Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
Lighting a match he let the fire lick up to his fingers, he dropped the blackened, burning match into a cup of stale coffee, relishing in the familiar sound of the extinguished flame.
His burnt fingers and lips were tokens of his fate, it seemed. The fire was somehow apart of him. They shouldn’t have died, they shouldn’t have suffered. It was him who deserved to live the pain, he watched the fire consume the light of two living souls as he remained unharmed, and the forgiving look in their eyes haunted him every day there after.
He knocked the cup off the table, it crashed into the wall spraying coffee across the kitchen. he sourly wiped a droplet from his cheek. He lit a cigarette and taunted the tips of his fingers with the burning embers.
Like a deer caught in headlights, he looked toward the shadow of his mother, a half burnt face and a loving smile comforted him. She remained as beautiful as he remembered.
“Go away, Mom.”
“Get the hell out of here, I said!”
He drug the end of his cigarette into the back of his hand, wincing with pain and pleasure.
He yanked open the door of his apartment, leaving a hole in the wall behind him.
“Son,” His face was stern and black, his suspenders undamaged, his hands on his hips, his gold watch smiling up at Jason. He put his hand on Jason’s shoulder, “Get off me, Dad.” Jason whimpered, feeling childish.
“Listen to me-”
“No Dad, I can’t… Just leave me alone.”
“You never failed me, Son.”
“I still love you…”
“Well, you shouldn’t. Just go away, Dad. Please. Just. Go.”
He disappeared from view, but somewhere beyond he was still there- Watching, judging, loving.
He felt unworthy of his parent’s undying love, he felt unworthy of everything. the world had burned down around him, leaving a small shivering glimmer of life, intact by will. Everything he knew was suddenly reduced to charred rubble, gone. And all he knew of himself had worn away too, getting lost with the ashes in the wind.
He was gone, he always had been, it was was how he learned to live, not really live, but to survive. What was left of Jason was slowly falling to pieces in front of his own eyes.
He’d knowingly entered a different realm of madness, where nothing was real, and nothing mattered. he could no longer decipher reality from insanity, and he no longer cared.
The only thing that kept him from floating off the universe was the shadows of his parents, and the blazing fire inside of him.
Dousing the truck of an old Oak, he lights a single match.
He can hear their voices in the crackling wood; he can see their eyes in the white flames, licking towards the sky.
Look what you’ve created. Look what I’ve become. Are you still proud, Dad? Are you?
The fire had grown and spread out into it’s limbs, and when the burden was too much the limb started to crack and fall. only this time is was different.
The limb fell against a shingled roof, and weighing it’s burning burden on it’s neighbor.
It was blazing.
That was his house, that was his face peering out of the attic window, a shimmering tear rolling down his round cheek.
He can hear his parents wailing, in his mind and in the air. The house starts to collapse on it’s self. Jason is suddenly face to face with his reality.
He was alive again, for the first time. He was running before he realized his feet were moving and the tears were streaming before he felt the pain. Wiping sweat and vomit from his face, he stepped into the real world again, he could feel thee cold air on his cheeks and taste the metallic of blood in his mouth.
He heard sirens behind him, and he saw his dismal apartment in the distance, ducking underneath the entrance, he flattened himself against the concrete wall, sucking in a burning lung-full of cold air. The sirens fly past him, he closes his eyes tight and watches the colors dance on the insides of his lids.
“Who are you?” A small voice growls, Jason opens an eye, a small elderly woman peeks out from her apartment door, the end of her black umbrella pointing straight at Jason’s heart.
“I’m… I live upstairs.”
The woman grunts in response, pulling in her umbrella into her apartment and opening the door a little wider.
“What are you hiding from, boy?”
“Hiding? I wasn’t… I’m not… I’m not hiding. I have been. But I’m not anymore.”
“What happened to your lips… and your fingers?”
Jason licks his lips and winces in pain, tasting burnt flesh and blood, his charred finger tips twitched.
Jason looked down at himself, he was looking down at a stranger.
“Yes, I’ll make you some tea, you don’t look so well.”
“I live upstairs, so I really don’t…”
“Nonsense, I’m too old to be denied. I’m a dying woman, damn it! You’ll come into my house whether you want to or not.”
Jason takes a step forward, his legs gave from under him, he fell hard onto his knees. He looked up at the old woman, who’s expression was unreadable. Grabbing the side of her door frame he pulled himself up to her eye level.
A warm and worn hand clutches tight to Jason’s side, pulling him into the dimly lit apartment.
This woman who could have easily been his grandmother had a very sleek looking home that smelled of incense.
The grandmother from his childhood had dusty floral furniture and smelled of old perfume and rotting meat.
There was a simple black leather couch, and a framed ocean landscape hanging above it.
Jason looked down at the woman, and saw that she was a great deal shorter than he was, and much more round. She had white hair that she pulled back into a tight, neat bun; her face was a map of laugh lines and crow’s feet that were elegantly draped around her ageless, emerald eyes.
“Why haven’t I seen you before, if you’re a neighbor of mine?”
“I don’t get out much.”
They sat in silence for a moment, avoiding eye contact, just feeling each other’s presence.
“You smell like smoke,” She said accusingly.
“You smell old-”
The woman laughs aloud gruffly, and flames dance before Jason’s eyes, he turns away from the woman violently, knocking himself off balance, crashing into a wall.
“I need to go home. I need to sleep.”
“Please, don’t leave. I’m sorry-”
Jason pulls open the door and stumbles into the hall, slamming the door shut behind him, sprinting up the stairs and flings himself into his apartment. He collapses close to the overturned table.
Jason blinks feverishly until the floor stopped spinning; he sits up bringing his knees to his chest. It felt like he had woken up from some sort of hibernation, he’d been living without being coherent, now ever present thoughts stained his brains, memories were old and fuzzy, the pain was gone and the fire was burning.
Pulling himself to his feet, he turn the table right side up, placing the chair back in it’s place. He picks up the broken coffee cup, and cleans up the coffee stains and cigarette ashes.
Everything was familiar and foreign at the same time, it was light outside and it made him paranoid, it seems like everyone is watching him, looking for him.
A knock at the door makes him jump; peering through the peephole he sees the emerald eyes of the woman downstairs. He opens the door but leaves the chain, peeking through the slit he scowls at the woman, “What?”
“I know what you did.”
Jason let her in, and if it was the only thing he had learned from his hibernation it was to never let anyone else in.
He broke the only rule he had ever lived by.
“The news, the house that burnt down… they saw you fleeing the scene, and your blue jacket. They saw it. You smelled like smoke. I may be old, but I can put two and two together.”
“So what now? Have you turned me in yet? Are the cops on their way?” He sneered, sarcasm drenching each word that left his lips.
“No, I didn’t turn you in. No one knows, except for you and me.”
“What do you want from me, then?”
“I want to know why.”
“I don’t have any reasons. I’m a natural born criminal. I do things for the hell of it.”
“How do you know that?”
“A quiet guy like you…. living alone without anyone knowing… I’d seen you once before, you know. You… you seemed dazed, you were unresponsive , like a wild animal.”
“Listen. You don’t know me.”
“I know that you’re different now! I know that something in you has woken up. I know that you’re a human being and I know that you want to tell someone.”
Jason laughed darkly, turning away from the woman, the image of his burnt mother flashes before his eyes; he shakes his head, trying to her to stay away.
Ever since he’d set that house on fire his parents had disappeared, and he didn’t want to see them again, or experience that pain anymore, he was ready to move. But he was going backwards now; this woman was causing problems.
“Please. Please stop.” Jason whispered.
Jason turns on his heel, reaching instinctively for the old woman;s neck; she looks at him with shocked look, peeling off his fingers as if they were nothing.
“You want to kill me, but you can’t.”
Jason sits down in front of the table, lighting a cigarette.
“I’m a psychopath. I see my dead parent and they still love me, but-” He taps his cigarette on the side of the ash tray. “-but they shouldn’t.”
“I set that fire and… I didn’t see them anymore. I don’t know how old I am, what year it is or how I pay my rent… I just woke up from a bad dream, and I’ll do anything from falling asleep again.”
The woman fell silent, all traces of emotion wiped from her face. For the first time the woman looked old and tired.
“I need to leave.”
The woman tires to smile, but even when her lips are pulled into a taut line, her eyes stayed cold and lifeless. She turned without another word and left Jason’s apartment. He stayed seated in his single chair, smoking his cigarette.
He’s shaken into awake by the shadow of his father, rubbing the sleep from his eyes he blinks at the charred face.
“Dad… What are you doing here? I… I though that you were gone.”
“I was never gone, only hidden.”
“You’re not real. You’re dead.”
“I’m standing right here, aren’t I?”
Jason lets loose a scream that was loud enough to shake the ground beneath his feet, his father disappeared, leaving to ash footprints where he was standing.
He whirls around to face his mother, a tear slid down his ruined cheek, “I know your Dad isn’t very good at telling you how he feels. But we love you, and we want to help you help yourself.”
“You’re not here…”
“Just because we had a terrible accident doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to do it to anyone else. We know what you did, Jason.”
“You’re… afraid. Aren’t you?”
“Yes, dear. We don’t want to see you hurt anyone, or yourself.”
“The fire scared you away-” Jason grabs his lighter off the table, and flicks it open. Holding it out to his mother, she slowly disappeared from the place where the fire had touched her. Then as if she had never been there she was gone.
Yanking off his blue jacket he heads toward the door, his father stands firmly in the doorway, “Stop this!”
“Burn in hell.”
Jason walks through his father, pieces of his being separating curled tendrils of fog.
Knowingly committing an actual and purposeful crime was harder from Jason than watching as it happened. Completely out of his control.
He found himself wandering aimlessly around a quiet cul-de-sac, cowering away from the windows of the cookie cutter houses standing side by side.
His mother’s voice rang in his head, bouncing off the fragile walls of his emerging mind; the fire inside of him was dying down, leaving only the glowing embers of what was a familiar insanity began to reignite it’s way back inside of him.
Standing behind a great, grandiose house, he douses a near by tree. It happens more quickly this time, the tree fell almost instantly, tearing a gaping hole into the belly of the house.
His chest immediately fills with warmth, until a blood curdling scream makes his blood run cold once again, throwing his gaze quickly to the top of the window. He sees a young girl,squinting through the smoke to meet his eyes.
Jason ran to the burning wreckage, “Jump!” The girl opened the window, looking down helplessly at him.
“Jump!” He says again, only louder. The girl shakes her head, terror spreading across her face.
“Yes you can, I’ll catch you!”
The golden flames were inching closer and closer to her, they close in on her, and she panics. Flattening herself against the wall, she tumbled ungracefully down toward Jason’s open arms.
They were both knocked off their feet; Jason crawls over to her, gasping, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Jason get to his feet and lends her a hand, “My… My parents are in there! They’ll die! We have to go back and get them!”
Sirens wail in the distance, “Come on,” Jason says, yanking her wrist and pulling her into the forest, “We need to go!”
“No-!” She screams, but Jason slaps a hand over her mouth and hoists her over his shoulder, running as fast as his legs could carry him to his dark and depressing apartment.
He’d never missed his home more in his life.
“You did this!” She screamed, throwing a coffee cup at him, it shattered against the wall behind him, missing him only by inches.
“Stop, please! Be quiet, I have neighbors!”
“You kidnapped me! You did this! My parents are dead because of you!”
Jason drops to his knees in front of her, pleading. Suddenly she stopped.
“I… I know you.”
Jason falls backwards onto his bottom.
“You lived next door to me.”
“No… No I didn’t.”
“You’re house burnt down… both of your parents died…”
“No, that’s not me!”
“Yes it is!”
Jason’s eyes sting with tears, he pushed the girl down with a handful of her hair, she hits her head on the side of the table and fell silent.
“Shit! Shit! No, no, no…”
He tries to wake her up, shaking her furiously, blood pools around her body, her face slowly lost color.
Jason doesn’t think about what happens next, it was the only thing he knew how to do.
Sitting in his single chair he watches as the orange light consumes the world into black, he feels his parent’s hands on his back.
“Glad to have you back, son.” His father ways behind him, he turns to face him- suddenly unharmed.
“Glad to be back.”