Burning Desires by Michael C Keith

Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Michael C Keith's teenage character battles against his growing urge to watch buildings burn.

At once the wild alarum clashed from all his reeling spires,
And broader still became the blaze, and louder still the din.
- Lord Macaulay

First there's a gentle plume of smoke and then a quiet flicker of light. If all goes right, in a matter of seconds there are flames running across the floor and spilling out of the window. Magic, it's so magic, thought Brennan, trembling with delight. He watched at a safe distance as the house he had ignited was consumed by fire. It was the fourth time he had torched a structure, and each one had been totally destroyed.

The conflagration and subsequent attempt by firefighters to douse the blaze was both exhilarating and satisfying to Brennan. It was a sensation unlike any other he'd experienced in his fourteen years of life. He wasn't sure why, but he always felt a tremendous sense of release when the objects he targeted were devoured and reduced to rubble. And his impulse to set fires was assuaged for a span of time. But he noticed that the peaceful interludes were diminishing and his need to set another fire was reasserting itself more rapidly.

Brennan knew the term used to describe people like him. I'm a pyromaniac, he thought, with a degree of self-recrimination as well as satisfaction. I'm a dangerous person. I can take away things from people. Things they don't deserve. Maybe I'll burn down Billy's house when no one's there. One more punch from him, and I'm doing it. He better watch out or everything he has will be turned into cinders. That'll teach him to pick on people at school.

Brennan particularly liked to set fires when it was dark. The bright glow they created against the nighttime sky intensified the thrill he derived from them. It also made it easier to go unseen as he observed the results of his handiwork. He tried to remain close to the scene until the firefighters began to pack up their hoses and axes. But this brought him home late, raising the ire of his mother.

"Do you realize what time it is, mister? Where have you been? This has got to stop. You're just a kid. You're not supposed to be wandering in at any hour. If your father was here..."

"But he's not! He ran out on us a year ago, Mom."

"I was just saying... Look, let's drop it. Do you want something to eat?"

"No, I'm not hungry. I'm just going to bed."

"Okay, but no more being out this late, Brennan. Promise?"

"Okay... promise."

But the following week he returned home late again after watching another of his carefully planned immolations bring down a building. This time he knew his mother would not be home until near midnight because of a date with her new boyfriend. While he was upset that she was seeing someone other than his father, he was pleased that it gave him an opportunity to be out later than usual without incurring her wrath. The more she dated, the more he started fires.

Brennan had one rule about incinerating places. He would avoid taking a life at all costs. This required that he observe the comings and goings of people living in or working at his targeted sites. It was time-consuming but necessary. The thought of killing someone horrified him.

News of his devastating acts filled the local newspapers and broadcast outlets. Be careful. You could get caught. They're looking for an arsonist. Better keep to residential buildings. The police are watching businesses and offices, Brennan advised himself. Maybe I should stop doing this. Sooner or later someone will see me.

For a while, Brennan was able to suppress his urge to set fires, but it finally became too much for him. I need to do this. I really, really need to do this. And he did. In the course of two weeks, he had burnt down three more houses. His appetite for producing infernos was on the rise.

On the day he had planned to set his next blaze, he was awakened by a knock on his bedroom door.

"Brennan, can I come in?"

"What, Mom? It's Saturday. Let me sleep."

"I need to talk to you."

Before he could protest further, his mother entered. Her face was pale and glistened with tears.

"What's the matter, Mom?"

"I have something very painful to tell you."

"Huh... what?"

His mother hesitated and after a deep, tortured breath said what was on her mind.

"Daddy has died, honey."

"No! How?" Brennan gasped.

"In a fire. The house he was renting caught fire. I didn't even know he was still living in town. And not even that far from us."

"A fire. He died in a fire? Where?"

"Over on Mill Court. It's only a couple of miles from here. I'm so sorry, honey. This is just so terrible."

Brennan turned away from his mother. Almost instantly he knew he had set the fire that took his father's life.

"I don't know what's going to happen next. I guess it's up to his family to make funeral arrangements."

"Are you sure it was him? Maybe they made a mistake. I was sure no one... Why would he be living so close to us? He disappeared. We never heard from him."

"They made a positive ID. It was him, Brennan. I'm not sure why he was back, or if he ever really left. Maybe he wanted to be close to us... or you."

For several months, Brennan felt adrift, confused, and heartsick. His compulsion to set fires had been supplanted by his sense of guilt over the death of his father. He remained in his room contemplating his horrific deed and only emerged when necessary. All he could think about was that fact the he was his father's murderer. His mood sank further when his mother informed him of her plans to marry again. He'd only met her boyfriend on a couple of occasions and had taken an immediate dislike to him.

"Why are you doing this?" he screamed at his mother.

"Because I love him, and you'll learn to like him, Brennan. Just give him a chance."

"I hate adults! You're all the same. Only care for yourselves. Get out of my room!"

In the days that followed, Brennan could feel the powerful urge to set fires reassert itself. He fought it as hard as he could, but it became too powerful for him to keep at bay.

"I can't do it again! I shouldn't do it again! I really, really need to do it again!" he screamed into his pillow.

As the sun slipped over the horizon, Brennan gathered his matches and accelerant and left the house.

1 comment:

  1. first class! loved Brennan´s torment and the fact that the 'twist' was introduced early.

    Michael McCarthy