The piece is autobiographical.
Edit: A link used to exist here to take you to where Inscribed Magazine had once published this piece. It's a deadlink now, and I'm sad.
A Daily Literature Deviation (DLD)! Thanks so much for the commendation and recognition. I'm really shocked and grateful, honoured really.
This piece is a careful reflection on one of the cornerstone moments of my eventful life.
On the morning of Friday the 13th, November 1998, at age fourteen, I accidentally burned the top half of my house down.
I was an incredibly nervous and fearful child, with a pathological fear of the dark. I slept in a gabled room, with plastic-filmed doors leading into scary attic crawl spaces, and my room was a complete mess of used books from the library, Magic: The Gathering trading cards, hundreds of issues of several magazines, clothes flung everywhere, and a computer on which I wrote my first novel, a fantasy epic.
I would sleep with the lamp on every night all night, because I was so terrified of the attic doors, which, although wrapped in plastic, squatted on both walls, tall black rectangles, staring into the shadowy depths of the crawl spaces where we kept our camping gear and Christmas supplies, and where animals occasionally broke in and scurried around.
One night, a week before the fire, my bulb burnt out, and my parents, sick of paying enlarged electricity bills, told me to wait a while before getting a replacement. I was fourteen already and ought to grow up. Instead of growing up, I decided to seek an alternative to the problem. In our basement we had an enormous collection of religious candles left to us by my father's parents, who were deeply active in the Catholic community (despite the fact that my parents raised my brothers and I secularist). After an afternoon of testing the candles for which one might burn the longest and safest, I selected one shaped like an old-timey radio, with a rudimentary angel design on the side. It looked like a snow angel, actually.
I burned the angel candle all week, blowing it out only when I was sure to fall asleep right away. An insomniac my whole life, due to sleep apnea, I was in the habit of reading my magazines late into the night, and going to school on three or four hours of rest, like a zombie.
On this particular night I burned the candle down to about the one-third mark, reading my Mad Magazines, trying to laugh myself out of fear. Like before I blew the candle out around three AM, and fell fast away.
In my dream I was standing in a sparse forest, with elm trees running up a sloping hill in well-spaced lines. I stood in the middle of a channel of trees and watched as a beautiful blond girl walked down the slope towards me, but as she got closer and closer to me, her face became blurrier and blurrier with heat waves. When she stood right before my face, the heat was so intense that I awoke and beheld the first flames skirting up my bedsheets, right before my eyes.
My bedframe broke midway through the summer and was never repaired, so I slept on the ground. The candle, also on the carpet, had melted all the way down, and I could see where it caught fire to the little grey hairs of carpet that lead to my bed. In a flash I stripped the sheets, balled them, and opened the first layer of my window and threw it out.
The old house was built a long time ago, and the exterior layer of window had to be sealed for the winter. Otherwise it remained open all spring, summer and fall. My dad sealed it...that day. And sure enough the flaming ball fell back onto the middle of my bed and the flames increased.
By now the fire alarm had gone off (my dad later told me he had replaced the dead batteries that same afternoon) and my woken mom kicked my locked door off its hinges while I was already on my way to unlock it. By now the upper floor of the house was thick with the black smoke of burning polyurethane.
My dad later told us how he woke to the most beautiful sight of smoke tendrils wisping across the ceiling, moving toward the front of the house. He said how he watched it in a half-dream state entranced by its wonder. And even when my mom came back to rouse him and get him out of the house, it still took a while to get him into gear and grasp the severity of the situation.
On my way out of the room I grabbed a blanket to wrap my nakedness in, my teddy bear I got for my third Christmas present ever, and a box of 3 1/2 inch computer disks which contained all my saved writing files. Halfway down the stairs my dad arrived at the top and asked for the blanket I'd wrapped myself in, so he could fan out the flames. I said no, because I'd just started growing body hair and was ashamed to be seen naked. Then he shouted out commandingly for it, so I threw it at him and ran screaming and naked into the downstairs bathroom where I put on a bathroom, soon to be my only garment for the next several hours.
My dad stayed upstairs to fan out the flames while my mom rounded up my older brother (19 at the time), and my little one (4 at the time), and got us out of the house while she called the fire department.
We got into the car until our neighbour, a man living on the ground floor of an apartment building, let us in to his place, where I watched cartoons at 4:30 in the morning on Teletoon. I found myself becoming incredibly transfixed by the idea of a TV network that showed such good, funny cartoons that early in the morning, and began wondering what kind of people would be up at this hour, just to watch old Hanna-Barbera. Oblivious to the fact that nearly everything I ever owned was frittering away some thirty-forty feet away.
At one point my brothers and I asked if we could go watch the fire being put out, but the firefighters recommended we don't. Later on, the fireman in charge came in to interview me, to see if it was intentional, or arson, or whatever. He could tell I was in shock, and recommended to my parents that I be put in counseling, which I never was (except for two years later, for possibly other reasons).
Then, after dawn, we drove to a motel, and tried to sleep things off, but before we got there, my older brother took out his satchel and said, "You're not going to believe this." An artist, he regularly sketched late into the night, and on this particular night, not but a few hours before I changed our lives forever, he was sketching a picture of a hairless, featureless, white devil, with only two tiny, piercing pencil-point eyes, perched over an array of burnt out candles, the smoke from which oozed up into the air to become his pitchforks. In the centre of the devil's expressionless forehead he had placed the Japanese character for good luck, which he cut from a Japanese-English dictionary.
Coincidentally enough, the fire was enormous good luck for the family. It destroyed a lot of our stuff that we'd been meaning to have a garage sale for for years, so we collected on all of it through insurance. My dad, who'd been in a decade-long depression and a six year joblessness, offered to help rebuild the house, and was paid to do it, which lead to his new career as a truck driver. It forced my brother and I to live together in the hotel for a month, which greatly improved our relationship. The house was rebuilt a lot safer and more state-of-the-art. And we got to live in the hotel for free, which was one of the most luxurious times any of us had ever lived through.
The angel candle and the devil drawing still haunt me to this day.
In fact, besides some other fairly amazing traumatic events in my life, the fire possesses my thoughts frequently. Not least of which, because for several years, I wasn't allowed near anything that produced flame. I wasn't allowed to light the candles on a birthday cake. Also, my dad held the belief that I was trying to kill him that day, which ruined our already unstable relationship forever. The firemen explained later that if he'd remained up there, fanning the fire with my blanket even a little longer, he might've died of smoke inhalation. And in his sleepy state, he might very well have done just that.
I ended up writing a few songs about it, one of which was the fan-favourite of my short-lived band, Uvenburd. Listen to it here:[link]