Posted on October 17, 2005 by Flames
Horror Fiction by Matt Harvey
When I was a kid I wanted to play pro tennis.
I had it all mapped out. I’d train hard at school, get noticed, get a coach, start playing nationally. By the time I was eighteen I’d already be world seeded; I’d win my first Grand Slam when I was twenty, nail the US Open a year later. I’d even got an investment plan worked out.
Then Stan came along.
Stan’s my step-father. My real Dad died when I was seven. He was waiting at in intersection on his way home from work late one night when he was rear-ended by a drunk. Dad’s car was shoved forward into the path of an eighteen-wheeler.
Mom took the news hard. Not that I was dancing around with joy myself, but she really lost it. She’d been working as a waitress at a local diner, but one day she just stopped going. She’d spend whole days sitting alone in a chair staring at photographs. Sometimes she’d forget to eat. It was bad.
Eventually, when Social Services came knocking, she got her head together, but she wasn’t the same. She used to laugh. Sometimes she’d brought me little treats even though we couldn’t really afford it. Now she barely noticed I was alive.
I shake my head to clear it, and force myself to focus. I’m getting distracted again, and I can’t afford that right now. This is my most complicated project yet, and I can’t afford to screw it up. I’m only going to get one shot at this.
I examine my trusty lighter. It has plenty of fuel. That’s good.
I hear a car coming up the street, and my breath catches. This is too soon; I’m not ready yet. But the car goes straight on past, and I relax.
Mom got a job at a bar eventually. It wasn’t too bad, but the hours sucked and the tips weren’t as good as the diner. We got by, though.
Stan was a regular at the bar. Mom still had her looks, and Stan took a liking to her right away. I don’t know the details and don’t want to, but soon enough they were seeing each other.
This is going to sound like sour grapes, but I knew from the moment I met him that he was an asshole. He and Mom arrived back late one night, drunk and stinking of smoke. I was still up watching TV, waiting for her to get back so I could go to sleep.
Stan came straight over to me, ruffled my hair with his heavy, sweaty hand and slurred “Hey, kid, I’m gonna be yer new daddy.” Then he laughed, and Mom did too.
I should’ve killed him there and then.
Stan moved in with us some time later. My first impressions were right. He was an asshole. He was also a drunk and an addict. A couple times I caught him helping himself to Mom’s money. Mom would never believe it, though. She’d just say I was being mean because I missed Dad. Then I’d be punished.
Stan liked to show me who was boss. Most of the time he was sensible enough to avoid my face, but a few times I got some questions from teachers at school. I told them I’d run into a gang. Nothing to worry about.
As time went on, things got worse, and Mom started to resent having me around the house. I just got in the way; Stan and I hated each other too much for there to be any peace.
Then, a few years back, Stan stubbed out a cigarette in my left eye. To teach me a lesson.
I wasn’t much good at tennis after that. Depth perception’s a tricky thing.
Stan went to jail, and Mom went back to sitting and looking at photos.
That’s when I started lighting fires.
That first night, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I just knew I needed to do something, anything, because if I didn’t get the pressure out of my head I was going to explode. I bought a can of gasoline and a cheap lighter and fired an old barn on the edge of town. It had been abandoned as long as I’d been alive, so I figured no-one would miss it much.
Watching it burn was like talking to God.
I realised I was tired of being ordered around. People thought they knew what was best for me, but they didn’t have a clue. Do this, go here, read that, don’t talk, sit down, behave. Giving me orders like I was some good little robot, keeping their heads in the sand so they didn’t have to face the chaos all around them. Pretending all the while that if I was a good little boy who did what he was told then good things would happen to me, because the world is orderly and kind and rewards good behaviour.
That isn’t how the world works. There’s no order, no organization; there’s just chaos, and people who refuse to see it.
Fire gave me a handle on the chaos. It’s primal; it’s destructive and violent, just like the rest of nature. But, for the first time in my life, I could control it. To burn or not to burn was my choice; my very own little seed of chaos.
I got bolder as time went on, more artistic, and after a while I started getting some trouble from the cops. I was careful, and they couldn’t prove jack, but I had to move schools a couple times. That suited me; anything that made it harder for Stan to track us down was just fine. After a while, I even started to feel pretty safe. I didn’t have any faith in the restraining order, but I didn’t think there was any way he could find us.
But then a week ago I got a letter. Stan’s being released today.
And somehow he knows where we live.
I think I’m done now. The preparations are complete; everything’s in place. It’s going to be beautiful. It’s rigged so that the living room will go up first, then the kitchen, and so on throughout the house until the whole thing is burning.
It’s going to look great. Too bad there’s usually no-one around in the neighbourhood at this time of day, but hey. I never was one for sharing.
There it is. Through the window I see another car, and this one slows as it approaches the house. It parks in the street, and Stan steps out.
Prison hasn’t been kind to him. He’s got that look in his eye again, the same one he had right before he shoved a glowing cigarette butt into my eye.
Sorry, daddy dearest. You’re not going to hurt me.
I light a flame and drop it into the pool of kerosene at my feet.
Tags | horror fiction