Our flash fiction challenge this week at Terrible Minds was the write 1000 words about something (anything) one might find at a flea market. I couldn’t do it in 1000, this is 1150. Sorry 😉
Here Lies a Scorching Soul
“Here. You’re doing it wrong.”
I rolled my eyes at Luke. “So, do it if you think you’re so smart.”
Luke pried the jewellery box from my hands and held it before me. “You’re supposed to slide the lid over, not lift it. My grandmother had one of these.” He handed it back and glanced around him. “Can you please hurry? I hate these places. Nothing but crap and weirdos.”
“Yeah, so do I,” I mumbled, “but I don’t make a display out of it. People are looking at you. We need to get a gift for the neighbour, so stop bitching. Please.”
The lid of the jewellery box had slid away fine in my husband’s hands, but there was a drawer that I couldn’t get open. “Can you—?” Luke saw my problem, and with as much aggravation as he could display, yanked the drawer out. It flew from his hand and over his shoulder, landing on the floor ten feet away, beneath a table that supported dozens of carpet samples.
I couldn’t help but laugh as he handed the box back to me and left on a covert mission to retrieve the drawer. It was the size of a small book, but only about an inch deep. The jewellery box itself was antique, but in mediocre condition. Our neighbour, Bob, loved to restore old items to their former glory, which was why I believed this gift to be perfect.
“Here,” Luke said and passed me the drawer. “Hurry up, Kel. Someone around here just farted and I think I might suffocate on the fumes.”
If I weren’t so annoyed by his impatience, I might have laughed.
“For God’s sake, if you’d just—”
The lights went out.
For a split second, the room was silent…
…And then someone gasped in reaction.
I grabbed for Luke’s arm, dropping the drawer again, and felt him grab me back.
“What happened?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
A bang echoed from above, and then from behind us, so close that I could feel wind at my back; perhaps a door had slammed shut. Irrespective of this, adrenaline shot from my chest to my feet in an instant, a feeling of dread and panic overcoming me. I’d never been afraid of the dark, but this darkness was black, and not knowing where the exit was unnerved me.
Half of the lights in the building flickered back on, but so dim that the other half was still engulfed in darkness. “Can we get out of here?” I whispered to Luke. People were beginning to push their way towards the exit, which I could now see fifty feet away. I set the jewellery box down and looked at him. But he wasn’t looking at me. I followed his gaze towards a booth two aisles down and I saw it.
A tall stand on top of the booth’s table supported tee shirts with sayings that were meant to be funny, but that were now just jokes that had been told too often and had lost their lustre.
The shirts burst into flames.
Patrons screamed as the fire quickly grew. A man grabbed an extinguisher from the wall beside the washroom across from us and tried to douse them, but the flames only grew. Within seconds, the tee shirts had fallen to the ground. The old carpeted aisle runner caught fire.
Luke was now trying to pull me towards the exit. People were beginning to scream, to claw their way through the masses towards salvation, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the fire. The tee shirts should have been burnt to ash by now, but I could still read ‘YOUR’, ‘BOOBS’, and ‘MY EYES’ on the shirt closest to me, as though the fire were only an illusion and the cotton threads merely sat there idle on the ground.
Luke yanked me back once more.
I whipped my gaze towards the washroom doors, which were now opening a foot and then slamming shut again, over and over. The sound echoed around us as we watched the phantom doors and attempted to back towards the exit.
The fire was spreading.
“Look!” a child screamed.
The tee shirts began to lift from the ground in one heaping mass of fire.
I could feel that my mouth hung open in both fear and awe, and even Luke had stopped yanking on my arm.
Silence immersed the room.
The ball of flaming clothes hovered five feet in the air, glowing brighter and brighter the more oxygen it burned, and then, it exploded.
I dove to the ground. Luke fell on top of me, trying to protect my head with his chest. As I lay there, left ear to the floor, gazing beneath the table under which the drawer had landed, a piece of flaming cloth landed only feet away. It set the carpet beside us on fire. I was useless as Luke yanked me once again from the floor, because I was fixated on the piece of paper in my hands, the one I’d just grabbed from the place where the drawer had landed.
I was coughing, I realized, and so was Luke. Smoke was building quickly. Soon, we would not be able to find our way out.
“Come on, Kelly!” Luke shouted in my ear.
We had somehow made it to the main aisle again, but the door was still thirty feet away, thrashing bodies blocking our exit. I stumbled along, but despite growing closer to the exit, my dread deepened the more I analyzed the words on the note:
Here lies a scorching soul;
burned in life, burns in death.
Whenceforth the inferno flees,
The enabler shall no longer be.
I got out. The note said I wouldn’t, but I had.
I thought Luke would be right behind me, but when I searched the area, he was nowhere to be found.
I’ll never know what happened that day. They say that everyone got out before the explosion that left the building a pile of rubble.
They think he left me, wandered away, perhaps infuriated that I’d dragged him to a flea market on a Saturday afternoon. Give him time, they said. He’ll show up when I least expect it.
It took me a week to remember that Luke had opened the drawer, and not me. I showed the police the note; they thought it was bogus. Two days later, I accidentally knocked a candle onto it. The piece of paper was ash within seconds.
I have a strange fascination with fire now. Sometimes I think that if I stare hard enough into the flames, I’ll see his face.
I’ll never know what happened to Luke, but it doesn’t matter now, anyway. The garage is filling up with smoke and the flames near as they ignite the gasoline fumes. As my feet begin to burn, I think I see his face. I’m almost there. I’m going to find him.
© Lindsay Mawson 2011