Recommended Listening: This Fire, Franz Ferdinand

Firebird Suite

 

Allegro: Fantasies in Flame

Slowly, a match ripped across the rough surface of the brick. It flickered into life, illuminating the pale face of the woman who had lit it. In the firelight, her eyes glittered with insanity. The shadows across her face gave her a spooky, nightmarish cast. She smiled, her teeth blindingly white, and dropped the match into a garbage can. Once the blaze was really going, she deftly kicked the can into an abandoned building. No one noticed. No one cared. She ran anyway, long brown hair flowing behind her, quick feet carrying her slender body to a safe vantage point high up and far away. There, she watched the building go up in flames; the roaring as the building collapsed on itself was sweet music to her ears, a lullaby that banked the mad fire within her.

In her dreams she stood high above the city, her fingers pointing imperiously at the ground, and sparks obedient to her command burst in wild explosions. People screamed as the fire seared away their flesh, dried the blood in their veins and the tears from their faces, and cracked and charred their bones until nothing but ashes was left. Her eyes, blue as gas-lit fire, intense as a raging inferno, glowed like embers in her hollowed face, and they were the only signs of life in her. Peal after peal of her insane laughter soared out into the sky, a flock of ghosts taunting the city as they flew overhead. Below her, everything burned, and she rejoiced. The city was completely aflame; to anyone else it would have seemed a vision straight from hell. Patiently, inexorably, the flames climbed higher until they licked eagerly at her toes like a happy dog. The pain was pleasure itself to her, and she screamed in triumph as her feet, her legs, her stomach, all fell prey to the fire. As the flame reached her shoulders, twin tendrils shot up her outstretched arms. She contemptuously flicked her fingers at the landscape below, and in response the city flared up anew, even the flames burning in this new fire. All the world was alight now, right down to the iron core of the earth. And as she surrendered to the fire that she had called up so eagerly, her laughter was the cawing of crows, because she alone was the Firebird, and she alone would be reborn to set the universe on fire.

She was terribly disappointed when the red-skied dawn awakened her to merely the mundane affairs of the city. It meant that she would have to work that much harder to see her dream come true. Instead of dwelling on the matter, she brushed out her long brown hair, separating bits of it that had gotten singed in previous fires and ruthlessly pulling parts off that were too hard to deal with. The overall effect was ragged and messy, but she really didn't care, so long as it was reasonbly neat and out of her way. In sunlight and without fire close to hand, she looked no less normal than anyone else walking through New York.

Then again, this was New York, so "normal" might not be an accurate word to use. After all, this was the city of the mad, the place where insanity held sway. The pyromaniac Firebird fit in just as well as the Priest of the Mad in Brooklyn, who had visions and saw ghosts, or the Gray Lady, who was death itself when she took aim and fired from her stony stillness. In New York, the inmates really did run the asylum; the abnormal had become the typical, the anomalies now standard. It was the only place where the Firebird belonged.

A pity then that it had to burn the way everything else did.

 

Adagio: The Unforgettable Fire

As the flames roared through the apartment building, a burning beam fell with a thunderous crash, blocking her immediate exit. She took a deep breath and folded over coughing as smoke infiltrated her lungs. There seemed to be no escape for her. That didn't really concern her; every time she set one of these fires, set this infernal engine to working again, she secretly hoped that she would at last be united with the flames that were so precious to her.

Her eyes teared up from the irritation caused by the smoke and the bright flames, so she closed them. As her knees buckled, she realized that that might not be a good idea; she realized dimly that she had hardly slept in more than two weeks, so closing her eyes was the perfect temptation for sleep to claim her. But what would be would be, and it didn't really matter in the end, so she surrendered.

The next thing she knew, a brawny fireman had her over his shoulder and was yelling something that she couldn't make out. She wasn't sure if she should be grateful to her rescuer or not, but since they were still in the burning building, she decided to table the thought until after they were both in fresh air. Once they were clear and she was on her feet, she took a good look at her rescuer. He was tall and strong, with a shock of red hair. "Are you all right, miss?" he asked.

"I am now," she said in her breathy, girlish voice, staring at his fiery red hair as if transfixed. "Thank you so much for saving me! You're so brave!" She tried to throw her arms around him, but he gently pushed her away.

"It's what I do. I'm glad I could do it. But please don't... I'm a married man."

"Oh, I wouldn't do that! I'm just... I don't have anyplace to go now. I don't know anyone here, and everything I had went down with the building. Do you know of a place where I can stay until I get back on my feet?" She looked up at him with pleading blue eyes, their true malice cleverly masked. She was as mutable as flame, able to change in an instant, forever wearing and discarding masks as they pleased her. She was not to be trusted, but of course the firefighter had no way of knowing that he had been better off with her trapped in the flames.

"Well, my daughter's off to school- Notre Dame, what a pity- so we've got a spare bedroom. Colleen won't mind, she's always saying we need another voice about the house or else she'll start telling me to clean my room. I'll just check with her to make sure that she doesn't have other plans." The fireman took out a walkie-talkie. "Station, this is McKenna. Josh, call my wife and make sure I can bring home company."

"Copy that. For shame, Bobby, you're not supposed to tell the wife about the floozies. The point is you don't tell her."

"She's the only survivor we've found from the apartment fire on 108th. I offered to put her up until she finds a place to stay. Let me know what Colleen says. Over and out." The firefighter finished his conversation and looked at the Firebird. "We'll know in a few minutes if you've got a place to stay. What's your name, anyway? I'm Bobby."

"Eadana," she lied easily. She'd used other names before, the same way she used this one now. She wasn't sure if she could remember her real name if it came to it, or if it had burned away with so many of her other memories until nothing was left but the need for fire.

"Nice to meet you. Wish it might've been some other way." He offered her a dazzling smile, and she returned it slowly.

The walkie-talkie in his hand buzzed with noise. "McKenna, this is Richards. Colleen says she's already got corned beef for three cooking, so you and the chit better get home fast. You lucky bastard. Over and out."

"Good thing my shift's just about over. Hop in the engine. Don't worry, we've always got an extra seat; they were designed for a five-man crew." The Firebird followed directions, and once the crew was sure that the blaze was completely extinguished, they returned to their base. New York City no longer had an official fire department, but volunteer groups had taken over the old firehouses and remaining equipment; many of these volunteers were the children and grandchildren of firemen, doggedly following family tradition even if they had to rebuild it themselves. For some of them, the tradition and the love of the city passed on through generations of its protectors had been the only things to shield them from the evil influence that forced so many of their peers to leave the city.

Bobby didn't introduce the Firebird to the rest of the crew, and she made no move to introduce herself. The other three looked at her askance. She wondered if they knew her role in the fire, or if any of them recognized her from other fires she had involved herself in. She hoped not, because they would just be too much trouble to clean up after her stay with the McKennas. She wouldn't have time to get anything done if she had to run around tying up loose ends.

They arrived at the firehouse. The Firebird found her nose wrinkling with the smell of chemicals. As cozy and homey as the firehouse seemed to the crew, she hated the place instantly; it was designed to combat and destroy everything that meant anything to her, and she couldn't stand that. She scratched frantically at her arms, feeling as if some fog had come over her. Everything itched, and it was hard to move. She was thrilled to death when Bobby changed into street clothes and led her to a beat-up Ford parked down the street. "The fire engine was cooler, I know, but this is the one I actually take home."

"It's all right," the Firebird reassured him sweetly. "It doesn't smell funny the way the fire engine does. I like it better."

"Hmm. I guess it does smell a little. I've gotten so used to it that I hardly notice anymore. Do you want to listen to dance or techno?"

"Do we have to?" the Firebird asked before anything remotely resembling common sense or manners could cut the words off.

He only laughed. "Okay, I'll admit that my tastes in music are a little strange. You're not the first one to tell me to keep the stereo off, and you won't be the last. You might regret the silence when we hit a traffic jam, but I don't want to get called abusive by exposing you to my music."

She didn't tell him that silence was her friend, that the only sound she cared to hear was the crackling of flames as they reached for the sky and the roaring as stone gave way under stress and heat. She was grounded enough to realize that no one else shared her appreciation and love for the beauty of fire, and she knew it would be a bad idea to mention this to someone whose life was devoted to fighting what she loved. The silence between them had a surprisingly high comfort level as they drove through Brooklyn to get to the Rockaways, the ancestral home of so many firefighters and police officers. He'd been in this job long enough to know when not to ask prying questions; there was something about this girl that bothered him, and if he had the experience of his father and his grandfather before him he would have thrown the Firebird out of the car while going full speed on the highway and never thought twice about it. But he only knew enough to not say anything to her.

They drove out far enough that the Firebird was starting to wonder if Bobby had guessed her role in the fire and was trying to drive them into the sea. She shuddered at the thought of water, of an ocean that might be the only thing that could quench the fire within her. But they pulled up a couple of blocks from the beach, at the end of a lonely-looking street. "When people started moving out of town, property around here became really cheap, and Colleen and I had a chance to move closer to the beach. I'd never have been able to afford this ten years ago, not even with Colleen working."

Colleen was a tall woman with dark red hair and a no-nonsense expression on her face. When she spoke, she had the strong remnants of a Brooklyn accent clinging to her voice. "Hey, honey, glad to see ya home. This must be da kid you mentioned. Skinny little thing. Whaddya standin' out here for? Get her inside so's we can feed her." Before either Bobby or the Firebird could say anything Colleen had chased them into the kitchen. There were plates of food waiting there, the steam still rising off them a strong indicator of how fresh dinner was.

"Thanks so much for taking care of me," the Firebird said, shamelessly talking with her mouth full as her gaze darted around the room, seeking something she could put to use. A pile of newspapers in the corner caught her eye, but she ignored them as best as she could so that the McKennas wouldn't notice and do something about it. Looking behind Colleen into the kitchen proper, she saw that they had a gas range, its flame matching the color of her eyes, and she restrained herself from smiling. She soon realized that Bobby and Colleen were staring at her. "Sorry. It's been a long day. I promise not to be too much of a burden on you two. I'll only need a day or two to get things back together. There are people I can find and stay with until I get back on my feet."

"Stay as long as ya need," Colleen assured her. "We got space since Sarah took off, and this place been empty without her. It's always good to have a girl 'round the house, keeps Bobby on his toes." She pecked her husband on the cheek before getting up and clearing the table.

The Firebird laughed, and the sound surprised her; she hadn't thought the vagaries of a relationship could amuse her so much. She knew that she didn't know much about people, if only because she didn't tend to be around them very long before they burst into flame. She had yet to learn about how complicated and amusing they could be. For a moment, she considered delaying her plan just long enough to learn something of these people, but then she saw the gas range, and her eyes glittered hard blue in response. No, the fire in her demanded to be fed, demanded to defy the crashing ocean waves that were just yards away and burn high to the sky.

"Any tapes you'd like ta watch ta get yer mind off the fire?" Colleen asked.

The Firebird shook her head. "I've got a knack for getting over things," she said, and it wasn't a lie, and that was what surprised her most. "The best thing for me is to call it an early night and wake up with the dawn. I'm better in the morning anyway, it's like I've recharged or something. Don't worry about me."

"If we didn't worry about you, you wouldn't be here, you'd be somewhere out on the streets without a roof over your head, and this is not the kind of weather for that," Bobby said firmly, and that seemed to decide the matter. "I've got an early shift tomorrow, so I'll turn in too."

Colleen shrugged as if it didn't matter. "You'll be sleepin' down that hall," she told the Firebird, pointing towards a short corridor and a closed door. "Sarah's old room is behind that door, an' it's got its own bathroom. Ya call if ya need anything, a'right? I'll be up with a book, so don't worry 'bout wakin' me."

The Firebird said nothing, merely turned down the hall and into the bedroom. Sarah's taste had apparently run to pink, frilly, and floral, with posters of boy bands there to lessen the effect of the pink. The Firebird shuddered, and she heartily wished she could meet Sarah just long enough to douse her with gasoline and throw a match on her. The room was so dainty and girly that it was almost aggressive; it seemed as if the room were trying to brainwash her the way the lamented Sarah had been brainwashed. She knew that it wouldn't work, because no one else in all the world shared her love of fire.

Fire... that was a good reminder that she had a duty; she had to wait for Colleen to finally go to bed so she could put her plan into motion. She entered a quiet, meditative state, focusing all of her concentration on the image of a candle flame gently swaying back and forth in a soft breeze. In this condition, she could hear any whisper of noise in the house: the faint rustle of pages from the living room, the wind whipping outside, the pounding of her heart and the rasp of her breathing; if she concentrated hard enough she could hear Bobby's snores through the closed door of his and Colleen's bedroom.

The darkness tried to claim her, enfolding her in its shadows, but she wouldn't let it. The candle flame in her mind was reflected in her eyes for those who knew how to look for it. She held tight to that image, clinging to it as if it were her life at stake. A half-smile tugged at her rosebud lips as she imagined that grip being literal, imagined her hands around the slender white taper and the orange flame burning through her palms in stigmata marks of fire. Any minute now, any second, any moment, her time would come. The call in her blood and mind, that which could be denied for only so long, would be answered and sated.

She heard Colleen's footsteps in the hallway and the sound of the other bedroom door closing. With that, the Firebird brought herself to full consciousness. Silently, she slipped out the door. Before she could do anything, she had to disable the alarms. Bobby knew his craft, and as a fireman was paranoid about the possibility of a fire destroying his home, and so he had more alarms than the average person. The Firebird was forced to find a ladder, drag it out of the utility closet, and go into every room with it in order to take the batteries out of every fire alarm and every carbon monoxide alarm. It was really a hassle, and she considered finding some way to torture Bobby for her troubles, but she couldn't think of anything, so she left well enough alone.

Once that was done, she put the ladder back in the closet and ventured out onto the balcony. Like a lot of men in the Rockaways, Bobby had a grill that was his pride and joy, and like a lot of those men, he was macho enough to have an old-fashioned gas grill, complete with a canister of flammable liquid. The Firebird could have kissed it when she saw it. She had plans for that, so she dragged it off the balcony and into the house. Carefully, she piled up the old newspapers and put them in the main room that served as living room and dining room both. A short spurt of the gasoline was enough to immerse them completely. Next, she went into the kitchen, methodically clogged all the burners so that no fire could come out, then turned on the oven and all four burners to maximum heat until the smell of gas filled her nose and was slightly tart on the back of her tongue. She made ready everything she could possibly think of to ensure that the fire would spread, grow, and be nigh on impossible to quench, then slipped into Bobby and Colleen's bedroom. Both of them were deeply asleep, out of it enough that they didn't notice as she poured the remnants of the can of gasoline on them and their bed. She smiled to herself, watching them sleep, but she didn't have time for further contemplation.

With breathtaking quickness, the same speed that had saved her from more than one of the blazes she had set, she dashed into the living room, lit a match, and threw it on the pile of newspaper. She then whirled and tossed two more into the kitchen. The flames started to rise in slow orange curls, crawling across the floor and up the wall. She went out the front door and went around the back to where Bobby and Colleen had left their bedroom window open. She flicked open her heavy-duty lighter, the one whose flame almost never went out and could survive high winds. "I'll miss you, old friend," she sighed, then threw it through the window. She didn't stay around long enough to know whether her aim was good, because she was sure enough of it that she didn't want to risk anyone connecting her with the deaths that would result from this fire. She was happy just to have gotten away from the man who fought the thing she loved most, and to have defied the ocean that would so gladly kill her.

That night she curled up on the side of the road that led back into mainland Queens, and she had never been so relieved to be leaving a place in her life.

 

Rondo: Infernal Madness

The eponymous proprietor of the nightclub called Madison Green had been quite content in his dreaming, if for no other reason than because it was the only way he could hear his fiancée's voice again, or feel her in his arms, or see her grin at him with her dimples flashing in and out of sight. Seven years had done nothing to lessen the ache he felt and the loneliness that haunted him every day. If anything, he only needed her more as madness closed in on the city.

But she had looked at him, and her tiger eyes had narrowed, and she had yelled at him to get his ass out of bed. Only when he came awake and smelled the first hint of smoke did he realize what was going on. He didn't even bother putting on a shirt or the work pants that were slung over his chair. There was usually a fire extinguisher under his bed, but when he reached for it, he only found empty space. By now he was furious. He would not lose any part of this building without a fight. There was a spare extinguisher under the bar, so he ran out into the main room-

And found the Firebird standing there with a lighter in her hand and a demented grin on her face as she set one of the poems on fire that had been on the wall. Madison Green's eyes narrowed when he saw the girl, because just for a second his eyes played tricks on him and he thought he saw a ghost of his past, the spectre of the woman who he thought his beloved had finally laid to rest. But the fire led to a change in the light and the shadow, and the girl was a stranger again, laughing maniacally as she put another poem to the torch. His heart turned over, because he recognized every piece in his bar by the frame, and this was the first love poem he'd ever received. He screamed at her, then got smart and took out the disguised extinguisher. He knew that he had to work fast, because Madison Green was situated along the old gas main that had taken out a failed government infiltration, and he had no desire to repeat history.

As the foam hit the Firebird and drenched both her and the paper in her hand, she let out a shriek as if she were being tortured, and Madison Green stopped spraying in shock, afraid that he might have accidentally harmed her. "I don't like that," she informed him with a sinister giggle, and that was when she started lighting matches and tossing them randomly through the room. They charred everything they touched: poems, song lyrics, artwork, the paint on the walls, the wooden furniture, the stage.

He snapped at that point. There was no other way to describe it. This was his place, the shrine that held the last few tangible reminders of his beloved, the only thing that kept him grounded, the last piece of his past. And this little chit whose blue eyes and taunting smile were a horrible reminder of mistakes he had almost made was too much for him to take. There was nothing left for him but to leap on her and knock the lighter out of her hand. His fingers closed around her throat. "You've done enough to my city and to me, now it's your turn to suffer."

The Firebird tried to loosen Madison Green's grip, tried to get some breath into her lungs, but she was fighting a losing battle. She had come up against a foe who was in his own way just as crazy as she was, only he had learned how to control those urges. Worse, she had dared to trespass on something he considered his, and that was a mistake most people never had a chance to make twice. Ironically, the fire she loved so much was also doing its part to destroy her, because it sucked the oxygen she needed out of the air so that it became even harder for her to breathe.

A twisted smile suddenly came over Madison Green's face as he bared his teeth at her. "I know just what to do with you," he said with a hint of malicious pleasure in his voice. Seizing her wrist, he dragged her into his back room, turned on the water in his sink, made sure that the drain was pulled up so that no water could escape, and held her head in the sink. Her eyes widened as he realized what he wanted to do to her. If she had been able to, she would have begged him not to do this. It wouldn't have mattered in any event, but at least she would have had the chance.

The crackle of the flames seemed to remind Madison Green of something, and dimly he became aware that his beloved bar was burning while he tried to deal with the perpetrator. There was no way he could handle both things at the same time, so he clubbed the Firebird over the head with a wooden cudgel he kept handy for anti-brainwashing, then left her in the sink while he went back out into the bar and fought the fire. For the first time, he thanked his lucky stars that he'd crossed paths with the woman known as Peartree, because she had been the one to encourage him to keep a hidden fire extinguisher. Peartree had been the first to warn anyone who would listen about the Firebird, although some people thought it was just the old mother's paranoia speaking. Madison Green had known her long enough to know better, and as the flames died, he found himself grateful to the chance introduction at his fiancée's first Christmas party.

Once the bar was safe, the owner returned to his bedroom. The Firebird was still unconscious on the floor. His bloodlust had ebbed slightly, because she was really an innocent-looking girl with her eyes closed and her features in peaceful repose. Time didn't seem to have laid a finger on her; her face was unlined, her skin smooth and soft. But Madison Green knew that she was not the child she seemed; all he had to do to remind himself was imagine her holding the poem and setting it aflame without a care for what it might mean to someone. He could still see her smile without even closing his eyes, recall the way the firelight had made her teeth sparkle blindingly white, and he knew that this woman was dangerous indeed. Yet he couldn't just kill her as she lay there. It wasn't in his nature, and there was no way to make it so.

She started to stir, and he kept a close watch on her as her eyes opened. "Why?" he asked her sharply.

"Why what?"

"Why did you try to set my bar on fire?"

She shrugged. "'Cause it was there and I needed it. Why did you put the fire out? I need it and you put it out- what gave you the right? Give it back, it's not fair, I need it! It's not like there was anything important there anyway-"

He slapped her hard enough for her teeth to scrape against her tender lips and draw blood. "What gave you the right to decide what should be important to me?" he snapped at her. When she looked at him incredulously, he continued, "This place is the only thing left that matters to me. And you tried to destroy it."

"Maybe you shouldn't get so attached to anything," she said lightly. "Things will hurt you, I should know. Things just cause you pain."

"She wasn't a thing." The words came out between gritted teeth and through emotional agony. He was surprised to find that he was so angry, because he didn't have a bad temper, not like the one she had had that caused her to scream and rant and rave when things didn't go her way. Some rational part of his mind that hadn't really been involved in the night's events told him that it was a defense mechanism transforming grief into anger, but he didn't want to hear about it. He was starting to understand the cathartic joy in a good tantrum, and he didn't want to spoil it with logic or common sense.

"We're all things," the Firebird said casually. "All of us, we're no better or worse than anything else. We all belong to the fire and the fire is part of us, so we might as well go back to it."

And again, the rational, decent human being known as Madison Green descended into a place that was raw and primal, somewhere that was completely run on emotions and memories, and a red haze came over his eyes. Everything blurred, and he wasn't aware that he was punching her over and over again, or even that he had thrown her against the sink like a rag doll, or that he was holding her head in the water even as she kicked and scratched at him. His personal demons knew that they might never have a chance like this again, so they went wild while they were in control.

He didn't know how much time passed while he drowned the Firebird, only that sometime after he had first smelled the smoke, there was a dead woman in his hands. The feeling was a complete blank, the absence of any emotion he thought he should have felt hitting him like a sucker punch. He'd never killed anyone this way before. Yes, there had been deaths at Times Square, but seven years later he still didn't know which were his and which were the Thornlady's, because all the specifics were lost and that was really for the best.

He forced himself to look at the girl's face, bloated and twisted in death, as a cruel reminder of what he had done of his own free will. No one had forced him to kill her, and he hadn't been in a life or death struggle with her. This was murder, plain and simple, and the fact that she was a psychotic arsonist didn't do anything to lessen the impact of his crime. The worst part of it, at least for his conscience, was that almost no one would care. It didn't matter who she was; dead bodies were nothing to be concerned about in what New York had become. That hurt him almost as much as commiting murder had, because in the absence of his beloved, he had fallen in love with her city.

Still, he had to make some effort at confession. He picked up the phone from its cradle and dialed the local precinct. "I'd like to report a dead body," he said, his voice shaking. "It's some girl... I don't know her name or anything, except I know that I killed her."

The voice on the other end was bored and disinterested. "You've got the wrong number. You want the Sanitation Department, that's 486. They'll be by tomorrow morning. You can leave it out on the curb for them. They charge if you want them to come in and pick it up, so you're better off doing the dragging yourself."

"But aren't you supposed to do something about murder?"

"Was she a tourist?"

"No, I don't think so. She let herself in, started setting fire to the place. If you'd like I can check her for any identification."

"Fire? For no good reason?"

"That's right."

"Thanks. That's self-defense, and you're wasting my time. Leave the body on the curb and someone will take care of it." The voice on the other end suddenly stopped, leaving him with a dial tone. He hung up quickly, remembering urban legends about what whispers came over seemingly silent phone lines. A yawn caught him unaware, and a quick glance at the clock told him that it was what his fiancée had insisted on calling 'ungodly o'clock'. He needed sleep, and as the leftover smell of smoke assaulted him, he knew that he would not find it here.

There was only one place he could go on such short notice, and even that was touch-and-go. Still, he had to give it a try. He picked up the walkie-talkie that he kept tucked under the bar. "Thornrest Garden, this is Madison Green. Can you hear me? Over."

"Bloody hellfire, do you know what time it is?"

"I need to sleep with you."

"I'm sorry, what the fuck?"

"Some crazy woman tried to burn down the bar, and the place smells to high heaven of smoke. I can hail a taxi going in early, so can I crash at the Thornrest for a day or two?"

"L'Nouement's family isn't closer?" the Thornlady asked with an edge to her voice. She hated being awakened in the wee hours, especially since she kept the same late hours he did; she had probably only gotten to bed an hour or two before.

"Carrie... please. I need a friend. I need someone who can understand. She burned the poems, Carrie."

"Put whatever's left in your beach bag, and for Goddess's sake, you had better show up with a shirt on this time. This isn't the kind of city where a half-naked man should show up on a woman's doorstep. I'll see you in half an hour and pay you back half of whatever the cabby asks of you. And I swear to Goddess I won't tell anyone if you cry." The Thornlady's tone was dry, logical, practical, merciless, and exactly what Madison Green needed to get his feet back under him.

"Thanks. You're my salvation."

She disconnected, presumably before she could come up with something nasty to say about the word 'salvation'. He picked through the charred and sodden pile of paper, pulling out anything that he might possibly recognize. The Thornlady was the keeper of his backup copies; fortunately, most of what he did had been done on the computer and was meticulously saved. And the pages with *her* messy scrawl, its cryptic pattern of skinny loops and jagged lines, were pressed in the scrapbook that always remained ready in his bag so that if he had to leave he wouldn't forget it.

Everything he had that was worth bringing, he packed, and then he abandoned his home. As a cabby recognized him and took him in, he reflected on what the Firebird had said. 'Things just cause you pain.' Had she been right?

But he forced the thought from his mind, and instead lost himself in memories of the woman who had caused him to be in this place in the first place, and the grief hurt in the finest and most exquisite way.

 

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