"The Fire"

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A teen gets kicked out and spends the night in an unfinished house.

Submitted: May 19, 2011

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Submitted: May 19, 2011

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Still reeling from the sudden burden of his independence, he traced backwards through the events of the day, trying to come to terms with how he came to be in an empty deli at ten o’clock at night. He could still hear his father screaming No! No! No! in the booming voice that served him so well in his sermons.As his mother attempted to talk the minister down from his rage, he franticly filled his backpack with all the things he thought he would need for the night ahead. His mother’s pleading became more frantic, and he knew that it was all in vain. He had crossed a line and there was no turning back.

His order was simple: four footlongs, two with ham and two with chicken, everything on them. It left nothing more to be said, and an awkward space came between he and the girl preparing his food as both knew that he was there under unusual circumstances. The slow jazz wandering out of the shop’s speakers did nothing to fill the gap and he wondered if he should explain himself. He decided not to. Unsure of where to keep his eyes while she made his sandwiches, he stared at the floor and examined the tiles. A failed attempt at faux marble, they had the appearance of wet dog food pressed under a pane of glass. By the time his order was ready, he had lost his appetite.
He put his sandwiches in his backpack, and went into the bathroom to fill the gallon milk jug he brought with him. As it filled with water, he considered where he would spend the night. It was not cold enough to justify banging on someone’s door, and he didn’t want to have to explain his predicament to anyone. Being in a town with a sprawling suburb that was spreading all the time, he knew there would be unfinished houses on the outskirts. He looked up from the slow trickle of water to check himself out in the mirror. His troubles were evident in his condition and he was surprised to find that his eyes looked hollow. He stared into them deeply trying to find something. The cold shock of water flowing over his hand forced him to break his gaze and as he screwed on the cap, he resolved to head to the edge of the sprawl.
Most of the houses he passed had gone dark, and the few that still had light seemed lifeless. The warm glow of a family at dinner had long ago been replaced by the sickly pale light of a television projected against closed blinds. The streetlights were few and far between, providing sparse pools of light until they began disappearing along with the power lines, signaling that he was at the border where the sprawl begins dissolving into the woods. The houses began losing their exteriors one layer at a time, until they looked like large gutted animals. Finally, he found himself in a cul-de-sac made entirely of skeletons, beyond which lay the woods. He made his way to the largest house at the end of the street, and settled in for the night. After eating one of his sandwiches, he fell asleep leaning against the only completed wall in the back of the house.
***
In the kitchen he had known since his childhood, he, his father, and his mother sat at the dinner table, which was so shrunken from its normal size that their faces were barely a foot apart. All three stared in silence at the large head of cabbage that sat on the blue and white checkered tablecloth. Although nothing moved, he could feel something seething in the air. In one sudden motion, his father tore into the cabbage with the violence of a jackal tearing flesh from an animal. Both he and his mother looked down to their laps as the walls began creeping inward and the man sitting next to them became a crunching snarling mess. As the room got smaller, the seething presence became a crushing weight that left him choking for air. The wall pressed at his back, pushing him closer to the thrashing beast that used to be his father. As his gasping became hopelessly desperate, his fear became unbearable. In one violent motion, he turned his head to the side and retched. 
***
Kneeling on all fours, he spat into the large puddle beneath him and waited for the sickness to pass. After a few minutes, the roiling subsided and he began to assess the damage. His pack was just out of range and he had come out relatively clean, although the puddle had spread to his knees. Trembling, he opened the backpack and took out his bottle of Xanax. His shaking revealed that it was nearly empty. He opened the bottle and poured the contents into his open hand. Two pills left. He took one and put the other back in the bottle.
As he stood up, he realized that the night had gotten colder than he thought it would. Wandering out into the backyard, he found a massive dirt hole where a pool would one way day be. He went out into the woods and began gathering wood for a fire. Fortunately, it had been a while since the last rain and after a few minutes there was a large pile of dry wood in the deep end of the hole. He gathered his things from inside the house and took them with him to the bottom. There was a gentle breeze holding back the trees and he knew that at least until morning the smoke would be neither seen nor smelled by anyone nearby.
Holding the lighter he brought with him, he gathered a tangle of pine needles and began lighting it. It caught fire quickly, but the smoke was harsh and burnt his eyes. Carefully he slid the tangle underneath the pile of wood and stoked the fire until it was strong enough to spread itself. As the fire grew he removed the contents of his pack and placed them in a row in front of him. After he had nearly emptied his bag, he found what he was looking for: a framed picture of him and his father holding the 39 pound catfish he caught in South Carolina. In the picture, the sun was just coming up and they were still wet from the struggle of bringing in the giant. Both had genuine smiles on their face. He conjured the memory of that day and stared into the fire, letting the flames play with the image in his mind. As it reached its peak, he threw the picture into the fire and watched the image bubble and melt. He’d hoped it would die there.


© Copyright 2020 Chuck Licorice. All rights reserved.

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