Turns To Ash
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Turns To Ash

Faults, Fire and Freedom

Turns To Ash

“How can you think you’re free?” My question hangs in the air as Thomas, my older brother, sips from the bright red “Ladder 17” mug in his hand. The bite of the rum makes his face cringe but he sucks his teeth and shakes it off.

“I am free. Big Government is just a term politicians sling around to make it sound like them being taxed is a bad thing, like they’re not the bad guys. In reality, this Big Government system is creating jobs and stabilizing the economy. We need some power in DC to help those in need.” Thomas’s passion laces every word, but it is a subtle passion hidden under his poised and calmed demeanor. I read him like a book, but like a book you reread over and over again because you know it’s a masterpiece that will always capture you, no matter how many times you’ve studied it.

“Those people in need are only like that because of the government. If there was more opportunity and less federal regulation, they’d probably be striving along with the rest of the country.” I take a big gulp of the Captain and Coke in my “I Love My Firefighter” glass. His wife basically bought out the gift shop near his station when they first got married.

“Ehh, you say that till the government isn’t helping you out and you end up homeless and hopeless.” Thomas downs the rest of his drink in triumphant fashion, dawning a smirk that is both condescending and warm. He grabs the bottle from the middle of the table and refills his drink, more rum, less coke, and no ice. I can tell he’s starting to feel the buzz. “All I’m saying is, we’re all free to do as we please, but it’s nice to have a safety net to help us when we need it. Like that night with the wildfire back by Sherman’s Pond. We had each other’s back, even though we both could’ve gotten out of there no problem.”

I polish off my drink and the liquid swims down my throat and transforms into anger in my chest. The wildfire incident was nine years old, but every detail lives in my memory like it happened a few short seconds ago. We were night fishing in an old pond about a mile into the forest when the fire snuck up on us. The crack of whipping flame and the smell of ash stirred behind us, but we were lost in the songs coming from the radio and the bliss of being young. It was the sinking shadows from the trees ahead of us that made me look back and notice the inferno that loomed about a hundred yards away. Awe struck me when my eyes first absorbed the beauty of the fire. It was stretching from towering treetops to tangled thistle, slowly extending its blazing arms towards us. The scorching borders edged closer in crescent form and I felt like Mother Nature was trying to hug us. Entranced by its perfection, I stood idle as Thomas naturally knew to run. He got maybe twenty feet before he realized I wasn’t following. He came back and shook me till I ran with him. As we left what later would be identified as a cigarette-incited wildfire, I turned back to catch one more glimpse of the reddish-orange magnificence that roared behind us. That night I fell in love with fire, Thomas fell in love with saving people from it.

Since then, the story between our friends and our family has always been told as Thomas coming to rescue me, a scared little brother too petrified to move. If only they knew how much fire and I grew together after our first, real encounter. After that night, I started lighting old newspapers and dry bush on fire once a week. Controlled parcels of the true flame I craved. When I was seventeen, I finally gained the confidence and lit my first house on fire. It was the beginning of the greatest addiction I’ve ever known. I’ve incited real arsons since then, five houses and one car. My brother says the investigators are getting close to solving all these incidents, he also says never to trust those guys.

Back in Thomas’s apartment, my knuckles have turned white from the rage. I don’t know why I’m so furious, but I feel a primal anger towards Thomas, a feeling like he’s kicked me into a hole and now he’s reaching his hand in to help me out. “You always talk about that night like you saved me. You didn’t. Without me, you might not have even noticed the fire until it was too late.” I get my ice from the dispenser then let the rum pour into my cup for a few seconds. Thomas watches closely and his normally bright face sags a little.

“Ray, we saved each other. I’m not trying to be high and mighty, I just…I probably shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“I’m not a little, helpless kid. You’re only two years older than me but you always treat me like I’m some infant that needs to be looked after. I never need saving, you just act like I do to boost your ego.” I forget to add the soda to my drink and end up just swigging a mouthful of straight liquor. It punches the back of my throat and I cough out some of the gulp. Thomas instantly stands up and tries to hand me a napkin. Fucking prick. I glare at him and he takes a few steps back.

“Oh c’mon. I’m just trying to help!” Thomas’s waves the napkin like a white flag in the air. My buzz has matured into a drunk and my anger soured into a fury. I wipe my chin and hold the drink to my mouth.

“Fuck you and your ivory tower you live in. I don’t need your help.” I chug the rest of the alcohol, letting the bitterness excite the hairs on my arm, and slam the cup down. Swiping my coat off the back of the chair, I watch Thomas let out a sigh and hang his head. He looks at me like I’m some untrained puppy so I throw my shoulder into him as I walk by. He catches himself on the table and comes right back, fist clinched and ready to swing. I straighten my chin, waiting for him to man up. He holds it a couple inches from my face, then drops his arm to his side and just stares at me.

“Pussy.” I walk out without looking back.


Holding the Zippo in my hand, my fingers tremble in nervous excitement. The smell of gasoline wets my tongue. I didn’t realize I was crying until now, maybe I’m just that happy to be finally doing this. I eye the room over again, dilapidated lumber lays in a broken pile in one of the corners. Patches in the dust-soaked wallpaper expose pox-like grime that feeds on sections of the wall. The small building must have served as a concession on the harbor lifetimes ago, but now it wilts away in the baron region of the abandoned bay area. Lapping waves against the docks nearby slow my heartbeat, but I still feel as though my heart will explode against my ribs any second. I pick up the brown bag next to me and take a long pull from the five dollar bottle of McCormick vodka. It slithers between my teeth before its fangs sink into my esophagus. The room doesn’t look drenched enough. I spread the rest of the bottle across the room, mixing it with the puddles of gas that have pooled on the uneven floor. I can already taste the flame that will devour the room in a few seconds. A laugh presses against my gut and I wipe the tears from my eyes as it bursts from my mouth. I keep laughing as I bend to one knee and hold the Zippo to the ground. The wheel spins and strikes the flint, sparks are born running to the fuel. The fire races to the swells of gas and liquor and in seconds the world around me is gorgeous and bright. The flames climb the counter and up the wall, no one telling it where to go, just going. The sudden warmth that presses against my skin reminds me of home, of lying beside Thomas and Mom as we watch X-Files. Thomas. Fucking Prick. He will never be as free as I am right now, bathing in the heat and hope of the flames. The flames are simple yet endlessly sophisticated. They don’t care about the world, they just burn unaltered by the way people think, the way people assume.

The blaze’s border nearly reaches my feet and the shallowness of my breaths tells me it’s time to leave. As I turn to the door, I hear a scream come from within the house. Am I just hearing things? Maybe it was just a piece of melting plastic. I speed up my steps and reach the doorway just before another sharp shriek echoes through the growl of the flames. I scan over the room again, then I see her. An old homeless woman inside the closet, the door barely ajar as the flames encircle her. My knees get weak, how long was she in there for? I take a step towards her, but the fire stabs at my legs. The hair on my shins has been completely removed and I can feel the sting of the fire wrapping around me.

“Ray!” Thomas yells, as his F150’s tires squeal through the deserted lot. He swerves in front of the house and jumps out of the car. I look at him then back at the lady. Regret and guilt carve my chest and no words can escape my lips. Thomas grabs me by the shoulders and throws me outside.

“Are you alright?” He asks, but I barely hear him over the ringing of the woman’s cries for help still floating in my ear. Thomas doesn’t even care about the building being swallowed by flames, his attention solely focused on me.

“There’s…there’s someone in there.” I feel five as my voice shakes and I hold up a finger towards the house. Thomas’s fire academy training kicks in and he reacts without pause, diving through the door and into the mouth of the fire. I only hear the fire. No screams, nothing but the grumble of conflagrations, content with what they’ve done to the old shack. I wait and wait, wondering when he will come back. The building isn’t that big. Why is it taking this long? I stand up and walk to the entrance to see where he is. When I’m about a foot away from the door, the roof falls through. A thunderous crash resounds through the lot and the smoke plumes through the doorway into my eyes. Everything is a blur, I’m on my back somehow. Sirens approach, but they sound like they’re coming from underwater.

“I’m sorry.” I repeat over and over again. A firefighter puts a mask on my face to shut me up, the others dowse the building in vicious streams of water. I can’t cry for some reason, my tears must have evaporated in the fire. One of the firefighters walks over and begins questioning me.

“Is there anyone in there?” I nod yes, and he commands two of the men to inspect.

“How many?” I still can’t say anything, my thoughts are all melted together. He asks again but I am of no use to him. I remember Thomas in the forest the night of the wildfire, running back for me. Was he smiling? I picture him grinning as the flicker of the nearby flames dances in his eyes. He was free in that moment, free to his own desires, free from thought, free to be the person he wanted to be.

The tears find there place in my eyes again and I look at who I’m going to guess is the chief. He asks one more time, “How many people were in there?”

“Three.” I say, and I feel my chance for freedom turn to ash.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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