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On fire

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Image by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay

Hedgeley High was no Hogwarts. It wasn’t even the poor cousin. It had fallen right off the family tree, into the land of decay and jank. It literally couldn’t keep itself together. It was falling apart, and shedding itself all over the magical map.

Case in point, its Trial by Fire rooms had apparently reformed into some sort of cluster 60 kilometres away from the main house.

This meant that on this damp September Sunday, Bo Simkins had to borrow the headmaster’s clapped out Mini to drive there – seeing as how she lacked any magical means of travel, and she had a Head Girl’s test to take.

Bo’s first sighting of the house was of a mounding, wart-like protrusion, pushing up out of a muddy, bramble-tangled patch of ground. She ‘parked’ the mini right in front of it, for this was where the track ended, and there was no concrete or tarmac or gravel that even suggested the existence of a carpark.

She retrieved her rucksack from the boot, and slammed the boot shut over and over until finally the catch caught, and held the boot shut. Then she hunched her shoulders against the dank cold and squinted at the house. Should she call it a house? It looked big enough to house a couple of hobbits. Hobbits who’d been thrown out of the Shire for some heinous crime, and forced to live in…yes, this really was a wart of a building.

Bo hitched her bag over her shoulder, and picked her way through the knotty grass, to the mouldy shrimp-coloured front door. She reached for the rusted knocker, but before her fingers could make contact, the door swung open.

“Come in. You’re late,” boomed a voice, in surround sound. Great. Of course this building would sound like a man. A man who’d been yanked out of a tavern, mid pint of ale, and was none too happy at being disturbed.

Bo ducked into the dark hallway and felt her shoulders hunch. “Let’s get this over with, shall we?”  She rolled her neck and tightened her ponytail.

“Missy. You may fancy yourself as the next Head Girl. But don’t be coming the bossy britches with me. It was a mistake letting you women wear britches in the first place!”

Wow. Just wow. Her test depended on working with this sexist pile of condescending bricks? Bo clenched her jaw and said nothing. She scanned around her, taking in more now that her eyes had adjusted to the low light. The hallway was a round little pit of a room, with a couple of dark wood chairs, propped against the walls. The walls themselves looked like they’d been painted with stewed tea. At the farthest end was the twisting start of a wooden staircase. Was there really a second floor? It looked too low for that from the outside. But maybe it had the power to morph? It had certainly had the power to move itself out here.

“Slug got your tongue?”

“I was just…taking this all in.”

“And what if I stared at you like that? Be happy with that would you? You’d report me, for creeping, wouldn’t you? You girls love to snitch,” the building groaned.

Bo narrowed her eyes, and zipped her puffer jacket up to her chin. “I’m sure neither of us is happy with this arrangement. So… what if we whistle through it? And then, I leave you in peace.”

“Whistle through it?”

Bo sighed. “What did you have in mind? I’m listening.”

“Crawl up the stairs. On your knees. Like a dirty little mouse.”

Bo titled her chin and yelled up at the dingy ceiling, “Fuck you!”

She felt the low rumble of laughter, through the soles of her trainers.

“That’s somewhat better,” the house deigned. “You need some spunk if you’re going to be Head Girl and stand up to that rotting sack of a headmaster.”

Bo counted to three and then sighed out through her nose. This was typical. Show some spunk. But not too much. Don’t be too bossy. Stand up for yourself, but also, while you’re at it… smile more. Be decisive. But don’t ask for too much.

She pulled her water bottle from her bag and took a sip of water. It seemed to taste of this place. Dank and dusty and bitter. Gross.

“Well, what are you waiting for?”

“You?” Bo said, mentally weighing up the option of sleeping in the car tonight. The test was supposed to last 24h, and there was no way she was going to close her eyes in this place. Not for longer than a blink. She could pretzel herself, on the backseat of the mini?

She checked her phone. It was 4pm.

“I’ll be straight with you,” said the house. “You might want to run, while you still have legs.”

“Got you,” Bo said, forcing herself onwards, towards the staircase. She slipped her other arm through the straps of her rucksack and tightened it onto her back. Then she reached for the bannister, noticed the thick layer of dust, and retracted her hand. She managed to jog up three of the stairs before the whole staircase started swaying and jerking, trying to shuck her off.

“I’ve got great balance,” Bo said, through gritted teeth. It lurched, like a bucking bronco, she yelped, bit her tongue, and yelped again. The staircase whipped left, and Bo grabbed for the bannister.

“Don’t touch me!” yelled the house. “Dirty little slut girl.”

Excuse me? The rage started cold, a tight little golf ball in her gut. And then it unfurled, like a cobra, coming out of its neat little basket, and rearing up. Bo raced up the final section of stairs.

“They never should have let you stupid little girls into the school in the first place!” screeched the house.

“I swear I’m going to rip your bannister right off!” Bo yelled, like she was yelling down the hockey pitch. (None of the students could fly well enough to manage anything airborne.) She tossed her water bottle over her shoulder, grabbed a section of bannister with both hands and ripped, with all her cobra rage, and stirred up magical strength. She broke an entire section free and raised it over her head, like a wild warrior.

“Seeeee thaaaaaat!” she roared. It felt good. Then she choked on a dust cloud.

“I will grind you!” the house yelled back.

What followed was a total barfight of a trial. Of a test. Forget visual puzzles, and deep questions. Forget riddles and trickery, and mastery and such. Bo was set on beating this house into submission. Literally.

She tore through the first room, a travesty of butter-coloured curtains and cheese smelling sofas. She ripped and tore its guts out, and threw the crumbling foam all over, like decrepit snow.

“Stooooooop! You’re hysterical! Get a grip!” yelled the house.

Bo got a good grip. On the curtains. She yanked them from the rail. “Declare me Head Girl!”

“You’re mad! I told him. I told them. It was a mistake to let you in. Stupid girls.”

Bo grabbed her bannister-club from where she’d propped it, in the doorway, and stormed into the second room, clonking her head on the beam by the door in the process. She fell, flat on her back, and then staggered back up to her feet, concussed and even more livid. It was like her soul had been soaked in gasoline, and this dickhead of a house was a flaming match.

She glared around at the stained brown walls. “Bring it, shitbox.”

The walls reverberated. The floor shook. “You dirty, dirty little girl!”

Bo charged for the window, swung and smashed the smeared glass, in a single stroke.

“NEXT!” she roared.

“Get a hold of yourself!” the house roared. “You’ll pay for this! I’ll bring the roof down on your empty little head.”

Bo skidded to a stop on the splintered floorboards of room number three, and whirled around on the spot. “Declare me Head Girl, and we will call this quits.”

“I’ll never roll over for a girl.”

“Ok then.”

The floor shook, and not with condescending laughter this time. With a whole new quake of menace. Bo widened her stance, and shrugged her way out of her rucksack, until she could reach the front pocket. She dug for her lighter, and her cigarettes fell out.

“I see them! I see them! I’ll report you.”

“Now who’s the snitch? Oh, and news flash, I am going to set you on fire!”

Bo flicked the lighter on and paced around this final room. There was a tall bookcase at one end, stuffed with books with cracked spines. Would they be too damp to catch? If she used them as a fire starter? She could start the bluff at least. She pulled one from the shelf and held it up, like a damp-soaked trophy.

“You’re not fit!” whined the house.

The whole bookcase cascaded towards her, and she leapt back, but a big tome of something caught her hard on the knee. And another on the side of the head.

“Fuck!” she clutched her temple. “I mean it. I will burn you down.”

Bo looked at the cover of the book that she was still clutching. Arnold’s Almanac. Who the fuck was Arnold? Who cared. Some other dead dude.

The house shuddered and the glass rattled in its peeling frame. “You’re not my match. You don’t have magic. And you don’t have any balls. Come, come, little Piggy. Blow the house down.”

“You’re half right. But mostly wrong!” Bo yelled, holding the lighter aloft.

The house shook and kicked up a gust that blew it straight out.

Bo lit it again.

The house huffed it out.

“Ok, you know what. You win,” Bo said, bowing her head, and retreating backwards out of the room. She smiled as she jogged down the stairs.

“Giving up so soon wussy pussy. Little pussycat.”

“Mmhmmm.” Bo headed for the door, and on her way out she ripped out a single brick from the hallway, with her bare fingers. Then she stalked out of the front door and put her plan into play.

Now this felt good. She sang to herself, as she worked through the steps. Two to go…

One, put that stupid condescending prick of a brick down on the accelerator of the mini.

Two, release the handbrake.

Ok, there were three…. stand back and watch…

Bo watched, her face tightening with delight as the expertly rigged car smashed through the doorway and burst into beautiful, consuming flames that licked and ripped their way through the hall. They caught the staircase and lit it up. The house wailed, and Bo winced. But before sympathy could overtake her, the house let out a guttural cry and cursed, “Damn you. Damn you to hell, and may the devil make you crawl at his feet. Dirty little mouse girl. Dirty little slut girls, the lot of you.”

The house writhed. Bricks flew out of their mortar. Dust and ashes swirled. The car exploded with a sky shaking BOOM.

“Ok then,” Bo said, rubbing her neck as she looked up, watching the flames tear upwards, destroying this blight. This shitty Shire. Time to call an Uber and blackmail the Headmaster into paying for it. Afterall he was the rotting sad sack who had sent her into this Trial by Fire. Coward.

Week 42

I was thinking about the MICE quotient this week. From Scott Orson Card. Is your story focused on MILIEU, an IDEA, a CHARACTER or an EVENT? In what combination?

I started off really trying to think about Milieu (setting). But in a snap the house turned into a character. Hmmm. Well. I can think on this some more, but this story is what came out.

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