By James Flaming
I didn’t know if I had ever really felt alive before this. I’d never felt so much. It gripped my core, and I was sure I was going to be shoved out of my own body. There just wasn’t any room for me along with every other sensation.
Everything was bright. It stung my eyes, leaving mottled colors in my vision that I could not blink away. The heat around me was just as welcoming as it was painful, embracing every part of me in a way that might melt my skin off. I could feel my pulse race under my skin, adrenaline fueling a primal fear that was the closest thing to self-preservation I had. The air was boiling and filled with smoke, but closing my eyes to blink it away just seemed to irritate them further and forced out stinging tears.
I knew that this could kill me. Yet, I couldn’t stop the grin from taking over my face. I must look… well, it would be disturbing, wouldn’t it? To see someone facing death like this and laughing about it. But I felt invincible. Or, no, maybe not invincible; like I was burning up along with this damn house. I wasn’t scared of the destruction, of death, of any of it.
I had been afraid before, and where had that gotten me?
Something crashed behind me, sending white-hot sparks flying. Part of the roof had broken off and fallen into the flames. A few glowing flakes caught on my bare arm, and the pain nearly felt cold in comparison to the heat of the air.
The air would run out soon. The fire had engulfed most of the house, or at least consumed the room around me enough so I could not tell the difference. It was dry and run-down anyways. I knew it wouldn’t take long before this happened, but the lightheadedness still caught me off guard. I was gasping, but it felt like shoving gravel down my throat. My mind felt hazy, and I watched my vision waver.
I didn’t plan on dying here. But the flames were tempting, vivid, and intense in their destruction, and my feet felt cemented to the ground as I watched them devour this place. And now, I wasn’t sure. Even if I could find a path, I didn’t want to let go of this moment, be it my last or not.
I looked up—more of the roof had collapsed than I thought. I could see the night sky, though anything other than that was difficult to make out.
“What are you doing? NO!” I could hear a voice above the roar and crackle of flames.
I closed my eyes. No. They weren’t supposed to be here. I’d have to… I needed to get out of here. The smile burned off of my face, and I could only feel dread. They’d see this. Not the charred aftermath, but the surging flames. I wasn’t prepared for that. Of all the things I had steadied myself against, them as a witness to me coming apart was not one of them. I forced myself forward. But the sound of my heart was getting too loud in my head, and I was too dizzy to go far. I crashed to my knees, hacking out coughs. Even closer to the floor, away from the thickest of the smoke, I couldn’t catch my breath. There were dark spots in my vision, consuming the bright flare of the fire.
I could hear them yell, and I thought they must be far away. But a hand, chillingly cold on my own fevered skin, seized my arm, dragging me. I tried to move, but I was weaker than I thought.
“What have you done?” Their voice was equal parts panicked and horrified, but the surprise I had been certain would be there was absent. I tried to open my eyes again to look at their face, but it was too hazy to see more than their silhouette above me.
“You were—” a fit of coughing ripped its way out of my chest. “You were supposed to be gone.”
They didn’t respond, only clutched my arm tighter. When it was clear I wasn’t getting up any time soon, they kneeled down next to me, placing one arm across my back and the other under my knees. “I’m getting us out of here,” they said, and that was the only warning I had before they stood, the movement sparking a rush of vertigo.
I did not open my eyes until the blistering heat against me cooled into the night air and I found myself taking gulping, desperate breaths. They were saying something again, but I couldn’t hear over my own labored breathing and—ah. The house.
Looking from afar had a different satisfaction than from the inside, but it was no less delightful.
The house would be gone before anyone could put the fire out if anyone even tried. Every memory, every bit of nostalgia and fear from that place would burn down with it. Good.