TW: Graphic violence, gun violence.
The two of us stand together in a the living room of an abandoned house. Looking around, I take in our surroundings. It has incredibly ugly wallpaper, lime green with faded cream white starbursts. The fuzzy carpet is just as grotesque, the bright color mixed with dirt and debris from months of disuse. There’s a small wooden table, a bookshelf, two chairs, and a dusty old record player. Shuffling quietly around the room, we shut the blinds, hoping to keep out any intruders or hunters. The room sits in heavy silence, now cast in dull shadow. Despite the gloom, it’s still our temporary sanctuary. Technically, Narelle’s temporary sanctuary. She's the one who scored the house. My temper can't be trusted to make the smallest decision, let alone find the two of us safe houses. Eyeing the record player, I dig through my possessions, looking for something to lighten the mood. I find the sleek black record, and hold it up with a grin, looking at El questioningly. El sees it and smiles back shyly, nodding.
The record player crackles to life. Crossing the dark living room, we start to dance, the violin musical intro creating a slow, sleepy waltz. I lean into her, smelling her lilac perfume. The man’s voice on the record starts, warbling,
“I don’t want to set the world… on… fire… I just want to start… a flame in your heart…” Our favorite song. El had found the record in a dump ages ago. Apparently, it reminds her of me. I smile at the momory. We dance, the song creating a smooth rhythm, a safe space for the two of us.
After mere minutes of tranquility, a shout sounds outside. Startled, I glance at the drawn curtains, breaking the delicate peace that shrouds us. I cautiously walk to the main windowsill, looking to scout for danger. Narelle stops me with an outstretched hand.
“No, let me. You know how your temper can get the best of you.” She says softly. She always makes these kinds of decisions for me, but I’m used to it by now.
I leave the room, hiding around the corner as Narelle lifts the blind. Light floods the room, enshrouding her in an angel-like glow. There’s a moment of silence, a moment of absolute and complete stillness. I hold my breath. The tension is almost palpable. Then come the gunshots. The sound of glass shattering. A piercing scream, which must have come from my mouth. Everything seems to happen in slow motion as her body jerks backwards, spraying red around the living room. A bullet hits the record player, and the music winds down with a squeal. The gunshots stop. I scream, and keep screaming as I run to her body, collapsing. She's dead before she hits the floor. I clutch her, checking her pulse just to be sure. To be sure she's... she's...
There isn’t a pulse. I close my eyes.
Usually, people go through denial when a loved one dies. I didn’t. The concept of her death sank straight through my brain, down my spine, and into my heart. Anger exploded in a hot fire. Us being together had always been risky in these war-ridden times, but this possibility had seemed so… ridiculous. Just a thought, not a reality. But as I tore open the door and looked for the gunman, the reality of the situation sunk deeper and deeper, until I was blinded by sorrow and rage. I spotted him instantly. I ran at him, faster than I had ever gone before, fueled by the anger that was taking over my body. He fired, running backwards at a terrified pace, tripping and stumbling. I barely noticed as the bullet found home in my shoulder. I ran and ran, chasing him through the streets until he dropped the gun, falling on his back and holding up his hands. He knew it was over, glancing nervously at the firearm now within my reach. I scoffed. I didn’t need the gun. I didn’t even need my fists. The fiery anger took over my heart and grew stronger, enveloping me. Then, with a rush of adrenaline, my skin ignited. The blaze grew, singing my white sleeves. The man gaped.
“Wi-witch. Just like your-” he started to say. I didn’t let him finish. The flames left my arms and found home in his heart. I screamed until I was hoarse, full of anger, fear, exhaustion and absolute sadness. When I was done, he was a mere pile of ash. I stood there for a while, staring at the pile that used to be his body, arms alight. The flames extinguished with the first tear. I collapsed, sobbing. Narelle was gone. She, my one love, my one thing in a war-ridden world full of people turned against one another.
The world had fallen apart before I was even born. The balance had been teetering, like a fuse soaked in gas. One match, and the world would implode. That match became the appearance of superhuman abilities, like my fire. The world tore into chaos, and the equivalent of the Salem Witch Trials reignited. I had spent my whole life running, my freedom taken for me the moment I made my first spark. I was a dangerous girl, something to be locked up. To most, I was like an animal, incapable of the barest human thought. My parents even threw me out, calling me a monstrosity. I met El soon after. She could make fountains, rivers appear with the slightest sadness. I could make raging infernos with the smallest flicker of anger. It was an ironic match, but we balanced each other out. Stabilized each other. And now she was gone.
I sat there in numb silence for a while, not caring whether or not the man’s friends or family showed up to get revenge. The police had been disbanded long ago. They didn’t show. I walked for what felt like years back to our home. My home. Shaking, I entered. There she was, cold and dead, her blank eyes staring at the blood-splattered ceiling. The sobs came back. I tried to summon anger to cremate her, but all I could manage was the barest spark as torrents of sadness rippled over me like waves. I ended up dragging her outside and burying her whole. I sat there, the soft dirt coating my clothes. I grabbed some in my fist and squeezed. I squeezed, imagining the neck of the man who killed her. Then, the body of Washington DC’s witch hunt leader, who had killed hundreds of my kind in Maryland alone. Her body turned into the heart of the president, who encouraged the hunts with enthusiasm. I squeezed until my hand was sore. The dirt crumbled out of my first, returning to El’s grave. I sat there for a while, waiting for her to boss me around, to tell me what to do. There was a haunting silence. I didn’t know what to do without her. I didn’t know how to live without her.
Even though the record was broken beyond repair, the sound continued to haunt me. I spent the next week grieving, lighting things on fire, the sound haunting me. I don’t want to set the world… on… fire… I didn’t eat. I barely slept. I only drank when I felt I would die of thirst. I barely found the energy to clean the bullet wound and remove the bullet, taking solace in the pain the action brought me. The only thing keeping me alive was rage. I’ve lost all ambition… for worldly acclaim. I felt like a ghost, a broken soul left to haunt the cruel world.
Slowly, over the course of months, the sorrow faded into a pinch of sadness. But, not the anger. It grew and grew, until I could hardly control it. Why should I? I thought dimly. There was nothing left for me. The record crackled in my head. I don’t want to set the world.. on… fire… Mere months ago, I would have agreed without hesitation. But now? I raised my palm. It came alight, the flame flickering and twisting in my palm, a gentle heat. Now, I wasn’t so sure.
The day I made my first decision was the day that they came.
I was curled in a ball, thin with weeks of malnutrition. I meditated, trying to quell the anger, the fire. Then, I heard voices.
“In ‘ere! I heard the gunshot comin’ from ‘ere. This’s where he shot that first witch, and where the other one is stayin’.” A scratchy voice shouted. Three pairs of feet jumped through the broken window. I heard the click of the safety turning off on five separate guns. I waited, still sitting hopelessly in the corner. The man turned the corner, searching. He saw me and jumped back in shock, pointing his loaded pistol at my forehead.
“I got ‘er! Stupid thing doesn’t look like she’s eaten in weeks, but she’ll clean up real nice. Bet we can sell ‘er for a fortune,” he snarled. I bared my teeth, growling at him. He bent down, still pointing the gun at my forehead.
“What,” he muttered in a mocking tone, his breath smelling like alcohol and cigarettes, “mad that your little friend got killed? Bet she didn’t put up a real fight. I hope she burns in-” I didn’t let him finish. The anger took control, and I screamed in pure, unceasing rage. The flames exploded out of my chest, knocking my head back against the wall. The man was dead in seconds. Shame. It should have taken longer. The flames careened and twisted to the rest of the men, incinerating them before they could even blink. The flames kept growing, burning out of me at a rate I could hardly comprehend. They only stopped when the world turned to black.
I woke up. I was sitting on a small tile, the only part of the wreckage that had survived besides my clothes, if a little singed. Everything else was flames. They towered, blocking everything the eye could see. My ears rang. After bleary minutes of sitting, I stood, a placid calm overcoming me. I don’t want to set the world.. on… fire… whispered the song in my ear. I walked through the flames, hardly caring as they parted for me. Revenge, whispered the voice in my head. Without El to keep me sane, something snapped. I cocked my head, letting the flames burn off my shirt's sleeves. With nothing left for me, I was finally free to do whatever I pleased, make whatever decisions I wanted. I scoffed at the idea of consequence. Even death looked like child's play. Revenge, the voice said, more urgent than ever.
I went through the town, parting the flames for innocent men, women, and children. The rest, the witch hunters, I incinerated, not feeling the barest emotion when they begged for their lives. I just want to start… a flame in your heart… I had never been alone before. I had never been able to make my own decisions before. You’re too dangerous, my parents said to me. A girl like you should be locked up, or killed, said my schools, teachers, and friends. Even El, as much as she loved me, had tried to contain the fury that grew within me. Now, standing in the smoldering wreckage, I realized the truth in their fear, their hatred. Something like me should never have been allowed to exist, a being that lived on anger and suffering. Yet, here I was. Finally taking revenge on the world that had beaten me into submission for so very long.
I travelled for weeks, humming the song to myself, the voices of the dead haunting me. I didn’t need food, water, or sleep. The fire kept me alive. The unending rage kept me alive. I killed the witch hunt leader without a second thought, hardly caring as her flesh smoldered under my grasp. Leaving the carnage behind, I walked and walked, until I found what I was looking for. I had checked off two on the list. There was only one evil left to exterminate. The President. The one who had made it legal to murder us in the masses. The one who had started it all. I strolled into the Capital, hardly caring as the flames incinerated buildings. In a trance, I walked to Pennsylvania Avenue. I started at the grand white building, watching as the guards scrambled to reach their guns.
I melted bullets as they came for me. Nothing was fast enough to make it past the living inferno that was my body. I don’t want to set the world… on… fire… said the song. I giggled. I had just about done that.
Now, it was time to finish the job. I was standing in the middle of the White House. Rounds and rounds of bullets fired at me, the acrid smell of melting metal and the sludge of iron encasing my vision. Eventually, they stopped and ran, knowing they couldn’t kill or even harm me. I searched, burning the massive building down in the process. I didn’t feel guilt as the ancient building’s columns collapsed, as carpets burned and people screamed. I only thought of revenge. Eventually, I found a massive steel plate in the ground. A bunker. I attacked it, flaming fists pounding. I heard military helicopters and the sound of tanks. But, even they couldn’t get through the smoldering fire. I finally punched a hole in the metal. It took hours, but time was no longer a concept to me. I wriggled through the hole, jumping inside. In my heart I have but one desire… And that one is you… taunted the song.
Immediately, the president’s guards opened fire. I stood there, bullets melting off of my body, and waited for them to run out of ammunition. They did quickly, and surrounded the president in a last ditch effort to save him.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I said calmly. “He’s the only one I want.” When they didn’t move, I burned through them. A noble sacrifice, I thought, if for the wrong side. Then, I grabbed the president. He howled, my hand burning through his shoulder. I dragged him out of the bunker and threw him into the smoldering wreckage. He stumbled backwards, clutching his wounded arm. Try as he might, though, he couldn’t escape the towering flames that surrounded him. I moved closer to him, our faces inches apart.
“Before you die,” I seethe, my fire now flickering along his arms, “I want you to know that you, and only you, are to blame for this. The death of the country is your fault, the deaths of the citizens are your fault, and most importantly, El's death is your fault.” He's quick to blubber a response.
“I-I don’t know who that is. There’s been a misunderstanding-” he says, trembling. I don’t let him finish. I rip out his heart with a flaming hand, burning straight through his chest cavity. He collapses, crumpling to the ground. Only moments after, the flames extinguish, my anger finally spent. With a sigh, I fall to the floor, his heart in my hand. The world fades to black. I close my eyes. I made my choice. I don’t regret it, even if the consequence is indeed death. The song whispers, fainter than last words, but more powerful. More meaningful. I smile, humming the tune.
I don’t want to set the world… on… fire…
I just want to start… a flame in your heart...