With the right chemicals, the fire would barely touch our skin; a lot of us had streaks of hairless skin on our arms from repeated close encounters. We cultivated these streaks. They were our battle scars.

Fiction by Amelie Daigle, Fall 2013


If we hadn’t been resurrected through rubble, if our knees hadn’t been cut by kneeling on gravel, this might never have happened, any of it. We were living in a small city that had once been great, and we spent our days in abandoned houses, burning dead leaves and unrecognizable relics. We doused our skin in chemicals and let the flames play gently over our arms. We made patterns with flammable liquids on the ground. When cars drove by we lay flat on our stomachs wherever we were. Once someone didn’t lower herself down carefully enough and her hair caught on fire. She screamed a little, but we just pointed to Diego’s eyebrows, which were missing, singed from an explosion that occurred only almost-too-close to his face. Diego was on the ground at the time, crouching over some substance he’d pawned from the chem lab, and it was obvious that his personal safety was the last thing on his mind; he touched the vials calmly and lovingly, although he always looked alarmed in a grotesque way, eyebrowless.

After that the girl who smelled like burning hair said she wasn’t going to do this anymore because it was dangerous and we said alright, fine. And she walked away. “Who was that, anyway?” I asked, and someone told me her name was Cassie, and I laughed and licked my finger and ran it through a small flame, which was a nervous habit of mine at the time. It’s hard to stop touching fire compulsively, once you know it’s possible. It’s like poking a bruise. Only instead of being surprised by pain, you’re surprised by the absence of pain; you’re surprised that this substance you’ve been told all your life is forbidden is actually harmless, almost domestic.

With the right chemicals, the fire would barely touch our skin; a lot of us had streaks of hairless skin on our arms from repeated close encounters. We cultivated these streaks. They were our battle scars.

I couldn’t remember the names of chemical compounds, so I’d tell Diego to give me that one that made fire dance painlessly on my arm, and he’d laugh and call me a poet. Sometimes, if he wasn’t busy doing something else, he’d spread it over my skin himself, and he’d light the fire and watch as it raced down to the palm of my hand in one quick flash. It was a soft, warm, tingly feeling. I liked to clench my fist at the moment before the fire ran out of chemical and extinguished itself, and every muscle in my arm would stand out glowing blue-bright, and I’d feel like a god, at that moment, sitting on the floor of the skeleton of a house that someone had lived in, someone had actually inhabited this place only a year ago, everything so fragile and perilous in the dusk and the ceiling maybe about to collapse on all of our heads. “I want flames on the tips of my nails, Diego.”

Diego instructed me to press my five fingertips together. He dipped them in something that felt cool and had the liquid-dry feeling of rubbing alcohol.

Diego was the only person I knew who lit cigarettes with flint and steel, rather than a lighter. He never inhaled the cigarette smoke, or even held the cigarette in his mouth when lit; he called smoking a socially acceptable way to watch things burn in public. This meant he was never in any real hurry to get the cigarette lit, and I’d seen him spend up to ten minutes trying to aim the spark at the cigarette’s tip. My chemical-drenched fingers were an easier target. “Open them,” Diego commanded, and in the falling darkness I watched five little fireflies burn on the tips of my fingers. I held my hand away from my face and wiggled my fingers; the fireflies danced.

Somebody said: “If I got a dragon tattoo, could you make it breathe fire?”

“Yeah,” Diego said, returning to his customary crouched position over a vial of magnesium something. “Does anyone have a fruit, like an apple or something?”

“I’ve got an orange.” I didn’t know the name of the somebody, but I knew her face; small and impressively angular, with features that seemed to slope away from a central point. Distinctive.

“Can I have it?” Diego asked her.

“No. You’ll make it explode.”


“So I want to eat it.”

“So why even tell me you have it?”

“Car,” Jeremiah said, one sharp bark, and we all dropped to the ground. Only maybe somebody was a little slow, because this time the car didn’t drive on by. We listened to the sound of a stalled engine.

“Is it a cop?” someone hissed. “Did anyone see?”

“Naw, man, it’s just some middle-aged woman.”

“The hell is she stopping here for?” Diego breathed in my ear. He always smelled like smoke.

“I dunno, you think she saw?”

“Even if she did she won’t come in, would you? Most she’ll do is call someone and drive off. We’ve just got to wait.”

Diego smelled a lot like smoke. Somebody hissed: “Diego, put that shit out, man.”

“That shit’s been out, man.”

“Then where’s the smoke from?”

I rolled over a bit to look up, and there was a thin plume of smoke rising above Diego. I looked down. He was only smoldering a little bit, but I rolled away before I said “Diego, look at your shoe.”

“Diego, get your shit under control, man, you’ll screw us all over.”

“Ah, shit,” Diego said. He raised himself up on his arms and started grinding his foot against the ground.

“Is it okay, Diego?” I asked.

“I’m okay,” he said, but the fire wasn’t going away. He kicked off his shoe. “Someone hand me a jacket.” I gave him mine, and he threw it over the shoe, which was now burning with a real fire, a real red fire that devoured the light cardigan I’d thrown over my shoulders as I left my house.

“The hell did you spill on your shoe, Diego?”

Mierda, it’s not going out.”

“Dude, you just set her jacket on fire.”

“Shit, man, this is bad, this is bad, we gotta go, man, we gotta go.”

“We can’t just leave.”

“But look at the  smoke man we’ve gotta go.”

“Ah, shit.

A thick plastic-smelling smoke rising out of the shoe (“Diego man what the hell did you do?”) and everyone scattered. I wanted to watch but I wanted to run but I didn’t know where to go so I was relieved when I heard Diego hiss from behind a wooden fence half a block away. When I joined him on the other side he was pale and one-shoed and shaking, leaning against the fence like he couldn’t hold himself up.

“Diego?” I said, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to ask.

He stepped towards me and leaned forward so that the weight of his head was on my shoulder. “You know what?” he said. “You know what I did? I left all the chemicals in there. I left them in the burning building.”

A plume of smoke rose from the top of the house, grey against twilight.

“I bet that woman had a cell phone,” I said. “I bet she’ll call the cops and they’ll come down here and see. Someone will put it out.”

“Yeah,” Diego said.

There was a loud noise and a blinding light; I could feel Diego tremble. His eyes were pressing into my shoulder, so I was the one who watched the building erupt into flame, who saw the fire blossom outwards, crackling savagely. The air was heavy with smoke. Little particles of dust and flame floated on the breeze, flickering, landing on the ground in front of me. I watched a spark float to the ground, flare on impact, sputter, and die.

I looked down at my hand.


Amelie Daigle holds a bachelor's degree in English Writing from Loyola University New Orleans, where she has had the pleasure of editing and contributing to two English department journals, Revisions and The Reader's Response. She currently attends Boston College, where she is a Ph.D. candidate in the field of English Literature.

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