The Last Match

(238 words- flash fiction/poetry)

The wind hammered down the narrow Sierra Nevada Mountain trail, followed by hail and then a blanket of snow as the man looked for somewhere safe to go…

he was covered by his old slicker poncho pulled over his sagging hat and leather clothes, a lone traveler who was nearly froze, but who was able to walk even though he couldn’t feel his toes…

… when the snow stopped and the night crept up like a rattlesnake, the traveler had a decision to make, if he were to survive he’d have to find a shelter to stay alive…

when to his relief he found a small cave in the mountain’s side, an opportunity to get warm inside, where his biggest desire was to start a fire so the heat could get to his frozen feet…

… he gathered some twigs and leaves off the dirt and knelt down while drawing a little cardboard box from his shirt, that to his horror only contained one match…

that he could feel and dimly see, a wooden key to warmth and being frostbite free, he sat there for what felt like an eternity, hesitant to see if the match would be able to relieve his misery…

holding the cardboard box on it’s side he took the match and let it slide across the rough surface and suddenly there was a spark, he lit the fire, and chased away the cold and the dark.

*****

The Lighter Side of History

when technology found a way to start a flame with a flick of the finger

the lighter emerged like a metal Prometheus sharing the secret of fire

with designs that reflected the times, lighters lit the way for cigarette and cigar smokers to conveniently fire up wherever they were

the styles evolved over the years reflecting society’s luxuries and utilities

from the start, lighters have told a story about their owners history

carrying their burdens for the world to see

lighters have more purposes now than ever before

they’re cheap, flashy, and in every store

lighters can be works of fine art

or cartoonish art

there’s so many designs to see

that reflect our history

I leave you with the following three…

The Firebug

The crickets lusty cries for love were silenced as Charlie walked through the meadow.

He loved the night because fires burned so bright in it. He didn’t think of himself as a pyromanic. It was a crude term for someone who just loved fire. He didn’t go around starting fires. His uncle, nor his friends, suspected Charlie’s fascination for fire.

It was fire that took his parents lives. He, and his sister Susan, escaped the burning inferno that was once their home. They were raised by their father’s brother Wilbur, a bachelor whose greatest claim to fame was that he served four years in the Army without getting kicked out for bad conduct.

Susan and Charlie were inseparable. When Susan, the eldest, turned 20-years-old she got her own department. Uncle Wilbur, glad to give up the responsibility for a 16-year old boy, let Charlie move in with her. His part in raising his strange nephew and niece was over.

Although Wilbur never complained, he was always uneasy with his brother’s kids. He couldn’t manage to establish a bond with them. They were distant. Often in a world of their own.

Charlie’s love for fire was complex. He was shy and preferred to be alone when Susan went to work. He dropped out of school, and no one said anything about it.

Charlie’s favorite thing about the apartment was that it was near a National Forest, and he could take long walks there. The meadow that separated the apartment complex from the forest was carpeted with clover and grass.

One day, Susan was late in coming home. It was a first, and Charlie was worried about her. It was after dark when she returned. Her clothes looked rumpled and she had a gleam in her eye that Charlie didn’t recognize.

She assured him everything was fine, and that she had just forgotten about the time because she was involved in a big project at work. Satisfied that she was okay, Charlie went outside for his evening stroll.

He almost reached the tree line when he saw the fire!

The blaze shot high in the sky fueled by spruce and pine trees. It licked the night sky and Charlie eye’s riveted to it. He stopped walking, and stood there staring in a trance. “So beautiful,” he thought.

Even though the fire was miles away, he could imagine the sound it made. Firefighters would have their work cut out tonight. He watched for hours until he was too tired to stand anymore. When he went to bed he closed his eyes and saw red flames.

Susan began to come home late more often, as the weeks went by. Charlie figured that she might have a boyfriend and didn’t want him to know. He thought about talking to her about it. Letting her know he was okay with the idea. He always knew they would go their own way some day.

One evening he decided to be adventurous, and walked downtown with the intention of going to a movie. But as he got closer to the theatre there was a traffic jam on Main Street and people were pouring out of a building screaming!

Then he saw the smoke and looked up at the back of the theatre building. Flames were bursting through the roof and streaking skyward! Charlie watched as they grew like a living thing!

The first fire truck had to fight its way through a panicked crowd of people. As the fireman went about their job, some people ran out of the blazing theatre. They were human torches!

First responders, paramedics and fireman, did what they could for those unfortunate people, but it was hopeless. They died writhing in agony. In the middle of the chaos, still standing in the street, Charlie watched…transfixed.

Soon, police were driving people off the street. The entire building was burning and the fierce flames lit up the entire night. Charlie was told to leave with the others who were still near the fire.

On his way back to the apartment Charlie went from exultant to sad, as he thought about the human torches. They didn’t burn very bright. Their agony touched him. But the flaming building touched him too. The sheer power of the flames made him giddy.

When he got home Susan was there. She was sitting at the kitchen table wrapping gauze around her hand and arm. Alarmed, Charlie asked, “What happened?”

“Sit down brother,” she said.

Charlie pulled up the other kitchen chair, and obediently sat down.

“I have a confession to make. I’m a firebug. I’m telling you this because, I have to go away and I want you to lead a somewhat normal life. If there is such a thing. I set the fire at the theatre tonight.”

She waited for the news to sink in, but Charlie seemed unfazed.

“I started the fire that killed Mom and Dad!” she confessed, as a tear ran down her cheek. “I don’t know what’s the matter with me Charlie! I’m obsessed with fire. Always have been.”

Charlie didn’t judge her harshly. She was his big sister and always took care of him. He understood why she had to leave. There was a chance she left clues and would get caught. Then they would lock her up. They might even kill her for her crime.

He loved his sister and he loved to watch a roaring fire. He knew that someday she would get caught. He couldn’t bear that.

When she finally went to bed that night he was still up…waiting. He felt no attachment to the world. When he was sure she was asleep, he went into her room and smothered her. He went around the apartment gathering flammable liquids like lighter fluid, and went back to her bedroom.

He lit a fire in the kitchen, the living room, and her room. He sat on the edge of her bed and watched as the flames grew…transfixed as always.

As It Stands, this portrait of a firebug is an experiment at looking into the mind of someone I never met.