Quick update before the book chapter; the next book review and segment of Augmented will be coming in a few days.
Chapter One: Lighters, Gasoline and a Bored Individual
How does one become a pyromaniac pondered the young man as he entered the Seven Eleven he often frequented. It was a reoccurring thought that he had for years every time he was preparing for his weekly burning. There was no doubt about it, he simply adored fire and what it was capable of from the smallest ember of a cardboard match despite his preference of wooden ones, to a roaring bonfire that consumed everything in its wake. Even watching news stories about wildfires out west made him stop what he was doing to admire the captured footage of miles of forests and commercialized property being destroyed in a matter of minutes.
From what he had studied on pyromania, society would have several reasons why a person like himself would want to start fires for enjoyment. Psychologists would state that he suffered from an impulse control disorder that stemmed from childhood trauma either resulting from either his own life or the environment around. No he thought, it couldn’t be that. He had a respectable upbringing by two loving parents and lived in an area that was for the most part free of crime with the exception of the occasional drug bust or speeding ticket. Societal norms would consider people like him to have criminal intent to want to set off fires no matter how large or small. Though arson for profit or vandalism had never come across his mind at all. He was content with creating fires in the wooded area behind his family’s modern two story house. There was no need or desire to set a hybrid car or the neighbor’s loud Shih Tzu Muffy on fire, they never bothered him that badly.
Browsing through the small white aisles of the store, he looked over each of the different products that was available for sale; condoms, generic painkillers in a variety of forms from pills to powders, candies and treats and more at above market prices. He picked up one of the small plastic bottles of pills marked simply as ‘Pain Relief’. Glancing over the ingredients for the chemical cocktail in his hand, he noticed the Ibuprofen dosage was only two hundred milligrams per pill. Not enough he thought, it take eight or so pills in order to remove the headaches he received from his college courses. Putting the pills back on the partially clean shelf, he returned to his shopping.
Then another thought came across his mind that made him wonder about his pyromania. He remembered an article he had written in what he believed to be Time or Newsweek about obscure sexual fetishes that people have become fond of despite the objections of the general public. Sexual fixations such as fur-suiting and aptemnophilia were listed as some of the most outlandish, but it was puzzling to him. People dressing like anthromorphic animals was more common than people thought with entire conventions being staged for hundreds to thousands of costumed individuals, it was becoming almost as popular as traditional fornication. Though why someone would be sexually excited by an amputee was another thing. Perhaps it was a matter of sexual dominance he considered when he first read the article segment relating to aptemnophilia. Though what stood out to him the most from the sexually tense list was number twenty-five or twenty six of the article, which was ‘pyrophilia’, a person becoming aroused by fire. He never thought that he was sexually turned on by the sight of fire, though he never checked himself to see if he was becoming aroused at the sight or the smell. Maybe it is the sensation of being burned is what they meant by pyrophilia, he pondered. He soon shot the idea down, considering that it would be less of an arousal of flame but more an arousal of pain and would make it sadomasochism.
Eventually reaching the fingerprint covered glass cases that held the beverages, he looked over each of the mass commercialized cans and bottles of assorted drinks, at a quandary of what to purchase. His eyes darted from the second to last can of Arizona Green Tea to the ‘Lemon Infused’ Pepsi a couple of rows down. Pepsi… Tea… Pepsi… Tea… Tea flavored Pepsi garnered with lemon and targeted to the youth as ‘performance’ drink. Overstimulated with choices, he had a difficult time deciding what to buy, a first world problem he supposed. He eventually caved and chose the Pepsi despite being sixty cents more.
Walking to the coffee splattered counter of the mini-mart, the young man was greeted by a bulbous man wearing a scarlet red and black work shirt that fit snuggly around his body. A man of his late thirties, his thinning black hair barely covered his rounded head. His ragged hazel eyes would show a man who had lost any ambition to become anything more than just a store clerk. It was always a curiosity for the people to wonder what the man was thinking about; maybe where he went wrong in life or what his next meal would be, something from the food warmers nearby or a quick trip to one of the several fast food places that were strategically placed around each other. The young man’s mind always ventured to a darker place when it came to the larger man before him. He almost envisioned the man becoming angry one day over a customer verbally abusing him over the quality of one of the hotdogs on the roller near him, driving him to the edge before he gave into his almost carnal desires and killed the customer. Though he had no real reason for concern, he always tried to stay on the clerk’s good side or at least didn’t do anything to offend him.
Sitting the plastic bottle onto the counter, the young man reached over to the side to grab a lighter. He found himself yet again at another mental stalemate, this time over the kind of lighter he should buy alongside his overpriced soda. Plastic or metal, decorated skin or plain, the racks of lighters were riddled with choices. While the more expensive lighters were more decorative in style with blue flames that were wind resistant, the cheaper ones were often longer lasting. After a second of thought, he ultimately decided to go with the cheap red plastic lighter.
The clerk glanced down at the selection sitting on the counter before him, letting out a raspy sigh as his pudgy fingers picked up each item to scan it. He apathetically recited the total for the two items, a low two dollars and seventy four cents for the young man who quickly fished out a few dollar bills for the man. Having received his change from the disgruntled worker, the young man left the store and returned to his 2010 grey Buick. While it was not the most spacious car that he could have, it provided him the transportation he needed. Stepping into the car, he proceeded to start the engine and drive to his next destination, ironically another gas station down the road.
This was the part that annoyed the young man the most, having to drive to multiple gas stations to purchase what he needed for his weekly fire. Though he realized that it was necessary to do so in order to avoid suspicion. He found it almost funny how purchasing certain items together or in a certain quantity can raise alarms. Purchase five gallons of bleach and you’re building a bomb. Purchase four bottles of cough medicine and you are making crystal methamphetamine. In his case, buy a lighter and ten dollars of regular gasoline and you are planning on setting your workplace on fire because you didn’t get a much deserved raise, but your lazy coworker who did the bare minimum did.
Though it made him wonder, did the grade of the gasoline raise or deter suspicions? If he spent thirty more cents per gallon to purchase premium gasoline, would people assume that he was doing something else other than starting fires? As curious as it was, the young man did not want to spend more than he had to on gasoline.
He reached his second gas station, prepared to purchase what he needed. Parking his car in front of one of the pumps, he walked to the trunk of his car and pulled out a large metallic can.
In truth, he enjoyed using the older metal containers rather than the newer plastic ones. There weren’t any of the ‘child safety’ locks that proved to be annoying for anyone to dismantle to either fill up the canister or to empty it. He also thought, why is a complicated cap necessary when most children can’t even pick up a full canister? Five gallons of gasoline would weigh almost forty two pounds, far too much for the average child to pick up.
Leaving the can at the pump, he walked into the nearby store and approached the counter where the clerk was waiting. The polar opposite of the previous clerk, he was a taller and lanky man with darker skin and a full head of auburn hair. From his semi-formal business attire, it was apparent that he wasn’t one of the regular workers, but the owner instead. The young man pulled out ten dollars and requested for regular gasoline on the pump he pulled up to. The man nodded, tapping the screen next to him with a sense of dexterity, activating the pump. Bidding the owner farewell, the young man returned to the pump and began to fill the tank.
As he filled the tank, he glanced around the gas station and took in the area around him. Kept relatively clean, the lot wasn’t filled with litter or oil drips that he was used to seeing at other stations. For the most part, the parking lot and the pumps were sparse of people, only other people were at the pumps as well, filling their cars so they can continue on with their lives.
From behind him, he heard the chime of the gas station’s doors, catching a glance of a larger woman leaving the store. Her sagging arms filled with assorted food products and drinks. The young man questioned, why would she need that much food? Her jiggling mass had resulted in what many doctors would consider close to a ‘mass effect’, where the mass of a tumor, cancerous or otherwise, would collapse in on itself from the weight. He could see it beginning, her once rounded shape had begun to descend and making her resemble a human pear. He tried his best to get that image out of his mind and return to the task at hand.
Watching the black numbers on the pump in front of him, he saw that the full ten dollars had been used, giving him 4.954 gallons of gasoline. He tried to shake the remainder of the fuel from the nozzle, not wanting it to drip or leak out when he pulled it out. As he returned the nozzle to the pump, he took in the chemical fragrance of the gasoline, the overwhelming scent that he had grown used to. He quickly fastened the small cap onto the tank and lifted it into the trunk of the car. Returning to the driver’s seat of the car, he prepared to drive to his final destination.
Twenty minutes of driving went by before he reached the local Home Depot. Before stepping out of the car, he rolled down the windows of the car to prevent the fumes of the gasoline from building up, a lesson he learned early on in his life.
Stepping through the large glass doorway, he was greeted by a strong presence of the cold air conditioning and the elderly man who sat perched on his black barroom stool, greeting everyone who came in. He recognized the young man from the numerous times that he had been in there and nodded at his arrival. The young man was unsure of if the employee was just being polite or if he was suspicious of all of the visits that the young man made.
The young man walked the familiar path through the home improvement store towards the back, where they kept the bundles of prepackaged wood. Although he didn’t enjoy having to constantly go to the store to purchase wood that was easily available for free from the woods behind his apartment, it was drier and easier to use. He found what he was looking for quickly and grabbed two of the plastic wrapped bundles of wood, carrying them by the handles to the checkout lanes.
He waited in line for one of the aisles to clear up from their long line of people getting tools and supplies. While he could have easily went to the self-checkout lane to his right, he always had trouble when trying to scan the barcode that was always placed on the worst spots of the plastic wrap, having to rely on the one lone employee tasked with those kinds of situations.
One of the aisles had eventually was empty enough for him to stand in and he proceeded to enter it. It was only a few moments until he was waited on by a younger woman who greeted him in an overly friendly voice. Her overly styled hair and perfectly trimmed fingernails painted in fuchsia easily said that she never got her hands dirty. Easily misplaced, she seemed more appropriate as a secretary or an intern. She scanned both bundles of wood and told me that the usual amount of fifteen dollars and twenty six cents. The young man pulled out his wallet and gave her the necessary cash. When he received his change, he lifted the two bundles and left the store.
When he opened the trunk of his car, he was hit with the buildup of fumes that permeated through the small space. An unavoidable thing he thought, despite his best efforts. He sat the two bundles next to each other in the trunk and sealed it shut. When he sat down in the driver’s side seat, he could hardly smell the gasoline, making him glad that he kept the windows down. With all of the supplies he needed for his weekly fire, he started the car to return home.
A half hour later, he returned to his modest apartment building that he called home and parked his car on the far edge of the lot, closest to the woods. Opening the trunk, he was met again by the smell of the gasoline, but it didn’t bother him as much as it did before. He lifted the items out of the car and began to carry them to the woods to his usual spot.
It was always a twenty minute walk from the parking lot of his apartment to his usual burning location. When he first began to walk between the two places, his calves would ache and burn from carrying the heavy items. But over time, he had gotten used to the trips, making it easier for him. Who needs a gym membership he thought when he could do this regularly. After a while, he finally reached his destination.
A place of tranquility for him, it was isolated enough for him to do what he wanted, but close enough to his apartment that he would have a hard time getting back. It was a small clearing, an open space surrounded by trees with an unblocked view of the darkening sky. The trees’ branches that were closest to the clearing were singed from stray embers that floated up and burned the stray leaves.
The young man walked to the circular pit that he made four years ago when he first moved to the apartment nearby. Composed of assorted bricks of different colors, the ash from fires past filled the center of it. One by one, he removed the pieces of pre-cut logs and stacked them into the center of the pit, creating a small tower of wood. He thought back to his early childhood, where he would create stacks of blocks with numbers and letters carved into the sides of them to make words. He found it funny how despite being in his mid-twenties, he was still stacking blocks like he was four.
Casting the plastic wrappers aside, he grabbed the tank of gasoline and carried it to the pit. He had to be careful when pouring the gasoline; pour too little and it would hardly help the fire, pour too much and he would have a short lived yet dangerous fireball. He drizzled the gasoline along the pieces of wood before pouring the remainder onto the ground surrounding them. Having used most of the gasoline, he sat the canister far from the pit and prepared to light it. Taking the receipts that he had received earlier, he lit the corner of one of them, setting it on fire. He placed it quickly on the outer ring of gasoline and stepped away from the pit as the flame began to catch.
Within seconds, the rest of the gasoline began to burn and in turn, the wood as well as it quickly roared and cracked. The young man sat on the grass a few feet away and began to watch the fire with the same awe and amazement that he had since he was a child. Watching the flames dance, it was to him a moment of reflection, seeing each ribbon of flame as a Rorschach test to be taken. He didn’t question the logic in doing so, what he did with fire was the same with people that laid on the grass and drew shapes out from the clouds.
For his impromptu Rorschach test, he saw several things; a cyclone, an arc, a hand reaching up towards the heavens and more. What did this say about his sanity, thought the young man as he lost himself to the fire’s allure. He didn’t really care, he just wanted to enjoy the moment while he could.
Two hours had passed as he watched the last of the fire die out, the remaining embers barely flickering. The sky above him had become dark, a reminder that it was late at night. He pushed himself up from the ground, grabbing the emptied tank and plastic bags and made his way back to the apartment.
Leaving the woods, he walked to the nearby equipment shed and returned the gas tank back where it belonged. While it wasn’t his shed, but the landlord’s, he was allowed to store things from time to time there. After dropping off the plastic bags in the nearby dumpster, he glanced back the apartments and realized that he caught the attention of a lone woman.