Chapter 1: ABEL

“Oooh, boy. I am in trouble now.”

Abel Gittes’ car was parked in the parking lot of Manasota beach, and was slowly filling up with smoke despite the roaring A/C and the cracked windows. 

He wiped the sweat off his brow and ran his hands through his thinning hair. 

I’m really in trouble. 

He stared at the mangled and monstrous blunt he had rolled with the weed he had confiscated from his daughter, Lisa, and wondered, not for the first time that morning, what, exactly, he had gotten himself into.

 

It all started so simply and so stupidly. 

Yesterday was a peaceful enough Sunday. He had suggested going to the beach to his wife Kate, but she had a headache and just wanted to rest and order food. It was a shame, because she was a great cook, and it was a beautiful day, but his wife had been getting headaches more and more lately. 

His daughter Lisa had been more cagey than usual the last few days. Hushed conversations on the phone, staying up all night on her laptop, skulking around the house when she was home – none of that was unusual per se, it just seemed different than the normal teenage girl demeanor. 

 

He knew that she was upset about having to quit her job, about staying home for two years before moving off to a university with her friends, but that was all Kate’s decisions, and typically when Kate decided on something it was done. Neither Abel nor Lisa could sway her. 

 

That’s when the big idea struck Abel. Some father-daughter time. After all when was the last time they hung out? Saw a movie together or went for some put-put, or even just grabbed a burger? Kate wanted to stay inside, fine, if he and Lisa were gone that’d give her all the silence she’d need to rest – it seemed like a perfect plan. 

 

Abel’s father once told him that God was mysterious and unknowable – everyone knew that – but the best way to make him laugh was to make a plan. 

 

Abel, happy with himself that he thought of such a brilliant plan, walked himself with all the confidence in the world, and opened Lisa’s door. 

 

“Lisa, I got a great –”

 

Lisa spun around like a cartoon. In her right hand was a huge Ziploc bag full of weed.

 

“Oh, shit.” 

 

Abel couldn’t be positive, but he was pretty sure they both said the same thing simultaneously. 

 

“What’s wrong, hun?”

 

Kate was in the kitchen and he could hear her walking towards them. 

 

He wanted to tell Lisa to hide the bag. Just get it out of sight. They could talk about it later. But they both seemed frozen. 

 

Before he could regain control of his motor functions, Kate was behind him. 

 

“What’s--? What the hell is that?!”

 

It all kind of went downhill from there. 

 

When it was all said and done, Lisa was told to stay in her room, Kate went to go lay down, and Abel was put in charge of disposal.  

 

He stood in his sweltering garage looking at the bag of weed as sweat covered his back and palms. 

 

He didn’t know how much it was. 

 

An ounce? Three-quarters? How much did this set her back? It looks way different than the shit in college. Is she selling it? Man, this stuff smells strong even through the bag. Is this why she’s always buying perfume? I wonder what they call this stuff?

 

Some combination of all those thoughts ran around in Abel’s mind when the most dangerous thought came to him – Kate said to throw this away… but… what if I … don’t?

 

He looked over his shoulder towards the door that lead to the kitchen. Paranoia already gripping him. If Kate had heard his thought… don’t worry she doesn’t have mind powers, kid. 

 

He placed the baggie on top of the small work bench and cracked opened the door to the kitchen. 

 

He peered around the corner. Kate wasn’t in the kitchen, and he couldn’t see her in the living room. 

 

She must’ve gone to bed. 

 

He slipped his car keys off the hook on the wall and then, tiptoeing around his own garage, he placed the Ziploc bag of his daughter’s Sour Diesel in his glove compartment. 

 

His heart was racing, and sweat was pouring off him, but he had to admit – he was excited. All night he made his plans in secret. Have breakfast like normal. Leave for work like normal. Call out of work, tell them a last-minute dentist thing came up if they asked. Drive to the nearest gas station, buy some snacks, or munchies, if people still called them that, and one of those packs of cheap cigars he always saw behind the counter. 

 

He didn’t know much about what he was getting into, the last time he smoked weed it was either a joint rolled with Zig-Zags or out of an apple or something. It had been at least twenty years he knew that much for sure. 

 

The next morning his plan went without a hitch. Instead of going to work as was normal, he called in sick after leaving the house and began driving around with that feeling of paranoia mixed with excitement that he hadn’t felt in years.

 

The first thing he did was to go to the gas station that was just across US 41 from his home on Cypress Road and bought their largest Coca-Cola slushie, a lighter, and a two-pack of cigarillos.

 

He hadn’t rolled a joint since his college days, rolling a blunt was a different kind of beast. The first one he attempted was a disaster. He couldn’t split the paper without ripping it completely.

The second try was better even though the blunt was a mongrel. Lumpy where it should’ve been smooth, curved where it should have been straight, and licked so much to try and keep it closed that it was practically soggy. 

 

He took his new lighter, sparked the flame and carefully ran it underneath the blunt to dry up the crease and within a few minutes he had a sealed and ugly, but perfectly capable, weed delivery system.

 

He did all this in the parking lot a local park, but he didn’t fancy staying there to smoke it. The last thing Abel needed was to be arrested for smoking weed. His wife would tear him a new one and the hypocrisy would cause his daughter to roll her eyes so hard, that she might not be able to ever look forward again.

 

The problem he faced then was where could he go? Any parking lot was bound to have people in it, the beach would be starting to fill up, Kate was at home, so where was left?

 

He was beginning to have doubts. What if he just went home? Told Kate he took a sick day to spend time with her? What if he brought her flowers and some takeout? He could give Lisa back her weed, and just set everything back to how it was before his bright idea brought him to this. 

 

Maybe that was the best course of action. Just forget all this and go home. 

 

But he thought of Kate again. Her headaches. He didn’t want to be nosey, but he wondered if she was going through something that she didn’t want to talk to him about. She wasn’t cheating on him – that much he knew for sure – but they were both older now, and bodies change, and maybe that’s why she seemed so alternatively stressed and vacant. 

 

Maybe it explained the headaches, maybe it also explained how forgetful she’d been lately. He tried not to point it out to her, he never wanted to embarrass her, but if she was going through something, maybe the best thing he could do for her was to let her rest in peace and quiet. 

 

He could bring home dinner later that night anyways. He could always give Lisa her bag back later too. After all, when was the last time he took a day to himself that wasn’t about spending time with family or co-workers? When was the last time he had a whole day to himself and no responsibilities? 

 

Then it dawned on Abel that it was much harder to catch a moving target and he convinced himself that the logic was sound. He pulled out of the parking space, drove to the entrance lowered all four of his car windows halfway, and lit the ugliest end of his mutt of a blunt, took a puff like his last one had only been the day before and -- 

 

WOW.

 

After his first desperate, hacking coughs subsided, he looked at the blunt that was wearily smoking in amazement. He knew the times had changed, his hair and waistline could’ve told him that, but he didn’t know how good some changes could be. He had his first good laugh of the day then. Abel gave the blunt a look that would’ve told a human, good job, buddy, and rolled out of the park’s parking lot and hit the road.

 

Twice he had to pull over just to feel the waves rush over him. Once was in the parking lot of a cluster of office buildings that didn’t make him feel very comfortable and the other was the parking lot at Manasota Beach where he had his revelation that he was truly in trouble. 

 

How his daughter could smoke this stuff and go anywhere, or do anything, blew his mind. Leaving the car while feeling the way he did seemed impossible, so he drove up and down U.S. 41, up and down the beach roads, and anywhere else his car could take him

 

The music was loud, the weed was incredibly strong, the sun was out, the A/C was going full blast, the slushie was half-melted, and Abel was having just about the greatest day he could remember having for a very long time.

 

He had hours to kill before returning home. He smoked the blunt down to where it began to burn his fingers and dropped it out the window. He rolled all four of the windows down and kept on driving until he reached Fuller’s one and only Majestic Movie House.

 

The Majestic was a small theater with only six screens. His daughter had worked there for the last few years, before her mother made her quit after graduation so she could focus on her upcoming classes in the fall. 

The girl in the box office out front that sold Abel the ticket, looked bored as hell and didn’t appreciate how long it took him to read the movie times on the LED board behind her, check his watch, read the titles and their times again, consult his watch one more time, make his decision, change it, ask her if she heard anything good about a third choice, went back to his first choice, struggle with his wallet and finally he was able to pay. 

 

She slapped the ticket down and slid it out the hole with his change and said “Enjoy the show” with as much enthusiasm that a dead cat would give to a can of tuna.

 

Inside the lobby, the cold air was pumping out of the vents, the smell of popcorn and hot dogs filled the air and the arcade games cycled through their start menus.

 

The girl waiting to rip his ticket looked as bored as the one outside. He approached her and as she reached for his ticket, he saw her sniff the air quickly and subtly, then a dawning of realization came into her eyes.

 

Abel knew that she knew, and she knew that he knew what she knew.

 

She ripped the ticket pointed in the direction of the theater and said “Enjoy the show” as her compatriot in the box had, but hers was laced with smug and self-satisfied knowledge that made Abel began to sweat again.

 

Calm down, daddy-o. So what if she knows? So. Fucking. What.

 

The girl serving the popcorn and drinks (did they only hire high-school-aged girls at this place?) knew as well, as Abel had to witness the same realization playout her face, but with his new mantra now on a loop, he felt better.

 

He paid for his tub of extra-buttered popcorn, his large orange soda and hot dog, asked where the straws were, asked where the napkins were, asked where his theater was, and left her and Ticket-Girl to revel in their boredom.

 

The only other people in the theater with Abel were two old ladies in the very back. Abel hoped that this wasn’t an “Old-Lady movie”, but as he sat down, he couldn’t remember what he had bought a ticket for. 

 

It didn’t matter he supposed, so he enjoyed his seat with the thin padding in the back and in the ass that was smack in the middle of the theater, put his feet on the armrests of the seats in front of him and jammed a handful of popcorn in his mouth.

 

The movie wasn’t an Old-Lady movie at all, and the two old ladies left about twenty minutes in. The movie was about a security guard at a hospital who gets bitten by a werewolf-alien and spends the rest of the movie chasing beautiful girls, murdering the town’s small police force and in the end destroying himself after the man-half learns what the wolf-half had done after defeating other werewolf-aliens who were trying to take over the planet. 

 

By the end of the movie Abel had come down a bit, and when he realized it was only noon, and he had a whole six hours before he was normally home, he chuckled to himself and knew he was going to smoke another blunt.

 

He restocked with sugary drinks when he bought more cigarillos, and in a short time was back on the road.

 

This was the majority of Abel’s day. He stopped and got some food from a drive-thru, he listened to the radio, he drove around aimlessly, smoked his blunt and had a grand old time. That was until his car began to chime at him that it was almost out of gas. 

 

Shit.

 

He found another gas station, the third he’d been to that day, the Pump N’ Shop, and pulled up to the pump. He realized then that he could, of course, go buy a bottle of the cologne he used at home, a travel-sized bottle of mouth wash and eye drops and cover his tracks there, but what about his car?

 

It was unlikely that Kate would need to go anywhere tonight. Lately, she hardly went anywhere, always claiming to have a headache, and Lisa had her car, but . . . what if? 

 

He needed assurance. He needed those little trees that smelled like pine trees, and maybe some of that spray Kate used around the house. Instead of swiping his card at the pump he decided to enter the gas station and stock up again for the third time that day.

 

He spent maybe five minutes staring at the selection of the smelly, little, cardboard trees the gas station had. The employee behind the counter was a short Indian man in his twenties who didn’t look up from his newspaper when Abel entered, and didn’t seem to care that Abel stared at the display for so long.

 

Abel settled on a selection of a red tree that promised to smell like Havana Rum and a yellow tree that promised Hawaiian Cocktail. Why the smells were labeled with a destination and an alcoholic beverage was lost to Abel. The blue tree was Parisian Daiquiri, the orange was Egyptian Old-Fashioned, and the black was Mexican Manhattan, which befuddled Abel the most.

 

With his smelly trees in hand, Abel moved a foot to his right and was now standing in front of three bottles of smelly water that his wife bought at the grocery store. These options were less confusing than the trees. The one he picked promised the scent was Clean and turned to walk up to the counter where the clerk sat, still reading his newspaper, when a man walked in that looked familiar to Abel. 

 

The man was in a maroon bathrobe and didn’t have any shoes on, not that the clerk seemed to notice or care.

 

The man in the bathrobe, that Abel knew he knew but couldn’t place, was carrying a large blue cylinder that Abel recognized as a salt container. He slapped a twenty on the counter and said, “I need five gallons on pump four.”

 

Abel stepped behind the man in the bathrobe and looked out the store’s window. He saw that pump four was on the other side of the pumping island as his vehicle and then it hit him, oh right, I just needed gas, which amidst the confusion of the trees he had completely forgotten.

 

The clerk looked up from his newspaper, measured the man in the bathrobe and said (without a trace of an accent Abel was surprised to hear), that he couldn’t sell a specific measured amount of gas, only a specific amount of paid-for gas, but the man in the bathrobe simply slid the bill closer to the man in front of him and said, “Pump four,” then turned and walked back out.

 

Abel tried to get another look at the man’s face and saw only the man’s eyes were unfocused, and distant, as if he were sleepwalking.

 

Abel stepped up as the man behind the counter was putting the twenty in the drawer and placed his bottle of scented water and smelly trees. The clerk scanned the items and said, “$7.94.”

 

“Can I ask you something? These names . . . well, what do they mean?”

 

“My name? My name is Dennis—"

 

“No, I mean for the trees. Havana Rum, Hawaiian Cocktail, there’s one back there called

Mexican Manhattan, I mean, who comes up with this stuff?”

 

“How would I – What the FUCK?!”

 

Dennis was looking outside, and Abel was startled a half-step back at first and then he followed Dennis’ gaze.

 

The man in the bathrobe was completely naked standing next to his car with the handle of the gas pump above his head and he was dousing himself with gasoline.

 

On the hood of his car was the container of salt Abel had noticed earlier, and something else, something small, blue and . . .  

 

A lighter. 

 

Abel and Dennis were frozen for about three seconds, and then things began to happen fast.

 

The man without a bathrobe dropped the nozzle on the ground and reached for the salt.



 

The prospect that he’d pick up that lighter next is what caused Dennis to spring into action. He ran to the end of the counter towards the window, and for that crazy half-second Abel was sure that Dennis meant to jump through the it, but instead, he slammed his ink-stained hand on a big red button that was in the corner labeled:

 

 PUMP SEAL / SHUT-OFF.

 

The man without a bathrobe, was now pouring salt down on his head, when it met his gasoline-soaked hair it formed a little white mountain whose base dissolved and turned yellow and ran in chunky-crystallized rivulets down his face.

 

Dennis leaped over the counter with a grace Abel had not suspected, and reached the door when No-Bathrobe Man dropped that salt container next to the gas pump and reached for the hood of his car again.

 

He’s actually going to do it.

 

Abel lunged forward and reached out, catching Dennis’s shoulder and pulled him back, causing him to slam the door shut.

 

The man outside had the lighter, he pressed down on the little wheel and –

 

The air around the man ignited first. The fumes that were pouring of the man turned into a bright orange flame that for the smallest amount of time clung to the air and spread upwards and down. They curved around the man and then finally making landfall with his naked flesh and gave a lustful a powerful WHOOF.

 

Thick black smoke rose quickly as the flames ate through the man’s skin. The man’s knees buckled and hit the asphalt hard. The man on fire looked like he was at prayer as the fire spread across the asphalt from where the man knelt straight to the pump lying on the ground.

 

Abel yelled out, “Oh, shit!”

 

“No, no, I shut off the gas, we should be fine. It shouldn’t get in the pumps.”

 

“How sure of that are you?”

 

“It’s what the training video said to do.”

 

The flames conquered the nozzle and were swallowing the handle as Abel and Dennis watched. This was their moment of truth. They waited. 

 

There was no apocalyptic explosion, no bulge from the asphalt that could only herald the coming of fire and doom. The plastic of the handle just melted, and a little bit of flame crept up the hose but quickly burned off.

 

The man on fire was still kneeling, motionless, soundless other than the fire crackling, black smoke poured off him in great gusts, and though it was hard to see through the flames and see a man there at all, every once in a while that curtain of flame would part a little and reveal a face with no eyes, a hand curled and blackened, thighs with nothing between them, or a jaw without lips. 

 

And . . . there was something else too.

 

Abel couldn’t explain it. Couldn’t even register it at first, but from where there once used to be eyes, something that looked like droplets of ink rose slowly into the air, caught fire and popped like popcorn kernels and disappeared. 

 

Abel wondered if that was blood or some liquid in the body Abel had never known about, but the way it floated out of the man’s face like that, filled Abel with a dread that was stronger than the one he had felt since all this had begun.

 

Abel and Dennis stood there watching as the man burned for what seemed like a lifetime. People outside were staring too. Traffic had stopped and people had gotten out of their cars, raised their hands to their mouth in shock and watched. 

 

Abel and Dennis didn’t move, they just stood there in awe and horror.

 

Vaguely, Abel realized they were holding hands, and was glad for it. 

 

And then it came to Abel.

 

His name was Charlie. He lived on the street behind me.

Chapter 2: CHARLIE

Charlie awoke that morning dreaming of war.

 

War had been on Charlie’s mind for most of his life. He had been a professor of Ancient History for thirty-five years. He was currently writing, or trying to write as he would say, a book on Alexander the Great’s campaigns in India, but this morning, the only thing on his mind was Vietnam. 

 

He had watched the war play out on the nightly news as a kid, heard his father rant and rave about those who protested against it, and saw how scared shitless it made his friends at school, but that morning the only thing that filled his mind was the sound of crackling fire. 

 

Four and half months before Kennedy was shot, three monks stepped into a well-populated intersection in South Vietnam. One placed a pillow on the ground, and the eldest of the monks sat on it while the last monk opened the trunk of their car and pulled out a steel can of gasoline.

 

The eldest monk spoke, then gasoline was poured over his head and then a lit match was tossed, and they say he never screamed. 

 

Last night, that had been what he dreamed of. That monk, that fire -- that act.

 

When he awoke his sheets were drenched from sweat. He swung his feet off the bed and looked down at his hands and felt panic rise inside himself. 

 

He couldn’t stop them from shaking.

 

He went to the bathroom and ran the faucet, holding his hands underneath the water as it got hot. Steam was coming out along with the water and his hands were turning red and still no change.

 

The thought of a stroke crossed his mind, and he let out a small whimper. 

 

He threw on his old maroon robe and walked out towards the kitchen. He needed his phone, he needed to call someone. He was an educated man, and an educator, but he didn’t know everything, and what if this was a warning sign to something terrible? 

 

He slammed his knee on a chair in the kitchen as he was walking towards the phone. He cried out and grabbed the table for balance. As he sucked in air through his teeth and let out his favorite curses for moments like these, he looked down and realized something.

 

The left hand that was on the table wasn’t shaking anymore but his right hand was. There was also something underneath his left hand, a blue lighter.

 

Charlie held the lighter in his now steady palm and stared at it as if he had never seen one before. 

 

He clenched the lighter hard in his fist. The lighter gave off no warmth nor was it cold, and there was nothing out of the ordinary about it, except . . . except it stopped the shaking in his hand.

 

Carefully, Charlie opened his fist again and as the blood rushed back into his hand and his fist went from white to pink again, he slowly raised his shaking right hand and held them in front of himself.

  

Charlie slowly left the kitchen and walked into the living room. He sat down slowly on the couch. Careful not to tip is left hand, he licked his lips and transferred the grace from one hand to the other. 

 

Charlie just turned his palm slightly and let the lighter roll off and land in his right. Instantly the shakes in the right stopped and began in the left again.

 

What hell was this?

 

His left arm was now jerking so hard that his elbow was forced to follow it back and forth, dancing on its own across the couch cushion.

 

Charlie closed his eyes, resigning himself to have a good cry and then -

 

Mo . . .

 

A whispered voice as loud as a whip crack rumbled through the air of the world. 

 

His fists clenched and he felt something in bowels liquefy. He wanted to ask who was there, but something stopped him. Somehow, he knew and didn’t know. 

 

He knew the voice was supposed to be there, just like the sun was supposed to be in the sky or that the wind was supposed to blow. 

 

The voice that he had never heard was more familiar to him than his mother’s, and something he missed more than his dead wife’s.

 

Mol . . .

 

He stood up from the couch, his left hand still wild in its shaking, beating against his thigh and jerking outwards and coming back again. He walked back into the kitchen, now feeling guided, pre-ordained, with every step being inevitable. 

 

He went straight to the stove and opened the cabinet above it. Inside were the bottle of cooking oil, a bag of sugar, spices he used without finesse, and in front and center was a 26-ounce carton of iodized salt.

 

He reached up with his left and at first contact, the seizure in his arm stopped immediately. He pulled the carton down and sat down at the small table inside the kitchen.

 

The label was sky-blue, but instead of the brand name spelled out in white block letters, there was a new name printed in a black dripping scrawl. 

 

The word was MOLOCH, and there was He. Moloch. Fire God of the Canaanites. 

 

He with the head of a bull and the body of a man sat with both palms raised and facing outward. Underneath him was his throne with a mountain of small, broken and some misshaped skulls between his cloven feet.

 

MOLOCH . . .

 

Charlie swallowed hard and set both of his elbows on the table and regarding the object in each hand now. 

 

The salt and the flame, and he closed his eyes.


 

*

 

 

The smell of burning wood filled his memory and he is now five years old, there are explosions in the sky, and he is laughing.

 

It is the Fourth of July, his father is tossing a match in the small woodpile he built, and the stack of logs and kindling goes up with a whoosh. Little Charlie cries out in surprise and grabs his mother’s sundress. It’s yellow like the tips of the flames. Even though the fire frightens him, he can’t look away. His father steps back and puts his hands on his hips admiring his work. The flames dance in Charlie’s eyes.

 

Before that moment Charlie thought he had eaten enough to be full for days, but as he stared into that fire and saw how it grew and climbed and cracked the wood that fueled it, he had never felt hungrier.

 

He’s seven now, and his mother’s voice is rattling the window in its pane. She’s screaming and the tears are rolling freely from his eyes. Her lips are pulling back as she yells and exposing her gums. Her eyes stare right through him like he is nothing. She’s waving a box of matches with one hand, while the other is grabbing his shoulder. It hurts, but what hurts worse is the fear.

 

The matches are those that he had stolen. She calls him something he’s never heard before; she says the word firebug, and, in that instant, he has never felt dirtier or smaller. Even after the spanking, she gives him, it’s that word; firebug, that hurts the most.

 


 

He’s twelve years old and the sound of boys laughing fills his ears. He’s standing in the woods with friends he can’t remember the names of. They’re huddled around each other, and some sandy-haired kid is holding a girly magazine sideways, and blonde pinup girl inside it is laying on a couch, her breasts exposed. The couch is next to a fireplace. The cigarette burns between his fingers.

 

He’s twenty-one, and his wife sits down next to him on the couch. His wife pulls out a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and he grabs a lighter from his. She hands him the pack and he lights two at the same time, passes one to her and clicks his lighter shut.

 

They watch the news and smoke. In thirty years, his wife will die from complications of bronchitis, but now they are both young and alive. They turn off the news and make love in the bedroom wondering if this time she’ll get pregnant.

 

In the back of his mind, he remembers June 1963. The scene plays out in his head so often that it’s clearer than she is.

 

The monk sits on a pillow and is doused with gasoline. He has to struggle to keep his eyes closed and not choke from the fumes. There’s a hushed silence that lasts too long and too short. Some of the nuns and monks are excited for the match to drop. The silence is stretched until it can’t hold any longer, and it snaps when a monk strikes a match, utters words too quiet to hear, and tosses it.

 

The crowd gasps and there’s a distinct difference between some of them. Some are the sharp high-pitched gasps that come out of fright, those that happen in moments of shock and surprise, and then there are the gasps that are low and husky - a lover’s gasp. 

 

He’s twenty-five. He’s a junior professor at a prestigious Florida university teaching World History. He comes across a little mentioned man, who was a rebel in ancient Syracuse. Eventually peace was made, but in the Phoenician cities of Carthage, the people had made offers to the gods, and Moloch’s offerings were most dire. 

 

The fire god was half bull and half man. To appease him, the nobles of Carthage would offer him anything they could spare, but they inevitably fed the children of Carthage to the flames.

 

All the aristocrats of Carthage lined before Moloch. Facing Him as he wavered in the heat that made him glow. The fire in the trenches at his feet crackling, leaping and hungry. 

 

How many fathers regretted not buying more orphaned slaves, how many mothers prayed that this would be the last time?

 

In the end, as the priest finished his pleas to the ever-hungry god, the children were given to the fire. Clubbed in the back of the head then pushed down the hill, rolling, bleeding, some still screaming, until they dropped into the trenches of fire. 

 

Hundreds, maybe thousands of children were thrown into the trench in front of a statue of a God. His hands raised, head looking towards the sky, his mouth agape, flames reflecting and shimmering off his body, the heat of the flames causing him to expand and shift giving the illusion of breath. 

 

Should the parents display their grief in front of their God they had to forfeit all they owned in this life and their child burned just the same.


 

*

 

Charlie was in his kitchen again.

 

It felt like he hadn’t breathed in hours and he let out a low ragged breath.

 

His wife’s coffin at the crematorium flashed through his mind and waves of guilt and shame and ecstasy washed over him. 

 

He had denied her. At every turn, denial. 

 

She had been there for him through more than anyone and he let her gutter out.

 

What have I done . . . my sweet flames?

 

I offer myself to thee!

 

Suddenly that inexplicable voice, so alien and so natural came to him, its low rumbling mutter told him what it wanted and with each word, he was more and more willing to obey.

 

He grabbed his car keys off his desk, placed the lighter in his robe pocket and walked out with the carton of salt in his left hand. As he drove to the gas station, all the cars on the road were on fire, and the people on the sidewalks waiting for busses were fat candles dripping flesh instead of wax.

 

The man behind the counter was nothing but the flame in the shape of a man, Charlie spoke, but his mind was far away. He thought of the monk. He thought of the woodpile. He thought of Moloch, and he was ready to make his sacrifice. 

 

He shrugged off his robe and slipped his underwear down to his ankles and lifted the gas pump – the only thing in the world now that wasn’t shimmering from the heat of the world on fire, and he felt pure in his offering.

 

Then he felt nothing but the fire.

© 2020 by a.p. duvall.
  • Twitter