Friday, 1 November 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Thirty-Nine: Sulphur

I imagine it had something to do with the seductive intrigue of power. Undoubtedly, it had also to do with defiance. Boredom. Working parents and slack afternoons. Be home by suppertime and don't get hurt. That was the only real spoken rule. There were a number of other rules, of course, that went unspoken, so we snuck around when necessary and didn't ask obvious questions. In our defence, we were ten and eleven. And anyway, Scott's older sister, Patti, smoked duMauriers and topped up pilfered vodka bottles with water before tucking them away again at the back of the liquor cabinet.

So. We weren't that bad.

It began in the park up the street with a few books of matches that Scott's mom kept at the back of a kitchen drawer. Then the sizzling burst of a whole box going up, the large ones his dad stashed on a basement shelf for power outages and campfires. The sharp crack of sulphur against the back of our noses made us squirm, but that particular curiosity that children have for dangerous things—like high speeds on steep hills and licking frozen flagpoles—outweighed our better judgement. Soon we'd created a whole industry of fire, incorporating plastic bags, rubber soles, forsaken GI Joes, nearly empty paint cans, and just about anything no one would miss.

Safety was our only oversight. It never occurred to us to have water nearby, or a plan. As much as we found the introduction of new elements thrilling—a spray can of WD 40, for example—we did not anticipate wind.

And so, one clear and breezy afternoon in October, the hillside behind Scott's house went up like rocket. A forty meter swath of brittle yellow grass and squat shrubs twisted into whirling tendrils of flame and heat waves. With one strong gust, a massive body of fire stood before us, shoving its shoulders into a canopy of maples and licking its lips at rooftops and power lines. Translucent wings of orange-red feathers and sparkling blue shadows thrust open and closed around us, fanning thick coils of smoke out into the neighbourhood. The threatening beauty of it, the magnitude, was mesmerizing. If it hadn't been so perilous, we could have stood and watched all day. Except—

Ooooh. Shit!... Scott hunched down low away from the heat and smoke as Patti screamed at us from somewhere nearby. What in the FUCK are you little shits doing?! Jesus! She'd been smoking out her bedroom window, thankfully, and was pointing at us with her cigarette hand. I have to go, Greg. My asshole brother is trying to burn the fucking house down. She at least told us to run before the fire department arrived, probably because she was in some way meant to be responsible for us.

When Scott's dad came home from work that evening, he let us walk out behind the house with him to assess the damage. Even the dirt itself lie in scorched tufts, with charred fingers of shrubbery poking up through it. Looks like someone gave it a buzz cut, eh Dad? Scott grinned eagerly. Jimmy shook his head and patted Scott on the back. This is no joke, son, he said. I'm glad you kids were nowhere near. Someone could have been seriously hurt. He pulled a pack of Player's Lights from his chest pocket and turned back towards the house. You two be safe now, ok? Half an hour till supper, Scott.

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