From The Demon Rift: The Flames

                      

The Flames

Redhill Correctional Facility          
Redhill, Ohio
Dec. 24, 1965 

John sat on the low bench and watched the clock. 

It was Christmas Eve and the recreation room filled 
with men watching the small black and white TV, and 
drinking the last of the fruit punch brought by the 
Methodist Church.  He had seen Nora and the baby two 
days before.  Nora looked tired.  They were making her 
work doubles she said; there were too many people out 
for the holidays. He shared the homemade fudge she 
brought, with Ray and Lonnie, and Lonnie passed around 
the cornbread his wife Cinda made.  Cinda was a damn 
good cook. 

It was almost eight and he’d have to go back soon . . . 

What was he afraid of?  Baker was half his size and Ray 
said, anyhow, he’d make sure to make a lot of racket, if 
the old man tried anything. “I’ll keep an eye on 'im, don’t 
you worry about it.”
Before they brought the old guy in, Ray showed him the 
peephole. 

A crack in the crumbling wall between the cells,
the wall divided what was once a single cell, into two 
cramped ones.  John had laughed, but when Baker arrived, 
John understood just how bad it was. 

The old man’s strangeness, his eyes—he’d hardly slept in 
almost ten days.
The Little Drummer Boy Christmas Special was almost over now. He 
never thought much of the holidays. Too many sad memories . . . 
the Christmases after his dad left. He was less than ten sitting 
alone in the apartment . . . worrying about his mother, hoping 
she’d be back soon, knowing it could be days.  

John finished his cigarette as the guard called an end to the 
evening. As John passed by, Ray sat in his cell shuffling a deck 
of cards. Ray glanced up and smiled, giving John the thumbs up. 
Lonnie, whose cell was one down from Ray’s, stretched out on his 
bunk.  Lonnie seemed unaffected by Baker’s proximity, an 
exception to the rest of the cellblock.  

They were all jittery, including the guards.
“Merry Christmas, Arnold.  Be good now.” Lonnie called to John.
“Merry Christmas, old man.” John answered as the lights on the 
block dimmed. Lonnie had turned forty two days before.
“Merry Christmas, Arnold,” said the guard as he unlocked the 
door to John’s cell.

“Yeah—Merry Christmas,” John responded, both of them looking away 
as John entered the darkened cell.  Inside, there were whispers.  
The guard turned the lock and walked quickly down the catwalk to 
the winding stairs.
Baker was kneeling on the floor of the cell.  Though it was 
dark, John could see he was naked.  Hoping to reach his bunk 
without drawing the old man’s attention, John slowly moved 
sideways, carefully groping for the edge. 

The skeletal form rocked back and forth. Baker was saying 
something.
CLACK—CLACK . . . clackclackclack—a sound burst from nowhere 
causing the thick window glass to shatter. John grabbed his 
ears, barely managing to avoid being cut. As they came through 
the open window, snowflakes speckled the cell wall. Men called 
out, “Whatthefuck/It’s Christmas Eve for crissake/shut the 
hell up . . . ” 

John shivered as the old man continued to rock. 

A foul odor, pungent and sweet with soft oozing rot rolled 
through the cellblock. John heard Lonnie call out, “The sewer, 
something musta busted.”
Dozens of  candle-like flames appeared, seeming to float in 
the air.Unnerved by the disembodied flames, John panicked when 
he looked down and saw Baker was kneeling in the center of a 
star, crudely drawn inside a circle—its edges smeared on the 
tiny patch of cement.

Was that blood? The old man’s? Where was he cut?  One urgent 
thought took over; he must get away.  

As he began to yell for the guards, he saw  piles of cigarette 
butts and empty packs—Lucky Strikes. They were his, but why?  
His alarm mushrooming into terror, he started yelling louder, 
screaming, as the old man kept rocking, chanting the words 
faster, until—OH MY GODFire erupted and John started to burn.
The shrieks of the dying man and the fire that consumed him 
started a confusion of screams and yells, a jumble of noise as 
the prisoners began to panic, pounding the bars with whatever 
they could grab, clamoring for the guards to do something; 
get them out, away from the fast moving fire.  

In the next cell, Ray shook the bars, yelling as loud as he could, 
knowing that it was already too late.  

The fire was everywhere now and men were shrieking 
open the goddamn cell! Someone must’ve had heard, 
because there was a sudden jerk, and Ray’s cell 
door slid a few inches. 

He struggled to squeeze through.
Minutes earlier, Ray had crouched low, his eye angled against 
the tiny opening in the crumbling wall, so that he could keep 
an eye out in case Baker was up to something.  He had a bad 
feeling all day—worse than usual.  He shook as he tried to fit 
through the small opening to the catwalk, screaming along with 
the rest of them for help—help for himself.

John was already dead, he’d seen him die, and he’d seen what 
had happened to Baker!  

The smell of burning flesh and Baker changing . . . the flesh 
stretching, his body growing, his face . . . oh God no one 
will believe him!  As the guards ran to the burning man, the 
skin melted and hair gone, body charred and twisted, “John” 
had yelled, “Baker! The crazy fuck set himself on fire!”  
Forgotten, as the guards fought the flames, “John” buttoned 
his shirt, zipped his trousers and walked along the row of 
cell doors, his hands running along the bars—and what? 

Ray still couldn’t get a handle on it. Flames dropped from 
John’s fingers! 

Ray trembled as “John” passed his cell, smiling, running 
his fingers along the bars and the flames . . . Focus, he 
thought, just get out!  No one will believe you. 

Every one here will be dead.  Get away! 

The flames and smoke were reaching up from the lower tier 
when, with one final tug, Ray squeezed through.
Starting to run, he saw that Lonnie was trying to squeeze 
through an even smaller opening—the only other cell door 
that had opened at all as fire and black smoke swirled up 
from the ground level.  Ray gestured to Lonnie—he would 
try to get to the lever, the one on the ground level that 
opened the cells.  

“Hurry!” Lonnie’s voice was barely audible above the choking 
voices of the others as they were pleading, trying to 
bargain, splashing their toilet water, futilely trying to 
douse the flames, to stay alive a little longer. As Ray went 
down the metal stairs, he heard Lonnie yell “Cindaaaa!  Tell 
her . . . love . . . ” 

Then, Lonnie was screaming.
Ray crept along the ground floor and saw that the flames 
shooting up through the roof, melting glass and metal 
beams were beginning to loosen and would soon collapse.  
The smoke was thick, blinding him.  

Crouching down, feeling his way, he tried to see if there 
were any guards when he saw John (Baker?) standing in an 
open door. Not knowing where to flee, Ray rose to his feet.  

With a sigh and a smile, John extended his arm and pointed 
at Ray. A flame shot from his finger striking Ray’s chest. 
As Ray began to scream, frantically swatting the flames, 
John laughed and disappeared through the open door.
Still batting at the fire, Ray followed him through the 
open door. 

As it welled up and began to burn his face and 
hair, Ray reached the outside, throwing himself on to the 
snow-covered ground.  Shivering with the cold and dazed, 
he listened to the screams of prisoners trapped within, 
and the shouts of the guards trying frantically to fight 
the blaze. There was the wail of sirens and the fire 
trucks began to arrive.  

In shock, and in terrible pain, Ray raised himself up and 
saw what looked like John Arnold pick up a hose and begin 
to fight the fire.  Ray fainted.

 

 

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