*Author note* I wrote this some time back for a contest where one had to fill in their own story between the first and last lines of Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.
It was a pleasure to burn. That isn’t the issue. It’s just plain unfortunate for you that you brought me up here to “[your] farm” to douse me and light me up.
Surely you see?
I’m The Phoenix. No hoax. I’ve got bonafide super-powers and everything.
Now, what would the innocent citizens of our community say if I let you get away with creating a national, public health crisis?
I only feel sorry for your poor mother. Sweet Miss Cathrine will suffer when … Well, sadly, that can’t be helped now.
That’s right. Open wide. There. Don’t worry. You’ll get used to that gag after a while. I did.
It’s been some time since I’ve been up here. I’d forgotten how beautiful this place is, even at night. It’s probably more accurate to call this your wife’s, though. Not “[your] farm,” like you do. I understand it’s been in her family for generations. I guess you can’t help yourself, though. The amount of lying and bragging you engage in must be compulsive.
I’m not sure “farm” is an accurate descriptive either. Such a fancy tract of acreage, all fenced in so prettily and decorated with a mansion. There’s got to be a better word.
Whatever you call it, it’s a pity you’ve mortgaged it to the sky.
Stop. I advise you not to try to remove that gag.
That’s right. Now turn.
Oh, don’t. You thought zip-ties were just fine when you were using them on me.
The expression on your face … Ha ha. Looks like my dog after she shat in the house one time. Bitch was pretty sure she was in trouble. That’s how I took it, anyway. Bet you wonder what made me this way, huh?
Honestly, I’m not sure myself. I have several hypotheses. Maybe I was born this way. Or maybe it began the day the firemen found me, in that burning house. Imagine me, nothing but a tender baby girl, delivered alive from the midst of a conflagration that had reduced my biological parents to cinders.
My first significant memory regarding Fire was when I was about seven. I’d wanted my dad–who’s biologically my uncle–to let me light a campfire.
Dad said, “A lighter’s not a toy.”
Fire called to me like the open sky calls to an eagle, though. The next week, I went out to the wooden shed behind our house with that lighter. I just wanted to watch a piece of paper blacken and curl around on the dirt floor, under the undulating yellow, orange, red, and blue, but Fire began feasting on some tarps nearby. Quite suddenly, the situation was out of hand. I panicked. My mother had said that Fire could give you ugly scars.
I didn’t want to be ugly. People always remarked on how pretty I was. So I ran out of the shed. I couldn’t go tell my parents. I was afraid they’d put the blaze out before he’d eaten enough. I just stood on the cool, spring lawn between our old, brick house and the burning shed and watched.
His heat on my face and bare arms, his roaring voice, his comforting fragrance, the mesmerizing dancing colors, and the power, the all-consuming, violent power …
See how bits of him dance along my fingertips? See how I can cradle a ball of him in my palm like a little pet? I discovered this ability when I was seventeen, soon after I lost my virginity in front of the fireplace in the basement of our brick house.
My parents were here that day, actually, at Dad’s company picnic. Yeah, Dad worked for the company too, before you came along and perverted it. His stocks are trash now. But of course, you know that. You meant for the price to drop so you could buy them up with money you borrowed against this place, right?
Anyway, it was the middle of summer, of course. The basement, being mostly underground, was chilly even at that time of year. I started the blaze in the grate myself–being the pyro that I am–using some newspaper soaked with my dad’s Scotch. Once the blaze was roaring, my boyfriend and I roasted all kinds of food over it. Then the boy got lucky.
According to some reading I’ve done, our coupling, my ex’s and mine, may have aided the communion of the goddess that is Earth and the god that is Fire. Like a candlelit dinner, with drinkies and a racy film afterward for the two of them. If so, Fire, at least, was grateful and bestowed gifts upon me. I don’t know if my ex-boyfriend was gifted with a mad-green-thumb, or the ability to raise golems or anything. You’re the only person I’ve ever discussed any of my gifts with, well, the only person I’ve discussed them with who knows my real identity anyway. If my ex got something extra out of it, he didn’t share with me either.
The virgin coupling and the food sacrifices might also have been like a blood rite or a magic spell.
I really don’t know. I’m more of a scientist than a sorceress. You know that. You are my employer, after all. Whatever the case, the event seemed to seal some kind of deal between Fire and me. Ah, that’s another thing. I think of Fire as a living entity, but then, there’s no real empirical evidence, just a feeling.
I suppose my being a good scientist has severed things between you and me, right? When I told you that my experiments proved that the drug was super addictive, that wasn’t a surprise to you. You already knew the danger that drug posed far outweighed its benefit, didn’t you? So you came here to kill a productive employee, your wife’s lifelong friend, instead of doing the right thing.
I understand how hard it’ll be to pull the plug on this dirty deal. My stock would also soar if droves of addicts suddenly had to have the stuff. The thing is: besides the offense to our customers, I don’t trust you to use your gains to maintain the company or anything to do with our employees or my dear friend, Lauren. I also don’t rule out the possibility of a devastating lawsuit sometime down the road which would obliterate her family’s reputation and mine. I know. Silly of me to consider such intangibles when so much money is on the table. I guess I’m just old fashioned. Plus, I don’t trust you to leave me in peace.
It’s actually been a while that I’ve been thinking it’s time for new leadership at our old company. In fact, I’ll be the largest shareholder when you’re removed from your position and Lauren divorces you. So, I’ll be calling the shots, going forward. Yes indeed, I am the one who’s been buying it all out from under you. Well, mostly, my dad and Amos gave me their stocks for free.
You were too cocky and started buying too late. Plus, people would rather see the stocks in my hands than in yours. My Grandpa Ernest would say something like: stockholders have been moving away from you like a van full of folks just arrived home from a baked beans festival twenty miles away would move away from the toxic cloud in their vehicle. In other words, you stink.
I’ve got good news, though. I’ve created some amazing things in the lab to drag our company out of this hole. I’ll develop them once it’s clear that you won’t stand to benefit. Maybe in the interim, a few more people will give me their stocks.
Well, I think you see now the mistake you made trying to burn me–you degenerate–and that you’re going to pay.
There, the door’s open. Get in the backseat.
Look, I wouldn’t like getting gas all over the leather seats in mine either, or your blood for that matter, but don’t look at me like that. It’s your own fault.
No, wait. I’ll just fish the keys out of your pocket.
Ew. I can’t, for the life of me, figure what Lauren ever saw in you.
All right then, move. We’re going to the police so you can turn yourself in.
If you don’t, I’ll turn this Audi into a Sterno can, using you as the accelerant. Fire would get a huge charge out of it. So would I, really, but if you’re good, I’ll find another way to feed him his midnight snack.
When we get to our destination, I’ll tell you exactly what to say and what documented proof to show in order to save your own life. I’ll also monitor your confession with this cute little dot of a camera I hid in your car last year. It’ll fit right on your shirt button, so I’ll know if you don’t confess properly.
Oh, and don’t hope for one minute that we’re going to the little podunk police station out here in the county. I’m aware that your brother-in-law is the sheriff out here, just like I know how much money you owe, what offshore accounts you’re funneling money to, who you’ve bribed, and who your mistress du jour is. Poor Lauren’s still not awake to your shenanigans, but she will be. I’ll send her copies of everything I’ve uncovered, anonymously of course.
Just between you and me, I dabble in a little computer science as well as biochemistry.
Anyhow, I want to make sure you confess where there will be no conflict of interest. And, I regret to inform you that I’ll have to keep your mouth gagged and your hands zip-tied behind you during the ride. Lean back and let me fasten your seatbelt.
Come on. Try to man-up and quit flinching and groaning like that, will ya? I’m sure the ties are chafing the burns, but that’s another thing that really can’t be helped.
Trust me. This backseat is more comfortable than the trunk.
There, snug as a bug, bound in spider silk.
Relax. I’ll remove the restraints soon enough. When we reach the city.