Fiction: I Still Like Fire

By JD Clapp

I always liked fire. The way it danced and glowed and threw embers into the night. I liked campfires the most, but I liked the way the business end of joint or a cigarette glowed too. Candlelight, fireplaces… hell, I even liked the soft glow andsmell and glow of a Zippo. Don’t get me wrong now. I ain’t a sick arsonist fuck, one of them guys livin’ in a van and startin’forest fires to jack-off to. Fuck no! I ain’t that. 
But here’s the thing, my old man had it comin’.
Best to start with what started it. That night I come home drunk. There was a foot or more of new snow piled up and it was colder than my old man’s black heart. Lookin’ back, it was a mistake, but me Joey needed more liquor, and I figured the old man would be knocked out from his own drinkin’ which started when the bastard woke and stopped when he passed out in that goddamn Lazy Boy that smelled of piss and was covered with cigarette burns. Sure enough, the old man was dead drunk and droolin’. He had the woodstove goin’ for heat. So, I come in quite as a cat and grabbed a bottle from his stash from behind the woodpile. But like I said, I was tuned up myself, and don’t you know, I dropped that goddamn bottle. The old man didn’t flinch when it smashed, I was sick at the loss of the whisky butwhen your’ thirsty, you’re thirsty and I went and grabbed a second bottle. I started cleaning up the one I broke, so he would know what happened, when he must of snuck up and hit me with that fire poker ‘cross the back of my head.
I don’t remember much of nothin’ after that.
I woke up down at St. Rita’s burn unit. They told me that drunk sonbitch branded my face with that poker twenty-seven times. I had dots and dashes all over like some fool on acid was trying his hand at morse-code. I even lost my left eye from it. But being blind weren’t the worst of it. The worst of it was the smell of my own burning flesh. It was all I could smell after it happened. If you ever burned the hair off a pig after the slaughter, a man’s burnt up flesh smells pretty damn close. It’s a hellish smell that makes you sick and hungry at the same damntime. Before things got better, I lost forty pounds from eatin’ then puking and then not eatin’.
And in that burnt out eye, I kept seeing that goddamnpoker, glowin’ orange and commin’ for me. Burnt flesh and hellfire in my eye was what my old man give me that night. Yeah, I looked like a freak too, but that was nothing next to the smell and visions. Hell, I weren’t much to look at anyhowbefore the old man took the poker to me. When all the hubbub was over, they didn’t even lock the old man up since I couldn’t remember what happened. 
Finally, I felt good enough to pay him a visit. So yeah, I done it. I went over there and burned him up in that house. I watched it burn, too. I suppose the sheriff knows it was me. Can’t prove though or at least he don’t wanna prove it, so he ain’t even investigating. He told the papers it was ironic justice fire sent the old bastard to hell. 
Here’s the funny thing though. Now I smell campfire smoke instead of my own goddamn burnin’ skin. And in that eye, I see a big campfire. And it’s nice. It’s kinda peaceful. So yeah, I still like fire—the smell of woodsmoke and how the embers glow like little suns that warm up your soul.

JD Clapp lives in San Diego, CA. His work has appeared in Cowboy Jamboree, The Dead Mule, Revolution John, Poverty House, and numerous others. In 2023, he was a Pushcart nominee in nonfiction, and had a fictional story selected as a finalist in the Hemingway Shorts, Short Story competition.