a mob surrounding a flame they're coming for you

They’re Coming For You – A Novelette (Part 2)

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The eternal pyre growled in front of my eyes at 3290 Yindle Street. Smoke billowed out of the windows and long, fiery fingers wriggled over the rooftop. Its surroundings remained untouched. The trees, the bushes, the grass, the wooden fence and swing set in the backyard swayed and sat without fear of devastation. They remained safe like a perfect bubble surrounded the house, protecting them from damnation. The Houtkooper’s house burned alright, but it didn’t break, perfectly still while everything else kept flowing in the river of time.

The fiery growl drew the attention of the neighbors. Larry Wills sat on his porch across the street, eating popcorn and rocking back and forth in his chair. He grinned as he shoved the kernels in his mouth. I recalled Larry and Tom had a falling out after Tom stopped inviting him to game nights. A petty thing, but a real one.

A litter of small children stood and gazed with their eyes alight. Their mouths agape. Teenagers on the other side of the house threw trash, debris, and anything they could at the fire, but nothing burned. It merely flew back out like a large mouth blew on it.

I approached the fire cautiously, curious why its devilish lick extended no further than the house walls. When I neared and reached out my hand toward the fire, the sound actually grew quieter and the flames weren’t hot. I almost reached inside, thinking I’d not be burned, but I froze at the sound of a faint voice.

“Help me,” the voice said. “Help me.”

Blood pulsed inside my fingers and my chest thumped. At first I thought maybe I had imagined the voice. Fear played tricks on men’s minds all the time. Tom’s paradoxical house surely put a fear inside my heart, a fear of the other, the supernatural. And then I heard it again.

“I’m burning. Oh, god, I’m burning,” the voice said. “Make it stop. Make it stop, pastor.”

Frightened with eyes wide and trembling mouth, I backed away, step by step, until I turned around.

“Hey there, pastor,” Sam Cunninger said, standing a few feet in front of me.

Startled by his abrupt appearance, I leapt back a bit and lifted by hand as if to defend myself from an attack.

“Sam, don’t sneak up on me like that!” I exclaimed.

“Sorry about that.”

An old parishioner of mine until he left the faith after reading a couple of philosophy books on nihilism, Sam became known as something of the town fool. He wandered about from place to place, usually the bar or the diners, and tried to strike up conversations about existence and reality and such. Few wanted to entertain his philosophizing. I think somewhere in that brain he thought he was our town’s Socrates. Of course, I still considered him a good man even if he was a little odd at times. He stood next to me wearing sandals and shorts in a crisp and cold fall day, fashioning an all too familiar smile and look like we were the best of friends. We weren’t.

“I see you heard about Tom,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t,” I replied, still a little shaken by everything. “Did you hear the voices?”

“Voices? What voices?”

I shook my head, not wanting to explain. “Nevermind.”

“The townsfolk sure are scared about all this. About as scared as you look right now.”

I laughed. “You scared, too?”

He nodded. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. Thing about me is, I hate random. I want order. I suspect that’s why I joined the church so long ago. I liked the feeling of God in control. The whole world in his hands.” He said that last bit with a particular bit of cheer. “So, I don’t know. Not knowing what these people want, not knowing who is next, it puts me ill at ease is all.”

“You’re not alone,” I said.

We both stood and stared at the fire. The wind blew my coat to the side and tousled my hair in every direction. My bangs fell in front of my eyes but I didn’t fix it. I enjoyed the silence and the fire and tried to think through why anyone would do this to poor old Tom. I couldn’t help but question him, question if he had a shady past, a seedy underbelly he kept from me. But that would also assume they were right, that their actions were justified. I hated that feeling.

“Strange, ain’t it?” Sam asked abruptly.

“What?” The way he said it, it sounded like ‘Mange ain’t it’ but I caught on soon enough. “Oh, yes.”

“The police and fire department were out here earlier this morning. They gave up, oh, maybe after an hour? Can’t say I blame them. Nothing to be done about this. Still, strange.”

“Reporters?”

“Not that I saw. Though I suspect they’ll do what they done before. Bury it for a more interesting story.”

“I can’t imagine something wouldn’t be more interesting than this.”

“True, true. But believable? Newspapers ain’t gonna publish a story about some weird paranormal nonsense. We might know it’s true, but the average American won’t. Besides, I can’t imagine this fire will stay around for long.”

“What do you believe?”

“Hell, I don’t need to believe nothing, pastor. It’s clear as day. It’s right there. I’m seeing it with my own two eyes. Or you know, maybe I ain’t. These eyes, this mind, it’s all flawed. Like Sartre says, I can’t trust shit about my senses.”

I raised an eyebrow, not recalling those words from Sartre. Noticing my disbelief in what he was saying, he laughed and said, “I’m paraphrasing, of course. But you know what? This time I’m going to trust’m. That fire ain’t stopping not even Satan himself tried to put it out.”

“Why’d Satan ever want to put out a fire?” I asked.

“It’s a figure of speech, preach,” he said with a wink. “I know there’s a rational and scientific explanation about all this. But I ain’t the one to figure that out. All I know, this house is a spit and Tom’s roasting.”

Anger flared up inside my eyes. It was fast. It was visceral. A kind of hot, instinctual feeling to react without impunity. I wanted to punch him right then and there for uttering such egregious disrespect, but I held it together and said a short prayer. When I maintained control, I feigned ignorance and gave him the benefit of the doubt.

“What’d you just say?” I asked, looking him dead serious in the eye.

“Oh, oh, there goes my mouth again. I apologize, pastor. That wasn’t right, was it?”

“No, it wasn’t,” I said, relaxing my nerves. “But, I forgive you.”

Sam laughed. “That’s you, pastor. Always forgiving. When are you going to take out your own vengeance?”

I looked at Sam’s snaggle tooth grin, then. Really looked. He hadn’t brushed for days, hadn’t flossed, and breakfast still remained in the crevices of his bloody gums. His words and that smile imprinted on my memory for the rest of the day, like stamping a ghastly feeling in my stomach.

End of Part 2