The flames are hypnotic.
Fingers of light play against the night in contrast like a calico kitten beneath a massive ball of black nylon thread. Its harmonious colors of red, yellow, and orange blend and battle in a dance that never ceases to lose its novelty.
Fire is damn fascinating—the breath of dragons and gods and other mythical beings bent on destruction. Yet, its beauty is beyond compare. One could lose his soul gazing into its fiery maw. It’s not predictable and monotonous like most would think after a cursory glance; it’s more fluid, impulsive, opportunistic. After all, it is a living thing. It breathes. It consumes. And, at times, it even appears to fear and hate.
The heat warms my prickled skin with the friendly itch of a wool blanket. Despite the outer comfort, it chills my heart—my leadened chest now burdened with an irreparable chunk of ice. I’m not here for recreation. My childhood memories of joyful campfires with toasted treats, spooky yarns, and hickory-smoke aromas are irrelevant tonight and I struggle to keep them at bay. The nature of flames may be intriguing, but I hate this fire.
I hate it and it knows.
When my glare falters and my focus succumbs to the rhythm, easing into a hypnotized gaze, the burning creature stokes my hatred anew with a taunting flare streaked in blue or green like it’s flipping me off.
I try to rationalize the event—must’ve scorched its way to a copper pipe or pocket of propane—but, I’m not buying what I’m shoveling. It knows it’s in control now, too strong to quash. Its hungry fingers claw up past the second floor windows and reach for more.
Those were the kids’ rooms.
When we moved from D.C. to West Chester fifteen months ago, we got more space for less cost and the twins gained their own rooms for the first time. Their playful argument over the larger room nearly killed me… literally. I was choking on inhaled chunks of soft pretzel from an ill-timed bout of laughter. Karen, my loving wife, was too busy to help. She was leaning sideways in her own giggling fit while struggling to keep Caleb and Rachel within the eye of her phone’s camera.
They fired up the competition with a spirited debate. Their deductive reasoning and good-natured mudslinging is what almost got me to perform the self-Heimlich Maneuver and what, ironically, aided in coughing my airways to freedom.
With the debate too close to call a clear winner, they took the next logical step—who could eat their lunch the fastest.
Rachel was chewing her last bite of sandwich when she noticed her mother’s phone held in their direction. “Recording this? Oh, now you’ve done it,” she crowed spitting food particles.
“I don’t know about you, Sis, but I’m still hungry,” Caleb said, grinning at their mother. Rachel matched his smile and added, “Yes, me too and Mom looks awfully tasty!”
They both lunged at Karen, grappled for the phone and pretending to devour her while I moved our drinks to safety.
After catching his breath, Caleb realized the dispute was still unresolved. He stole two tomato slices from his mother’s hoagie and smashed them against the nearest window; the last slice clinging would earn its designated owner the bigger room.
That very window was now engulfed in flames. They’ll never have the chance to play in those rooms again. The house was beyond rescue and repair. Karen’s phone and that memory’s video were now lost forever, along with the rest of our belongings.
I shouldn’t have left without grabbing a few things, but the damned flames spread so fast. With a gasoline drenched carpet, I guess the sprinkling of whiskey was overkill—not to mention a waste of good drinking.
I could barely hear the roar of the blaze over the pulsing blood in my head, droning on like a swarm of salacious cicadas.
The flames taunt, trying to drive me mad with guilt, but I had no choice. Fire was the only recourse—it all had to burn.
They had to burn.
My sweet children, my true love, may they rest in peace and walk through Heaven’s Gates together. Please God take them in!
Reflecting the fire’s light, tears tumble from my eyes like orange diamonds, melting as they slide down my warmed skin.
They didn’t deserve this. This fate of fire was not meant for them. They were so innocent and pure… until tainted by the infection.
Who would’ve guessed that it would originate from something in plain sight, something long thought benign? It didn’t come from an overzealous lab with lax security measures. It was from a fuckin’ museum in eastern Pennsylvania!
God, this house… we moved right next to ground zero.
Some poor sap accidentally broke open a pickled punk or some other fermented mutation at the Mütter Museum a few miles from here. He sliced open his hand trying to clean up the mess and contracted the wrong bacteria.
It spread from person to person faster than this goddamn fire. We didn’t have time to doubt or panic before it struck our community.
One of those things barged onto the twins’ school bus when the driver opened the doors at a railroad crossing. Their terror must have been unbearable as they watched the rancid thing chew its way toward them—the kids never got the emergency door open, they were trapped morsels like sardines in a can.
My children, corrupt and infested, made their way home. By the time I arrived they had torn their mother into three gnawed-open pieces. The twins attacked and Karen’s parts slunk their way toward me with the same vicious intent. I will never forget that sight or what I did next.
Their warm, healthy flesh had putrefied. As I pushed and pulled them away from my body, their skin slid from the meat of their limbs, further amplifying the eye-watering smell of roses and rotting roadkill.
Were they still in there or were they empty corpses? I couldn’t take the chance that they were suffering. I ripped my ornamental sword off the wall, finalized their death march, and set a cleansing fire to work.
Sirens wail in the distance now, and I finally notice the chaos around me. Other homes were in flames too. Cars were left abandoned in the middle of the street. Gun shots echo in the distance and screams stop short every few minutes.
It won’t be long now.
My time is dwindling.
I probably won’t see my loved ones in the hereafter—the crimes of taking their… lives may have stolen that right from me.
Guilt weighs heavily on my will to live, like the crushing stones of a Salem death sentence.
The night is filled with fire. Such a beautiful creature it is, fluttering plumage as it climbs higher and higher.
The flames are hypnotic aren’t they?
One could certainly lose his soul staring at them too long…
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2012 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.
27 thoughts on “As the Fire Burns”
A personal and emotional account of a classic trope, brought to life by the intimacy and honesty of the narrative.
The story really drew me in, from the beautiful descriptions of the fire to what the issues at hand actually were. It isn’t easy to create such a storytelling arc in a short amount of words but you have accomplished it very well, Tyr. The fire is an excellent choice of immediate setting; striking, beautiful and a springboard from which you can leap into the events leading up to it.
Thank you, Thomas! Your words are very kind. I wanted to try something a little different for my first Zombie tale.
Nice story. I like the weaving of the flames and the metaphoric implications. Wondered why the guy hadnt turned, but figured he was next. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you. I wanted to leave a taste of mystery in whether the man is waiting to turn or simply waiting to die. Thanks for reading, Jaimie!
A fantastic piece Tyr! The description of the fire as an entity of it’s own is not only beautiful and very effective, but has a lulling appeal that disarms the reader. It leaves them wide open for the level of emotional devastation the father is feeling… or not feeling in his numb, detached state. You’ve managed to convey his grief poignantly, yet at the same time keep his telling of the story just as emotionless as the fire he is watching consume the material bits of what was his life.
Another terrific story!! ;}
I’m very pleased to hear that, Nina. The emotional output and pace of the tale was hard for me to gauge after reading it over and over. I’m glad the numb torment came through. Thanks!
Brilliant, Tyr! I was drawn in by the allure of your words and the poetic descriptions of the fire. It truly is a beautiful, but destructive, beast of its own. There was such sorrow and remorse painting these words. You could feel the narrator’s angst as he relived the past and grappled with the future. I certainly wasn’t expecting the turn the story took here but it was a pleasant (if such horrors can be described as such) surprise.
Excellent read this week. Thank you so much for sharing~!
My pleasure, Adriana! I wanted to try something different for my first Zombie story, something with gradual reveals to the whole truth without obfuscation through redirection–like a camera slowly zooming out. I’m very happy you enjoyed it. Thanks!
I’ve got a lump in my throat. These types of stories get me every time. Loved it!
Thanks for reading, Shelley! Evoked emotion is a high honor for any author; thank you very much! I’m pleased that you liked the story.
Hey Tyr, I think you really shared with us a solid tale in “As The Fire Burns.” Fire is at once both ally & enemy, & that’s the duality I perceived as I read this. Much like dancing flames, your story is indeed a bit hypnotic in its own right. And of course, while being a “complete” story, I love the openness in which you left several issues: the “bacteria,” the “Mütter Museum,” and why the narrator has not yet succumbed – but not every story needs a neat little bow to wrap things up! Great read, Tyr!
Yes, I was looking to leave the reader with a bit of mystery on whether the man was waiting to turn or if he simply lost the will to live. Fire is such a unique element, it just felt right to highlight it throughout the tale, use it as a backbone–a villain and an ally. Thank you for the kind words, Joe!
Reading this story reminded me how hypnotic flames can be. And like the dangerous element, your story was just as beautiful and destructive. Thank you so much for sharing this incredible imagery. Great stuff… as usual.
Jack, I am truly honored to receive approval from the Zombie King himself! Thank you!
Not only do the elements take on a personality of their own but personalities morph. Creating a wildfire of thought and questions for the reader to try to deal with
Excellent Tyr / there’s enough personal to make it believable
I love it when a story starts to breath on its own. Thank you, Leslie!
Ah, my Damned friend, this is such a great tale. How could I not enjoy a story as hypnotic as this, the allure of the fire added to the what’s and why’s of the seemingly sinister manifestations of horror foisted up the wife and children? I should have known you would present a sparkling tale this week, Tyr!
Blaze, your approval of this tale seems very fitting. Get it… Blaze… Fire… okay moving on. I am grateful for your kind words. I strive to harness those sinister manifestations and then loose them on the reader, thankfully, I didn’t get burned on this one. Alright, enough puns. I apologize.
You say puns as if it’s a bad thing!
I enjoyed the building intrigue—my mind was wandering all over the spectrum of possibilities. I missed the mark entirely. A well-crafted story. Thanks!
Good to hear. I’m glad you enjoyed the story! I was aiming for a tale that would release information in a gradual and consistent way, like an air bleeding tire instead of sharp twists and turns. Thanks for reading, Copious Corpses!
This is a wonderfully dark tale, oh Twisted T. I especially enjoyed the plain-spoken tone with which your narrator told the story of the fate of his family (*no-spoilers-from-me smile*) I really enjoy characters that have a double-edge, a yin and a yang, a good and an evil. If find that this is simply the nature of humanity. And I was very intrigued by this character of your’s and his obviously dual nature. Great stuff, as usual, my friend!
Thanks brother Wulf! I too believe that we all have a dual nature and the various circumstances of our lives combined with, of course, free will invokes one side or the other. I was really going for a pendulum of emotions toward the main character as the tale rolled on.
So wickedly cool. This totally appealed to my inner Beavis (Fire! Fire!).
Huh huh huh, like, me too. Who doesn’t love (or hate) fire? Thanks, Hunter!
Tyr, work kept me busy the past few days with only limited and sporadic access to the internet. This was the ONLY thing that kept me from replying to this (and Nina’s) post.
I have spent many many hours captured by a fire’s siren call. The way you describe the flame as being a living, breathing, feeding thing is perfect.
One of the many things that grabbed my attention in here was how you reflected the almost lethargic tempo of Caleb’s fire-trance with his thought processes.
There is a hellish blaze (sorry Blaze) consuming all he knows, civilization getting throttled outside his home, and he ponders the “taunting flare streaked in blue or green” that is flipping him off.
No need to fret, we are here for you when you need us, my friend! Thanks for taking the time to read our tales of terror. I’m glad the tempo came through correctly. I burned several neighborhood houses down in the name of research for this short… ah, shouldn’t have admitted to that. Strike that from the record, will you good sir? All kidding aside, I truly believe that fire, once brought into existence, is a living entity of sorts–a wild animal.