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Originally posted on Pen of the Damned on November 27, 2012

As the Fire Burns

The flames are hypnotic.

Fingers of light play against the night in contrast like a calico kitten beneath a massive ball of black nylon thread. Its harmonious colors of red, yellow, and orange blend and battle in a dance that never ceases to lose its novelty.

Fire is damn fascinating—the breath of dragons and gods and other mythical beings bent on destruction. Yet, its beauty is beyond compare. One could lose his soul gazing into its fiery maw. It’s not predictable and monotonous like most would think after a cursory glance; it’s more fluid, impulsive, opportunistic. After all, it is a living thing. It breathes. It consumes. And, at times, it even appears to fear and hate.

The heat warms my prickled skin with the friendly itch of a wool blanket. Despite the outer comfort, it chills my heart—my leadened chest now burdened with an irreparable chunk of ice. I’m not here for recreation. My childhood memories of joyful campfires with toasted treats, spooky yarns, and hickory-smoke aromas are irrelevant tonight and I struggle to keep them at bay. The nature of flames may be intriguing, but I hate this fire.

I hate it and it knows.

When my glare falters and my focus succumbs to the rhythm, easing into a hypnotized gaze, the burning creature stokes my hatred anew with a taunting flare streaked in blue or green like it’s flipping me off.

I try to rationalize the event—must’ve scorched its way to a copper pipe or pocket of propane—but, I’m not buying what I’m shoveling. It knows it’s in control now, too strong to quash. Its hungry fingers claw up past the second floor windows and reach for more.

Those were the kids’ rooms.

When we moved from D.C. to West Chester fifteen months ago, we got more space for less cost and the twins gained their own rooms for the first time. Their playful argument over the larger room nearly killed me… literally. I was choking on inhaled chunks of soft pretzel from an ill-timed bout of laughter. Karen, my loving wife, was too busy to help. She was leaning sideways in her own giggling fit while struggling to keep Caleb and Rachel within the eye of her phone’s camera.

They fired up the competition with a spirited debate. Their deductive reasoning and good-natured mudslinging is what almost got me to perform the self-Heimlich Maneuver and what, ironically, aided in coughing my airways to freedom.

With the debate too close to call a clear winner, they took the next logical step—who could eat their lunch the fastest.

Rachel was chewing her last bite of sandwich when she noticed her mother’s phone held in their direction. “Recording this? Oh, now you’ve done it,” she crowed spitting food particles.

“I don’t know about you, Sis, but I’m still hungry,” Caleb said, grinning at their mother. Rachel matched his smile and added, “Yes, me too and Mom looks awfully tasty!”

They both lunged at Karen, grappled for the phone and pretending to devour her while I moved our drinks to safety.

After catching his breath, Caleb realized the dispute was still unresolved. He stole two tomato slices from his mother’s hoagie and smashed them against the nearest window; the last slice clinging would earn its designated owner the bigger room.

That very window was now engulfed in flames. They’ll never have the chance to play in those rooms again. The house was beyond rescue and repair. Karen’s phone and that memory’s video were now lost forever, along with the rest of our belongings.

I shouldn’t have left without grabbing a few things, but the damned flames spread so fast. With a gasoline drenched carpet, I guess the sprinkling of whiskey was overkill—not to mention a waste of good drinking.

I could barely hear the roar of the blaze over the pulsing blood in my head, droning on like a swarm of salacious cicadas.

The flames taunt, trying to drive me mad with guilt, but I had no choice. Fire was the only recourse—it all had to burn.

They had to burn.

My sweet children, my true love, may they rest in peace and walk through Heaven’s Gates together. Please God take them in!

Reflecting the fire’s light, tears tumble from my eyes like orange diamonds, melting as they slide down my warmed skin.

They didn’t deserve this. This fate of fire was not meant for them. They were so innocent and pure… until tainted by the infection.

Who would’ve guessed that it would originate from something in plain sight, something long thought benign? It didn’t come from an overzealous lab with lax security measures. It was from a fuckin’ museum in eastern Pennsylvania!

God, this house… we moved right next to ground zero.

Some poor sap accidentally broke open a pickled punk or some other fermented mutation at the Mütter Museum a few miles from here. He sliced open his hand trying to clean up the mess and contracted the wrong bacteria.

It spread from person to person faster than this goddamn fire. We didn’t have time to doubt or panic before it struck our community.

One of those things barged onto the twins’ school bus when the driver opened the doors at a railroad crossing. Their terror must have been unbearable as they watched the rancid thing chew its way toward them—the kids never got the emergency door open, they were trapped morsels like sardines in a can.

My children, corrupt and infested, made their way home. By the time I arrived they had torn their mother into three gnawed-open pieces. The twins attacked and Karen’s parts slunk their way toward me with the same vicious intent. I will never forget that sight or what I did next.

Their warm, healthy flesh had putrefied. As I pushed and pulled them away from my body, their skin slid from the meat of their limbs, further amplifying the eye-watering smell of roses and rotting roadkill.

Were they still in there or were they empty corpses? I couldn’t take the chance that they were suffering. I ripped my ornamental sword off the wall, finalized their death march, and set a cleansing fire to work.

Sirens wail in the distance now, and I finally notice the chaos around me. Other homes were in flames too. Cars were left abandoned in the middle of the street. Gun shots echo in the distance and screams stop short every few minutes.

It won’t be long now.

My time is dwindling.

I probably won’t see my loved ones in the hereafter—the crimes of taking their… lives may have stolen that right from me.

Guilt weighs heavily on my will to live, like the crushing stones of a Salem death sentence.

The night is filled with fire. Such a beautiful creature it is, fluttering plumage as it climbs higher and higher.

The flames are hypnotic aren’t they?

One could certainly lose his soul staring at them too long…

~ Tyr Kieran

© Copyright 2012 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.

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