember me when the chaos began? I couldn’t dwell on these things. I couldn’t back down now, not when it was so close. I had to continue. I had to take this risk, this one risk.
I brushed the man off, focused in on the task at hand. Opening the bag I began to unload the gas cans, pouring them one by one into the toilets and urinals, over the sinks and the floor, until the entire bathroom was soaked and the smell of gasoline caused my nose and eyes to burn.
Trying to breath as little as possible I checked everything over once again, and then lightly stepped my shoes into a puddle of gasoline until they were soaking wet.
From my pocket I pulled out a small box of matches and lit one, throwing it into the furthest back urinal. The fire shot up and immediately the white exterior of the urinal began to turn black with ash and staining. It began to crawl out of the urinal to the floor, flowing across it and entering the stalls. From each one an eruption of flames would pop up over the stalls once the fire reached there.
I left my bag and and the empty gas cans in the bathroom and quickly walked away, aware of the gas sloshing in my shoes, soaking my socks and feet. Everywhere I walked I left a wet gasoline imprint. I hoped that these tracks would help the fire spread throughout the galleria, giving it a path of sorts, but I was uncertain if it would actually work. I could only be hopeful. But, in the midst of the hope was the realistic awareness of how soaked I had become with gasoline, and how if the fire reached me it would rush up my feet, my legs, my chest, my head, crawling up until I was dead inside of it.
Once I reached the food court of the Galleria an alarm began to ring, loud and blaring, causing everyone around me to jump.
No one really moved, people staying where they were, murmuring among themselves, looking and waiting for instructions, unable to comprehend the actual danger that had leaked its way out of the restroom by now.
A man’s voice came over the loud speaker. Calm and deep, but with a slight hint of panic, just discernible enough by the people around as he announced that people should begin exiting the Galleria.
Everyone got up and headed towards the exit at a meandering pace, at least until they all heard something come from the other end of the mall where the restrooms were. It was here that people realized the actual danger they were in, how this was not just a slight interruption in their enjoyable day, and panic broke out among them. They begun to run and scream, shoving past each other, natural selfish instincts taking over.
Amidst the panic I slipped into a shoe store and changed out of my gas soaked shoes and socks for a large pair of boots. That way, if my gas track plan did work, it wouldn’t catch up with me as I tried to escape.
Suddenly, water rained down, soaking me until my clothes stuck to me and my hair covered my eyes. I looked up, half-expecting to see the ceiling gone and black thunderclouds floating above based on the ferocity of the sprinklers.
I ran out of the store, careful not to slip on the slick floors. The Galleria, at this point, was nearly deserted, except for a few stragglers heading for the exits.
Behind them was the fire, battling against the torrent of water. Black smoke erupted from it as the water poured over the fire, coating the ceiling, resembling the thunderclouds I had imagined earlier. The flames leapt up, as if trying to hurt the powerful water, but with each leap they were beat down further.
My heart beat with each leap and paused with each falter, the hiss exploding in my ears and bouncing around my skull. I could have stood there forever, watching the battle till the end I knew would occur, but I had to leave. The longer I stayed the more suspicious I would seem, the more people would remember me.
I turned my back and began to follow the crowd when suddenly I heard very loud footsteps from behind, coming towards me. I believed it to be another group of people running for escape, at least until I felt someone grab my shoulder, turn me around, and slam their fist into my cheek.
I crumbled to the ground, my brain buzzing with a mix of shock and pain. Looking up, I saw the burley man advancing towards me, an anger similar to the anger of the fire behind him burning in his eyes. He was covered in soot and his left forearm was burned badly.
“You!” I heard him yell, like a knife that cut through the fog surrounding my brain. “I know this was you! I saw you! I saw you leave! And… and then the fire!”
He paused in front of me and although I couldn’t see his face I could tell by the way he shook that there was a powerful rage clawing to be let out. He then lashed out, his foot repeatedly slamming into my stomach, forcing me to curl up into a tight ball for protection. It felt like a hammer puncturing my intestines. The pain intensified and began to spread throughout my body until I was convulsing, itching for an escape.
The man hesitated for a second, breathing heavily. I took the chance and in a rush of adrenaline I pushed myself to my hands and feet and crawled towards a trash can. I heard the man following behind me, but he wasn’t in a hurry. He knew I was no match for him. This was not a fight I could win.
Shakily, I grasped the trash can and used it to pull myself to my feet. I turned to face him, leaning against the trash can. He was about to reach me, his fingers tightening into a fist.
I reached behind me, my hand fumbling until it closed around the edge of a pile plastic trays.
The man raised his fist, but before he could begin to bring it down I swung the tray. It connected with the side of his face and with a crack he lurched backwards, holding his jaw and grunting in pain.
I limped away as fast as I could, grabbing onto the walls, tables, and chairs to help my escape. I didn’t know where I was going, I was in too much of a daze. All I knew was that I ended up running to one of the restaurant fronts.
Positioning my hands on top of the counter I went to crawl over, but suddenly I felt him grab my shirt and throw me across.
I fell into a pile of cutlery with a loud metallic crash. Everything hurt, and whenever I tried to move it felt as if a thousand new things were poking in and through me.
I couldn’t see much beyond the blackness that began to crowd in, but I did hear the man jump the counter, landing with a loud thud only a few feet away from me. Ignoring the pain as best I could I searched through the pile for something, anything.
I heard him, right behind me. I had no more time. I didn’t think. I grabbed the nearest thing, turned towards him, and thrust it forward.
All movement stopped and I felt something slick begin to run down my hand. All light seemed to blink back into existence and I looked up to see the man standing over me, a knife stuck through his neck, my hand attached to the hilt. Quickly, I let go and began to push myself away. The man stumbled forwards, gurgling sounds replacing whatever words he was trying to say until he collapsed to the floor in a pile of red blood that oozed towards me.
I scrambled to my feet and ran. Behind me, the battle between the fire and the water raged on. The fire rising higher and higher towards the ceiling, clawing, trying to escape the death that was battering it down.
In that moment it was as if every sound in the world had been turned up, a screaming mixed with the rain hitting the tiles around me and the hiss of the flames being extinguished by the water. The hiss of a burning death, a death alone.
Overwhelmed. Overwhelmed. Tears began to flow, mixing with the water dripping down my face.
The news was covering the mall fire. Apparently many people were injured, only one death confirmed in the food court.
My wet clothes plus the wig were hanging nearby to dry.
As I watched the report continue Griffin appeared on screen. His hair pristine, white skin glistening in juxtaposition to the messy darkness of the burned Galleria behind him. My breath caught in my throat and I felt a rage boiling up inside of me as I realized what was happening. What he was doing. He was explaining the fire, my fire. He was explaining my motives, my techniques. Criticizing my work, how ‘sloppy’ it was. How if I continue to make mistakes he would catch me.
He never said what the mistakes were.
I wanted to both laugh and cry. My heart raced, my shirt felt like it was suffocating me, I clawed at it. But the more I worked at it the stickier my hands felt, the heavier they felt.
My hands shaking I ripped up a nearby newspaper and threw it onto my mattress. Sitting down next to it I took out a match and held it next to the headline about some school opening in the city. It slowly caught on fire and began to crumble into ash, the headline dissolving. I watched it fall away, and then I took the match away and patted my hand upon the fire, spreading the ash and causing my hand to tingle in pain.
I had started that fire, I had ended it. I controlled the fire, my fire. It was mine alone. I controlled the power. I brought it to life through matches, I dictated where it went through accelerants, and ended it with the nozzle of my fireman's hose.
I shifted to another place on my mattress, placing a mix of the charred newspaper and fresh newspaper together, and lit it again.
I leaned back and watched the small fire leap and dance, like a little child compared to the roaring beasts I had seen.
As it blazed I looked around my room, at all the burned marks along every flat surface. My mattress, my floor, my dresser, small spots, controlled by me, leaving my mark, making it mine.
The fire here in front of me was behaved. It didn’t try to expand past the newspaper, ignoring the temptation to crawl across my mattress, content to stay in one place. I didn’t have to accommodate it, force to stay. It wanted it stay.
It was him. I knew it was. It exhibited his traits. It was him, visiting me, showing me it was him. I knew by how it stuck to me, content to stay and to be near me. I knew it was him by the fires loyalty.
I watched him, never wanting to put it out.
I needed to find Casey. So far her wealth of inside knowledge had unknowingly helped me stay out of the investigators eye. Thanks to her I knew about the different theories they had, how they found patterns in how I purchased accelerants, picked my targets, and even the time of day that I started the fire. Patterns that were true. Patterns I didn’t even know had existed, but now knew to avoid.
I entered the station and began to change into my work uniform, smiling at the idea of Griffin knocking over his papers in frustration, frustrated as to why he could never pin me down.
“Danior,” someone called out. When I heard it my breath caught in my throat and I turned, unsure of how to feel or who I would see. But it was only Saf walking towards me, her long braids brushing down her back.
“You seem in an unnaturally cheery mood,” she commented, eyes glaring slightly at me. “Since Matteo died you’ve either just sulked or didn’t even bother to come in.”
I smiled and rubbed the back of my neck as I closed my locker. “Yeah. I didn’t, um… didn’t take it very well.”
“I could tell. We all could tell.” Nothing cracked her face.
“But it’s fine now,” I said. “It took a while but I dealt with it my own way.”
“And what way was that exactly?”
My smile faded. “Just a lot of repression and redirection.” I crossed my arms and shifted my weight to my left leg. Saf’s eyes followed all my movements. “Why do I feel like I am being interrogated?”
“You’re not, unless you have something to be guilty of.” Even when saying these things Saf’s face never changed, never let a single emotion show.
I opened my mouth to respond, although I was unsure with what, when Casey interrupted us by grabbing my shoulder.
“Hey guys! Have I told you yet what Nathanial has theorized about the arsonist? He had this super brilliant psychological realization that is going to help narrow down the suspect pool.”
He had a pool?
“What is it?”, I asked. I tried to make my voice sound bored for Saf’s sake. But really I was excited, my mind already whirring with how to change my current way of work to infuriate Griffin more.
“So, alright, so Nathanial says that because the arsonist always lights the fire on scene he theorizes that it must be because the arsonists gets, like some creepy arousal from it, which also means that he would probably stick around after the fire to watch his work.”
I stopped moving, my euphoric feeling fading fast.
“How will that help us catch him then?” Saf’s voice actually had a genuine note of curiosity.
“Well, Nathanial believes that if us firefighters can arrive quickly enough then we can take all who were there when the fires started and we could pinpoint our arsonist through interrogations.”
“But how do we get there faster? We get there as fast as possible and it isn’t like we can sneak up on the scene because they would always know we were coming.”
“I think it really applies to bringing the people that are there in, or at leasing getting descriptions of all the people others noticed and maybe we could find someone missing.” Casey offered, shrugging. “But we shouldn’t worry! We will get him! Won’t we, Danior?”
Saf’s eyes turned to me. I had to compose myself.
“Yea. Absolutely. We will do everything to catch this maniac,” I replied, mimicking Griffin, hoping that his passion would mask my nerves.
Casey seemed content, running off to talk to others. Saf was more skeptical, and even while I watched her walk away I still felt as if she was watching me.
There was a small bookstore just a few miles outside of the city. The little building was shaped like a cottage, and because of this many people liked to visit it for its quaint feel.
I waited outside the store, sitting on a bench in the nearby deserted park as the sun slowly set, watching the final employee leave, locking the door behind her as she began to rifle through her bag.
I pushed myself up from the bench and rushed towards the building, pulling the cloth over my face and the black beanie over my head so that the only things visible were my eyes, covered by sunglasses. I slid next to the cottage, crouching in the shadows until the woman walked away.
I waited until I heard the car drive away before I began to walk around, looking for any extra security cameras positioned on the outside, but the only one I could see was the one pointed at the door to watch people entering and exiting. By peeping through the windows I was also able to see two other cameras inside, one watching the register and the other the bathrooms, both continually swiveling throughout the day.
I had come into the store a time before, posed as a security salesman, in order to find out about their current system. From what I could gather, the system was incredibly simple. An alarm was only sounded when the cameras detected movement, which meant that as long as you were alert and stayed out of sight you were pretty much invisible. Surprisingly enough, this security system was incredibly popular among all the other stores. Due to their more secluded nature, none of the stores had ever experienced any sort of robbery or vandalism, so no reason had been given to put in a more sophisticated system. This was my main reason for choosing this store. I wanted to do this fire without anyone knowing I was there.
I sat outside the building, crouching in the grass with my back against the wall. From my backpack I took out three gas canisters and three flares. Unscrewing the lids of the cans I stuck a flare into each one about half-way down. As I worked I imagined the fire burning through the flare, working its way slowly towards the gas, anticipation working through it, anticipation of becoming so much more. A same tingling sensation worked up my spine, making me shiver despite the humid wind that passed through.
I wouldn’t be there for the fire, I knew this, but I had to do this. I had to prove that I didn’t need to be there. I had to prove him wrong. He couldn’t be right, because if he was right then this was not mine.
Once I had prepared the three delayed devices I approached one of the small windows on the side of the building. By peeking inside I could see that neither of the cameras were pointing towards me.
Taking one of the left over flares I raised it and then brought it down onto the window. It was reinforced, so it took a lot of continuous swings, over and over again, making a small crack. bigger and bigger until it eventually shattered to the floor.
I gingerly crawled through, bracing against the frames in order to help keep clear of the jagged pieces that reached for my skin.
Once inside I hid behind one of the bookcases, waiting until the cameras weren’t watching for me to run across the store. I placed the first canister near the front of the store in the opposite corner of the register. The second canister was placed in the back of the store, opposite of the bathroom. The final canister was placed in the middle of the store, right between two large imposing bookshelves stacked high with yellowed books.
I took a look around the quiet cottage as I walked about, spraying gasoline and alcohol all over the place, onto it’s tall wooden shelves, it’s wooden beams that stretched across the rafters to each other, it’s old and dusty books. It was perfect, all the right elements to result in a beautiful flame. I imagined how powerful it would be, growing until it would match the sun, shedding light upon every blade of grass surrounding the little store.
I wouldn’t see it.
I drew in a deep breath and took out a match, lighting it. I then cautiously went to each of the flares, lighting it before quickly rushing to the next one. During this time I had to resist my natural temptation to just hold it a little close to a book… just to watch.
I finished, and as I left I could heard the flares hissing, slowly making their way to the gasoline. I kept that sound in my ears as I rushed to my car and began to drive away, pulling into the dark and empty streets.
As I drove away I felt that panicky feeling as the sound faded from my memory as quickly as it had imprinted itself. I imagined the place in ablaze, what it would look like. But I knew, I knew and it made it worse, so much worse, to know that imagination would only pale to the real thing. The real thing, a thing I would never see.
I glanced in my rear-view mirror, hoping to see that the device was quicker than anticipated, hoped to see that it had begun. But no, it still sat there in quiet anticipation.
I almost stopped, stopped to wait, but I had to keep going. Going. Because if I stopped it would mean that Griffin was right, and he could never be right.
My chest throbbed.
“Excuse me everyone!”
All movement around me stopped. I was half-way up the climbing wall so I had to awkwardly shift to face Griffin as he approached us, head held high, hands stuffed into his pants pockets.
He stopped in front of us, and although his face was neutral I could see just the slight twitch of a smile. “I regret to inform you all that for the rest of the day I will be interrogating each and every one of you individually as suspects in the recent rash of arsonist fires.”
Confusion began to spread through everyone, mumbling and shuffling, frustration and annoyance emanating. I tried to stand there, unfazed, as if I had nothing to hide.
Finally, someone asked what was on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
This lead to a follow up chorus of everyones voices, including my own.
“What is your evidence?”
“Why would you think it was one of us?”
“How are you certain?”
Griffin latched on to this last question. “Obviously we are not certain, but we believe this is the most probable conclusion. “
He paused to watch each of us, how we were reacting. I suddenly wished I was on the ground and not so stuck out.
“As for our reasoning behind setting up these interrogations, we were hitting road blocks in our investigations. Every time we caught a pattern or a clue the arsonist changed his style. It was all a little too… coincidental”
I shifted so that my face was turned away.
“We figured we had a leak, but were uncertain where. So each member of our core team had a fabricated theory that they told to the people they discussed the case with previously. We found evidence at this most recent fire at the bookstore that the arsonist did change their style once again. They created a timing device for the fire, which was the solution to the theory I had fabricated. I had only discussed this case with my wife, Casey, who I recently found out has been openly discussing the case with all those on her squad. You all. This then leads us here, to determine if any of you are our suspect.”
All eyes turned to Casey, whose open mouth and red cheeks displayed the fact that she did not even know about this plan.
Griffin never looked at his wife, and after he had finished talking he just turned around left as he had arrived.
No one moved.
I had to wait three hours before my name was called. Three hours of sitting outside, picking grass amidst a group of untrusting firefighters, refusing to talk to each other.
I was too glad to leave, because while I was there I felt like screaming. Screaming in anger that he outsmarted me, screaming that he was cleaverer than me, screaming in relief that the ridiculous theory of arousal was wrong. But, as I began to walk towards the break room where the interrogations were taking place I realized the seriousness of what was occurring. I had taken precautions, but clearly not enough. One wrong answer. I couldn’t afford to stand out.
I arrived faster than I had anticipated, and before I knew it I was staring at the door. Had I run here? I didn’t remember ever arriving so quickly. Why was it so quick?
Inside the room Griffin was sitting at the table, rifling through a folder.
“Danior Codona?” he asked, glancing at me. Before I could respond he looked back down and gestured. “Take a seat.”
I sat and watched him until he finally had the decency to turn and acknowledge me.
“I assume Casey has spoken to you about certain details in this case?”
I hesitated. I could easily just say no and he would leave me alone, but there were also people who knew I had heard Casey and would not hesitate telling Griffin so.
I finally nodded.
Griffin made a note, then without looking up asked, “Did you ever discuss details of the case with anyone outside of your squad?” This was all routine.
“Do you have any alibis for June 30th, July 2nd, 4th, 6th, 10th, 16th, 18th, 23rd, and 27th?”
All laid out. So much, yet so little. I knew those dates like I knew the back of my own hand.
“I was at home, alone.”
Griffin looked up quickly. “Are you sure? Those are a lot of dates, everyone else has had to check their calenders.”
My heart stopped. I had stood out. I had set myself apart.
“I… I don’t have much of a social life. I stay inside every night.”
“Ok. So you don’t have an alibi for any of those nights?”
Griffin didn’t look away or write anything down. Instead, he leaned back in his chair, arms folded and eyes staring at me, or through me. I couldn’t tell. Was he watching me sweat? Was he analyzing me? Was he lost in his own thoughts? His eyes betrayed nothing, as if to compensate for how much I felt mine were giving away.
“Are you feeling well?”
“Huh?” I jolted a little. I heard him speak but it hadn’t looked like he did. “Yeah. I feel fine…”
“Are you sure? You’re sweating and fidgeting. Are you dehydrated?”
You’re standing out.
I lightly chuckled. “I guess I am just nervous. Never been suspect to a crime before.”
My insides felt like they were about to come exploding out. Exposing everything.
Griffin gave me a piercing stare before writing something down.
“So… do you have any out standing suspects?” I felt like I needed to speak.
Griffin’s head snapped back up. “I’m not going to answer that. Discussing it was what delayed capture for so long.”
“Ok. That’s fine. Makes sense.” I was rambling. “I just wanted to know who to avoid.”
“You took a longer leave of absence than your colleagues after Matteo’s death. Were the two of you close?” This felt like deviation from the routine.
“I would say so. He was one of my only real friends. We’d have lunch and do some chores together.”
“So, within work would you classify yourself as a typical loner?”
“I guess. I never really thought about it. Just never really been good at getting close to people.”
“Is there a reason for that?”
“Ok. I believe that is all then.” He placed his file and pen down and held out his hand. “We will be in contact. Don’t leave town.”
I hesitantly took his hand. It was ice cold and had a grip like a vice.
I hurried out the door as quickly as I could, face hot and palms sweaty.
Work was torture.
It felt as if everyone knew. Everyone knew it was me, and they hated me for it, judging me for what I had done.
I did my work with my head down. I went to my assigned fires. I did my assigned chores. I ate lunch alone and took my breaks alone. I isolated myself completely. Why draw attention to myself? If I faded maybe people would forget me and this investigation could just slide by.
But it was becoming harder to face. As I walked down the hall I felt everyone was watching me, as if they knew a secret I was not a part of.
Saf avoided me. She wouldn’t even look at me anymore. Every time I came near her she would walk away or make a show of talking to someone else. I knew she knew. She had become so skeptical of me, analyzing everything. I used to always feel her watching me. But not anymore. I no longer felt her eyes on me. She had found what it was she was looking for, and because of it she didn’t want to look at me anymore.
I also avoided Matteo. I used to enjoy walking by the picture, pretending he was still alive and I was just passing by him in the hallway. But now, each time I did the piercing eyes became more and more enraged, following me so that others could trace his gaze and find me the culprit. Even at my home when I lit fires I could not find him. He was gone, abandoned me once again. I was crazy to believe that it could have been any other way. Once again, in a point of spiraling, perching at the precarious edge of disaster, he went chasing after pleasure.
But the worst of it was Casey. The first week after I was interrogated she avoided everyone, shame from having been betrayed by her husband and putting the investigation in jeopardy in such a public way.
But once she adjusted it all seemed normal.
Until the second week.
In the second week she started avoiding me. Giving me side-ways glances, making a point to leave the room when I entered.
She knew. Her husband was talking and she knew.
He was onto me. He knew.
He was going to come for me. Any day. He would waltz through those fire station doors, triumphant, taking me away.
Away from… it all.
If he took me away, I would have to stop.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t just… stop it all.
The fire kept things inside of me, things I couldn’t let out. The thought of two weeks, a month, two months, four… It was all too much. It was too long. I couldn’t give it up.
But there was no other choice for me. I was going to be found out, I had been found out. Even if I ran I had to answer the hunger inside at some point, and I would have to run again. Running from an eventual end, because someday I would be unable to run.
And that was an end I couldn’t bear to face.
I quit three days after Casey’s glances began. What was the use trying to fit in now if Griffin knew?
I stayed at home, locked inside, lighting small fires and watching the news. I watched for any developments, looking for a reporter standing outside with a tact team, prepped and ready to take me.
I imagined it happening, how it would happen, playing through scenarios in my head, of entry points, my reactions. All ended the same way. A click.
The fire inside roared hungrily, needing more than what I could give it.
All I wanted was to go out and appease it, to feel the stinging smoke, the sweat seeping through my skin, the fire on my cheeks. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t leave. He would find me. I felt that if I even stepped foot outside my door he would be there, handcuffs in hand, the balance of the scales tipping in his favor.
But this desire, it was strong. So strong. So overpowering. Multiple times I had to stop myself from leaving, peel my hand from the doorknob or even from the gas can when I tried to douse my apartment in a moment of weakness.
Nothing would stop it.
And it was like it knew, it knew I was purposefully restricting, and it allowed me no rest. It burned in my chest, causing my whole body to feel in pain, like the only relief I could have would be from the smoke entering my body. I felt the fire on me, creeping up my arms and legs, burning my skin and muscle, working through my entire body. But the worst, the worst was the things it showed me. Things I had never witnessed, but it had, the destruction it had caused. I would see them, lying on my bedroom floor, skin blackened, hair ashen, face’s contorted in fear and anguish, reaching out to me. I would hear them, their screams turning to wailing whispers and then to slight moans, their nails scraping the floor as they convulsed.
It was punishing me. Punishing me with the things I had done, with the blood that couldn’t ever be washed away, with the screams that could never escape my ears, with the bruises that could never fade. Punishing me for not obeying it. I couldn’t obey it. Obeying it would mean being locked away with this unsatisfiable desire, locked away with them haunting my every move, every waking hour.
It would never end. I couldn’t stop it, no one could.
Only one thing could end this. It was the only solution, the solution I didn’t want to face.
It knew. It knew what I thought, what I planned. But it couldn’t stop me, and every torturous feeling it inflicted only spurred me on, securing that this was the only way to end this waking nightmare that I would be forced to live in.
I got up to retrieve the gasoline can.
I felt I had heard the knock a hundred times before. But this time when the familiar pound sounded throughout the apartment I knew it was real.
From the other side of the door I heard a voice call to me, but I didn’t get up. Why would I bother anyways? He was coming inside with or without my permission.
The knocks became louder, harder, until kicking, repeating blow after blow.
I stood up, hands shoved into my pockets, twirling my trusty box of matches.
A loud bang sounded throughout the room as the door flew open and crashed into the wall.
Griffin entered in and our eyes met, landing on the lit match that sat between my fingers. He drew his gun, training it on me.
He began to speak, a soothing sound, but I don’t know what he said and I think he knew that. He knew that I was empty, that this moment was merely a hazy dream I hoped to never remember.
I scanned the ground as he spoke, eying the dark stains that lay beneath both mine and Griffin’s feet, connecting us as if we were two sides of the same coin.
No, not a coin, a seven-sided die, the second side beaten, the third side burned, and the sixth side bloody. Complicated and convoluted, everyone a player, everyone a contributer. Contributing to the pure chaos and rage that I felt burning through me as it burned to escape. Something I could not control.
Griffin took a step forward. A cock rang out and I focused down the long barrel, like a tunnel leading a way to anew life.
He wanted this as much as I did. I knew it by the way he said “Drop it!” How he pleaded. “I need you to drop it, Danior, so no one else gets hurt.”
So no one else would get hurt.
No one else.
I dropped it in between us, to the stained and soiled ground, and heard the roar of the flames.
There was screaming, but from who? Was that me, or Griffin, or Matteo?
It rushed upon me. It consumed me. Consumed me from the inside out.
A gunshot sounded throughout the dark and dingy room.