The Phoenix

Submitted for Contest #48 in response to: Write about someone who has a superpower.... view prompt

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*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.

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17 comments

Cheri Jalbert
04:47 Jul 08, 2020

Intense and vivid writing. Fast paced and detailed. I really enjoyed reading as you gave us hints and pieces to make it interesting. Great job!

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A O
14:54 Jul 08, 2020

Thanks so much, Cheri.

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Courtney Stuart
21:47 Jul 07, 2020

this was such an interesting concept! i didn't really care for Fahrenheit 451 when i had to read it for school, but as far as i can tell, you wrote a really powerful story using lines from the book - i think that's such a cool idea! some books just just have extremely powerful first and last lines, and Fahrenheit just happens to be one of them. i also really loved the way you described the fire and the style in which you wrote this story, like a monologue style; it was very effective, and pulled me in as a reader! overall, you did such a gre...

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A O
02:18 Jul 08, 2020

Thanks so much for the encouragement , Courtney. I really appreciate it. If you like the monologue style, feel free to check out my other stories here on Reedsy. All but one is written in this format.

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J. Ernst
19:30 Jul 07, 2020

I enjoyed your story. It left me wanting to read more. If you get a chance please read my 1 st submission "the Gift"- J Ernst

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A O
02:19 Jul 08, 2020

Thanks. I'll check yours out too.

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Pamela Saunders
19:34 Jul 05, 2020

That was really interesting, the style that you wrote and it effectively told the story, a gradual unfolding of justice being administered, by the phoenix person. There were little details too that were an enjoyable way to find things out, like the "ew" getting the keys from the pocket. One word that told a pretty complete picture. So good. Well done. As an aside, I don't know the story that you referenced as to why you wrote in the first place. I'm wondering if that is written in the same monologue type style.

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A O
22:31 Jul 05, 2020

Thanks for the encouragement, Pamela. :-) the Bradbury book I referenced was not done in monologue. It's a style I'm experimenting with personally. If you like it, feel free to check out the other stories on my Reedsy account. All but one is written in this format. Stay well, A.

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Pamela Saunders
07:54 Jul 06, 2020

Ooh that is interesting that you have written others in that style. Yes I will check them out when I get some time.

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Corey Melin
02:57 Jun 30, 2020

Very interesting read that is similar to a story I'm reading now by Lovecraft. No dialogue and quite complex. Must have full attention when reading or easily stray off the road and have to start over. Impressive in this day and age.

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A O
16:54 Jun 30, 2020

Thank you so much, Cory.

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Corey Melin
17:03 Jun 30, 2020

You are welcome. I have read so many books I have to write a summary on each one to remember all of them so to let you know how good your story is to be at the same level as earlier writers before social media or even TV.

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A O
17:07 Jun 30, 2020

Wow, you've really encouraged me. I appreciate it.

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Praveen Jagwani
05:08 Jun 29, 2020

When you invoke Ray Bradbury in the opening line, you grab my attention :) This is a very complex story with interesting subplots and other characters being referenced. Your narrative is pacy though it took me two readings to understand what was going on. I would've liked some dialogue, but you'd gagged the guy. Dialogue would have helped the Showing and eased some of the Telling. The writing is mature and confident which makes it a joy to read. Look forward to reading more :)

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A O
15:45 Jun 29, 2020

Thank you so much for the detailed critique, Praveen. It was very kind of you to take the time. I'm so glad you found value in it.

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Shirley Medhurst
20:21 Jun 28, 2020

Yep, I definitely like where you’re coming from

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A O
00:55 Jun 29, 2020

Thanks again. :-)

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