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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: House of Ghosts
WARNING, the following short story is quite disturbing to some readers.

Submitted: September 09, 2016

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 09, 2016



When my father passed away I went through a long period of stasis. It was as if the world around me stopped moving. Part of me wanted to keep it that way, wanted to think the world was incapable of orbiting in his absence. It was only after I found his old Zippo lighter that I felt life move forward again.

The Zippo was covered in dust after spending who knows how many years buried under the couch among lint and other household detritus. Brand new, the Zippo would have been a beautiful polished silver, but after years of use and neglect it’s dull and scratched. There’s a circular dent on one side, and it doesn’t flip open as easily as a new one would.

In fact, it refused to light at all in the beginning. I had to venture to the local smoke shop and convince the guy behind the counter to put down his skin mag and sell me the proper lighter fluid. Once it was full of fuel it lit up beautifully, marring every blemish in its glow. Every night I’d flip it open and stare into the flame secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of my father in the light.

It wasn’t enough to admire the flame it produced, I wanted to see what it could do. So I sifted through my room and found a picture of an old ex-girlfriend. Despite the fact that we broke things off on good terms I burned the picture anyway. She was a past memory, and I needed to reserve space in my head for memories that mattered. Memories of my father.

I doubt mom ever noticed the Zippo, or the hours I spent setting random objects on fire in the backyard. She was too busy grieving. I used to think mom and dad matched those ridiculously perfect couples straight out of a cheesy romantic comedy perfectly. The ones who convince you soulmates and true love actually exist.

I understand that were it not for me, she would have followed him into the place that exists beyond this world.


Death is interesting, and I’ve read a lot about it. I love the mythos of the phoenix, how it ignites into a brilliant blaze and is reborn from the ashes. Every time I set something on fire I hope my father will emerge from the ashes even though I know it’s nothing more than a lie I’ve forced myself to swallow.

The lie tells me nothing is impossible, captivates my thoughts with the belief that his old lighter could have the power to bring him back. Who knows, I think to myself, certainly not someone like me.

Logically I'm aware that setting fires doesn’t create life, it simply destroys. Which is fine with me, I like having the power of destruction. The power to pick and choose things to remove from existence. Unfair scales need to be balanced, and everything I burn makes my dad’s accident less meaningless and random.

You have to believe me when I say I never intended to hurt anyone. I was simply looking for closure. Setting fires brought momentary peace even though it never made me feel whole again. It gave me a semblance of control in a world determined to make me feel powerless. A realm where beautiful souls like my father are born and then ripped away in the blink of an eye.


My graduation uniform rests on my bed today and I’m fighting the urge to burn it. Dad isn’t here to watch me walk across the stage, his seat will either be empty or occupied with one of my classmate's family members. Mom will be there pretending dad is right next to her as always. She likes to use her imagination to conjure him back into existence, ignoring how his body rots in the ground and simply goes on believing he’s still right there beside her.

I hate hearing her cry herself to sleep every night. No matter how hard she tries, lies will always be lies. I’ve spent so many days burning away the lie that I can bring him back, and she has spent so many nights drowning in an empty bed as his scent fades from his pillowcase.

After standing over it for what feels like hours, I shove the navy blue gown deep into the back of my closet so I don’t succumb to temptation and actually burn it, then decide to head through the gate in my backyard and take a stroll down my favorite route to cool off. There is an abandoned alleyway behind my house that runs alongside two deep canals that never hold water. Instead, they’re full of rusty cans, used condoms, rat corpses, and dry leaves. I set a few piles of leaves on fire as I walk past and they smell like a winter fireplace. Unfortunately they burn too quickly, and I'm agitated once more. 

As I’m searching for a dead rat to burn I happen upon two teenage boys beating the shit out of a scrawny kid who looks fresh out of junior high. Adults love to tell you how bullying no longer exists, but it’s another lie. I suffered from it, and my dad was always there to patch up the scrapes and bruises. Years pass and kids never stop being cruel. I approach them without realizing what I’m about to do before I do it, my hands switch over to autopilot.

With their backs turned and their attention focused on their victim I flip the Zippo with a snick and light the t-shirt of the first aggressor on fire. As he turns in confusion I punch the second one in the face shattering his nose. He clutches his bleeding face and staggers backward grunting in pain.

Aggressor number one removes his shirt and casts it aside before turning to face me. Panicked, I pull the can of lighter fluid from my pocket and spray it on his chest before fully setting him on fire. His eyes meet mine and in them I see both fear and acceptance, as if he knows this is the kind of fire he has no chance of putting out. I pour the remaining fluid on the other boy and tune out his pleas and apologies. It's too late for that. The scrawny boy looks up at me in terror, grabs his backpack, and bolts. I watch him go, and am impressed by his speed. He’s a faster runner than I was.

Standing over the mess I've made I watch unblinkingly as they writhe and twist, their screams of agony feel dull in my ears as I watch them die. It’s a nice, slow burn. Once they have stopped moving I head back home disappointed. They didn't become phoenixes, perhaps they didn't deserve the honor.


Taking the graduation gown out of the closet I shove it into the trash can. If I can’t bring my father back I’ll just have to go into the next world and find him. When I do I’ll bring him back home to mom.

The plan is detailed perfectly in the note I’ve left for her. When she finds it I know she’ll understand I’m not really leaving her, and I even made sure to underline the part where I promise to be right back. After buying a new can of lighter fluid I jump down into the canal and stand there amidst the rest of the garbage for a while. 

Taking a deep breath I smile and proceed to set myself ablaze knowing that I will become a phoenix reborn from the ashes. I toss the Zippo into a pile of leaves to prevent anyone from stealing it before I get the chance to give it to dad and tell him where I found it when we come back... except I never come back. The Zippo sits there for months until the wind blows the leaves away to reveal a corner of it glinting in the bright sunlight for another kid to stumble across. A kid drunk off his mother's stash of wine with an itch to burn.



© Copyright 2017 M.H. Parabola. All rights reserved.

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