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Burn Out

Photograph by Tom Merillion, Story by Anita Waller

House Fire_TM.jpg

He’d seen them out together a few times, his mum and that carrot-headed Andy Smethurst. What she saw in him, he’d no idea. His dad was much better-looking. Okay, he’d knocked his mum about a bit, but she’d never had to go to hospital, not once. Well, maybe once.

    Marty had seen them tonight, Mum and Andy, coming out of the Travellers Rest. Luckily they hadn’t seen him, and at first he didn’t spot them. He’d just handed over three packets to Wrighty, doing a bit of car park business, when Wrighty said, ‘Ain’t that your ma, Marts?’

    He denied it to Wrighty of course, didn’t want the whole feckin’ world knowing she was playing away, but he knew he’d have to do something about the damn situation. If his dad found out, he’d kill her.

So he’d packed up for the night, rode home, picked up some equipment and headed out again. He’d just have to hope his dad had put Rosie and Laura to bed for the night beforehe got out his beer.

And now here he was, hiding behind a privet hedge, waiting for Smethurst to come home… to Mrs Smethurst.

    Marty took out his phone to check his messages, and a couple of customers wanted some stuff – maybe he could sort that, after. He couldn’t send any texts with his fingers in gloves. He’d just do what he’d come here to do, then scarper.

    He heard a car driving up the road and pulled himself into an even smaller ball behind the hedge. His skinny frame was helpful in many ways. The car slowed, then almost stopped as it manoeuvred the tight turn to get onto the driveway.

    Peeking briefly around the hedge, Marty recognised the car. Smethurst’s. Shrinking back into the hedge, he listened. It was safer than watching. He heard the click of the car door closing, twice. He grinned. Paranoid about the car being locked properly… well, that would be the least of his worries in a bit.

    He heard a house key being put into the front door lock, then waited for the sound of the door closing. He moved slightly so that he could see the front of the house, and calculated Smethurst’s journey to sleep. Initially the kitchen light glowed around the side of the house, then that went off and the lounge light came on.

    Marty shrank back under cover as Smethurst moved to close the curtains, and just for a brief moment he hoped that meant that Mrs Smethurst wasn’t at home to have closed the curtains herself. The lounge light was extinguished, and then the bedroom light came on briefly, before that too was switched off.

    Marty waited. He took out his phone, checked the time and decided to give it another fifteen minutes. 

It seemed to last for ever, that quarter of an hour. 

    He stood, listened carefully for any movements from anywhere in the surrounding area, and then picked up the Tesco carrier bag that had concealed the petrol can as he rode the four streets that separated the Smethurst home from his own home. He hoped his bike was safe; he’d left it in a back garden, an overgrown derelict one, unlocked for the quick getaway he anticipated.

    He unscrewed the cap, which wasn’t easy with gloves on, and slowly opened the letterbox. He inserted a funnel – he remembered the last time him and Sammy Johnson had tried to burn down a house, and they couldn’t get the petrol to go through the letterbox, most of it went down the outside of the door – then began to slowly pour the liquid through, and onto what he assumed was the hall floor. 

Marty didn’t rush although every instinct was screaming at him to get the hell out of there. He had to get this right, to keep his mum safely at home, looking after his sisters. 

    He poured in almost the entire can, and then put the tatty piece of rag he had brought from the old shed at home onto the floor. He drained the last of the petrol onto the cloth then quietly pushed it through the letterbox until only a couple of inches were showing. Marty took out his lighter and flicked it.

    At the same time as he lifted the letterbox flap, he held the flame to the cloth. The rag fell through immediately and the resultant massive whoosh as the petrol ignited was music to Marty’s ears.

He ran. It took him a minute to reach his bike, and he jumped on it to ride it back home as fast as he could. In another six months he’d be old enough to drive a car, and he couldn’t feckin’ wait. Still, it was easier riding home, he didn’t have a carrier bag with a petrol can in it, hanging from the handlebars and banging his knee all the time.

    The petrol can. The container he’d chosen to leave at the scene, the one he’d taken from his dad’s shed, the one his dad used for fetching petrol for the lawnmower, the one covered in his dad’s fingerprints.

He stowed his bike in the shed and quietly let himself into the house. The wood burner was still glowing slightly, and he opened the fire doors and threw in the gloves. 

    His dad was asleep on the settee and he hoped that had been the case when his mum arrived home. She’d said she was going out with Karen to bingo, but Marty had blown her excuse for the night out to smithereens by seeing her with Randy Andy.

    And just maybe, when the police came calling as they surely would, he might have to tell them of the affair his dad had discovered.

    Randy Andy and Dad, both disposed of in the same evening.

    Marty went into the bedroom to kiss his mum goodnight. He could hear the clamour of fire engines out on the streets. 

    The bed was empty

Anita Waller was born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire in 1946. She married Dave in 1967 and they have three adult children. She has written and taught creative writing for most of her life. She has written seven psychological thrillers and one supernatural novel, and uses the areas of South Yorkshire and Derbyshire as her preferred locations in her books. Sheffield features prominently. The third book in her quartet of murder novels launched in February 2019.Book four doesn’t have a title, a plot, a first sentence… but she remains convinced it will have! Her genre is murder - necessary murder.

Tom Merilion takes photographs and makes films, some are for money, some are for himself. Find him @tommerilion

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