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After the Fire

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Larry closed the door to his small, dingy apartment, locked it, and set his laundry bag on the floor. He would deal with it later. He briefly looked around at his drab surroundings, then made his way to the kitchen. He needed some coffee.

This apartment was certainly not his first choice of living arrangements, but it was what he could afford; after the fire, he had gone on disability from his job as an accountant. He was probably recovered enough by now to return to his job, but he could imagine how awful it would be. The pitying looks his coworkers would undoubtedly give him. The way people would avoid him, or try not to look at him, or just outright stare. Strangers did these things to him every day; he could only imagine what it would feel like coming from people he had known for years. At present, he preferred to avoid it, and all people as much as possible.

He was lucky to be alive, to have survived third degree burns over 70% of his body. He didn't always feel lucky. He had spent two years in a burn ward and even longer in physical therapy. Perhaps if he had been more faithful in attending the therapy sessions, he would have better movement in his arm, his shoulder wouldn't be so stiff, he wouldn't have as much of a limp... But Larry was tired of being the science experiment, tired of being touched and prodded and stretched by strangers. So he stopped going.

Nobody really cared what happened to him anyway. Certainly not his lover, Constance. As soon as he was in the hospital, her love for him evaporated. She cited grief over his injuries, and her son Tate's death as the reasons she never came to visit. Tate died the same day Larry was burned. Constance lived in their house, which he owned, for a while when he was in the hospital. But soon, the hospital bills began to pile up, he had to sell the house to pay them, and Constance was gone. She hadn't spoken to him since.

Larry made himself some Nescafe and sat with it at his little kitchen table. He stared off into space and sipped occasionally.

He thought of the house.

The house of his dreams, the house of his nightmares. Unbelievable tragedies had happened in that house, and yet, it was still an immense source of energy and love for Larry. He coveted that house, practically lusted for it. He felt its pull. Even though he no longer lived there, it wouldn't let him go. He found himself driving by it often, sometimes parking a block or two away and walking by slowly, or hiding in the bushes and watching. It was currently unoccupied; the people he'd sold it to were quickly scared away by the unusual other inhabitants of the house, so every once and awhile he'd even enter the house and wander around, running his hand along the walls in his favorite rooms. The kitchen, the study, the basement, the last of which seemed to be the epicenter of the house's energy. He would pause before the fireplace in the library, running a finger between the stately green bricks, and contemplate starting a fire. He loved a good fire, even after he was burned, maybe even especially after he was burned; it made him feel powerful to control the energy which had destroyed his life and his appearance.

Sometimes, when Larry was feeling bold, he would take a soak in the bathtub upstairs. He didn't have a bathtub in his apartment, but enjoyed the feeling of hot water enveloping his body, which was nearly always sore. He could almost float in the deep bathtub; he would close his eyes and imagine his body was weightless, imagine this was his house and he was happy. But those warm, relaxing baths were always followed by a few moments when Larry would stand naked before the mirror and wrestle with his new appearance. The first few times, bitter tears filled his vision, and self-pity and loathing filled his heart. Now, the shock of seeing his scarred features was lessened, but the pity and loathing were a small, ever-present ache in his chest.

When Larry was feeling even bolder, which was becoming more common as his scarred skin grew tougher and less sensitive to sunlight, he would slip around the side of the house and peer at the neighbors'. It was Constance's house now. He never saw her directly, but now and again he would see her shadow or her daughter Addie's pass by behind the curtain; or when the window was open, hear a bit of their voices... It was very comforting to Larry, knowing they were there, that they were doing okay. He had no anger toward Constance, though she had abandoned him. He was still in love with her.

Larry set down his empty coffee mug and removed his hat, placed it gently on the table. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his left thumb and index finger and sighed. Constance didn't love him any more. She probably never loved him at all.

He shoved that thought aside as he stood up, the chair scraping against the floor. His heart pounded with anger as he walked his crooked walk back over to the front door and grabbed his laundry bag. He hurled it in the general direction of his bedroom, grimacing. He felt the damaged muscles on the left side of his face struggle to do anything.

Larry sank to the floor. The tears were coming now, and he fought them. It was Constance's fault this had happened to him. No, not Constance. Constance was beautiful and exciting and... cold and manipulative. No, that was the house making her that way. Just as the house had encouraged Tate to set fire to Larry before murdering a bunch of students at his high school. Yes, it was the house's fault. But no... the house wanted Larry. The house needed him. And he it. Perhaps if he got the house back, then Constance would love him again.

Yes. That would be the new plan. Larry knew Constance loved the house just as he loved it. Perhaps she would put up with him again if it meant she could have the house back. And once they were there, she would fall back in love with him.

These delusional thoughts caused Larry's tears to stop. He picked himself back up off the floor and set about putting his laundry away.