This is a Taylespun Blog
featuring flash fiction and short stories from the world of K.T. Round by Chuck Boucher.
It is best to read these stories sequentially. (Oldest to newest). While they are stand alone tales, some themes and characters reappear in a stories that take place at a later times in the lives of those characters.
felt uneasy all of the way here, heartburn, queasy, even just a bit of
nausea. Randy’s stomach was in turmoil,
not just too many fucking fried clams for dinner, but too many coincidences. He should have known better than to eat so
much, especially on a work night, but his gastric unease did not matter. Randy knew exactly what had to be done. He grabbed at the ax and took his first
steps toward the dark green front door.
He hoped it would be better this time, somehow all better. He would make up to God for misguided
choices. Someday payment would be made
in full, and his soul might be cleared of any debt, but for now he had only one
thing in mind. He hoisted the ax to his
left shoulder as he had done many times before.
had come from within a swirling cloud of black smoke, her hair, only a shade or
two darker than the midnight sky above their heads, hung nearly to her
waist. Her reddened eyes glared at him
with rage. Some wore terror on their
faces while others painted the rage of reason across their features. This one, wearing a simple white terrycloth robe,
slightly tied and hardly covering her secrets, was really pissed. Randy had no sense of her fear. Before he took a swipe at the front door, she
grabbed at his arm.
boy,” she said, her eyes were flames.
“He’s on the third floor, please …” Her eyes, they would stay with him
every step of the way. “Go to him, help
the man by the truck I’m inside.” Randy swung the ax, crashing it into the
door. One powerful swing and the front
door opened. These tenement houses were
never secure, and they burned so fucking fast.
He adjusted his air pack and stepped inside. Flames were licking along the walls. Thick black smoke, like angry thunderheads,
billowed across the ceiling scorching the white to black. Randy reached to his headlamp, turning the
ineffective beacon on. To his left, as
usual, he found the first set of stairs.
He knew he should have waited for back up, or even a hose team. But those eyes, he would see them until he
died, he was sure, they more than begged, they commanded.
He knew he needed to act fast to get to the
boy. How ironic that it was the same
address, 502 Fourth.
This house had
been his first full fire six years ago, the reason he had to make amends. His first casualty had been on the very same
third floor. Tonight he might rid
himself of an old demon or two. On the next
level, second floor, the smoke was thicker and lower. Randy was finding it more difficult to
breath. The house began to groan. Poets speak of roaring fires and rolling
flames, but every firefighter knows it is more violent than that. The flames scratched and clawed, pulling at
every stray strand and lifted corner. As
the building struggled back, it groaned.
He had never heard the roar of a fire so much as he heard the groans of
pain, from the wallpaper, from the wood, from the melting copper and from the victims
being carried out as the flesh peeled away from their bones, crispy and smoking
like an overcooked slab bright pink salmon on a char-broil grill. Pain had a peculiar sound and it scraped at his own soul.
had been like that since the first time and every time since, when the very, very, old woman was carried away in an
unrecognizable lump of flayed, split charcoal.
He knew right then he could have done more.
His heart felt her agony. His
dreams carried her revenge. He had
frozen, he been scared. He had stepped
back down the stairs leaving her screaming soul to cry for both vengeance and
pity. She had gotten neither. Survival never felt so selfish. He lived with that conflict every day, and in every detailed nightmare, as though he had made an unspeakable bargain.
Right now, away from that hideous memory, he was finally mounting the last
flight. There was a boy at the top. There would be no turning back now. Not this time. He was better trained, more professional and
he had six years of vengeful nightmares under his belt.
Randy could feel the heat through his boots. That was not a good sign at all. His wits told him to turn back. He fought every instinct to flee.
"Not his time,” he told the clawing flames around his head, “It’s a young boy. His mother begged me. I have to do this. I’m not a hero. I’m just a man. He’s just a boy.”
three more steps to the top floor. These
buildings all had the vaulted ceilings on the top floor, hardly room for a man
to stand in the center, let alone at the outside walls. Randy pulled the ax around and swung, the
first door pounded inward. The bell on
his air pack began to ding. Only minutes
of air left. Next door. Boom, a wall of flame exploded out toward
him. He had expected it and was behind
the wall as the ax slid from his hand bouncing across the floor into the
bathroom. No kid. He had time for just one more door. Randy pounded at it. It opened with a groan and a wave of slightly cooler air.
he was standing just to the left of the window, waving as if to his mother as
she went off to Sunday marketing. The
flames and smoke seemed to be avoiding him.
He stood in a clear patch, almost safe from the conflagration around
bell pinged more slowly now. Maybe a
minute left. He waved for the kid to
come closer. The boy simply waved at
him. He stood in the center of a circle
that remained untouched by the ravages or their effects. He smiled.
His red t-shirt, nearly as bright as the surrounding flames, bore the
word Sabbath across his chest. Randy
ready yet,” the boy whispered.
“I should not be able to hear you,” Randy said as his lungs began to fight for
more air. He ripped the mask from his
face. The hot scorched air invaded his
lungs with tenacious violence. Like his
first try at whisky, but more. “C’mon,”
he tried to yell.
“No!” The boy said, “You should remember this
fell to one knee.
“I do...” he
coughed, “my first casualty,” cough,
cough, “this room …” Cough.
His eyes began to
burn. The heat dried all of the moisture from them. His face was beginning to
redden. He had more than a sunburn on
his cheeks, the image of the boy flickered.
Randy closed his eyes, the pain was growing and time was racing
away. Penance he thought. Time to pay.
He opened his eyes and saw the old woman on the floor, her arms were
again reaching for him as they had six years ago right here on 502 Fourth.
me’,” she had begged.
“I couldn’t,” he
whispered again. Six years had gone by
and now, he knew he could have.
“Couldn’t,” He lied. Randy
paused, then it spewed out like phlegm coughed from deep within his thumping
heart. “She was old and I was so young and carrying her down might have killed
us both. I didn’t have the balls to risk
it. Six years of lying and hiding. Six years of dreaming and screaming, I always
knew that the only reasons I turned away were selfish ones.”
“That old woman
fried because she was old, and you did not want to risk your life.”
“It was my very first fire, on my twenty-first
birthday, and an old, old lady.” Randy
wheezed, his argument over. He knew he
had turned his back on her pleas, descending through the blaze. The admission froze his rational thought.
The boy stood
proudly in the circle of unscorched floor.
“You know the
really wicked part of all this is that you would have died, both of you, had
you tried, but when you come right down to it, you sacrificed her, in trade for
six more years. If you had died that
night there would be no debt, and no need for me. It’s a special night for me too.” He paused as Randy fell to the floor, his
bewildered stare locked into the hardened gaze of the boy. “If your lucky, you’ll pass out before the
flames get really hungry.”
Outside as his
brothers called out, looking for Randy, a woman in a bathrobe walked along the
sidewalk approaching the front door. No
one seemed to care or notice the fourteen-year-old boy step unscathed from the
billowing black clouds. The smile on his
face was ear to ear.
“I can’t wait to
show dad,” he said to the woman, “my first soul.” He opened up the small sack.
“Big Jim will be so
proud,” she said peering at the soft light glowing inside the white bag. Her red eyes shimmered with delight. “The ones bearing guilt are always the
best. They are forever suspicious, very
cautious and most difficult to trap. This
is a really good soul, so much more than just another debt paid,” she said
closing the bag. “That old woman’s wails
and curses were not wasted. Your father
will be proud you’ve had such a rewarding night."
They stepped around the red truck pumping water into the triple decker. Together they walked side by side into the enveloping darkness.