Stuffetcetera The website of Jeremy Kearns-Watts.


The Arsonist

I wrote this furiously one night long ago, starting at about four in the morning in the street and finishing as dawn broke at home. The whole thing was very intense and has undergone the least revision of anything I've ever written.

There was nothing to do. That was his cry. The deviant's lament. He had thought long and hard about reasons and possibilities and still all he had was that single exclamation of emptiness.

There was nothing to do. The usual places to waste that time before death that some call life were all closed. Bars and clubs held nothing for him as the sweet destruction of the senses that they offered, he had experienced. Cinemas were empty halls, a wealth wasted for two hours of escape. Bowling alleys, too far away. Ice rinks, filed with annoyances. Hunting, against his principles, and a rich man's game. Sports competition failed to excite. And besides, he had done it all before.

There was nothing to do. Sleep, a waste of time. Foreign countries and new experiences, too far away. So while his 'friends' slept, he stalked the night streets of the town. He scratched into some dirt everything that could be done, and methodically he crossed them out until nothing remained.

Was all that was left for him work and death? He thought furiously for something through which he could escape monotony.

The matches. He had brought them out so he could light tobacco, but that was a pointless venture as he could see nothing in it, he had already experienced it and it's cost to pleasure ration failed to meet his demands.

The matches. What could he do with them. He lit one and watched the flame till it burned his fingers then he threw it onto the dirt. He lit another and let it fall onto some discarded paper that had drifted there. It caught, and flared, burned, flickered, and charred the earth. The last of it died on the ground, but in his eyes, the fire grew.

It grew, first as an ember, smouldering deep within and then as the idea took hold it grew higher and higher until, in his mind, it encompassed his entire being.

Fire, his conscience wailed and so did he, a long piercing death cry as the fire consumed the remnants of his soul. He ran. Faster and faster. Left and left again. Across the road, brakes squealed and metal crunched as cars smashed into each other, but he was long gone. For one mile then another, until suddenly. He stopped.

He was outside a small two story apartment block. The doors and windows were boarded up. It's paint was peeling and cracking off revealing a timber frame construction. On the left a tree, long dead, had fallen, sundering the roof. On the right some dead creeper threaded between the bars of some architect's idea of a balcony. Graffiti covered the lower part of the wall and obscured the name of the building on the sign in front.

He climbed the tree, collecting dry bark and branches as he went. Inside only the room with the caved in roof was damp, the rest were as dry as he could have hoped for. He moved downstairs and started to gather debris in what was once a child's bedroom at roughly the centre of the building.

Even as he piled the kindling higher in his mind he was still unsure of his actions. Unsure of what his body was doing. Unsure of his purpose in this abandoned house. He still had the last residue of society's model, it was simply silent.

After a time the materials had covered one wall of the room, obscuring the decorations of a childhood. Chairs, wardrobes and a mattress finished what was, initially, a heap of bark and paper. He stood back admiring the work then reached for the box of matches from his coat's inside pocket. He lit three and cast them onto the pile. They soon went out.

He pulled a book from the mound and set it alight instead. It caught, and he set it about the pile. Soon the whole wall was ablaze. He walked backwards to the door frame, eyes dancing over his work. The fire leaped and soared. It crawled over the walls, smouldering paper and moving further into the framing timber of the building.

The fire setter became aware that he must escape. The fire was now consuming the entirety of the building. He ran to the front door. The main panelling was far too secure but it had framing windows with a single sheet of plywood, secured at the top by two lightly hammered nails. He pulled it from the bottom, breaking the piece in two and cast that which he held back for the all consuming flames. He kicked the glass out and escaped. Quietly he crossed the road in front of the building and turned.

The fire was not obvious inside the place. Flames licked the roof and down the tree on the top floor. Behind the boards a bright orange glowered at him casting a glowing shadow of his darkened form. The sky was brightening. It was nearly dawn, and as the flamed leaped higher and the roof collapsed; the sun was revealed and it seemed that the whole world was on fire.

He was content for a few moments. He had spent the time he had, and yet, he felt and emptiness. He walked home and thought about his actions. Carefully he justified them with himself, nobody was hurt, it hadn't been lived in for years, and slowly the feeling of shame faded. His conscience was silenced. His nature was changed. The last vestiges of his humanity died.

For a week he slept, going about the tasks of life in a laze. He noticed little and ignored most of the people that tried to engage him. It was as if he wasn't there.

He went back to the site. It was not forgotten by the government's services. Probably accidental, natural causes the police had thought. So he was able to walk over the earth. He ran his fingers through the ash. Why did he set the fire? Because there was nothing to do? Surely he could have found something. His conscience was speaking up, his nature reverted. Like a phoenix his humanity was reborn and it sobbed.

He knelt in the blackened earth as questioned swamped his mind. He cried out as he tried to answer them. Wept when he had not answers. And collapsed when he realised that he had no reason to live.

For that was why he had set the fire, he now realised. It was something he had not already done. This was why he had not set more. Nothing appealed to him. No aspect of life could hold his attention.

There was nothing to do. There was nothing to do. There was nothing to do. There was nothing to do. There was nothing to do.

And it was this that he repeated, endlessly, forlornly, hopelessly, as they found him, as they took him away, as they investigated and judged. All this time he repeated, he did not eat, he did not sleep, drink or think and so the last traces of life left him three weeks after the fact, with the words on his lips.

There was nothing to do.

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