He’s got a troubled past that burns away at his future, and parents so burnt out from his antics they’re more distant than immediate. The charred husk of his old life doesn’t even hold a candle to his love. The fiery spirit she is. Each night, she sings him an arsonist’s lullaby too soft and saccharine to ignore.
Ben has an addiction to matches, that’s the truth, plain and simple. But when he tries to light the world on fire, the world is vehemently against him.
That doesn’t work well with his blazing temper and pathological pyromania.
Chapter 1 (or prologue) – The inclinations of an incendiary
She shone holy against the night sky, so bright and beautiful his eyes were almost blinded by her light. But for that to be true would be a fate worse than death. He could never get enough, no matter how bright she burned.
She danced with movements so smooth they might be liquid and smiled at him in a way that seemed to promise forever. Forever. He liked the sound of that. He would sell his soul to ensure that forever. No, he would walk straight into the fires of hell if it meant she would follow him. For now, he could only chase her endlessly. And it was endless. She was unattainable. He took one step toward her with an outstretched arm and those smooth edges seared his flesh and his heart. Covered, he was covered in burns. She was always kind enough to weep for him.
The pain of his love’s tears was never the worst part. The worst part was when the night grew older and the pinpricks of grey starlight closer resembled greying hair. Because it was always in those wicked witching hours when she would leave him.
It was never her choice to be whisked away. He heard her silent pleas to stay, but by that hour he was always out of fuel to keep her going. The weight on his heart from seeing her reduced to mere embers always hurt worse than the burns.
‘You could always let her grow…’ his scorched and aching heart crooned unfailingly, night after night. ‘She would love you; she would keep you.’ And he was weak to its ministrations against his better half.
Common sense was the only thing stopping him from flicking a lit match onto the summer-dried forest behind his house. If he let that zebra forest with its dark deciduous’ and its stark-white gums go up in flames, why, he may never see his love again.
“Ben, honey, can you come here?” his mama was worried. He could hear it echo and tremble in her voice, same as it did when she’d caught him playing doctor. Doctor of death, his dad called it. That had made her cry and the twisted feeling of guilt and blame kept Ben from doing it anywhere near the house.
Mind you, he hadn’t touched carrion or created a cadaver since he’d met his love.
“Yes, Mama?” Ben, obedient as ever, padded down the carpeted stairs and into the kitchen. She was huddled in the corner, where the island table was closest to the wall. Had he not known this woman, he would think she was frail and defenceless as he made his way towards her. He knew better than to regard his mama with anything other than ware.
She had that look in her eye, the one Ben knew only by association with her cruellest punishments. It was twinged with sadness and chased with despair. Maybe even shame, with the knowledge that she had created a monster.
His love would never call him a monster. Not even when she faded from him before his very eyes and he was powerless to prevent it. She would return the next night and whisper sweet, forgiving nothings into his ear.
“Mr Roberts says you’ve been playing with matches again, honey.” Her eyes begged him to say it was a falsehood. But he promised his love he would never lie about her.
Ben stayed scarily silent. All of him was still, save for the anxious twitch in his fingers. His mama wouldn’t take away his love, no, he wouldn’t let her.
Her bottom lip trembled dangerously, and her eyes welled. ‘Crocodile tears,’ the darkness reminded him, always eager to weigh down on his heart, ever-lightened by the glow of his love from nights past. She chased away his shadows. But if he couldn’t keep them abated while her light was scattered, then he knew -he just knew- he was undeserving of the kind warmth in her heart.
His mama bought a hand up and he flinched from the inevitable strike. Instead, her hand softened around his jawline and her fingers grazed his unruly mop of sin-dark hair. It was almost kind.
“Baby, no. Please, don’t do this. Not again.” Those glistening eyes threatened to spill over their threshold. Ben could only panic at her words. ‘No. She won’t take her away from me.’
He shook his head vigorously, back and forth and back and forth until he was a mile from communicating no’ and a minute from a seizure. “I can’t, Mama, I can’t. I love her.”
Her hand -once so gentle against his cheek- tightened around his hair and she yanked him down to eye level. “Ben. I’m at my wit’s end.” Pricks of pain followed the few strands of hair that were coming out under her vice-like grip. His mama only pulled harder, forcing his gangly, half-grown frame to stoop under her grip. “Listen to me, listen to me!” she cried. He was not inclined to listen. “Stop it with the fires! I’ll have you committed again!”
Ben peered up into her desperate eyes, briefly imagining how she must have seen his own dark and resolute ones. She may have had the physical advantage (he wouldn’t hurt her) but it would be for nothing if he could withhold bending to her will.
He’d never felt a single thing stronger than this devotion; this undying, all-consuming need for his love. And here she was, trying to take her away.
“One more.” Ben’s tongue darted out to wet his lips. “Then I’ll stop.”