Fire Starter

Funerals never affected me. They depressed others, and all of my friends, but they never affected me. No one close to me had ever died before, so I never was able to properly sympathize with those around me. But I stood at that funeral today, in two pieces, one of anger, and one of misery. I was destroyed and broken, just as Cassie had been. Cassie's pain was a prism of suffering. It was never-ending and affected everyone around her. Her friends and family stood around her casket, saddened by the truth of why she did it. Half of them didn't blame her, half of them wish that she had seen what everyone else saw.

An innocent girl condemned to a lifetime of guilt. And the sentence was death.

ooo

No one knew why Cassie was so lost. She acted as if she knew everything, and she did whatever she liked, and didn't care how it contributed to her self-destruction. I would carry her home drunk and plead her to stop her antics, but she never did. Once, I found her in her bathtub, a needle in one hand, and her arm out-stretched, a thick, deep carving in her arm.

"Keith, look what I did," she would tell me, proud, yet dazed from the influence of the drugs she was under.

It broke my heart to see her like this.

I drug her out of the tub that day, cleaned her up, stitched her up myself, and put her to bed. I didn't go home that night. I stayed in the guest room, waited for her to sobre up, and cooked her grill cheese for breakfast the next morning, where I proceeded to try to talk about the incident.

"You shouldn't cut yourself."

"You shouldn't interfere with other people's business."

"You are my business."

"You're not my boyfriend."

"That's right. Your boyfriend left after you slept with a man for coke."

"Ouch."

She applauded me when I insulted her, so I stopped. She enjoyed pain. I didn't know why. But she welcomed insults; she welcomed the destruction of her body from drugs, needles, and alcohol, and the degradation of her self worth by horny men and drug dealers.

I didn't know much about Cassie, and I didn't know much about her past, but I wish I did. Perhaps I could help her with her demons. Perhaps I could solve her subconscious issues, causing all of this grief. I was determined to find out, and save her.

At home once, I was fast asleep, dreaming of Cassie, actually, when the phone tore me from my deep slumber. I recognized the voice immediately. "She's passed out in my bathroom," Ralph the local bartender said. He ran the bar only a block from Cassie's apartment. She only goes there when she's upset. Because it's quick liquor. Knowing her, she was probably out of cocaine.

"I'll come and get her."

I got dressed at 3am, after only two hours of sleep, to go get her. As I did this, I could her my sister's words in my ears. "You do so much for her, and she doesn't even appreciate it. Is she really worth it?"

Perhaps Cassie and I would never be together, but she needed someone to save her, and even if I failed, I was going to try. My sister had a point. Cassie acted like she didn't appreciate my helping her through her hangovers and picking her up out of strange bars and from strange men's houses, but I didn't care. If she was safe, I was happy.

The smell of the bar she was in was grotesque. I couldn't imagine how someone could drink liquor in a place so foul. Walking down the aisles of tables I noticed the walls were written on and the stools were broken. There was an echo grunting noises, to which I followed and found Cassie, throwing up in a toilet in the back bathroom, which was all the more foul. Her heels were stained and her tights were torn and her leather jacket had a bottle of liquor in the pocket.

Instinctively, I would hold her hair for her, I would stand outside as she cleaned up, her last bottle of liquor in my hand, away from her, and then I would drive her home.

Sitting next to her, in bed, I almost felt complete for a moment. Under the covers she laid, her fingers laced in mine, as I sat up next to her. She clung to me desperately through the pain, the pain in her head and the pain in her stomach from the drugs. For a moment, I was appreciated. She needed my support and my presence, and as usual, I was more than happy to give it to her. Though, as usual, even as she laid under those thin white sheets, completely innocent in her pajamas like a school girl, clinging to my very presence, I had to say it. I always did, and I would never stop.

"I wish you wouldn't do this to yourself."

When I told her this, she knew she was destroying herself, which meant she was doing it right.

"I haven't a clue why you're so keen on your own self destruction."

And with that, her fingers fell from mine, and she turned over. She faced away from me, and I sat in the dark feeling severed from society. All she said was,

"Because this is what I deserve."

ooo

As I said, I didn't know much about Cassie's past, although I wish I had. I wish I knew what made her so miserable, what was haunting her to the point where she would carve into her skin and drink until she vomited out three days worth of food. Cassie drank for the hangover, and she only did drugs for the withdrawals. She wanted the pain, and I didn't know why, until one day she finally told me.

No, she didn't tell me. She showed me.

I had been trying to catch up on my sleep since I'd spent the last three day baby sitting. When I heard the doorbell ring, I knew I wouldn't be able to do this. It was Cassie, I already knew. Instead of answering the door in my pajamas, I just decided to dress. I'd have to take her home anyway. She was probably drunk and just in need of a ride.

But when I opened the door, she stood clad. She was wearing a suit, she was sobre, and her hair was clean and pulled back. She looked quite lovely.

"Sobre suits you," I joked. "What's wrong?" I inquired, pulling my jacket over my shoulders.

"You wanted to know, so let's see," she said simply, and then turned around.

I watched as she marched toward the elevator in her high heels so confidently. She astounded me. I liked her sobre.

I followed her. She led me to the first floor, and then out onto the street. We began toward the street of which her apartment was located, and that sleazy bar from nights before, but we didn't go to either of those places. Instead, a mile between the bar and a mile between her houses, she brought us to two intersecting streets. We went left. I never knew how left we were actually going.

She took us to a hospital at the very end of the street. She led us to the very first floor. And she took us to the farthest room at the end of the hall on that floor. I knew when she told me that she was going to show me her demon, that when she told me she was going to reveal to me why she was trying to kill herself, that it was going to be a memory locked away, but this memory was really locked away. It was still close to her home. She only moved in this apartment a year ago. There were thousands of places in the city to choose from, but she chose the apartment a block away from this hospital, where she kept her reasons. This hospital wasn't a hospital. It served better as a safe.

We reached the end of the hallway. Boldly, she placed her small hand on the door knob of the last hospital room. She stared into the blankness of the closed door, and without looking at me, she simply spoke, "Don't stare and don't make a sound." And with that, she opened the door.

The room was bright and illuminated by the happy sun pouring into the room. Someone sat in the corner, next to the window, facing away from us. At first, they looked like an old woman, but –

"Hi, Rachel," Cassie cooed. She slowly walked across the room, tip-toeing, trying not to make too much ruckus. "It's me."

"Cassie? Is that you?"

It was not the voice of an old woman, but of a young girl's. I was confused. I stood next to the door, however, scared to make any sound. I felt like an intruder in someone's dream. Unwelcome, and too knowing. The back of her head looked wrinkled and bald from my view, but I was afraid to look any closer. I simply observed.

"Yeah. It's me." Cassie approached her and crouched down next to the woman in the wheel chair. Cassie looked up at Rachel, so solemnly. What was this? Slowly, I took a couple of steps to the side, in attempt to get a better look at Rachel's face. Or so I thought.

Cassie smiled up at Rachel, trying her best to seem happy. But I was dumbfounded when I finally saw who's face Cassie was looking into.

"It's been so long since I've seen you. Weeks, I believe."

When she spoke, she had a bit of a lisp. I didn't understand why until I saw her lips, slightly deformed. She had not her entire eyes. I could see why she had no hair, now. Across the entire back of her head danced malicious scars from fire. Burn marks. And her eyes, they had no lids. She had no eye brows. And her nose, it was gone.

"I'm sorry. I've been looking for a job, and I've been having a hard time lately," Cassie continued to coo.

I thought that was a lie, her looking for a job, but I wasn't always with Cassie, so I didn't know. Most of our time spent together was at night, but that didn't exactly matter to me at the moment. I was too transfixed. I knew I was staring, but I couldn't help it. I tried to look at Cassie, and not Rachel.

"Why didn't you come to me? You know you can tell me anything," Rachel insisted, struggling to speak, but her tone dripped with sincerity.

"I didn't want to bother you."

"You never bother me. You're my only friend, Cassie. I miss you. Who would want to be friends with me like this?"

I was taken aback.

"Don't say that!"

I turned around, to step out.

I couldn't take anymore at this point.

She was deformed, and I didn't know why, and I wanted to honor Cassie's request and be quiet and respectful. Stepping outside the door, I heard,

"My life was burned away with the car. You're my only real friend, Cassie."

And with that I closed the door.

ooo

I shutter to think what Cassie thought of me when she stepped out of the hotel room and I wasn't there. I didn't know if I should have stayed to support her or if my leaving meant that I was a coward and that I, after all, couldn't handle her demon. She didn't bother knocking when she showed up at my apartment. She just walked in, calmly. I was sitting on the couch and she stood in front of me, clad in her white suit, her arms folded.

"So?"

"I'm confused."

"I told you I'd show you. I never told you I'd tell you."

And with that she turned and walked away.

That moment, I was sure she would never tell me, and I was okay with that. I was happy with what she had let me see, and how far she had let me in. It was progress, and I was happy for that. But, however, she did tell me. To this day I wish she hadn't, because a confession for Cassie means her demise.

She had been drunk again. I found her at Ralph's bar – again. I drug her home – again. She was in bed when she started talking. She was turned away from me, huddled up under the covers. I sat up next to her, on top of her bed, like I had nights before. I didn't expect her to say anything. But she did. And I was taken aback.

"I did it," she said, in a soft voice, her words trailing off in the darkness.

I was confused at first. The statement was random. "You did what?"

"I did that to Rachel. I did it."

I was so confused. I had no clue what she was talking about. It wasn't like she took a bucket of oil and set the woman on fire. "Cassie, I don't think I quite know what you mean."

Slowly, ever so slowly, she turned to me and began to reposition herself in bed. She faced me know, also sitting up. Her hair messy, her eyes blank, her face expressionless, she began to tell me a story.

"We had all been drinking," she said, her voice breaking. "Rachel was in the front seat. I was in the back. And then there was a crash. I don't remember anything about it, other than waking up about fifty feet away from the car." When she started telling me this, she was cool and indifferent sounding. Now her breaking voice turned into slight sobs. "The hood was on fire." I thought I had a clue of where this was going. But I was nowhere near what Cassie was about to tell me. The sobs were definite now, and tears began to draw down her eyes. I wanted to embrace and comfort her, but I was too engrossed into what she was telling me.

"The hood was on fire, and I saw that my boyfriend and Cassie were still inside. I ran to the car to see if they were okay. He was fine. I was able to wake him. But Cassie was never knocked out. But oh how I wish she had been."

My breath hitched and my eyebrow rose at her statement.

"Oh if you only knew," she partially laughed, sarcasm and misery in the pitch.

"Tell me."

After a short pause, she continued. "I drug my boyfriend, Mike, out of the car, and tried to do the same for Rachel. But I couldn't. The hood was horribly damaged and had pinned her legs. By the amount of pain she was in, I could tell both of her legs were broken."

I thought of the scorch marked Rachel in her wheel chair.

"She was pinned by the dashboard. I couldn't even get the door open. I remember reaching into the car, trying to move it, pull it free. But it was so hot. And then, the worst thing that could have possibly happened – happened."

I was afraid to ask. I had an idea, but I prayed I wasn't right. "What?"

"The fire began to spread"

Fire Starter.

"It began to spread across the hood, and then to the dashboard. Mike began to back away, but I didn't. I reached for her, I tried to pull her. I tried to bend the dashboard, but I couldn't. If we had help they could have cut her free. I remember yelling at Mike to find his phone and call someone. But I couldn't stop the fire."

Not only was she sobbing now, but tears were falling from my eyes, too. I had been right. I knew what she was going to tell me.

"The fire began to spread into the cab of the car…and she could feel it burn her legs at first, and with that she started to scream. I just tried faster, harder, to get her free. But, Keith," she said solemnly, fear dripping in her tone, "fire spreads. Heh. It consumes. And it got bigger, and it got hotter, and soon I could feel it burn my arm, and Mike was getting burnt, too. I didn't want to leave her, but I was afraid the car would explode. And so Mike pulled me away.

"We got a safe distance away from the car, and then – the flame enveloped her. A piece of me died as I watched my best friend burn to death, in that car. I could hear her screams. And she screamed so loud. I should have been the one in the car."

I stopped her. "No. This is nowhere near your fault, Cassie."

She seemed offended. "No? It was my idea to go out! I had influenced the drinking! It was my turn to be the designated driver, but I was too drunk, so Mike took over. And I couldn't get her out."

"You couldn't have done anything," I tried. Though I could sort of tell where she was coming from.

"You saw Rachel, Keith. I should have fucking done something. When help finally arrived, she was melted to the seat! Barely breathing. When they rushed her into surgery, they had to cut the seat from her skin. She can't even see, Keith." She stood. She looked down on me with furious eyes, and yelled. "Half of her face was burnt off. She has no eye sight. She didn't even know you were there, that day! And she can't even speak properly, because they had to reconstruct her face." She turned away from me - and headed for the kitchen. I followed her, wondering where she was going and why. I knew why when I saw the bottle at her lips when I arrived next to her. This didn't stop her. She continued her story.

Through a gulp of liquor, "She can't even walk. They had to do surgery on her legs. Both of her heels were cut off. She has scars over her entire body. She can't grow any hair."

I didn't expect this.

She calmly placed the bottle onto the counter and then reached down, toward a drawer, and pulled out a knife. My heart stopped.

"She doesn't even have any eye lids, Keith." And with that, she looked from the blade to me.

I wasn't going to let this happen. I wasn't going to let her blame herself for something she couldn't control.

"This isn't your fault, Cassie. Please just put the knife down."

We'd been standing in the kitchen. Behind her was the laundry room that I recalled had a lock on the door. I knew now what she had in mind. It was going to be a race. Who could get the knife first, and I had to keep her out of the bathroom, bedroom, and laundry room.

She took a slow step back, and I took a quick step forward, reaching for the knife.

"I know what you're going to do with that. So please, don't do it."

"It's my fault, Keith. She can't have a life, now. I should have gotten her out. But I was afraid of a little heat. God I'm such a wimp." After these final words, she stepped away from me so quickly, and the next think I knew she was behind the locked door of the laundry room. "I couldn't handle a little heat!" she exclaimed through the door.

I knew what she was going to do. She was going to hurt herself, and I couldn't let this happen, especially when I had no idea to what extent she was going to harm herself. I pleaded through the door.

"Please don't hurt yourself, Cassie."

"Now she's stuck in that room."

"Cassie, please!" I tried to speak over her, but it didn't matter.

"She can't have a life."

"I'm going to call the hospital! I need a phone." I began looking for her house phone, but to no avail. I simply used my cell phone instead.

"Mike doesn't even see her."

"Cassie, I'm calling an ambulance, now!"

"He can't even look at her. But I! I face my demons! …Heh." She laughed. "I suppose she is my demon, isn't she. I should be in her place," she said. "I should be the one in the wheelchair. Because I was the weak one. I did this to her. It was me."

When I finally got 911 on the phone, I could see blood seep from under the door way. I told them to hurry. And they did. They had to break in the laundry room.

Cassie was passed out when we got in, but alive. I cleaned the blood up myself while she was in the hospital. They put her on suicide watch.

It didn't matter.

ooo

Everyone stared at me, at the funeral. They knew that I had been most involved with Cassie. I think they partially blamed me for not being able to stop her.

It wasn't long after she got out of the hospital that she managed to do the worst. And how she did it, alone, would send chills down your spine.

The detective had told me, "She did it herself, the marshal says. Soaked her entire apartment with gasoline, and lit the place aflame. The fighters found her scorched body in the bathtub."

I wanted to hurt myself, then, after hearing how she'd done it. Though I didn't.

Her family was dead, too. All close family. After the incident with Rachel, she moved, and none of her friends had heard from her in ages. When they found out that she'd died, they all rushed to Boston for the funeral, saddened, tears in their eyes. So many people are going to miss her, especially Rachel.

With her family gone, it seemed like I was the one responsible for funeral arrangements and handling her business. Needless to say, the funeral was closed casket. And I was the one left to tell Rachel.

"Now I'm all alone. Stay with me, please," she had asked me, facing the window blankly, unable to see what was on the other side of it. "You'll be the last human interaction I have, that's not with a nurse, for a long time."

"Don't worry," I had said. "I'll be returning."

After Cassie's death, I managed her apartment's lease and her landlord, packed her things, and once a week, every week, I had lunch with Rachel. Cassie killed herself because she felt guilty for Rachel's demise. Now Rachel and I both felt responsible for Cassie's. It was a cycle, because Cassie's pain was prism of suffering. It was never-ending. And it affected everyone around her.