Flash Fiction Challenge: Conflagration

Photo by K.S. Brooks

Now he knew why the old man was always yelling at him for playing with matches.

He stood well back but could feel the heat even from this distance. He could hear the crackles and groans as the walls of the old place swayed and buckled.

He was afraid, but invigorated. This would change everything. What would happen now? He could hear the sirens wailing in the distance. There might be trouble, but there would be no more beatings.

In 250 words or less, tell us a story incorporating the elements in the picture. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until 5:00 PM Pacific Time on Tuesday, January 29th, 2013.

On Wednesday morning, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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14 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: Conflagration”

  1. The heat cleansed his sweat soaked skin. Hidden bruises raised to the surface desperately attempting to break free; tattered clothing clinging to his frail body. Eyes closed, he swayed back and forth to the rhythm of flames licking the sky. He smiled.

    The scene replayed, as his drunken father cursed him, threatening him with the look that preceded an especially severe beating. The stagger and then the whiskey slopped its way to the floor. The otherwise comfortable couch was now his prison, cornered like a rabbit.

    The matches were on the table, close at hand. He couldn’t, no, he wouldn’t take another beating. He needed time to run and never look back. The old man saw what was coming, his jellied legs giving way, but not before the match was struck. Springing from the couch the boy exploded through the door. The inferno brought him his long desired peace.

    Sheriff Deans was the first on the scene. Dust billowed as he screeched to a stop. He eased his large frame out of the car in time to see the house implode. He shook his head, “Pity about the old man and the boy.”

  2. Title: “Playing with Fire”

    My grandfather kept telling me not to play with matches, and warning, ‘If you play with fire you will get burned.’

    I was sick and tired of being somebody’s punching bag. At least once a month they would search me out. There was no talking my way out of it…they were hell bent on making a mess of me.

    All through high school, Butch and his friends would literally get their kicks into someone like me. The school authorities looked the other way, they did not have any proof. It was our word against theirs.

    However, lately their routine was getting much too volatile. Last week they took me over to the deserted house on Church Creek. They doused me with gas and said to say my prayers. I thought it was all over. They got their kicks, and then they left me tied up and naked.

    Two days later a student was found burned to death down at Baker’s pond.

    Yesterday, they abducted my younger sister and took her over to the deserted house. She said they let her go, but I knew there was much more to the story.

    Butch made two big mistakes; taking my younger sister, and taking me today. I was more than prepared. They tried their routine again. All I felt was the heat. I could make out the distant wailing sirens, while the old building groaned and crackled.

    I hope my grandfather forgives me…I played with matches today.

  3. CFA Chief Geoff Baker and his team were the first to arrive, their big red fire-truck screeching to a halt a safe distance from the massive bonfire that had once been a house.

    “Bloody hell,” the Chief muttered as his team swung into action. This was going to be bad.

    In the end it took four CFA teams to put the fire out, but they did manage to save the neighbouring houses. No-one could have saved the old man who lived in the smoking ruin of the old weatherboard.

    According to the neighbours, the old man liked his beer and was rarely sober.

    The one piece of good news was that the old man’s grandson would be at school. But who would look after the poor kid now?

    The crews were still stabilizing the wreckage so the police could go in when a shout went up, “Over here!”

    Like all old houses in country towns, this one had had an outdoor dunny, and that was where they found the boy.

    “You’ll be okay now son,’ the Chief said as he lifted the trembling child into his arms.

    The boy, who looked to be no more than six or seven, did not have a scratch on him, but there was a strange, almost exultant look on his face as he said, “When I grow up I’m going to be a fireman!”

  4. ‘Amusing… at first…’ people said, ‘seeing Wilfred do simple things.’

    ‘Party tricks.’



    ‘Not long before it’d turned into so much more though.’


    ‘Cheap labour.’

    ‘Despite his intelligence though, higher than average, when he got it wrong, Wilfred took a punch to the jaw, the back of the head.’

    ‘A kick to the stomach sometimes even… depending how much moonshine the old man had guzzled back.’

    ‘Effective… kind of… Wilfred learning the hard way; always striving to get it right.’
    ‘No wonder he cracked.’

    Certainly, it seemed he’d no remorse, taken into custody; chained; laughing hysterically; pointing joyously at the homestead, seemingly aware the old man was toast.

    ‘He’d been warned there’d be trouble. Yes indeedy… told it couldn’t last forever; another place needed to be found eventually if only for his own safety.’

    ‘Innocent minds like Wilfred’s usually always turn vicious.’

    ‘Yes, that’s a given.’

    “Look at Michael Jackson’s.’

    ‘And the one from Friends…’

    But Ambrose Brown hadn’t listened; thought he could rule forever with his iron fist.

    ‘Why… he’d even tried to make the poor thing do dishes… clear leaves from the gutter.’

    ‘But better at simple things; pouring whisky… lighting the old man’s smokes… understanding after a few misfires that was ONLY what matches were for.’

    ‘Huh! Ironic.’

    ‘Yes, monkey see, monkey raze you to the frikkin’ ground while you sleep.‘

    ‘Better than having his face gnawed off though,’ rubberneckers snickered as Wilfred was driven off to face an uncertain future.

    ‘A sanctuary?’

    ‘A lab.’

  5. Kitana watched the black smoke billow through the shattered windows and up into the dusky sky. The flames shot out wildly and then receded over and over, looming larger and reaching our further with each revolution. She could hear the panicked voices of her neighbors drawing nearer and sirens faintly in the distance.

    This had been her childhood home, where she’d grown up, had left to go to college and then New York City to pursue her dream of being an actress. Just when she had secured her breakout role after years of playing bit parts that were far beneath her talents, Mom suffered a debilitating stroke. Kitana was forced to return to the very place she thought she had escaped forever. The house seemed so much smaller now and so did Mom. She couldn’t speak but was just as mean-spirited in silence as she was when she could spew her venomous words with ease. Mom hadn’t displayed the slightest bit of gratitude that Kitana had given up a promising career to return and be her caregiver. Rather, she treated her daughter with contempt as if her child were to blame for her ailment. Oh well, some things never change and never will; Kitana had finally learned to accept that.

    The entire place was alight now. The flames rolling swiftly up the walls, devouring the peeling floral wallpaper. Kitana looked across the bedroom into her mother’s eyes, large with terror. She never knew she could feel so hot.

  6. Tom found himself absently rubbing the scars on his arm as he watched the flames swallow the house, the memories they triggered clear as movies. First the beatings, the broken arm that never healed straight. The scars, though, they were from cigarette burns, years of them.

    Those started when Daddy found him playing with matches. “You like fire?” His eyes would glitter with suppressed glee as he meted out the ‘punishment’. “You like that, Boy?”

    “No Daddy.” He dared not cry. That would make his father laugh and press it deeper.

    “This is what Hell feels like, Boy, only hotter. You gonna be there, boy, sure. No good kid. You gonna burn.” And he’d let out a hoarse laugh.

    Tom’s thumb found the fresh burn, still weeping and sticky wet. This time it was for burning some paper in the trash can. He’d got so he no longer felt the punishments. He almost looked forward to them. Not last night though. That one went too deep. Something changed in him then.

    He’d waited until his father fell asleep, drunk in the chair in the basement TV room. The box of matches – his box of matches – sat half open on the upended crate they used for a table, calling to him.

    Now he watched a wall collapse, sending flames higher into the sky. “Is it hot enough, Daddy? Is this what Hell feels like? Do you like it? Do you?”

  7. Corky trembled, excitement and fear combined in an intoxicating cocktail in his brain. “Burn in hell for what you did to Ma,” he whispered. A geyser of sparks and flaming wood sprayed above the blazing building as the roof collapsed.
    The screams of sirens drowned the fire’s roar as the first truck skidded to a stop. Two remaining walls buckled as the fire fighters set to work.
    Sheriff Post approached Corky. “Where’s your father?”
    “ Don’t know. Was fishing in the pond an smelt smoke. Came up the hill an saw the fire.”
    Post stared into Corky’s eyes. “Have you been playing with matches again?”
    “No, sir.”
    “In April you set fire to greasy rags in Fordner’s Garage. Last October you lit King’s hay field ablaze. Did you torch your house, boy?” Post grabbed his arm.
    Corky winced.
    The sheriff lifted the boy’s shirt and stared at the welts on his shoulders.
    Pa beat him daily. He still felt that thin, black belt cut into his back, buttocks, and legs, this morning because Pa was drunk.
    Pa laughed at his tears and staggered off to bed. When he was snoring, Corky dumped the contents of the kerosene lamp on the rug in the old man’s room.
    Firefighters found Pa’s body the next morning. An official report, filed by
    the medical examiner’s office, ruled the death an accident.
    Corky’s maternal grandparents claimed him. His dull eyes glowed when he noticed the wood burning fireplace in their living room.

  8. Fire and Freedom

    The smoke was cloying and a sickly sweet undertone clogged his nostrils. Aaron felt his stomach rebel, but he forced the bile back down his throat. The monster deserved what was happening in there, burning alive, unable to move as the poison rendered it paralyzed.

    Aaron knew they would call him a beast, a savage, for what he had done. But he let the worry slide away as he watched the wreckage burn. The heat lapped at his eyelashes, nipped at his fingers, as if the flames sought to pull him into the conflagration. He resisted, he stood tall, like an Archangel sealing a gate to Hell. And he had sealed Lucifer inside, too, made sure he would never harm another soul.

    Aaron absently rubbed the still-fresh bruising on his ribs, his thigh, his swollen eyebrow and slit lip. He felt his hands trembling, as he wiped the gasoline off of them onto his clothing. The pungent liquid had only provided the physical fuel for the fire. The true fuel still burned inside, raging within his heart.


    The scream split through the billowing waves of the blaze. Yes, Aaron had only used enough of the toxin to knock the old man out for the beginning of his gruesome ending.

    Aaron ignored the screams as he stood. He dipped his hands in the consecrated liquid, poured it over his head, lit the second book of matches, and let himself be consumed in glorious fire.

  9. Flames tore at the old wooden house, devouring each board and the memories hidden within. Ian stood a good hundred yards from the structure shivering even as heat from the blaze scorched his skin. Emotions swirled in his mind vacillating from terror to rejoicing. The old man told him not to play with matches, told him with the strap of his belt and the point of his boots. Ian knew those boots and belt too well. It didn’t’ take much to rile father, especially when he was drinking.

    Ian was free now. Free from fear and pain, free to live all the dreams he had barely wished for. But who would believe him? Even as the sirens drew nearer, he knew what everyone would think. ‘Poor boy, driven by desperation to kill his dad.’ But it wasn’t Ian that started this fire. His hands were clean. A smile twisted across Ian’s face as he looked at his hands, the ones father always said were deformed. He brushed away tears, wincing as he bumped his bruised cheek. Beside him his rescuer place a hand on his shoulder, three elongated fingers giving a gentle squeeze.

    “It’s time to go, little one.”

    “Will we ever return?”

    Grandpa frowned. “After what he did to you, to her? You deserve better.”

    “Mother loved this world. She even loved him once.”

    “Maybe someday, Ian. Once hearts have healed.”

    Shimmering light swirled around them. Ian’s skin prickled as the transport beam pulled them onto the waiting ship.

  10. Incendiary

    Daddy and I love this old tinderbox passionately. After dismissing a visiting neighbor, we paint over holes in her walls. Grandma is coming. Pain from my burned and bruised torso slows my progress, so at 2am, I retire to my bedroom and fall asleep wearing paint-spattered, secondhand jeans so tight I haven’t enough strength for removal.

    Moments later, my scream splits the air!

    The bedroom door blasts away, its unhinging tangling my invigorated innards into pretzels. Smoke sweeps the attic. Its roiling, black, acrid fumes dance around my crimson jersey like enraged bulls attacking a matador’s cape.

    Heaving windows bulge. A fresh blast from some unseen explosion slashes my heels, rockets me into the unknown night, barely registering sirens wailing in the distance. Scratchy bushes tug me into their eerie depths.

    Even out here, I feel the intense heat of this alien, unreal world.


    “He’s comin’, Daddy.”

    Timbers buckle and sway, collapsing into ever-changing debris.

    “Where ya hidin’, Timothy boy?”

    A dreadful crackling mesmerizes the inflamed air.

    I’m crying now. Daddy always yells at me for playing with matches, and now I know why… it’s not pixie dust. And our neighbor wasn’t repairing the furnace; he was priming the oil tank with exploding cigars, the kind he uses to torment me.

    Quick, what did Papa say? “That old ‘it man might cause trouble, even revenge ‘is lost freedom. At least then the ‘ospital will curtail Gramp’s belligerent ways.”

    “Well, hitch me dragons,” I quiver. “Me own grampaw?”

  11. “Conflagration”

    Gary stared up at the flaming house, smelled the acrid smoke, and wondered what would happen now. He stepped back as the fire increased in intensity. The neighbors started gathering around, and he could hear the sound of fire engines in the distance.

    The old man was gone, along with his abuse and his rules. Gary was finally free of him. Where would he go next? He’d have to wait and see. But, no matter where he went, he’d have his matches.

    The old man always beat Gary when he caught him playing with matches, but the old man hadn’t been able to stop him this time. Gary lit up a match from the box he was still holding in his hand. He stared into the mesmerizing light. The flame burned down to his fingertips, and Gary threw it to the ground. He quickly looked around. He hoped no one had seen him. He didn’t want to raise any suspicion. Far better to be placed with another cruel old man than to be stuck in one of those institutions.

    Gary slipped the matchbox into his pocket and stepped a bit closer to the flaming house. The smoke got in his eyes and they began to water.

    “Oh, you poor boy,” cried Mrs Newman, the next-door neighbor, rushing in to give him a hug.

    Gary let the tears flow. It would look good to the crowd. He’d better play his part right if he wanted the chance to witness another conflagration.

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