The flames climbed higher along his body, his screams dying as he chokes on the smoke before he collapses in a heap of dead, charred flesh, still smoking even after the flames die. The flames seemed to cease with his heartbeat, snuffing out as abruptly as they began. The remaining screams of his young lover and newlywed wife, echoed in the air, carried on with the wind. Birds flew overhead. The crowd that had gathered as the poor bastard burned looked on in horror at what they had just witnessed. Some of them lost their stomachs. Others pressed kerchiefs to their faces, or lifted their shirts to cover their noses from the stench of burning hair and skin.
From a distance away from the gathered crowd I watch. A small smile graces my features as I admire my handiwork. The chaos. The reactions from both the crowd and his now young widow. The memory of his reaction as he began to burn from the inside, before spontaneously bursting into flame. The show he put on as he tried to drop and roll to put on the fire.
I watched, a shadow lurking in the background, unremarkable and easily forgettable. The police and ambulance make an appearance. They worked robotically, trying to maintain a calm none of the felt, attempting to remember their training. The paramedics vanished with the body; there’s no need to hurry. The police take statements from remaining witnesses. No one knows anything. He just…burned up…as if from the inside…The stunned crowd all deliver similar recounts.
I turn and walk away. Leaving the scene unnoticed and not accosted by police or bystanders. I smile wider as I remember previous times throughout my life where concentration alone set an enemy ablaze. Imagine my surprise the first time. I chuckle at the memory. It would be the last time my father laid a hand on me. The last time he did anything at all…
My mother screamed in the background, her voice fading far away as I lay there prone, my hand against my cheek, tears falling from my eyes. The hatred that built in me at that moment burned hotter than molten lava and I imagined the demise of this evil man. The folly inside me broke in that moment, the madness carrying me away in quick successions. Like the river Phlegethon sweeping me within its currents into Hades’ underworld of fire.
Sweat breaks out on my father’s brow, his eyes meeting mine, his steps stopping mere feet from me. His skin slowly begins to blotch red before the red spreads throughout his body. He watches in horror as blisters begin to appear in painful spurts. He begins to scream as languidly his burning skin begin to peel unnaturally. Then finally he begin to smoke from every pore before he bursts into flame. I’ll never forget his screams as he hit the floor. My mother watched in silence, terror outlining every feature. I hadn’t moved from my spot on the floor, my eyes never leaving my father until I knew for sure he was dead.
Slowly I stood, my eyes now on my mother’s face, my expression now softened to one of love and devotion. I take her shaking hand in mine, my gaze still looking up to her. Her eyes left the charred remains of my father to that of her seven-year-old son. Her face was wet from tears, red from my father’s violence; her eyes shocked as she looked at me. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” I tell her, “He won’t hurt us ever again.” I looked at my father once more, “No one will. I won’t let anyone hurt us ever again, okay, Mommy?”
She knelt down so she was eye level to me. The stench of burned hair and flesh filled the house we resided and I could tell she was trying to ignore it, trying to be calm for my sake. Perhaps for her own as well. “Baby, I need you to answer me honestly, okay? Mommy won’t be mad at you. But did you…do that…to Daddy?”
I slowly nodded. “I think so, Mommy.”
She let out a harsh breath she wasn’t aware she was holding. “How?” The question was whispered, amazed disbelief in her voice. Like she’d just been shown the greatest magic trick of all time and couldn’t figure out the illusion.
“I don’t know, Mommy. I just…thought about it.”
“You thought about it? What do you mean, baby?”
I knew she wanted to understand. It wasn’t something my seven-year-old brain could entirely comprehend. It isn’t something my thirty-seven-year old brain can understand. Though I did my best to explain in full truth in the way that I understood it at that time. And the explanation that I came up with then still seems the most relevant even today.
“I just thought about it really hard. I thought about him slowly getting hotter. But from the inside. I pictured it in my head. He just got hotter and hotter and then I saw him on fire. I just pictured it all happening and it did. I don’t know how else, Mommy.” At that moment I began to cry, the events finally catching up to me. “Please don’t be mad at me, Mommy. I didn’t mean to. I just didn’t want him to hurt us anymore.”
She pulled me into her arms and lifted me up, her mind now in full mother mode. “Hush now, sweet boy. Mommy’s got you. And I’m not mad at you. Mommy loves you. And now we can finally be free.”
What I didn’t know then, what I would find out later, is that my mother was a different kind of evil. My father’s treatments of her over the years created a being that would nourish me with love and affection. Love and affection that was formed out of maternal love, fear, and a devious mind she hid well. She embraced my new-found power. Encouraged me to use it. Learn how to control it. She groomed me into the killer that I became.
From then on, we were on the move. We lived a nomadic existence, never staying in one place too long. As we camped she had me start small fires at first. “Light the camp fire, Aiden. Concentrate really hard for Mommy.”
Each time I succeeded she hugged me, a smile on her face. She praised me and loved me. When I failed she encouraged me, a smile ever present on her face. She would hug me and kiss me, tickling me to make me laugh, teaching me patience as I learned my craft.
When I was eleven we witnessed a man grabbing his daughter’s arm and slapping her. Instinctively, I moved closer to her, my hand slipping into hers. His screams echoed as he berated her, her cries softer, yet they reached my ears. I looked at my mother, a familiar look on her face. Her eyes met mine and I saw the message written there. I nodded once, my gaze drifting back to the man. I had been honing my skills for years. My grip on the ability much stronger than it had been that first time four years ago.
It happened much faster this time than with my own father. My concentration still the same only it came much easier. As his dark skin began to peel, he had already let go his daughter’s arm. His screams, of pain this time instead of anger, echoed louder through the town. The crowd that had gathered at the spectacle watched in horror, each time looks of horror, as the man dropped dead. When no one was paying attention to the single mother and her son, we slipped away into the crowd, making our escape.
As so it was until my twenty-third year. My mother and I on the move. My schooling came from her as we traveled. I was well educated, my mother made sure of it. Then one day, it all came to an abrupt ending.
I woke one morning, a morning like any other, to find my mother had died in her sleep. I didn’t understand then, and I don’t understand now the how’s and the why’s of it. She had always been healthy. I buried her under a tree that afternoon. From then on, I was on my own.
By the time I had buried my mother, my blood lust had risen. It was something I kept in check for my mother, not wanting her to know how twisted I became. How twisted she groomed me into being. Though when I look back now, I think she knew. Mother was not a fool. And she knew exactly what she was doing.
I was passing under a bridge on a starless night, some months now of being on my own, where there was a large homeless population. No one paid me much mind, another faceless figure in the firelight. I picked a dark space to vanish in. I learned how to blend into the shadows, to be unnoticed, silent and still. I watched the population as they huddled together to keep warm in the provided heat of the trashcan fires. Some quietly talked among themselves, gently laughing as they spoke. Others sat and stared at the world around them. I wondered if they actually saw it.
A lone man, long since accustomed to living on the streets, stood with his hands over a fire. His face was dirty, his facial hair full and matted, his expression saddened. I stared at him from my hiding place, and with a flickering thought the man erupted in flames. The underground community scattered in panic, afraid to get set on fire themselves as he rolled along the ground, eager to suffocate the flames. He stopped moving. The flames died with his heartbeat. In the chaos of the moment I slipped from the shadows and moved on.
I attempted as the years passed to control my blood lust, to control the lunacy that rampaged me endlessly and without mercy. Until one day I could not control it. Until one day I no longer wanted to.
Along my travels I passed a shopping center. I was some distance away, the building large enough to see from afar. Far enough that any cameras wouldn’t notice me. The parking lot was full of Sunday shoppers, happily going about their lives in ignorant bliss of what was about to befall them all. As I stare at the building I hear my mother’s voice whisper in my ear. I felt the ghost of her breath on my cheek as she told me to “just concentrate, Aiden.”
The building suddenly and without warning began to burn in its entirety. The screams of men, women and children couldn’t be heard from where I stood watching the carnage, but I could hear them in my head clearly, as if I was standing in the center of the destruction. I watched as the building burned. I witnessed the police and the firemen do their jobs tirelessly. I smiled. And then I laughed. The endorphins coursing through my bloodstream gave me a high unlike that I had ever experienced. It was a high that I cannot synthesize by way of the heaviest drug.
And here now I am moving on again, away from the latest victim. And on to the next. Always moving in the shadows of the fire I create.