Mitchell’s favorite hero is Nightcrawler. Will that be enough to help him through the hardest night of his life?
Mitchell set fire to his house when he was eight. It wasn’t on purpose, but it didn’t change the fact of it. Karma never cared about intention, only results. His parents weren’t around to see it, they had been at some event – they were always out somewhere else, doing something better.
His babysitter that night was another in a long line of faceless thirteen year old girls his parents could make materialize, seemingly out of nowhere. She was all nice and smiles while his parents were getting ready and he entertained a small hope that this one wouldn’t be concentrated evil. But then his parents left and she revealed the face of betrayal. She said, in no uncertain terms, that tonight was the season finale of Beverly Hills 90210 and it was a special crossover episode with Melrose Place. None of those words made sense to him, but he completely understood the result. Mitchell, bedtime at 8:00, even though his Mom said he could stay up until 8:30. She had told the babysitter that, he had been standing right there.
Life was unfair, that was a fact, and underneath the covers in his bed, Mitchell sulked. 8:30 was too early for bedtime and he had a few hours of staring sullenly into nothing before sleep would come. But why should he suffer? Surely, he could make his own entertainment?
He lived in a single story bungalow on the corner. It was just him and his parents, so the smaller house suited them just fine. He had long since staked out the basement as his own personal territory and it was filled with lego and toys and his video games. But to get to the toys, he’d have to creep down the long hallway, past the living room, where the evil babysitter watched her shows about geography or whatever she was doing. So, toys were out as an alternative.
Fortunately, he kept all his favorite comics under his bed. He liked Marvel way better than DC, Marvel was more mature. He told his friends that, and pointed to the X-Men Age of Apocalypse storyline as an example. For the whole year, the X-Men comics took place in an alternate reality where Cyclops only had one eye (as opposed to normal X-Men reality were, confusingly, Cyclops had two eyes), Wolverine was missing a hand and Colossus wore a bandanna. It was daring and inventive world building based entirely around the number of extremities the heroes possessed, and it was the most exciting thing he had ever read.
If he turned on his light, the evil babysitter would for sure notice it, so he’d need to be more clever than that. He snuck out of his bed on careful, quiet feet and inched the door open, ever so slightly. Down the hall, he could make out the faint sounds of the TV. The living room wasn’t perfectly visible, but if he remained quiet, he could pull this off.
He scrambled across the hallway, his little heart pounding with fear of getting caught, but he kept himself brave by pretending he was alternate-reality Nightcrawler (in normal comics, Nightcrawler was a blue, teleporting monster who liked swords, but could never have a sword. In the Age of Apocalypse storyline, they gave him a sword, and Mitchell thought it brought an incredible amount of depth to the character).
He crept into his parents bedroom. His Mom was a smoker, and critical to his plan. In her nightstand, where he was never supposed to go, he found a cache of spare lighters. Perfect. He grabbed one in his small hand, feeling very brave and smart. He had pulled off this caper perfectly, and he took a moment to pretend he was Nightcrawler by jumping onto his parents bed.
“Bamf.” He said, which was the noise Nightcrawler made anytime he teleported. “Bamf, bamf.” He continued to make a series of little jumps, pretending he was teleporting himself through monsters. He landed on the ground with a loud thump that he was positive could be heard on the other side of the neighborhood.
He froze in terror, waiting for the inevitable yell from the evil babysitter that would mean he was in trouble, so much trouble, but it never came. For ten seconds, he stood perfectly still, not even breathing, straining his ears for the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway.
He was probably the best Nightcrawler ever, maybe even a better Nightcrawler than actual Nightcrawler. He was like, Bedroomcrawler, although even he could see where that character would have problematically limited potential.
Now it was just a hurried trip back to the safety of his bedroom and the world beneath his blankets, stopping only to grab a handful of comics from under his bed. He looked at the digital readout on his giant clock – 8:07. The whole adventure had only taken minutes, and he congratulated himself for being so clever.
With the blankets pulled firmly over his head and comics at the ready, he clicked the lighter a few times, until there was a hiss of tiny blue flame.
The comics caught fire almost immediately.
At first, he could only stare at the blaze. He sat upright and threw the covers back. A weird, frozen lethargy came over him and he watched in fascination as the comic book was engulfed, creating a merry blaze that threw splattered shadows on his wall.
A page broke away from the book and floated, ever so slow, down to the ground, where the edges touched his curtains.
His curtains were his least favorite part of his room. Why have a window if you were just going to cover it up, was the way he thought about it, but his Mom liked to draw his curtains at night so he couldn’t see outside and daydream. His Mom was a big fan of the curtains.
Apparently, so was fire.
The curtains caught fire with a whoosh and now there was a fire on his bed, and on his walls. There was a lot of light to read by now and once his pillow caught fire, the horrible bemused lethargy left him and he sprang into action.
First, he grabbed Robin Bear, the stuffed bear he slept with. He wore green overalls and a green hat with a white feather in it. His Mom said the overalls were something called leader-hosen but to Mitchell, he looked like Robin Hood, so – Robin Bear.
The bear safely tucked under his arm, he tried to figure out what to do next. By now the fire had spread, rather abruptly, to the rest of his bed. His comics were gone.
“Help.” He said out loud, and realized that was the way to go. “Help.” He said louder, and now the floodgates broke.’
“HELP!” he yelled as loud as he could, and threw his door open and ran down the hallway.
The evil babysitter looked up from her show, turning around in her chair. “Mitchell, what are you doing up? Are you okay?”
“Fire!” he said, pulling her arm. “I only wanted to read comics and I stole a lighter and now everything is fire, but I saved my bear.”
The evil, and apparently quick-witted babysitter sprang into action and ran down the hallway. “Holy shit.” She said, when she saw his room and Mitchell made a mental note to tell on her for swearing.
“What the fuck.” She continued, and Mitchell was now positive he had a rock-solid case to make sure his Mom never hired evil babysitter again.
“Mitchell, get out of the house.” She pushed him down the hallway to front door. Then she rushed into the kitchen, grabbed the phone and punched in three numbers.
“There’s a fire. The house is on fire, I’m the babysitter, and the idiot kid set his room on fire.”
She provided more details, but Mitchell stopped listening after that one line. The idiot kid set his room on fire. The enormity of what he had done hit him all at once and he nearly fainted with terror. Of all the things in the world he feared, grounding was the number one scariest thing he could think of (although fire was becoming a close second) and since he was now the idiot kid who set his room on fire, he felt pretty confident he was in for the grounding of a lifetime. He didn’t see a way out of this.
Evil babysitter hung up the phone and yelled at him to get outside. She grabbed one of the big silver cooking pots from underneath the counter and filled it with water. She ran with the makeshift bucket to his bedroom, which was, by now, completely filled with flames. She threw the water inside, which was about as effective as spitting on it.
“Jesus Christ!” she exclaimed, and he wondered if he could offset some of his inevitable grounding by explaining how much she swore.
The rest of the night was a blur. The firetrucks came, the neighbors crowded and watched, half his house was burned down. They managed to contain it to the back section, his bedroom was completely destroyed, as was his parents bedroom and the bathroom.
His parents were mad although they hugged him too and he never did get a chance to tell them how much the evil babysitter swore. Although there wasn’t the monumental grounding he expected, the part the lodged most firmly in his brain was the next day, creeping through the rubble of the house, and his mom on her knees, crying.
He went over to give her a big hug, which she gratefully took and she showed him what she was looking at. A ruined picture, nearly unrecognizable, ruined by fire.
“This was the only picture of my Dad.” She said, and then started crying again. He felt sick with guilt and he hugged her as hard as he could, wishing he could take the whole day away and do it over again.
“I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.” He said, over and over.
“It’s okay.” She said. “It’s not your fault. I’m glad you’re okay.”
Only, he knew the lie of that. It was his fault, because he was the idiot kid who set his room on fire. He’d carry the guilt of that in his heart forever, and even though the story became another funny anecdote his parents would tell at family gatherings, he never forgot.
Karma never forgot.
Categories: Short Stories