Arsonist’s Room by Tim Frank


Snow gathers on my head, tipping onto my face and shoulders. I slip through the back living room window that reveals a high ceiling with darkness shrouding the corners. Warm hazy light emanates from the neon-blue Christmas tree. The tree dangles apples, rubies, and crystal stars.  I punch one, smashing it onto the thick rug.  

The Sorensons have gone for two days, so I had to take the opportunity. Simply bad luck for them. No mistakes this time, just reds and blacks, howling and twisting in rapturous explosions.  

The glass coffee table reflects fairy lights in a blurry rainbow.  I take a seat on the couch, sinking deeply into its embrace. The TV jerks into life, shapes moulding and flickering, Coke, L’Oreal, Calvin Klein.  Smooth voices, sexy girls.   

The painting on the wall by the grand piano reminds me of my father, with his sloping boxer’s chin, long neck, and sad overhanging brow.  He would say to me, menacingly, “You’re just like your Nan.”  

Look at me old man – fag-stained fingers, two-day old beard, and whiskey breath like chewing fire.  Am I you?  Did you make my sickness?  

I pull the painting down from the wall, grab a ball of light from the tree, and smash it with my Foot of Revenge onto his face.  I want to light things up.  Glorious flames like words in a madman’s mind, flickering and flashing all over the place.   

The sad tree now leans to one side, coloured stars ready to fly, needles splashed across protective plastic (she was found dead, wrapped in plastic), and the presents flickering in the cigarette flame attract my eye and I tell myself no, not yours, some things are sacred like when Big Bad Bro ripped Cally from my hands one afternoon and dashed into the park across the street and set him alight for everyone to see, dead, dead, dead. He had it coming, Bro said.  I cried for weeks as if my parents had died. I hid in the closet, face swathed in dangling coats like a tiny rainforest.   

I walk into the kitchen, thinking food, but really thinking, try to forget. Knives are arranged by length on the countertop by the windows, looking out onto the back garden. Years ago, I took a knife and sliced my sister’s arm, letting her blood run. Then I cut my own arm and tried to pour my blood into her. Because I knew, somehow, mine was tainted and wrong. I needed rid of it, as if it was mercury.  She was silent and scared for a while, as if adjusting and trying to understand.  Then she staggered and moaned like a burns victim. The house exploded with rage and punishment. All forces against me.  

They sat me down in the kitchen, rubbish bin leaking, stinking the room.  Mum quietly sobbing, Big Bro, Little Sis and mad Dad in a circle around me.  Looming.  

Things had calmed down, but Dad’s eyes were still raging. “Boy,” he said, “what you have done has shown us, confirmed, what we always expected.  It’s that you are bad.  No, not just bad… evil.  There is darkness in you that we can’t control.  It was the same with your Gran when she was young. She spoke with babbling words and screamed all night, every night. It is in you and you can’t escape it.”  

I climb the stairs and open the Master bedroom door. Darkness slowly creeps back and unveils a silk double bed and tall lamps shooting yellow light. The finely engraved cross above the bed tilts forwards as if ready to fall onto the spread and He holds a light smile, knowing, unconcerned by His pain.  

“You tell me why, why the bad blood.  Can I cut my way out, kill the curse?  Can I burn it?”  

He sits on the edge of the bed – robe tight, sandals worn, hair matted.  He breathes softly. “Yes,” He says, “use fire to trample and burn chaos into the blood of the city.” He looks at me profound and serious.             

The Lighter sparks into life heating a bow-tied teddy on the window seat amongst pillows, dinosaurs and cartoon books.  With a violent woosh toys erupt (miss you, Cally).  

“1982, when it happened.  That was her lot and it is yours, too,” Dad said, leaning forward at me, glaring. “One day back from school, scoffing sweets, laughing, rowdy, we find silence in the house and smell of rotting animals. We tread carefully up the stairs, knowing something terrible has happened.  We just knew.  In the bathroom we see your Gran. Razors. Blood easing out from raw skin. Plastic lined floor to prevent a mess.  Leaving nothing to chance. When your grandpa found out he just said, ‘She had it coming.’”  

But must I suffer the same fate? It’s not too late to change, is it? Or maybe I can continue my Vendetta of Fury, somehow – create beauty through the streets with my Fiery Call. Why must I perish when there are so many other worthy victims?  

I project my Mind of Terror.  I see neighbourhoods fall like toddlers toppling, towns and cities collapse in a blast of tears. Then I realise – who am I kidding? There’s no turning back. I am cursed, and I need to rid the Evil from my veins, from my bones, immediately. So, I suck the smoke into my lungs knowing at least I made a stand against the bloody entrails of Family and Hate. And that is enough to put me at ease, as fire cloaks me like a murderous old friend.  


Tim Frank’s short stories have been published in Bourbon Penn, Eunoia Review, Maudlin House, and elsewhere.  

He is the associate fiction editor for Able Muse Literary Journal.  

Published 8/12/21

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