October 24th 2015: Possession
Firestorm
, by E.M. Sole

The match blazed into a flame. Jimmy threw it into the dumpster full of cardboard. It didn’t immediately burst into the fire he’d expected, but after a few minutes it was burning brightly. The dancing red and orange flames gave his tormented soul a measure of peace.

It wasn’t enough.

Jimmy’s eyes turned to the store across the street, the windows full of party things, plastic plates and streamers, balloons and fake flowers. There were even tiki torches. It was closed and the streets were empty. He smiled as he gazed at all the paper, wrapping paper, decorations, napkins, and cards.

The glass in the door proved more difficult than he anticipated, but it finally gave away with enough blows from a piece of pipe he’d found earlier in the alley. Jimmy crawled through the hole in a strange state of obliviousness to the cuts, the blood, and the pain. It was like another person was doing the bleeding and hurting, not him, and he just was along for the ride.

The store was a riot of color, mostly pastel Easter colors. It was getting on his nerves he needed the red of fire, nothing else would calm his violent emotions.

A lit match went on a shelf of wrapping paper sputtering out right away. The next didn’t fare any better. The next went into a trashcan full of papers, receipts, and newspapers. The fire came to life. Jimmy tipped the can scattering the burning rubbish. Then he began throwing a little of anything within reach into the fire; wrapping paper ripped quickly out its package, the plastic package, a handful of birthday cards, a red white and blue banner, a magazine.

Jimmy soon had a bonfire lighting the store with a red light that drowned out the pale blue pink and yellow. He sat and watched at peace, breathing in the smoke, even the smell of the destruction was calming. He coughed and started having to fight to breathe, but it was like an echo of someone else’s distress. That added to the pleasure, turning peace into a quiet joy.

Watching the flames devour the store Jimmy had visions of another fire, so long ago. How much time has passed? Things were different now. Places he remembered were gone, replaced with other buildings. More automobiles roamed the streets, lots more. People dressed different too, but still the same place. The same people too, a thrill rose up from deep in his soul, the same people waiting for him to come to them. They didn’t know it yet, but they would and soon. His face may have changed but his name was still the same, Jimmy blinked confused a moment as the name Sam echoed in his mind.

 

#

 

It started with five spades of dirt that uncovered the tip of a discolored bone and a scrap of decaying fabric, releasing a buried evil into the world.

Before that, it started with an old man’s garbled tale of a crime, a posse, a lynching, and a buried treasure that was nothing but a figment of a lonely imagination.

Before that, it started with a terrible deed done in anger, fueled by vengeance and hidden away from the world, but stories this strong refuse to stay buried for long and it lived even if the parties involved wanted it forgotten.

Before that, it started with a hungry glance that fired an evil man’s soul that filled it with longing and before that, it started, as much evil ultimately does, with the gleam of gold.

 

#

 

Sam Dawes stopped a moment to watch the fire burn the little log cabin. Fire was life – cooking food and keeping warm. Fire was death – a wildfire coming down the mountain or a fire burning a house and taking lives. In this case fire was washing away inconvenient evidence. The bag of gold weighed heavy in his hand. It had been payroll for the laborers who were building the town’s new courthouse. Now it was his future. It wasn’t until two days later he found out about the one bit of evidence the fire didn’t wash away, a witness, a boy hiding in the barn watching him ride away. It was brought to his attention by the dead man’s brother, the local sheriff and punctuated by a length of rope just short enough his feet didn’t touch the ground when they hung him by it.

Sam didn’t know about the shallow grave the sheriff used to cover up his own inconvenient evidence until he saw it through the boy’s eyes. His bones were sticking out of the soft dark dirt. All that was left of a man’s life were bones and a story, and a burning hatred that had kept his spirit alive.

He used the boy’s eyes to search the horizon. Somewhere out there the ones who did this. Sam had waited a long time find them. Somewhere out there was peace. The thought brought a vision of a blazing fire. He needed fire, fire was life.

 

#

 

And at this moment, fire was death. The boy coughed harder. His eyes were watering to the point vision was impossible and Sam was having trouble keeping the fear and instinct for self-preservation under control. He needed the fire, couldn’t leave, not now, not yet. After it burnt away the pain, then he could leave.

Danforth Walker, Dan to his friends, Walker to everyone else, was on his way home, walking, just like his name. His car wouldn’t start this morning, and he didn’t have the money to fix it until payday, so he was hoofing his way home. His route lead past the party store. He saw the smoke a block away. As he ran closer, he saw a boy through the window just a dark shape in the smoke.

Using the same hole in the glass door the boy had used, Walker crawled in and grabbed the boy’s limp body and pulled him out into the air. The boy’s eyes opened and Walker was struck by the coldness in them. Their eyes met and suddenly Sam felt strong again. His new eyes, blurry with mild astigmatism, but not that much worse than his old ones, focused on the fire.

He stood and stepped toward the burning building. A cacophony of noise and horns preceded the largest truck Sam had ever seen. It was the size of a train locomotive as it barreled down the street. The bright yellow monster disgorged yellow coated men who ran around like bees around a hive. One pulled him away from the door and his fire. Another tended the boy, now sitting up on his own and coughing hard.

“What happened here?” the yellow coated man asked him. Sam shrugged, mute, his mind lost in the flames. He felt himself recede and the other man, Danforth Walker, started blurting out words in a panic. Sam let go. There would be another time.

 

#

 

Sheriff Keane stared at the newspaper. “Nine arsons in a month. Three injuries starting with that kid. I’m glad it’s not my problem.” He threw the paper down and looked up at the faded picture of his great-grandfather, the first Sheriff Keane. “What’s the world coming to?”

He lit a forbidden cigarette and as he leaned back to enjoy it the door opened. “Yeah, what can I do for you?”

A man entered. Sheriff Keane was struck by how dull and dead his eyes were.

“Looking for Sheriff Keane,” the man said. All the life that his eyes were missing danced in his voice, like he was holding back laughter at some private joke.

“Found him. I’m Keane.”

The man paused, seeming uncertain. “Well, now, so you are,” the man said, the humor gone from his voice, “Remember me? Samuel Dawes?”

Keane leaned forward. “Nope, don’t recognize you. Sorry, can’t be expected to remember every Tom, Dick and Samuel I come across in this job.”

“But you had so much fun making me dance at the end of your rope.” The man smiled. Sheriff Keane had never seen a smile that so filled him with unease.

“Rope? What’cha talking about? Wait, Samuel Dawes, that’s the guy my great-grandfather strung up. Sorry, Mister, the Sheriff Keane you’re looking for is long dead.” Sheriff Keane pointed up at the picture. The man pulled a handgun and shot the picture before Sheriff Keane could do more than jump out of his chair. The glass shattered and the irreplaceable picture had a hole ripped through the first Sheriff Keane’s chest. “Hey!”

“Well, that was unsatisfying.” The gun turned toward Sheriff Keane. “Someone’s gotta pay and since you’re the only one here,” the smile turned into a vision of hell, “guess it’s gonna be you. Then we’ll have a nice big bonfire to celebrate.”

Sheriff Keane raised his hands slowly. Some ash fell from the tip of the cigarette still in his fingers. “Bonfire? Don’t suppose you’re the arsonist everybody’s talking about?”

The man grinned pleasantly. “Yup, that’d be me.”

The gun lifted slightly and Sheriff Keane took the opportunity to drop the cigarette and lunge forward.

“Now, don’t do anything stupid,” the man said as the gun resumed its aim at Keane’s chest. “I’ll get around to killing you in my own good time.”

The man noticed the cigarette where it fell on the newspaper. A small flame was quickly growing bigger.

Sheriff Keane got his own nasty smile. “You want a fire? Here!” He quickly grabbed the paper and threw it at the man, who raised his gun arm to ward it off. This time Sheriff Keane’s lunge connected and he grabbed the man’s shoulders and slammed him back against the wall with the full force of a build that had made him famous on the local high school football circuit. Their eyes met a moment. Then the man slumped down to the ground.

Beside Sam, the newspaper blossomed up into an orange fire that crackled peacefully. His fingers ran down the crisp starched shirt to the cold brass badge. He was now in possession of the sheriff’s body. He left the office as the fire alarm blazed to life.

Walker woke in the hospital two days later with a pounding headache and a nasty grudge.

Later, two police officers questioned him about the events in the sheriff’s office. It seemed that the sheriff had disappeared and Walker was the last person to see him. They wanted to know why he was there and what the sheriff was like. Walker said he couldn’t remember anything about the several days before he was hurt. One of the police officers handed him a card with a phone number to call if he remembered anything.

He remembered. He remembered it all, but he wasn’t telling the police, not until he got his own revenge. They wouldn’t believe him anyway.

 

#

 

“Recognize me? I pulled you out of that fire.” Walker asked Jimmy several days later.

Jimmy glared at him. “If you’re here wanting a thank you, you aren’t getting it.” the boy snapped.

“Don’t want a thanks, want information. Where you went, what you did, before you started setting fires.”

“I didn’t set any fires. Haven’t you heard the news? I tried to put it out.”

Walker smiled trying to make it as cold and knowing as he could. “I know better. You started that fire, and others too, I bet, and I know why. Does the name Sam Dawes mean anything to you?” The boy was paying attention now. “He took you over didn’t he, and I want to know where you picked him up from.”

“Why would you care about that?” The boy turned his face away.

“He used me and I don’t like being used. He used you too.”

“Yeah, he did.” Jimmy went silent. Walker waited. Give people time and a reason to talk and they usually did. It took the boy longer than Walker expected, but what he had to say was going to be hard. “Davey said it was the bones.”

“Bones?” Walker smiled genuine now.

“Yeah, Davey’s grandfather said there was buried treasure loot from a robbery under this old tree. We dug it up, but there wasn’t any gold, just bones, human ones.”

Walker rubbed his hands together. “Sam Dawes bones, now we’re getting somewhere.”

“Supposed to be his loot, so I guess his bones. At least, that’s when things got weird.”

“Show me those bones.”

Jimmy shrugged. “Only if you don’t tell anyone. I’m in enough trouble now.”

“Won’t tell anyone, promise.”

Jimmy led Walker to a mostly dead old oak tree. The boys had filled their hole in, but it didn’t take Walker long to dig it back out again with the spade Jimmy had thoughtfully provided. He uncovered what looked to be a human thigh bone. It took the rest of the afternoon to dig out the rest of the skeleton and some rotting fabric all stained blackish and smelling of must. Walker laid them out until it matched, as far as he could remember, the skeleton that hung in his high school science lab.

Walker held the skull up and stared deep into the dirt filled eye sockets. “Hello, Mr. Dawes, you caused me and a lot of other people too much trouble. Now it’s time to go back to sleep.”

“You’re weird Mr. Whoever You Are, talking to a bone. It can’t hear you.”

“I bet Sam Dawes can hear me. He wanted a fire. Let’s give him one as a going away present.” It took another hour to gather up enough branches and dry grass to cover the piled bones.

“You know how hot a fire needs to be to burn bone?” Jimmy asked, his voice crisp with sarcasm.

“Nope, do you?”

“No, but it’s hot, more than this’ll be.”

“I don’t think we need to burn them up, just wash away the evil,” Walker said. The boy shrugged again. “Look, it works or it doesn’t. I don’t know what else to do to stop Dawes before someone else is hurt or killed.”

Walker was getting angry both at the boy and at his own doubts, but Sam Dawes wanted a fire and for some reason thought it would give him peace. He took a box of matches still left over from Sam Dawes escapades from his pocket and lit one. The grass caught fire quickly and its brightness made Walker realize how dark it was getting. “It’s late. You should be getting home, kid.”

“Nope, not till this is over. I’m owed it.”

“Guess so.”

The fire burned noisy, crackling, sputtering, going out and having to be restarted twice before it really took off. They watched until it burned down nothing but ash and charred bones.

“Guess it wasn’t hot enough.”

“Told you so.” Jimmy frowned.

Walker looked up at the stars, and took a deep breath tainted by lingering smoke.

“But I don’t feel him any more. Even after he left me, I still felt him, kind of like a pressure or a pain, in my head.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s gone.” Jimmy spoke very quietly.

“Let’s hope it’s enough. Now you go home. I don’t want any angry parents after me. I’ve had enough excitement the last few weeks for a long, long time.”

Jimmy nodded silently and headed off. Walker stayed a while longer expecting something, he didn’t know what. When it didn’t happen, he dumped what he could of the bones back into their shallow grave and filled it in as best he could in the state of exhaustion he was in. Then he stumbled home.

According to the news the next day Sheriff Keane showed up confused and battered at his office early in the morning. Walker wondered what Sam had done to the poor man, but at least he was alive and it seemed to be over. Maybe Sam Dawes even found his peace in one last fire. Walker hoped not, not after all the trouble he’d caused in his life and in his death.

*

E. M. Sole is a proud resident of Nebraska, living there with three jack russell terriers and a very confused cat. She was given the gift of the love of literature of all types by her grandmother, a gift that has grown in value through the years. Her short fiction has appeared in Mystic Signals, Liquid Imagination, and here at INfective INk.

 


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