Home > NaNoWriMo 2011 > Day One Hundred and Seventy-three: A Reason to Burn

Day One Hundred and Seventy-three: A Reason to Burn

There was no pleasure in burning.

Sean ran a finger along the seam of two small metal plates, and where he touched, the metal grew hot and glowed a dull orange. The plates fused together, and he smoothed out the molten metal with his hand.

Burning, the way Sean saw it, was uncontrolled. It was chaos and destruction. It was the death of reason and the triumph of superstition. It had its place, to be sure – the world depended on burning things in one way or another – but he’d long ago decided that it had no place in his work.

He took a thumb-thick metal bar in his hands and heated it until it became malleable. Deftly, carefully, he bent the bar back on itself into a gentle curve. He took the heat out, and then put the bar down on his workbench.

The pieces looked like junk – some bars of steel and copper, sheets of aluminum, recycled bits and ends that he’d picked up at a junkyard. A dismantled bicycle. A bed frame, even some old steel cans. He’d learned to mold them and shape them and put them together with the special power of his hands, whatever it was.

He stepped back and rubbed his chin. He still wasn’t sure what this one would turn out to be. It was starting to look kind of like an angel. Whatever it ended up being, it would probably go up on his online store, and it would probably sell.

He worked for another hour until his stomach started to growl. He put the parts back on the bench and covered it with a canvas tarp, turned out the lights and went inside. The fridge was filled with leftovers, many of them from the same meal. He’d gotten into the habit of cooking massive amounts of a dish he liked and then eating it all week. This week was a spicy chicken dish, heavy with potatoes and pasta. He held his hands over it, and within moments the sauce was bubbling and steaming.

A hot meal, some TV, a little time on the Internet, and his day was finally done. He went to bed warm and satisfied with a day off well-spent.

He got to the library early the next morning and took a quick look around. The Fairport City library wasn’t the biggest in town, but it had the honor of being the oldest. Beautiful wooden bookshelves and cabinets held thousands of volumes. The floors were hardwood, covered by beautifully-patterned runners to keep the noise down. Windows with thick, irregular panes let the weak sunlight in. Everything about the library bespoke age and silence and wisdom, and many people had worked very hard to make sure it stayed that way, from the labyrinthine stacks of fiction, poetry and art books on the second floor to the vast collection of nonfiction and reference on the first. There were reading rooms and study halls, window nooks and quiet recesses that overlooked the nearby botanical gardens.

In the center of the library was their event center, a large octagonal room where they held readings from famous authors, book group discussions, the occasional elementary school play or a string quartet recital.

This week, the room was given over to a traveling display – antique books from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. There were Bibles that had been handed down for generations, political treatises and journals from some of the greatest minds of the era. The centerpiece was the handwritten journal of Thomas Jefferson, written in the weeks and months before the Colonies separated from England. It contained both his private thoughts on life and his role in it, as well as some vivid descriptions of the people and events that surrounded that turbulent era in history.

Sean walked through the room, taking a good long look at everything that was on display. When they were installing the exhibit, he got to hold the journal in his own hands. True, he was wearing latex gloves and was only allowed to turn the pages with a thin plastic spatula, but the thrill was still there. He was holding something in his hands that had once been in the hands of one of the greatest thinkers in history. Even now, just looking at it through the glass of the display case, he felt his heart speed up.

The library opened at eight, and there was no rush. The usual contingent of retirees and parents who used the library as a place to get out of the house for a while, and a few students from the nearby university who came to hang out someplace that wasn’t on campus. An elementary school class came by to look up dinosaurs, and a retired couple spent a lot of time asking questions about language learning and what resources the library had for that. A few people came for the special exhibition, but on the whole it was not the most popular room in the library that day. By the time Angie came in around midday, there wasn’t much for them to do.

“Jefferson would be disappointed,” she said.

Sean shrugged. “Probably. If he were here, though, I think he’d be too busy plotting the overthrow of the government to care.” That came out cynical, he thought. But, then, it was meant to be. And the cynicism usually wore off as long as he didn’t go through periodicals too often.

Sean ate lunch in the breakroom behind the circulation desk while Angie handled the lunchtime rush of a men’s book club and a couple of Jeffersonians. He was rinsing out his plastic container when he was jarred by the high, shrill wail of the fire alarm. “Shit,” he said, dropping everything. He dashed out to the circulation desk, where Angie was staring at the fire map on the computer screen. They both stared at the flashing zones on the plan, and she turned to him.

“The Jefferson,” she whispered.

Sean put his hand on her shoulder. “Okay,” he said. “Fire department should be on its way. Start getting everyone out.” He looked over towards the event room, where smoke was already starting to drift out. “I’ll take care of this.”

“What? Sean, no, we have to get -”

“I’ve got it, Angie.” He put on his best grin “Don’t worry. I’ll be out in no time.” Without waiting for a response, he dashed out from behind the desk and ran for the display room.

The smoke was getting thicker, and he wished he had brought a wet cloth. Instead, he heated up the air around him, drawing up clearer air from the floor and giving himself a thin bubble that he could breathe. The door to the event room was hot, but he pushed it open to reveal an inferno.

Every wall was in flames, as though the fire had started everywhere at once. Displays were burning brightly, and hundreds of years of history were charring and shriveling. There wasn’t much time.

Sean walked into the flaming room, trying to concentrate on the fire. It was everywhere at once, and much larger than he’d ever had to deal with before, but if there was one person in the world who could stop this kind of thing, it would have to be him. He closed his eyes, but could still somehow see the heat blossom in front of him. Every fire had a heart, glowing white-hot and angry. He took a deep breath of increasingly bad air and reached out with his senses to tame the fires. He reached his arms out to them, and the flames leaped to his hands as though they were alive. The fire began to spiral around him, into him, as though it was going home. He felt the flames dance on his skin and char his clothes, play in his hair and on his fingertips and tongue. He opened his mouth and his heart, and the fire plunged into his body.

And vanished.

Sean fell to his knees in the smoking, dim room. He took great heaving breaths that turned into coughs so loud that he almost didn’t notice the slow clapping that had begun behind him.

When he looked around, there was a tall blonde man leaning against a wall. He looked like he could have been any of the library’s patrons – perhaps a young person who was looking for a job or studying for his Masters. He was wearing a small portable breathing unit and a mask, and had a bulging satchel hanging from his shoulder. “Bravo,” he said in a muffled voice. He stripped the mask off and his face crinkled at the smell. “Man, that stinks,” he said. He stood in front of Sean, hands on his hips and smiled. “I didn’t know there was anyone like you around here. Would’ve tried something different otherwise.”

Sean looked up at him and stood up slowly. He vaguely noticed that his clothes were badly burned, whereas the other man seemed untouched. “Who are you?” Sean asked in a husky, hushed voice.

That man’s eyes were blue, but bloodshot from the smoke. “Me? I’m just a friendly neighborhood thief, here to make a little money.” He patted the satchel. “I know a guy with a whole lot of cash to burn -” He winked. “This guy really wanted the Jefferson, and whatever else I could get my hands on.” He gestured around to the charred and blackened shelves. “I figured this would keep people busy long enough for me to get out.” He took a few steps towards the door. “Then you showed up.”

While the other man talked, Sean heard sirens approaching. Fire, certainly. Maybe police. They’d catch this guy if he could keep him talking. “Why fire?” he asked. “Why burn all these books?” The question came out laced with venom. The actual burning of the exhibit room was bad enough, but the thought that the whole library could have gone up in flames was just beginning to hit him, and the fury was leaking out.

“It’s what I’m good at,” the man said. He held out a hand and ran his fingers along the wall to a bookshelf. Where his fingers touched, the wall burst into flames. Sean looked at him, incredulous. “Yeah,” the man said with a smile as he re-seated the mask. “Turns out you’re not the only firebug in town.” He tossed a few fireballs around the room and once again, the display room was ablaze. The man might have said something else, but if he did, it was lost in the roar of the fire. He gave a two-fingered salute, patted the bag at his side, and strolled out through the flames as though they were a summer breeze.

Sean took a few steps to run after him, but then remembered where he was. He was surrounded by fire, and even with the fire department here, it would do even more damage to the library. And that was to say nothing of what the water and smoke would do. He coughed as the smoke started to get to him, and tried to clear his head. He had to have it in him to put out the flames again, no matter what it took.

He dropped to the floor and put his hands flat on the smoking wood. He could feel the heat now, and tried not to panic. He tried to feel the heat and the flames, feel how the air was thrown into turbulent chaos and the smoke lifted up to the ceiling. He reached out and felt for the way the fuel and the heat reacted and combusted in a runaway reaction that would devour everything it could. He felt the destruction, and the rage that lay underneath it.

Sean clenched his jaw and called to the flames again, as he head before. They were more reluctant this time, more insistent on having their own way. Through his teeth, he began to yell, a low, wordless sound that was something between a battle cry and a sob, and when he tilted his head back and howled, the flames obeyed. They rushed and roared across the floor to him, flying around him in a cyclone of light and heat before soaking into his skin. He felt the flames in his joints, burning away at his skin and his bones, and the cry cut off as he dropped to the floor, exhausted and unconscious.

Around him, the display room smoked and cracked, but the fire was out. He would be found by the firemen and EMTs, who would call his survival a “miracle.” And perhaps, in its own roundabout way, it was.

When he woke up in the hospital, his first thought was that there was someone like him out there.

No, he thought. He’s nothing like me. He kept the other man’s face in his mind and tried to recall as much as he could.

This man was someone he needed to find, and as soon as he was allowed to leave, that would be the first thing he did.

*****

Sean Messinger’s page on 30characters.com

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  1. November 12, 2011 at 11:02 PM

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