I wait impatiently until I am alone, the only thing I don’t want to be. When Uncle leaves to deliver the chest of drawers, I slip from the workshop and run upstairs. I waited so long to start; the tension is clawing to get out. The old fireplace waits for me, safe and inviting. My hand trembles as I strike a match and touch it to the kindling.
Tension soothes as the fire catches. The flames flicker and strain slides out of my body. Calm seeps into me as I sit on the rough wood floor.
My mind wanders to nowhere in particular as I stare at the warm tones of the flames, flitting from subject to subject, settling nowhere. The outside world fades away and my universe becomes a circle that includes myself and the symphony of colors in the flames.
The sting in my eyes alerts me and I start. Acrid smoke scrapes at my nose. I hold my sleeve to my face and run out.
On the second floor of the house near the chimney flames have caught. They spread on the old wood and scramble hungrily for the attached barn.
“Fire!” I scream.
Passersby have stopped to gawk. They crowd across the street and watch the flames gather up my home.
I run the few houses down the hill to the river. The stone embankment keeps the river flowing tidily past. I search for a bucket, a flower pot, anything to get the water back up to the fire.
I turn as the family next door tumbles out of their house. Their roof is ablaze, and the fire flows.
I sink to the stones. The water blooms red and I sob under the weight of my responsibility for it. I cough as I inhale smoke.
People jump out of the way as the firecarriage clatters by. As the firefighters scramble I stand. I watch as the fire consumes my home, the chill of the wind off the river keeping me company.
Pushing against the flow of curious people I stumble away, not caring where I go, except away.
Everything is gone, everything we worked so hard for. The beautiful furniture my uncle labors over, the stock of expensive woods he keeps stored in the back, the possessions in our apartment above, all gone.
In one afternoon of indulging my odd habit, all gone.
By the time my listless progress halts the sun is setting. I shiver in my threadbare, smoke-scented shirt. My feet are sore and my stomach rumbles.
I have nowhere to go. When Uncle discovers the fire, he will search for me. This time it will be an institution or jail, depending on his mood when he catches me. I have no home to go back to.
My sore feet protest as I search for shelter. I move further along, searching for a building with a neglected air. Another block and the buildings show more wear, paint peeling and weeds peeking out front.
Panic flickers at my edges as a chill hits the air and dark shadows grow.
Ahead the road comes to an end on a cross street. Sitting alone in the block is a large building. It has broken window panes and playbills peeling off in layers. No lights shine in the neighborhood and debris litters the front steps.
I sneak around to the back of the building, hoping to find easy access. Despite the broken windows above, everything I check is locked fast. Each first-floor door is secure and each window firm.
Ahead is a double set of doors for loading and unloading deliveries, with a small roof to shelter cargo. A wooden gutter has fallen from the roof on one end. I test the gutter and the top remains attached. I jump and grab the roof with one hand and scramble up the bouncing gutter. The corrugated metal roof is rough and gives me purchase as I reach for the window.
I grab the window ledge and pull myself up. I tug on the window but it does not budge. Two panes of glass are gone and I reach in and twist the lock. Grudgingly the window opens enough to wiggle through.
Falling onto wood planks spongy from years of rain, I smell mold and something sour like wet animal. I can make out loose paper and a few pieces of furniture. I head to open the door. It’s too dark to see, and I doubt it’s safe to move further in.
I retreat to the room and evaluate the furniture. One large piece is a desk with a sizeable gap underneath. I squeeze in and try to settle.
With no room to toss and turn all I have is my shivering to keep me awake. I doze on and off as the night progresses. Hunger pangs gnaw at me. When I can see the interior of the room I get up.
I stretch my sore bits. I crack the door and peer out. There is a walkway with a railing, opening onto a giant space stretching up to the third floor. Something large is in the middle, with spaces where there used to be large equipment. The thing is oddly shaped, not uniform as I expect machinery to be.
I shuffle to the rail, hoping the old wood will hold me. It’s warmer in this interior space. I can start a fire. I might be hungry, but I don’t have to be cold. I can be careful.
Stepping warily along the walkway, a set of stairs gapes further down. As I make my way on the stairs a buzzing gets louder. I turn my head from side to side, trying to locate the sound.
More of the factory floor is revealed as the sun rises. The hum comes from further in, nearer the object. The thing is vaguely round. It appears to be something draped in cloth.
I head towards the object, noticing that both the warmth and the buzz grow as I get closer. I ignore the grumbles of hunger from my belly and quivers of nervousness from my heart.
My feet protest again as I plod on the factory floor, puffs of dust rising with each step. I cough. A furious rumble erupts. The object is moving. The canvas flexes. A thousand gears whir as a clockwork dragon stretches its wings.
My jaw gapes as a cloud of dust spins past me, pushed by the flapping of giant wings made of sailcloth. His body is a hodge podge of metal gears and rods, clanking and whirring as he stretches. His head nearly brushes the ceiling three stories above.
In the center of his chest is a flicker of light, a flame that calls. I am warmed and my hunger recedes as I understand the pull of that fire. The dragon settles on his metal haunches in a feline pose. Basking in a feeling of kinship I suddenly realize my pyromania has changed my life in the best possible way.