Burning down the sports hall was easy. It was probably all the poxy rubber gym mats, and the poxy Swedish pine cladding on the walls, and the poxy polystyrene tiles. Everyone says they are really dangerous when they melt. Give off poisonous gasses, people die. They should have listened shouldn’t they. I hate them all, the sports teacher bastards I mean, but not enough to kill them. Killing is for psychos and I am not a psycho. An arsonist is the right name for someone like me, someone who no one notices, someone just ordinary, but with hidden powers like fire in their fingertips. My powers come from my books. I read a lot, mainly books on war and guns. I know what TNT, stands for, and how the Chinese made gunpowder. It’s all in the Encyclopaedia Britannica in the library along with the pictures of vaginas and African tribeswomen tits. I write all the recipes down, the detail is all in there. 5, 5 , 7 is the recipe for gunpowder. You grind up Charcoal, Sulphur and Potassium Nitrate till it turns grey and like dust, then boom, gunpowder. Everyone thinks it’s really dangerous but it’s not actually, you can do it anywhere even in the front room watching Dads Army or the News at Ten. Mum and Dad think it’s for a school project. Something to do with frogs I tell them. What am I doing mashing up frogs spawn! Who knows or cares ‘it’s good to see he is applying himself.’
He was one of the posh village kids. Found himself at the rough Comprehensive and tried to fit in by being a ‘bad boy’. Doesn’t work though, they can see straight through him. The accent, the haircut, the dad commuting to the City, the books and most of all the soft skin. They all have suede skin, skin that can take a beating, take some stick.
My friends are two Steves, three including the crossed eyed one. No girls of course we are all too weird or clever or ugly for that. What with the ears as well! We pretend we aren’t interested but we all know we are desperate fucking sex maniacs. Sixteen and never had a girlfriend never even had a proper grope except Sandra White at the swimming pool but that doesn’t count because it was just an accident when I crashed into her tits in the swimming relay. Talk about passing the baton! They call me Flapper or Dumbo because of the big ears. It hurts, it’s embarrassing, but they don’t know that and I don’t tell them. I just laugh it off and pick on something about them. As I say, Steve is a bit crossed eyed sometimes but most of the time you don’t notice whereas my ears are like sodding flags, bright red, white and blue in the winter like a fucking Union Jack and bright red and peeling in the summer like a stale Mivi. Girls are always laughing at them, so I don’t say anything, just watch them using my hidden powers, staring, and sometimes I follow them home without letting them see me. I write down their addresses and imagine blackmailing them. I am an anarchist. That’s what it says on my bag. A big ‘A’ in red felt. An anarchist hates everyone, which I don’t. I love my dog and my cats and my books. Prison might be all right for an arsonist, after all it’s not for rape or sex or buggering babies or anything they could pick on you for. Just a few years to keep your head down then out with your head held high. ‘You’re the one that burnt the school sports hall down, good on ya.‘ That’s what would happen. People would know me, they might be a bit frightened of me, rightly so, you never know what I might do next.
The idea had been for three of them to do it together. They had spent months planning it. Filling in exercise books with notes and secret codes detailing the time, the chemicals they would use, an escape strategy, communications, how they would let the papers know after they had done it, everything meticulously set out. The new movement they would start – BSIS Ban Sports in Schools, the uniforms they would wear and all the girls that would come flocking to join up, but in the end neither of the other two turned up. So that left him on his own.
Believe it or not the door to the sports hall was unlocked. Just one of those fire doors, gave it a tug and it flew open. So much for fucking security. Plenty of light from the street no need to turn any other lights on. I was in like a snake with a box of matches and a tin of our special stuff. All the ingredients from Boots. They had no idea what they were selling, must have thought I was a gardener or a relapsed diabetic. Four pounds of fucking weed killer and two pounds of sugar. Arseholes. Grind it up in the right quantities pack it into a tube and bang, you have a bomb, a lot more powerful than gunpowder. The IRA use these, proper professional weapon. If you don’t pack it you have some very flammable white stuff that burns slow but as hot as a sodding firework. Enough of it and it will light a fire just about anywhere. We tested it in the woods and it seared the middle out of a dead tree in a couple of minutes. Has to be made fresh though otherwise it turns to jelly that looks just like spunk and you can’t light it. Who would want to light spunk anyway, except if you want to make a devil come alive like Alistair Crowley did. Before I could really think it through I threw a load over the rubber mats and a load fell on the floor and down my trousers. I looked like a proper tosser. The rest was still in the can so I stuck that under my jacket to use later. Not sure if I planned to light it or not in the end. No I don’t think I did. Just wanted to make a mess leave my mark, a signature. People would know it was me. The next day they would be bound to be whispering that I did it. I sort of tested the idea of lighting it. I struck a match. A spark must have flown off the match. White light and I was outside fast, the fire door closed behind me.
He walked away. It was raining now. A late goods train pulled slowly through the station. At this time and in this weather nobody was about, he didn’t really care anyway. To have been caught would have been all right, even good. There was nothing to see from the outside as all the sports hall windows were high up. For a moment he was relieved, a few burnt mats and the remains of their chemistry scattered about. Headmaster, police, expelled, kids at the gates watching him go, a caution or community service. Then from inside the hall a muffled roar followed by a crack as one of the upper windows shattered. He quickened his pace into a strut and headed down the street towards the estate.
I moved down the street to where I knew a bunch of gardens full of junk would provide plenty of cover but I could still see the my work. I settled behind the hedge on a plastic turtle, took a piss watched the comings and goings and listened to the noise of police radio and wot not. I began to think about the next step. A train passed through the station at speed, the sound drowned out all the other noise and I turned away thinking of leaving for a quieter spot. There among the discarded junk like a perfect garden statue she stood. Smaller than I remembered her, she had left the school a year ago we were never told why. I had never spoken to her but had watched her on many occasions. I had her address somewhere. She wasn’t the prettiest but she was the neatest. I couldn’t remember her name except it was something unusual. What I remembered was that her movements were all perfect, when she picked up her bag it was if she was showing the other girls how to pick up a bag. When she waited for the bus it was like a masterclass in perfect waiting. I had never heard her speak and I wasn’t going to now as somehow she made it clear that whatever conversation we were to have it would not involve words. She stood perfectly among the broken toys inviting me to leave my turtle and join her. The rain seemed to have stopped and the flickering streetlights had settled into a constant warm glow. I stood next to her, closed my eyes and flew.
The brigade arrived in about 5 minutes. It was too late. The building was gone. They doused the steaming remains but the rain had already done most of the work. No need to dig deep, at this time in the morning the building would be empty, a casual glance around and a verdict of electrical fire, after all the building had been made on the cheap. It was quite new but the cowboys who made it had certainly cut corners. An accident waiting to happen lucky it didn’t spread.
Using my secret power we flew through the empty streets without saying a word, dodging puddles, past the rec, the lower school, the rows of shit council houses with upside down cars and prams abandoned in the gardens, the occasional new town houses, where my sister lived, the Express dairy, the church and the local pubs and shops. We crossed the railway line and watched as the Boat Train swooped silently southwards towards Folkestone. We followed her riding the sky like surfers. Fire flowed through my fingers brightening the sky.
She had been walking home from a friend’s house early in the morning. She was last seen opposite the sports hall standing under one of the street-lights, she seemed to be waiting.
The embers of the fire glow on the skeletal remains of the hall. It is a Martian landscape, red from the street-lights, the floor twisted and deformed by the mounds of molten plastic and stained by the vaporised rubber. The two hover and rest at the highest point, a pommel horse that was blackened by smoke but still intact. Astride the horse they survey the crowd that has assembled. Stretching from the hall up to the school reception and beyond the paths are lined with boys carrying banners for BSIS. From the classroom windows girls wave flags celebrating the burning of the sports hall. On their knees the sports teachers lay gym shoe tributes at the couples feet. Amidst the debris, charred but intact a decapitated head and two flaming ears brighter and bigger and redder than ever before.
Charmaine, that was her name