Fire is both the birth of life and the end, warming the soul and inflaming the heart before rendering it lost in the ash and the wind.
Fire Came and the World Burned
I never heard her sweet voice again. I never again saw her tender smile. That last image of her, up on the ceiling, blood dripping from the gaping wound in her stomach, fire bursting forth and consuming her, was all that remained. The scream from that night lasted the rest of my life. I never needed to be reminded of the sound; it was always present, rattling around in my head, throbbing within my veins, keeping that night alive.
She came to me many times in my dreams, but she never spoke, never made a sound. They say that's a sign that it isn't just a dream, that she is piercing the veil and trying to communicate from the other side. I never could understand what she might be trying to tell me. The only thing I could think of was to keep our boys safe.
Whatever took her was in Sammy's nursery that night for a reason. This wasn't just a random act, a bad break…I don't believe in chance. Evil came for our boy, finding our family and ripping its heart out.
Each night when darkness fell the nightmares took me back to that horror, all the sights and smells, the sounds. I'd hear the roar of the fire, the boom of the explosion, the firefighter asking me who was still in the house. Who was left? No one. By that time, Mary was gone. My head knew it even if my heart could never accept it.
My wife…my sons' mother…my love…my life. Gone.
Burnt black. Incinerated in a fiery wave of red and orange, heat and searing pain. Reduced to ash and swept away.
The air was cold as it ushered us into our new life, the last of my family shivering as we sat huddled on the hood of the Impala, frigid fingers wrapped tight around my throat, stealing all breath. I sat there shell-shocked and wasted. My life spent, our future blasted into oblivion, the present a distant haze.
Our dream house was burning red hot, glowing in the midst of an inferno, the flames lapping at the night sky. The images from that night were permanently seared into my mind, forever reminding me that I'd failed to protect my family; that shameful truth reflected in my stricken eyes.
The dream had died.
Evil had come to claim us.
What it was exactly, I had no clue…but I was determined. I needed to focus on something. I needed someone to blame, someone to shoulder this terrible responsibility…someone to hate.
Sammy was squirming in my arms, so full of life and hope, gurgling and smiling up at me like he knew he was safe.
Dean was silent by my side, watching me with eyes forever haunted. One look and I knew he would never feel safe again.
The night became fire, burning down to scorching embers, ultimately leaving only ash and smoke. It took hours to put out the blaze, mere days to classify it an accident, a lifetime to extinguish the memories.
All of this because of an electrical short in the ceiling…like that happens in real life.
Reality didn't exist…not anymore.
Everything changed that night, real life surrendering to the irrefutable; this surreal existence of chasing monsters and vanquishing evil grabbing hold and devouring me.
My reality was death and pain, grief and regret, emptiness and vengeance.
He came to me seeking answers. Unlike most, he wanted to know. A broken man somehow facing the unimaginable. One look and I knew he was strong enough to hear the truth. I knew he was a man who would take action against the evil that wronged them. A man determined, a man who would not stop…ever.
The fire had been out for days and yet I could still feel the evil that had come that night, its fingerprints smoldering in the ruins. It was evil, pure evil.
This man was lucky his children were still alive. The older was silent, uncertainty weighing on him, his life irretrievably shattered and you could feel the fear, the anxiety the unknown brought; and yet, he wasn't cowered, instead seemingly bolstered by some driving force as he clung to his baby brother with a fierceness I'd never before witnessed, let alone seen in one so young.
And the baby, such a happy little guy, no inkling of what had happened to his mom except when he'd cry out at feeding time. His brother stepping up to fill the void, taking it upon himself to cradle his baby brother across his lap and feed him his bottle, softly shushing him as they rocked.
Whatever voice remained was reserved for tiny ears, whispering so low that no one beyond their tight embrace could hear. Whatever he said seemed to please the younger, trusting eyes forever tracking his protector; sweet lips curled up in a contented smile as long as big brother was close by. Tiny fingers clutching at the shirt of his brother, spit gurgling out as he burped up his supper, messing the older boy's clothes but never drawing any complaint.
They seemed lost in their own world, far removed from the sordid details of their lives. Neglected by a father who would have been intent on their desires if not for the evil that stole all focus, drawing him into retribution and forcing the surrender of his fatherly duties.
If not for the tender moments when the fog lifted, when a father's eyes would glisten with renewed love, seeking out his sons with that frantic need to be near his children…when he would pick up his youngest and hold him close, the pricking of his stubble rubbing red against baby soft skin, quietly sobbing as he sucked in the poignant smells of powder and formula, life and hope, then I might have felt compelled to intervene, to take those children away until he could give them their due.
All thought of separating them ceased when I observed the older boy. How his eyes never strayed from his dad's form. How he intently listened to each word spoken and those locked down deep, never finding their release. How he sensed his dad's moods and seemed to anticipate whatever might ease his pain. It was remarkable to witness, how a child so small, so innocent, could see the world around him, broken and tattered and ripped to shreds, and his only response was to turn it all inward and focus on his family, gently slipping into the role of caretaker like it was who he was always meant to be.
It wasn't right. But in its wrongness it was all they had. And I'd be damned if I ever thought to take that away from them. They had already suffered enough, lost far too much.
I remember the heat and then Dad put you in my arms and told me to take you outside as fast as I could and not look back. I never did look back, never pondered what my life might have been like if Mom had lived. What was the point? I knew what the reality of our lives was.
I dreamt of fire for a long time. At night as I lay beside you, curled up in your crib, my arm plastered across your chest, holding on tight, I'd watch everyone I ever loved burn up, the images from that night making it real. Mom and Dad…and then you, my baby brother. Gone. I had nightmares of you turning to ash in my arms, slipping from my grasp in a trail of gray before I made it to the front door, leaving me all alone, standing on the front lawn staring at empty arms, tears rolling down my cheeks as I faced my failure.
I'd wake in a cold sweat, trembling from the visions and so sure it was real, that I'd lost the last of my family. Just as the panic took hold, you'd kick me as you squirmed about and I'd look up through the moonlight streaming in past flimsy curtains and there you were, grinning at me. Staring right at me and laughing.
You pulled me back from the abyss, every single night; anchoring me and giving me a reason to push past the pain.
As long as I had you by my side, I didn't feel scared. I had to protect you, I couldn't be scared. I had a job to do and it allowed me to put aside my own fears and focus on taking care of you. It was an important job, and it filled the space.
Fire has been a constant in my life for a long time now, ever since that fateful night. It's a part of the job, the last rites to put a troubled soul to rest. A little salt and some accelerant, the flick of my wrist as the match flies to its destination. It allows me to feel in control, lets me believe that I command it instead of it dictating the course of my life.
Those spirits are lucky. I give them a release; send them back to where they belong.
They fight it, fight me…but sometimes it's better to just let go. Admit defeat and move on to wherever it is you belong when your life ends.
If only it could be so easy to put my soul to rest, to ease my pain and release me from these horrors.
But I can't give up, I have to keep fighting. My family needs me.
The battles will never end, I know that. Regardless of how many innocents we save or how many creatures are slain; there is always something that needs killing.
I don't focus on what has to be done, I just do it. It helps to have a job to do, something to lead me away from that night.
The flames that consumed our future will never die out; they burn too bright in my memory. Still, having what's left of my family with me, having you here beside me, well, it helps.
It reminds me that everything wasn't destroyed that night. Our bond, how I have your back and you have mine; the closeness we've managed to find through all our trials…it gives me what little peace I'm allowed.
At least we're back together again. I hold on to the hope that we'll find Dad; that we'll kill this evil sonuvabitch that did this to our family, and be a family again. It drives me onward along the arc of my life. Each mile circling around and leading me back to my childhood, back to when it all went wrong. Back to the very beginning where I hope I can find the end.
All standard disclaimers apply.