Fire. The power of the conflagration as it consumes everything before it. Dominant. Unwavering. Merciless. The roar of the air as it is sucked into that vortex as the flames billow, the twisting colours that perform that mesmerising dance. Oh such glorious power embodied in the flames of yellow, amber, gold, orange, rust, copper and tangerine. The crackling, the popping, the groaning of the wood as it succumbs to that irresistible force. The hissing of a liquid, perhaps sap in a branch or the bubbling of melting plastic. Nothing halts the advance of this mighty wall of flame. A blaze of indomitable might that devours everything that it touches. The wood blackens and ignites, the dancing flames engulfing it, surrounding it. Rubber slowly melts, the blackened, acrid smoke spilling from it, paint peels and blisters before bubbling into the ether. Paper, so pathetic, it ignites without the touch of the flame, such is the heat that surrounds it as it folds and the flames burst upon it like a flower blossoming. Such a powerful force, such a destructive inferno that consumes and leaves only ash, blackened metal and the stench of consumption behind. Fire does not discriminate, it conquers and subdues. Nothing stands in its way. Fabric, wood, plastic, glass, vegetation – whatever it might be, it will be consumed by the marching troopers of flame, the army which becomes stronger and stronger as it advances. The more it consumes, the more it destroys and the more powerful it becomes. Fuel the fire, give it the fuel, keep it fuelled, watch it want more and more fuel and as it receive that fuel, see how it becomes even more dangerous, how it moves at such a pace to outstrip a running human, watch it demolish, devour and destroy. Fire.
Fire has always been a fascination for me. I find a beauty in its form and power. I would always volunteer to light the candles at dinner, striking the match and smelling that sulphurous scent as the match sparked and took light. I would watch the flame for a moment, observing this new form of life as it spluttered and guttered into existence. The flickering flame would eventually steady, like a foal finding its feet and then with the flame established I would introduce it to each wick of the four candles that always were presented for lighting. Those candles were never used twice. Dependent on how long dinner lasted, what remained of the candles would be thrown away and new ones placed upon the table. I always sought to light all four from one match, carefully moving the flaming match from one to the second, to the next and to the last. The gentle embrace of the yellow flame transferring from match to wick and then a new flame, a new offspring appearing. One, two, three and four.
Once complete and with still burning match I would turn and look for something else to ignite. How about father´s newspaper? How about the table cloth? How about my sister´s hair? The thoughts would come fast as I waited with my flaming wand, revelling in the prospect of bringing mayhem and response through the application of flame. Such immediate plans were thwarted as another member of the family would enter and distracted the flame would burn to my fingers causing me to mutter and then extinguish the match. The box of matches would be taken from me, although of course I had already secreted three or four in my pocket for use elsewhere. I knew that the match could be struck on the zip of my trousers and once again I would hold the power of fire in my hand.
What should I burn? Anything? Everything? I would take my brother´s comic and lift the lit match to the corner as I held it over the bath. I would watch as the flames began to grow as I held it as long as I could, seeing the oranges and yellows rise and devour the faces, the characters and the words in the speech bubbles. Look at how complete the fire is. See how it eradicates the artistry, obliterates the words, erases the very existence of everything in this comic book. Wipes them from the face of the earth. I would allow the blackened and still burning comic to fall into the bath and stare until it was entirely black.
“HG! What is that smell?” called a voice (sometimes) from the other side of the door.
“I think a neighbour is burning rubbish on a bonfire,” I would answer easily without hesitation or delay as I turned and opened the window to release the smoke.
“What are you doing?”
“What do you think I am doing in the bathroom, go away!” I would order.
There would be a pause and then the voice would instruct.
I would ignore the injunction and instead turn on the tap to turn the brittle blackened paper into fragmented, sodden blobs which would wash away down the plughole. I would find a bottle or canister and spray it to mask the scent of smoke before sitting on the toilet and hold the remaining matches in my hand as I contemplated what would be done with them. Where would I lead my fire to next?
Thus my sister would find occasional dolls kidnapped and consigned to a funeral pyre made in the garden. I would stack the twigs and small branches, the newspaper twisted between them, before placing Cindy or Barbie on top and then with a solemnity not amiss at a religious ceremony, I would strike the match and recite the doll´s sins which necessitated her purification through fire. Trees would be scorched in the garden as I sought to turn their bark ablaze. Photographs would be plucked from albums and then placed carefully on an already burning fire to watch the flames delete the people contained therein. My abusers found their images particularly sought after and removed from albums not just at my home, but at mu uncle’s home also. Let them burn what they have done and what they do. Burn.
I found the clinical precision of flame matched me. Incessant, unforgiving, relentless. It dispensed oblivion without concern, hesitation of demurring. Just in the way that I did.
So much I found to burn, so many scenarios and materials that came to perish by my obsession with the application of flame as I experimented and learned and with everything about me, I required larger, more satisfying and more memorable outcomes.
During part of my childhood, my friends and I would devise games in the darkness cloaked garden during Autumn and Winter. We would fashion swords, shields, armours, mace, flails and much more as we created adventure upon adventure. Invariably, we would set a fire behind one of the outbuildings in the expansive gardens. This fire would serve as a campfire which we would gather around, our young faces illuminated by the flames as we discussed which orc encampment we would raid or whether the red dragon would fly down from its lair and seek us out after we had stolen part of its treasure hoard. One of my friends was called David and there came an occasion where my father, David´s father, David and me were all sat in my father´s car as he drove us to some place on a Saturday afternoon.
“Dad, may I play at HG´s house tonight?” asked David.
His father, a dour man who thought himself far brighter than he was ( a plodding bean counter at some government institution) twisted in the passenger seat and addressed his son.
“Yes, you may,” he then turned his gaze on me “but don’t come back stinking of that bloody smoke. It is every time you play with him.” he added.
Him? Him? Him!
I felt my own flames burst into life within me. Who did he think he was referring to me as him.
I looked towards the rear view mirror and my father´s eyes rested on me as he tilted his head, entreating me to offer confirmation. Weak as always father.
“Oh, no, David will not smell of smoke, there won’t be a fire at my house tonight,” I replied. I returned David´s father´s gaze. He did not scare me.
He looked at me for a moment and then nodded in satisfaction before turning back to face forward and engaging my father in some no doubt tedious observation about double entry book keeping or such like.
In keeping with my word, when David and my other friends joined me at my house, along with my brother, we did not build a fire. I explained that this would invariably attract those (in the game) who were hunting us and thus the garden remained cloaked in relative darkness. My friends were engaged in the collection of various ingredients from the garden to add to our collection of potions which were concocted and stored in an old stone outhouse. Whilst they attended to the gathering of mushrooms, fallen fruit, strips of bark, leaves and herbs from the herb garden, I slipped away from the group and shrouded in the near darkness made my way to a section of the garden where various logs were stored under cover against a shed. My prize lay three rows across and four columns up. My hand slipped inside and touched upon the top of the bottle secreted there. I pulled it free. It was an empty lemonade bottle which would ordinarily be returned to the store for a small payment, but this time it had a much more important repayment to make.
I slipped the bottle inside my coat and scurried along the old wall of the garden right to the end. I clambered neatly over the fence at the end and landed in the bushes behind it which meant I was now in another garden, which belonged to a neighbour. I knew precisely where I was going (I had done this many times before as a convenient short cut) as I made my way through the bushes, stepping through a fence, along the back of another garden, slipping over a low wall, along another garden and then over another stone wall to find myself in the garden that belonged to David´s family.
I crouched down feeling that familiar sensation of power starting to rise within me.
“Him?” I hissed quietly.
I saw ahead the garden shed at the rear of the garden and advanced towards it. I crouched down low and looked upwards. The lawn was long, narrower than that at my house and rose to the house where I could see the outline of light around the curtains framing various windows. The moon offered a little light and I waited as I ensured nobody happened to be gazing from a window into the ink black garden. Satisfied I was unseen, I reached inside my coat and pulled from the pocket the lemonade bottle. I twisted off the cap and placed it in another pocket. The heady smell of petrol wafted upwards. Ah, such a delightful scent. Smells like power. I had stolen the petrol earlier that day from the jerry can kept in the garage. Some had slopped onto the stone floor of the garage and I had been tempted to light it and watch the flames do their dance until the petrol burned out but I resisted. I knew there would be a far superior display to enjoy.
I poured the petrol along the wood of the shed, letting the potent liquid coat the lower section as on my haunches I moved backwards and continued to pour ensuring that I soaked a patch of earth and autumnal leaves at the north-western edge of the shed, until the bottle was empty. I then replaced the cap and secured the now empty bottle back into my inside coat pocket. I reached to a different pocket and unzipped it, removing the box of matches as I moved back further, retreating into the bushes at the end of the garden.
“Him?” I repeated.
I took a match and struck it against the box. It flared up and I cupped the flame with my hand allowing it to become established. I looked up and then said “Burn. Burn just for me.” I threw the match a small distance so it landed on the soaked patch and the flames immediately caught. There was the satisfying noise of “wumph” as the flames erupted and then that marvellous moment as the flames streamed along the petrol embraced edge of the shed. The blue and yellow flames soared as the petrol burned and then the colours shifted to orange and yellow as the wood of the shed came under assault from the growing fire. I watched and backed away. I stared at the increasing fire, the first sounds of cracking emanating as the dry wood starting to succumb to its assailant. I continued to back away until I felt the stone wall against my back and there, tucked away in the bushes, I stared through them at the gathering inferno. The flames rose higher, long tongues of orange reaching upwards, the wood groaning and popping, cracking and crackling as the flames continued to grow. Up they climbed and I watched. I saw as they began to lick underneath the glass window, I watched as they coiled about the other sides of the shed, I watched as they made their way up to the roof, an orange ivy climbing and engulfing. There was the first sharp crack as a window pane shattered the glass broken but still remaining in the pane for a moment before it shattered again and slipped from its pane onto the floor. Now the flames could, like some burglar, encroach within, the long limbs of orange flame stealing within to seek out whatever lay within. Garden tools, fertiliser, chemicals, toys, paint, bicycles – whatever it might be was now being consumed.
“Jesus! Call the fire brigade!” cried a voice from the house. I could see someone stood at the top of the stone steps which led down into the garden. They were frozen, unsure as to whether to advance or to perhaps run and grab the garden hose to start some rudimentary fire fighting. I felt another surge within me as I heard this reaction to my fire-starting.
I waited another moment, savouring the scene of the conflagration as the shed was almost now entirely engulfed. It was old, dry wood which stood no chance under the accelerant assisted inferno. Such satisfaction at seeing those flames and knowing that the smell of smoke was indeed not coming from my garden, just as I promised and instead I had brought the smell of smoke here instead along with my good and able friend fire.
It was time to go and I clambered over the stone wall, slipping into the neighbours and quickly running back to my own house.
I had made it burn. I had showed him.
This was just a start.
Burn. Burn just for me……