THE ROOT OF HIS FIRE by TRACY E ANTOINE

     The heat from William's breath cuts through the December night's air, leaving clouds of smoke. BA-BUMP, BA-BUMP. In the darkness, the strange sound can't be explained. Under the hazy yellow street lamp, a rusty red gas pounds the flesh on the side of William's leg. His long stride quickens. Hurry and get to Selena. Tears stream down William's face, the saltiness burns, his dry cold lips. I won't let her go. She's mine. I told her this is graveyard love. If I can't have, her no one will! William runs the rest of the way. He bangs on the door when he reaches the apartment building. 

     "Come out Selena, or I will burn this whole building down," says William.  He bangs on the door again and starts pacing on the small slab of cement in the front of the apartment.  William pours gasoline onto the damp grass, he continues pouring, until the grounds of the modest four-unit apartment are drenched.  "You better open this damn door, or I'll burn all this shit down, Selena. I'm not playing. I know Chris is in there with you too, bitch," William says. 

     "Why are you doing this? We've both moved on. I know about you and Jessica, why don't you go meet her and leave me alone," Selena says. 

     "Fuck that, I know Chris' been trying to get with you and he's supposed to be my homeboy," William says. 

      "Look, man, you said you didn't want her. Anyways it's been almost a month since you hooked up with Jessica, so you shouldn't even care," Chris says. 

     "Dude, fuck you. You know me and Selena have been together for three years, she's mine no matter what," William says. "So, send that bitch out or I'm burning this shit down, period point blank." 

     "What do you want me to do, Selena?" Chris asks. 

     "You're going to have to hold him off, so we can get out and run to the pay phone," Selena says.  

      "Are you sure?" Chris asks. "He has gasoline, he could try to throw on you or one of us."

      "Well, how else are we going to get some help?" asks Selena. 

     "Tell him that you'll go out if he puts the gas can down and moves away from it," Tiffany says. 

  "I don't know if this is a good idea, Selena," Chris says. 

"I don't have a choice. I have to get to the payphone, Chris," Selena says. 

     Selena walks over to the door and looks out the peephole. She sees a drunk William, stumbles but doesn't fall. He takes out a box of matches from his pocket.  

     William yells again, "Come out bitch, or I am going to burn this shit down."  

     Selena is shaking, she doesn't know if it's from both the icy night wind, the fear that is growing inside her, or both. The tears begin to well up in her eyes. Chris hugs her. 

      "It will be okay, babe. I got you. Just stay behind me. Once you get out of the door run," he says. 

      "Come on cousin, we got this," Tiffany says.  

       Selena yells through the door, "William if you want me to come out, put the gas can by the tree and move away from it, and then I'll come." 

     William never moves. What is this bitch up to? I know she's not coming out just like that. 

     William's stomach boils like a hot pot of water, boiling over. It runs through his entire body. When it reaches his brain, it triggers him to scratch a match and lights a fire near the front door.   

     "Oh, my God! He lit the fire Selena," Tiffany screams. She rushes to grab the fire extinguisher that's hanging in the hall. 

     "We have to go now, Selena, before he burns the building down," says Tiffany. 

     "Let's go," Chris says. 

     Chris opens the door and pushes William back. Tiffany moves to spray the fire with the extinguisher. Selena tries to make a run towards the only payphone in the area. She dashes out the door. William dodges passed Chris. Within arms-length of Selena, William swings his tight balled fist. Selena falls to the ground. She sees bright flakes of white light swirling around here, like in one of those cartoons. William gets ready to hit her again but Chris runs from behind and knocks him to the ground. 

     "Hurry, Selena," Chris says. 

     Tiffany sprays out the fire and runs to Selena, helps her up, and they run off in the direction of the payphone, two blocks away. Selena and Tiffany run as fast as their legs will carry them. A cold sharp pain spreads from Selena's throat to her chest, her head still throbbing from the blow, William just dealt her. 

    Selena reaches the payphone first, snatches the receiver off the hook and dials 911. A quick ring and the operator picks up.  

     "911, what is your emergency?" asks the operator 

     "My ex-boyfriend is trying to set my apartment on fire," Selena says. 

      After a brief conversation with the 911operator, the girls run back to the apartment. As they approach they come upon a violent scene. William swings for Chris and misses. Chris swings back. BOMP, Chris' fist smash William's jaw, and he plunges to the ground. For a moment, he doesn't recognize where he's at or why he's there. William's vision begins to clean as he lays on the cold hard ground. He looks up at the stars then all around him. It's then that he spots Selena and he remembers where he is and why. In a flash, he is back on his feet, finds the gas can and runs towards Selena. William dashes towards Selena, knocking her to the ground. The metallic taste of blood fills her mouth. William slides passed her. He jumps up and runs to grab the can. Chris goes to intervene, still a fear that he will be doused with gas. Swing his arm, William splashes gas, getting some on the three. Before Chris can stop him, William strikes a match against the ragged brown and red box. A small flame ignites and he throws it towards Selena. She tries to move but the match catches her gas, soaked jacket sleeve. The flame spreads from her wrist up towards her face. The singe materials fill the night air. Her arm on fire, Selena tries to remember, what she was taught her in school. Stop, drop, and... I'm going to die, Oh my God. I'm on fire.

     Running towards Selena, Chris takes his jacket off, wraps her arm in and pats frantically.  

     "Ahhhhh," Selena screams out.  

     "I've got you, baby, it's out now," says Chris. 

      William hears Chris' words to Selena. He doesn't like how they look at each other. Something inside him snaps. He rushes Chris, knocking him to the ground. The next few minutes moves like a dream state to Selena. The sound of flesh pounding flesh, material ripping, and heavy breathing ensues as Chris and William tussle in the darkness. William's 6-foot 1-inch, 173-pound frame is no match for Chris' 6-foot 4-inch, 227-pound body. Chris pins William down. His knees planted on his arms. Chris punches William again.  

      "Man, that's enough, Chris says. Don't you hear the sirens? The laws will be here in a couple minutes. Go. I don't want to be the reason they get you, even though you're fucked up. But know that I'm not going to let you hurt Selena anymore. The choice is yours. I can let you go or we can keep fighting until the police get here and we both know how that will end. " 

     William stops struggling underneath Chris' weight. His eyes find Selena. Shivering from pain, fear, and cold. She will never take me back now.  

     "Let me up. I'll go," William says. 

     "No bullshit, William," says Chris. "If I let you up, leave Selena alone and just walk away William." 

     "I said I'll go."  

     "I'm on you man, so don't try anything.  

     "Fuck it, man. You want her you can have her. Just let me go before the cops get here." 

     "Selena, go back in the apartment," Chris says. "I'll be okay." 

     "But..." Selena says. 

      "No. Go now, so I can let him go before the people get here," says Chris. 

     Selena runs into the apartment but doesn't close the door all the way. She knows how crazy William can get. 

    "Man, this is your last chance, the cops will be here in a couple minutes, go now, while you still have a chance. Neither Selena or I want to be involved with you going to prison. So just go. 

     William jumps up ready to try to attack Chris. He looks to his right and sees the blue lights getting closer and closer. A pair of headlights turn and shine on the two. William runs to the gas can, sitting near a tree. He pours the toxic liquid onto different parts of his body.  

     "Stop right there," says a police officer. "Drop the can and put your hands in the air."  

      Selena opens the front door. William looks deep into her eyes, then his go dark and distant. Before anyone has the chance to move, William strikes a match and lets it ignite some article of his clothing. The flame spreads quickly. Tiffany screams.  

     "MAN NO," says Chris. 

     Selena can hear nothing. All she sees is bright orange and red flames jerk around the yard. William what have you done? The three years that they spent together, play in Selena's mind like a movie she has seen before. The night they met, sweet kisses and tender touches. But things had gotten worse. She had caught him with other girls. Then the violence. One night he'd slapped her so hard, the print from his hand was visible on her caramel, skin for days. They fought a lot. In those few moments, she remembered why she had fallen in and then out of love with William. Selena crashes back to reality. Chris has run over to Selena and wrapped his arms tightly around her. The scene is chaotic. People are running. There are yells and screams all around the apartment. Selena doesn't see the fire jerking around anymore.  

     "Where is he? What happened?" Selena asks. 

     "The cops were able to put the flame out. The paramedics have him in the ambulance, trying to treat him. I don't know if he is going to make it Selena," Chris says. 

     Tears pour down Selena's face. Tiffany is on the other side of her, in a hysterical ramble. The ambulance takes off. Siren blaring. The police officer asks standard questions and then hand Selena a card. He says a few more words and then leaves. The yard that was illuminated by bright blue lights is slowly getting dark as each police unit exits the property.  

     Selena, Tiffany, and Chris go inside of the apartment. No one says a word.  

      "I need to take a shower and check my arm," Selena whispers. 

      "Do you need help, baby?" Chris asked. 

      "No!" Selena says. 

      Selena walks into the bathroom. She closes the door and locks it behind her. Absent-mindedly she takes her clothes off. She looks at the skin on her arm. It's red and will probably blister. She reaches into the shower and turns the water on, she lets it run over her hand until it's hot enough. Selena steps into the shower, letting the water run over her head and down her face and body. "Aaargh." Selena shoves her washcloth into her mouth to muffle her screams. How could I let this happen? I should have never started with Chris. I knew William would come back even though he was with Jessica. Now he is probably dead and it's my fault. I can't do this anymore. Fuck being in a relationship. I won't put myself through this again.  

      BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. 

     "Cousin, are you okay?" asks Tiffany, through the bathroom door. 

     "Yes. Please tell Chris I will call him tomorrow. I thank him for what protecting me, but I need to be alone tonight," Selena says. 

     "Okay, Sellie. I'll tell him." 

     BOOM, BOOM. Chris hits the door. "Selena, I will check on you tomorrow. It's going to be alright. I'll call tonight and find out if William is okay." 

   "Yeah, alright," Selena says.  

     The apartment is quiet. Tiffany has fallen asleep by the time Selena emerges from the bathroom. She walks to the window and looks out. Flashes of the earlier events, stick in her mind like shards of glass, cutting deep into her emotions. She wants to scream, but holds it in behind her clenched fists, so as not to wake up Tiffany. No more questions. No more talking.  

     It's four o'clock a.m. and Selena still hasn't slept. She tip-toes to the closet and pulls out her suitcase and some of her clothes that are hanging up. She moves to the dresser, slides it open and grabs more clothes from there. After Selena has packed, she writes Tiffany a quick note. I can't deal with this here, Tiff. I'm going to Mom's and will be leaving later today to go to Texas. I think, staying with my Papa awhile will help. Be safe. Love Selena. She sticks note to the refrigerator with a magnet. Selena opens the front door and walks out, closing it behind her. She walks out into the dawn and towards her mother's house three miles away. 

     Later that day, Selena sits at the Greyhound bus terminal. When the agent comes on over the PA system. 

     "Now boarding, Westbound to Beaumont, Houston, and Dallas/Fort Worth, at gate number 16." 

     Selena walks to the payphone and dials a number. 

      RING, RING, RING.  

       "Hello," a female voice says. 

      "Is Chris available?" Selena asks. 

      "Yes. One moment." The voice says. 

     A few seconds later, Chris' voice is on the other end of the receiver. "Hello." 

     "Chris..." 

     "Selena, where are you? I called your Mother's number, but she said you were gone and won't be back for a while. Are you okay?" 

     "I'm fine. Did you find out about William? I was too scared to call." 

     "Umm yeah, Selena. I'm sorry, but William didn't make it. 

     Selena let out a gasping sound. It felt as if she had been punched in the stomach. 

     "Selena. I'm so sorry this happened. I didn’t want to see William hurt and especially not dead."  

     "It's my fault. I knew that no matter what William did or how many girls he messed around with, he would still try to come back. I put up with it so long, I made him feel it was okay." 

     "It's not your fault Selena. Where are you? I will come meet you," Chis said. 

     "It's too late Chris. I'm getting on a bus to Dallas. Move on with your life because I am just trouble," Selena says. 

     "No, Selena wait..." 

     BUZZ, BUZZ, BUZZ, is all Chris hears. 

      Selena stands in line to get on the bus. Before she steps on, she takes one last look at The Lake. She gets on the bus and never looks back. 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tracy Antoine