Flowers, Flames, and Fight Club

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


Fantasy Adventure

Nowadays, Shirley can’t watch Fight Club without her mind wandering back to that day.

They were outside a convenience store way out of town. Penny’s ancient Corolla was parked in front of them, its tank freshly full. It was mid-autumn, and Shirley sat in between her two roommates, her two best friends.

She shivered--because of the chill November air, or maybe because of what they’re about to do. With a snap of her fingers, Rita produced a tennis ball-sized flame that floated right above her palm. Not for the first time, Shirley wished she had Rita’s ability instead. It was so straightforward: flames and burning. Shirley mustered the barest fraction of a smile.

“You okay, Shirl?” Penny asked. She put an arm around Shirley’s shoulders, which should have been awkward because of their height difference, but what Penny lacks in height she makes up for in warmth.

“Yeah,” came her response. She sighed. “I had a dream. That’s why I asked you two to come with me.”

The two immediately perked up. They knew about Shirley’s dreams, which were sometimes prophetic. Other times, they’re just meaningless visions. It was always a gamble, trying to decide which ones to actually believe. This time, though, she could feel it. This was more than just a dream.

“I dreamed about a house. I think it might have been my mom’s ex-boyfriend’s,” she said slowly. She hated opening up. She hated even thinking about her past. The three of them had known each other for about two years and still they hardly knew her because she never talked about her life before the age of twenty.

“I didn’t know your parents were divorced,” Rita said as she twirled the ball of flame around her fingers.

“They’re not. They weren’t even married,” Shirley took a deep breath. “This ex-boyfriend...he was really abusive.”

She could feel Penny freeze for a minute beside her, before tightening her hold around her shoulders. 

“He beat me and my mom up all the time,” she said, and it felt like a confession. Maybe it was. She knew she shouldn’t be ashamed of her past. She knew, logically, that the abuse wasn’t in any way her fault. Still, it was hard to get the words out.

“He was a monster. He made our lives a living hell.” It was all she could say. She couldn’t go into detail even if she wanted to. It was like her brain forcefully erased any memory of her childhood. All she remembers were the feelings, the knee-jerk reactions: fear, anger, sadness, how every muscle in her body froze every time he was near.

Shirley spent a lot of time specifically not thinking about her past. Absentmindedly, she ran her fingers over her elbow. Near that same spot, underneath the sweater, was a tattoo of daffodils, just one of the many flowers permanently inked on her arms and back.

“What was his ability?” Penny asked, her voice small.

Nothing,” Shirley said. She laughed, or tried to. What came out was a ragged, strangled breath that Rita and Penny mercifully chose to ignore. “He was completely normal. That scared me. I knew that if he had an ability--any ability--he’d use it against us. I don’t think we would have survived.”

Deep breaths. She felt like her lungs were imploding. It was strange. Her mind barely had any true memories of the man; she wasn’t even sure she still knew what he looked like, what his name was. But her body remembered. She carried her trauma like a second skin. “I haven’t thought about him in ages. I tried to forget that part of my life. But when I dreamt about his house, I knew I had to do something.”

“Which is...what, exactly?” Rita asked, not unkindly. The flames were reflected in her dark eyes, flickering. “Are we coming all this way for you to talk to him? Have a heart-to-heart? Shirley, don’t tell me you’re going to forgive the guy. I mean, I’ll support you no matter what, but I’ll be honest, some people don’t deserve your forgiveness.”

Shirley shook her head. “No, I’m glad we have the same sentiments. Rita, how do you feel about blowing stuff up?”

Rita’s grin turned manic. The ball of fire in her hands grew momentarily bigger, and bluer, before calming back down again. “Always.”


Back in the car, Shirley could tell Rita was trying her best to lighten the mood. 

“Okay, I get why I’m coming, resident pyromaniac and all,” Rita said from the front seat, mouth full of Twix, because despite being twenty-four she still had the taste of a five-year-old. “But why bring Penelope? What’s she gonna do?”

“Aside from being designated driver,” Penny responded, used to Rita’s playful insults. “Because, need I remind you, I’m the only one of us who can actually drive.”

“Hey, I can drive!” Rita reminded her. “The law just says I shouldn’t.”

“I need Penny to confirm that it’s his house,” Shirley said from the back, feet tucked underneath her. “I’m about 95% sure, but still. It would be a shame if it turned out to be someone completely random. Also, I can’t drive, and Rita’s license was confiscated by the state.”

Penny laughed. “Wait, you need me to use my ability?” 

“I know it sounds weird, but I don’t think I can recognize him even if I saw a picture,” Shirley folded her arms against the window and rested her head on top of them.

“I tried really hard to bury that part of my life. I can’t look back on it even if I wanted to. That’s why I need your help,” she explained. Penny’s psychometry made it possible to look at certain memories when she touched certain objects. If she could touch one of his things--a sweater he wore back then, a pair of shoes--and see Shirley, then they would know they were in the right place.

Of course, doing so would give Penny a front-row seat into Shirley’s childhood trauma, but that was just something she was going to have to accept. Judging by the tight set of her jaw, Penny understood this, too.

“I’m surprised you’re okay with this, Pen,” Rita commented after a while. “Burning a man’s house and all. I mean, you’re pretty much Mother Theresa, always helping those little kiddies.”

Penny made ends meet by working at a non-profit that helped find abducted children. Over dinner, she always had stories about what she saw from the found kids’ teddy bears and Barbie dolls, each one more harrowing than the next. 

“I’m not,” Penny replied. “I’ve come across some terrible men in my line of work. And it’s not like we’re killing the guy.”

“Uh, we kind of are, in a way. In this consumerist society, getting rid of all his possessions is pretty much tantamount to killing him. Come on, it’s like Fight Club.”

Penny scoffed. “I thought only douchebags liked that movie.”

“That is simply not true,” Rita replied, exaggerating her indignance. Shirley knew it was for her benefit even without Rita looking at her through the rearview mirror. “All douchebags like that movie, but not everyone who likes it is a douchebag.”

“And where do you fall under that dichotomy?” Penny asked, sassier than usual. Shirley knew this was for her benefit as well. She loved her roommates, she really did.

“You know what, after this thing is done, I’m going to make you watch it,” Rita announced to the car at large. “You’ll see it’s actually good, douchebag fandom aside. Right, Shirl? It’s good, right?”

Shirley looked at Rita through the rearview mirror. “Rita,” she deadpanned. “Stop trying to get me to break the first rule of Fight Club.”

Rita grinned. “Right answer.”

They arrived at a large townhouse quite a ways away from the nearest city. It was just as it was in Shirley’s dream: elegant and stately, the same color as a brownstone except twice as large. Its front lawn was perfectly manicured, and Shirley could see a shiny red Porsche parked nearby.

Rita gave out a low whistle. “Looks like someone comes from money.”

“Are we sure he’s not home?” Penny asked.

Shirley nodded. “In my dream, the house was empty. I don’t know how long it will be, though. We have to move fast.”

“Right then,” Rita said. “Time to find out if your dream’s a dud or not.”

They marched up to the front door. Rita knocked once, twice, thrice. They waited.


There was a collective sigh of relief. Rita grinned slightly before pressing a palm against the doorknob, slowly melting it against the door. 

The inside bore traces of old money. The owner was clearly comfortably wealthy without feeling the need to show off. Lush leather couches surrounded a large flat-screen TV. Underneath it was a brick fireplace topped with all sorts of trinkets and baubles. The coffee table looked like it was worth more than their monthly rent, even as it was stacked with outdated newspapers and half-empty mugs. Marble countertops, sleek kitchen appliances that still had traces of recent use, a smart refrigerator. It was a house large enough for two families, yet Shirley saw no traces of it anywhere. No toys scattered around, no bikes parked out front, no family pictures up on the walls. In fact, there were no pictures at all; the house clearly belonged to a single man.

Taking it all in, Shirley’s skin crawled. How dare this man live so comfortably while she struggled every day just to be able to pay rent. How dare he live at all when her mother rots in the ground.

“I’ll have a look around,” Penny announced after a bit. Shirley nodded. She stayed by the open door, shivering still. Rita walked around the house as well, seemingly in awe at the wide variety of cutlery, opening one drawer after another.

Was this really his house? She tried to look around for anything familiar: an old sweater he used to wear, a book he once read. But her mind was blank. She could remember no details about the man. It was hard to unearth memories that have been buried so deeply, so determinedly.

She turned back around and sat on the front porch step. From where she was sitting, she could see the beginnings of a garden near the side of the house, surprisingly quaint. A few pots, showing tiny sprouts. A couple of bags of fertilizer. A watering can that looked brand new. Funny, she doesn’t remember the man as having much of a green thumb. Then again, she barely remembers him at all.

Perhaps he’s changed, worked hard to become a better man and live a quiet life. Too bad Shirley wasn’t so forgiving.

“I can’t find you in any of his memories,” Penny announced as she arrived from one of the back rooms. Shirley looked back to see her friend’s concerned face, hear her gentle words. “It’s common with abusers, though. They leave behind so much trauma that they don’t even know of. I’ll look some more.”

Shirley sighed, and ran a hand over her face. Had she gotten it wrong? Was this another one of her wrong dreams? She hated her ability; hated how she could never tell which dream was a prophecy and which one was just that: a mere dream. She was about to step outside for real when Penny arrived in the living room again, this time with Rita in tow. Their faces were grave. Without a word, Penny marched up to Shirley and pulled the sleeves of her sweater towards her elbows, exposing Shirley’s many tattoos. Penny ran her hand along the daffodils by her elbow, feeling the scarred tissue beneath.

Absentmindedly, Shirley thought about what Penny must feel when touching other people. Could Penny feel all of her, all of her grief and fear and exhaustion, all the way down to her bone-deep trauma? Or did her psychometry not work on flesh? Shirley had never thought to ask.

When she glanced up again, Penny’s eyes were filled with tears. “Was this where--?”

Shirley nodded. She knew what Penny was asking even without her saying the words. So: her dream was right. She could feel her throat tightening up. 

Penny looked at all of her other tattoos--daisies and sunflowers and magnolias, camellias and roses and hyacinths. “Are all of these--?”

Shirley nodded again. Penny put a hand over her mouth, but a sob still broke through. Every scar and cut and bruise that the man left behind--Shirley covered them all up with flowers. Pretty, dainty little things. Just another way to cover up her past, to avoid seeing any physical evidence of what she had to go through to survive.

She couldn’t look at Penny, couldn’t bear to see the heartbreak and pity so plainly written across her features. Instead, she looked towards Rita, who held out a barette on her open palm.

To her surprise, Shirley recognized it immediately. Maybe her brain only got rid of all the memories of her mom’s ex-husband, but seeing the barette instantly reminded Shirley of her mom. It was something she always wore no matter what. When Shirley was little, the barette seemed ornate, sleek and shiny and inlaid with real pearls. It was her mom’s most prized possession, a relic from her childhood, from her hometown near the sea.

Now, on Rita’s outstretched palm, the barette looked dingy; half of the pearls were gone, and those that were still attached were caked with dust. 

Shirley took it, turning the accessory over in her hands.

“When I touched it, so many of her memories flocked to me,” Penny said. That was the word she used: flocked, as if she was under attack by rabid, incessant birds. “That man beating her up, all of the things he said… Him beating you up, throwing bottles of beer whenever you talked back. I saw it the way your mom saw it--a gash on your elbow from a shard of glass, the blood trickling out. I guess she was wearing it when it all happened.”

Shirley nodded. “She always wore it. She should have been buried with it, really.” If it was up to her, she would have been.

Penny wiped her eyes and stepped away. “I’m so sorry, Shirley. We didn’t know. We didn’t know anything. We should have asked--”

“I wouldn’t have told you, anyway,” Shirley interrupted. “I was trying hard to forget about this time of my life.”

Now though, she was done running away.

She turned to Rita. “Let’s do it.”

The three of them stepped out of the house. Out on the street, Penny had her arm around Shirley’s waist. They watched as Rita put her palms together and separated them, leaving behind a ball of fire like the one she made to warm Shirley up only hours before. Only this time, the fire was white-hot, and as Rita spread her palms further apart, the ball grew larger and larger until it was almost as big as her. Shirley could feel the heat even from where she was standing. It was a good thing Rita herself never burned.

With a huff, she hurled the ball of fire at the house. The white flames crawled up the walls and into the windows, burning everything in sight. 

Rita walked towards them and put her arm around Shirley’s shoulder. Sandwiched between her two friends, Shirley allowed herself to cry silently as she watched the house burn. Rita was right--in today’s world, what was a man without possessions, without property? All of what made him--his sleek appliances and his expensive furniture and his hard work--all of it was burning to the ground. She tried to imagine the man’s reaction when he comes home to a pile of rubble, but still she couldn’t envision his face. She would simply have to hope that it hurt him even half as much as he’s hurt her and her mother.

With trembling hands, Shirley swept her hair to the side and pinned it in place with her mother’s barette. This was her revenge, too, just one she didn’t live long enough to see.

Watching the flames devour his house, Shirley felt a sense of security she hasn’t felt in years. All this time, she was running away from her grief, running away from her trauma. She had tried so hard to forget about her past, cover up every last scar, literally and otherwise. But she knew she couldn’t run forever. It was why she dreamt about the man’s house in the first place. Her body was telling her she needed to fight back--only then can she truly feel relieved. Like the flowers she so loved, her trauma would only keep growing--she had to cut it off at the root. Or, more accurately, burn it at the root.

Rita’s and Penny’s arms tightened around her. Shirley put her arms around them both as well.

Beside her, Rita’s smile was lopsided. “Hey, Pen, spoiler alert: this is pretty much how Fight Club ended, too.”

Despite everything, even with tears still streaming down her face, Shirley managed a laugh.

July 03, 2020 19:10

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Fani Kerr
03:05 Jul 24, 2020

"she wasn’t even sure she still knew what he looked like, what his name was. But her body remembered" really enjoyed this one . bad a** title


Aidrielle R.
06:16 Jul 24, 2020

thank you!! <3


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