The Shadow in the Fire

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He had always been attracted to fires. It wasn’t the heat or even the flames, it was the sheer destruction that he found cathartic. Fire consumed and destroyed everything, leaving only ash behind.

His mother and stepfather had been in his first fire. It was like his birth because he could not remember a time before that fire. His memories all faded to darkness before that fire had awoken him and his passion for arson.

These thoughts all mingled together as he watched the old warehouse in the docks begin burning. The fact that he could not really remember getting there hardly bothered him. That sort of thing happened often these days.

The hungry flames began licking around the warehouse’s ceiling. These old warehouses often had wooden beams in parts of their structures and burnt beautifully. And now the walls were taking in the growing blaze.

It was beautiful.

He liked these remote buildings. They were often desolate and empty. Typically, the fire department only arrived at these spots many hours later. It gave him plenty of time to enjoy his art before slipping back into the shadows.

A door in the side of the warehouse suddenly flew open and a handful of people in white lab-coats spilled out! It looked like some of them were even carrying handguns. One was shouting into a mobile phone while they all piled into a black van that he had not noticed before. It had tinted windows. The van’s engine revved in a panic and it screamed down the street and into the night.

None of them had noticed him lurking in the shadows a little way down the street. He felt relieved if somewhat excited by all of this. Why am I relieved, he wondered to himself? Who are they?

It didn’t really matter much to him. What could they have been doing in there, his mind wandered to next? He was more curious than anything else. From the outside, this warehouse in the docks looked as run-down and disused as any other warehouse around this area.

The questions quickly slipped from his mind as the fire began to lick the heavens. His grin widened as the hungry tendrils danced into the night sky. Soft ash began to rain down around him as the great catharsis spread, calming and exciting him through its destruction. It reminded him of home. No, it reminded him of Home.

A sudden, small explosion surprised him, sending a minor fireball roaring into the night sky. His grin widened. What could have exploded in a supposedly-abandoned warehouse? The fire’s rage and intensity rose with the explosion and it began to reach climax as parts of the roof progressively collapsed inwards.

Just before the inferno fell in on itself, a being emerged from within it. It was only a dark shadow against the fiery mass–he could see no other distinguishing features–but it walked from the gloomy doorway where the lab-coated men had run. Somehow, he felt a connection with it.

For the briefest moment, the shadow lingered on the edge of the flickering firelight and seemed to turn in his direction. Is it sniffing the night air?  Is it looking at me? Why isn’t it moving?

The hairs on the back of his neck rose, and he felt cold and terrified. It felt like the shadowy being was looking at him. Like it was looking straight at him through all the ash, heat, fire and shadows behind which he hid. Like it knew what he was through all of it…

And then it was gone. A shadow flickering off into the dark night.

He gasped. He realized that he had been holding his breath the whole time.

Just then the whole warehouse came tumbling down into a fiery inferno and the sirens reached his ears.

Time seemed to be moving quickly. It was time he left too.

***

Later that night, he could not sleep. Or is this a week later? Why can I not remember the time? He was tossing and turning in his bed, images of the shadow in the flames kept playing through his mind. They mingled and merged with older memories of some primordial darkness until he thought he might start climbing the walls.

Eventually, he sighed, got up, dress and wandered down to the street. It was nighttime. It was always nighttime. There was an all-night diner a street away from where he lived and, lost in his thoughts, he set out at a brisk pace towards it.

This was why he never noticed the black van with tinted windows start-up a little way down the road. He also never noticed it start driving slowly behind him. And, this was why he never saw it pick up its pace heading towards him as its side door slid open slowly…

Suddenly, the van screeched to a halt and two heavy-set men jumped out in front of him! He stopped in his tracks, surprised and frozen to the spot. A scary-looking woman lurked inside the van and the last thing he remembered seeing was the puff of smoke from the dart gun in her hand before the men grabbed him, pulled a bag over his head and he lost consciousness.

“That’s the one. Quick, grab the Time Demon before it realizes an–”

***

He slowly became aware of the light and sound around him. It felt like he was crawling up a long, dark tunnel towards consciousness and it hurt.

He was naked, sitting slumped in a chair as scientist-types in lab-coats strutted around him. He was not restrained in the chair but a glass cell was all around him and he felt it sucking the life out of him. Is there enough air in this place? I can hardly breath! It felt like he was deep underwater with all the pressure pushing down on every fiber of his being.

“It’s awake, right, OK,” the scary lady with the dart gun started talking authoritatively to the others in the room, at this point he noticed the silver cross hanging around her neck–a strange detail amidst all this science and technology in this room, “Double check the prison’s constraints, don’t let that Holy barrier waver or we’ll lose this one. These time-shifters are slippery, especially when cornered. I want–”

So-sorry,” he managed to say, still feeling so weak, “You must have made some mistake? Why am I here? What–”

“You are a Time Demon,” the Scary Lady said addressing him, “We have caught you. It’s no mistake. You are from the bowels of Hell and–after extracting everything we want–we are going to send you right back there.”

“But, but, I-I am…me,” he said lamely, confused, “I am not from Hell or wherever, I am from downtown…down–I am from here.

The Scary Lady smiled, “You don’t know where you are from, do you? Sometimes the summoning process does that. You must be fresh. Or maybe it was the body you possessed that is fighting back? Who knows. Notice how you don’t actually know where you are from? Downtown where? What was your mother’s name? You don’t know, do you? Joe, bring me that mirror.”

A nondescript lab-coated man darted out from a corner with a full-length mirror on wheels.

“We have this mirror around here for vampires but it’ll work for now,” the Scary Lady slid it in front of him and looked right back at himself in growing shock and terror, “The glass cell you are sitting in is iron-lined and we are running holy-current through it, so it both holds you and peels away your possessed shell to reveal your true form. Unfortunately, we can do nothing for the man you possessed but we can expel you.”

He saw himself sitting in the glass cell on his chair: rotting flesh was peeling off most of his body but there was still enough that he could recognize his stepfather. Who is that? What is my mother’s name? What lay beneath his flesh was dark and writhing, like some shadowy aberration of nature crafted solely to disturb those that looked upon it.

It was him.

Suddenly, he remembered! It felt like a darkness swallowing him…

He remembered crawling up through the layers towards the Summoning Circle. He remembered stepping out into the dark, gloomy basement where the couple was chanting over the dripping sacrifice. He remembered her screams as he tore her to pieces. He remembered the fear in the man’s eyes as his ethereal form filled up his body up and ejected its feeble soul. He could still smell the fire and brimstone as it began to spill out from the portal and engulf everything around him in a raging fire…

“Ah,” the Scary Lady smiled cruelly, “The Time Demon remembers. It never takes much. Evil always wants to remember. That’s the real difference. Good prefers to forget. So we may as—wait! Hey, what’s that? What’s going on outside?”

He stood up, shaking while fighting the pressure of the holy-cell. The final pieces of rotting, host flesh fell from him revealing his twisted, blackened self to all the world. He was a Time Demon. He could move around the dark corners of time and he could feel something coming. He could smell something coming. It had already happened and it was already going to occur.

It was fire.

The lab-coats all ran around frantically but the Time Demon stood tehre grinning wickedly. The air grew hotter, soft smoke began to bellow in and then the first, red, flickering locks of beautiful flames began to curl around the corners and edges of the walls…

“Out! Out! We have to abandon this place!” the Scary Lady was screaming. She threw a vengeful glare at him before turning to run out with the rest of her crew, “Let the Time Demon burn, if it can,” where her last words before she disappeared out of the laboratory.

Moments later, some canisters of some gas exploded. Their forced blew the ceiling to the heavens upon a grea fireball while engulfing the room in a hell-storm. Everything was destroyed in that moment and, more importantly, his iron-lined glass cell cracked.

It was enough for him.

He grinned and expanded. Space creaked and his wicked, twisted hands tore through the glass towards the fire. It felt comfortingly warm. Like home. No, Home.

And then he was strolling out of the laboratory and into a collapsing warehouse.

He grinned. He knew what was coming next. It was always his favorite part.

Just on the edge of the fiery warehouse and just before it all came tumbling down, he stood still, grinning to himself. His shadow-black demonic form writhed as he looked up the street and grinned at himself lurking in the darkness over there. His grin widened and his form flexed. Time was his again.

And then he was gone.

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