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I never go anywhere, ever, without my fire kit: a black leather briefcase filled with tools such as matches and lighters, a portable propane tank, vials of gun powder and gasoline, newspaper and kindling, slow-burning wood chips, a few roman candles; pretty much all the essentials. It is a thing I carry in which I cannot be myself without. As inconvenient as it is to lug around everywhere I go, I’d hate to ever find myself in a situation where I needed it and didn't have it with me. Being a twelve-year-old living in the suburbs, you never know when a little fire could come in handy.
I got the briefcase from my grandpa as a death gift – meaning I took it from his house after he died. Whether or not he wanted me to have it, I'm not sure; but I’d had my eye on it for months leading up to his death, while he was in chemo. And so, within hours after he’d passed, I was in the old man’s bedroom, rifling through drawers, turning over furniture, flipping the place upside down searching for it.
It was my grandpa who’d first gotten me interested in fire. For my ninth birthday, two years before he died, he’d given me a handful of firecrackers, some string, black electrical tape, and a glass soda bottle filled with gasoline. “See if you can build yourself a hefty bomb using only these parts,” is what he’d told me. I swear, I got so excited by this challenge, I just about fainted.
And after blowing up our ninety-year-old neighbour Helen Ainscotte’s mailbox, nothing has quite thrilled me since. Not until yesterday.
Yesterday was Danny McIndle’s birthday. He is in my class at school and lives across the street from me. I don’t like him. I think he might have cancer, because he misses a lot of school and he’s bald; and when grandpa got cancer he went bald, too. Anyway, I still don’t like him. I don’t like anyone who calls me “fire freak.”
When I heard about his birthday party I got kind of excited. I hadn’t been to a birthday party all year, and so I thought maybe I’d forgive him for one day and try to get myself an invite. But that’s when the rotten jerk came up to me and actually made a point to not invite me. He said, “Just in case you end up burning my house down and ruining the whole day, you’re not invited to my party, so don’t try to come.” Within seconds of hearing him say this, I was already coming up with a plan to ruin his whole day.
Guests started pulling into his driveway at about one o’clock in the afternoon on the day of the party. It was Saturday and it was magnificently sunny out. I was in my room, watching my friends and classmates out my window as they arrived across the street.
At first, my plan was simple: burn the imbecile’s house down. But after discussing things over more thoroughly with my Dad, he pointed out to me that if I burned Danny’s house down, it would mostly just be punishing his parents, and not actually him. I thought about it for a bit and completely agreed, so I tweaked my plan just a little.
It was nearly four o’clock when I headed over to Danny’s house. I had his birthday present in the palm of my hand, something I knew he’d be incredibly interested in. I stole it from my Mom, but since she goes through about twenty of them in a day, I figured she wouldn’t mind. I had my fire kit with me as well, of course, but I’d slipped the portable propane tank into my back pocket for easy access.
When I got to his door I rang the bell. I could hear lots of movement and excitement inside the house. Danny answered the door, and as soon as he saw me, his facial expression dropped. “You?” he spat at me. “What are you doing here? I thought I told you not to come.”
“Happy birthday,” I replied. “Don’t worry, I'm not trying to come to your party or burn your house down. I just wanted to give you your birthday present.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “What birthday present?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“This,” I said, and I held out my hand in a closed fist.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Is anyone coming?”
He turned around, and then looked eagerly back to me. “No one’s coming. What is it?”
“Here,” I opened my hand and presented him with one tightly bound, perfectly cylinder, pure white Lucky Strike cigarette. He stared at it for a few seconds without saying anything.
“Dude,” he said finally. “How did you get that? Where did you get that?”
“Happy birthday,” I said smiling. “Have you ever had one before?”
He shook his head. “I've never even seen one up close.”
“Want me to show you how to use it?” I offered.
“Yeah. Why? Are you chicken?”
“No,” he said quickly. “I just don’t want to get caught.”
“Chicken,” I said again.
“Fine, give it here,” and he took the smoke from my hand and put it in his mouth. “Light me,” he said.
I reached into my pocket and took out a green bic lighter. Smiling pleasantly, I held the flame up to the cigarette end. My other hand was on the trigger of the propane tank in my back pocket, ready for action. “Close your eyes while you inhale,” I told him, and he did. And within seconds that good-for-nothing, bald-headed bully was in flames. No one calls me fire freak.