The crickets lusty cries for love were silenced as Charlie walked through the meadow.
He loved the night because fires burned so bright in it. He didn’t think of himself as a pyromanic. It was a crude term for someone who just loved fire. He didn’t go around starting fires. His uncle, nor his friends, suspected Charlie’s fascination for fire.
It was fire that took his parents lives. He, and his sister Susan, escaped the burning inferno that was once their home. They were raised by their father’s brother Wilbur, a bachelor whose greatest claim to fame was that he served four years in the Army without getting kicked out for bad conduct.
Susan and Charlie were inseparable. When Susan, the eldest, turned 20-years-old she got her own department. Uncle Wilbur, glad to give up the responsibility for a 16-year old boy, let Charlie move in with her. His part in raising his strange nephew and niece was over.
Although Wilbur never complained, he was always uneasy with his brother’s kids. He couldn’t manage to establish a bond with them. They were distant. Often in a world of their own.
Charlie’s love for fire was complex. He was shy and preferred to be alone when Susan went to work. He dropped out of school, and no one said anything about it.
Charlie’s favorite thing about the apartment was that it was near a National Forest, and he could take long walks there. The meadow that separated the apartment complex from the forest was carpeted with clover and grass.
One day, Susan was late in coming home. It was a first, and Charlie was worried about her. It was after dark when she returned. Her clothes looked rumpled and she had a gleam in her eye that Charlie didn’t recognize.
She assured him everything was fine, and that she had just forgotten about the time because she was involved in a big project at work. Satisfied that she was okay, Charlie went outside for his evening stroll.
He almost reached the tree line when he saw the fire!
The blaze shot high in the sky fueled by spruce and pine trees. It licked the night sky and Charlie eye’s riveted to it. He stopped walking, and stood there staring in a trance. “So beautiful,” he thought.
Even though the fire was miles away, he could imagine the sound it made. Firefighters would have their work cut out tonight. He watched for hours until he was too tired to stand anymore. When he went to bed he closed his eyes and saw red flames.
Susan began to come home late more often, as the weeks went by. Charlie figured that she might have a boyfriend and didn’t want him to know. He thought about talking to her about it. Letting her know he was okay with the idea. He always knew they would go their own way some day.
One evening he decided to be adventurous, and walked downtown with the intention of going to a movie. But as he got closer to the theatre there was a traffic jam on Main Street and people were pouring out of a building screaming!
Then he saw the smoke and looked up at the back of the theatre building. Flames were bursting through the roof and streaking skyward! Charlie watched as they grew like a living thing!
The first fire truck had to fight its way through a panicked crowd of people. As the fireman went about their job, some people ran out of the blazing theatre. They were human torches!
First responders, paramedics and fireman, did what they could for those unfortunate people, but it was hopeless. They died writhing in agony. In the middle of the chaos, still standing in the street, Charlie watched…transfixed.
Soon, police were driving people off the street. The entire building was burning and the fierce flames lit up the entire night. Charlie was told to leave with the others who were still near the fire.
On his way back to the apartment Charlie went from exultant to sad, as he thought about the human torches. They didn’t burn very bright. Their agony touched him. But the flaming building touched him too. The sheer power of the flames made him giddy.
When he got home Susan was there. She was sitting at the kitchen table wrapping gauze around her hand and arm. Alarmed, Charlie asked, “What happened?”
“Sit down brother,” she said.
Charlie pulled up the other kitchen chair, and obediently sat down.
“I have a confession to make. I’m a firebug. I’m telling you this because, I have to go away and I want you to lead a somewhat normal life. If there is such a thing. I set the fire at the theatre tonight.”
She waited for the news to sink in, but Charlie seemed unfazed.
“I started the fire that killed Mom and Dad!” she confessed, as a tear ran down her cheek. “I don’t know what’s the matter with me Charlie! I’m obsessed with fire. Always have been.”
Charlie didn’t judge her harshly. She was his big sister and always took care of him. He understood why she had to leave. There was a chance she left clues and would get caught. Then they would lock her up. They might even kill her for her crime.
He loved his sister and he loved to watch a roaring fire. He knew that someday she would get caught. He couldn’t bear that.
When she finally went to bed that night he was still up…waiting. He felt no attachment to the world. When he was sure she was asleep, he went into her room and smothered her. He went around the apartment gathering flammable liquids like lighter fluid, and went back to her bedroom.
He lit a fire in the kitchen, the living room, and her room. He sat on the edge of her bed and watched as the flames grew…transfixed as always.
As It Stands, this portrait of a firebug is an experiment at looking into the mind of someone I never met.