I read an article earlier in the year about people attacking the fire services as they tried to put out a blaze. Thankfully, I do not have first-hand experience of such an event, but having seen one or two unpleasant things in my lifetime, I have no doubt that it actually happened. That someone would do such a thing is absolutely reprehensible . . . but as a writer, I wanted to comprehend the mindset behind it. This, then, is my attempt to understand the completely unexplainable:
Night time. Darkness. Bored. So bored.
Need to start another fire.
Been thinking about it all day – the heat, the noise. Looked past the adviser’s shoulder at the Job Place, staring out the window, seeing the big field. All the kids playing football on it. Imagined what it would look like if they were all running screaming, running away from the flames, the flames I created. Smiled then snapped back to where I was sitting, tried to listen to what the adviser was saying, was telling me. But why fucking bother? It’s just the same as every other appointment to get my money through the years – the name and face of the guy changing, but the rubbish coming from his mouth just the same.
That’s good, that burns . . .
But so does furniture, and there’s always lots of that around, people dumping their old shit on the street so they don’t have to pay for the council to take it away. Old couches, dirty mattresses, and I’ve picked them all up at one time or another, even before I started setting fires, just dragged them back to my squat when I didn’t have my own stuff. I remember fucking Candy on one of those mattresses, or was it Sandra . . . arms skinny from the heroin, no teeth in her mouth when my tongue went inside it. That’s when she got pregnant with our Jay – or was it our Mikey?
Now, I don’t take the furniture. Now, I burn it instead. Piling it all up out on the grass, setting a match to it, watching it burn high and big. Standing around looking at it. Feeling so good, so powerful . . .
Much better than I felt in the betting shop this afternoon. Watching my Job Place money slipping away, can of lager in my hand, Dave coming round from the back of the shop the fat bastard that he is, you see his belly before you see him, telling me you know you can’t bring that in here, son. So I drink it and drop the can on the floor and belch and head over to the fruit machines, and you can see from the look on Dave’s face that he’d love to kick me out just like every other time but he won’t, he knows I spend too much money here.
All my money.
But it costs nothing to burn stuff.
So that’s what I do. That’s all I have.
Normally, I set the fire then I run off, watch from down the bottom of the street when the firemen come to put it out. But it’s burning more and more tonight, getting higher and bigger than ever before, and I know I have to stay and watch it to the end. And I see face at windows across from the field where I’m doing it, looking scared, looking worried. But there’s nothing to fear, is there? This fire is pretty. This fire is good.
But then I hear sirens, and before I know it the fire people are here. Pulling out their hoses and telling me to stand back and trying to put out the fire. My fire.
But like I said, it’s all I’ve got.
Still, they turn their water on it, and I look around in a panic, trying to find some way to fight them, something to keep the fire going. But there’s nothing left, and I burnt the chairs and mattresses long ago, and all the letters sent to me fed the flames, too, the rent arrear bills and the payday loan forms and the final fucking demands, and as for books, ha, well I had none of my own but I nicked them from libraries and charity shops and those I burnt as well, but now there’s nothing on or around me and all I can do is scream and cry as the fire, my fire, starts to die.
But it’s taking a while to go out completely, still a little of it left burning.
Then, there’s a face in mine, one I’ve seen before from the bottom of the street, the Chief Fireman pulling off his helmet to make eye contact with me, and he tells me he’s seen me watching before, that he knows I’ve been behind these fires the last few months and that this is the last time, that as soon as this fire’s fully out he’s going to report me to the police.
I imagine them coming to arrest me. To put another tag above my foot.
That’s when something snaps inside me.
And when I scream and lash out, and when I watch him fall back, I realise that I’ve been wrong all along – there was another fuel always around me, one I now see and smell for just a second before the rest of the firemen take me down:
Shaun Avery writes horror and crime fiction in a number of mediums, often with a satirical approach to fame and media obsession. He thinks his cynicism is healthy. Though perhaps “The Conception Artist” takes it to extremes.
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