You're sitting in your parents' old corvette (if you had bothered to check, you'd know it was older than you), flicking your eyes between a lighter in one hand, and a box of matches in the other. You forget when fire became such a need, a distraction.
Spencer is right beside you in the car, his fingers stroking idly at your forearm, watching you with hooded green eyes.
"If you want to die," he says, "then just kill yourself, but do it with style."
You met The Boy Under the Sycamore Tree when you were four. Your mom encouraged you to go see the lonely boy, and when you first went over to him, he ignored you. The Boy Under the Tree, that's what you called him for the first day you knew him, was a little older than you with dark hair and smoky green eyes.
With encouraging looks from your folks, you walked right next to him and sat down, pressing your back against the tree's rough trunk. The tree boy had his nose pressed in a book, not something like Doctor Seuss, no, more like Lord of the Rings.
"Hi," you said, getting no response from the other boy. "Hey," you tried again, your four-year-old patience wearing thin. If he was going to ignore you, you weren't even going to try.
The next day, you went back to the sycamore tree and the boy was there again. That time, he looked at you, and a bedazzling smile graced his lips.
"I'm Spencer," he said, taking short steps so his long fingers could grab yours. You got on your toes and whispered, giggling nonetheless, your name in his ear. He smiled.
Pause. Fast forward.
"Humans aren't good at letting go," Spencer says, "they don't understand why things happen, so they can't let go. But we all die."
The matches feel heavy in your hand, like a weight, something tangible tethering you to this planet. You'd do anything to let go.
The day has been more than forgettable. It's always the same routine. Wake up, eat, school, work, run, eat (maybe), sleep. Rinse and repeat.
"You are just a product of your people. You aren't just yourself. There's always someone who impacts you. That's why people are all so different," Spencer says, fingers still stroking at your forearm. "People burn out. They get too bright and then they're just gone," he snaps, "like that."
"Some people just fade away," you say.
"Yeah," he whispers, "but it's better to burn out than to fade away."
You watch as his hair falls over his eyes, and hope for the best. It can only get better for you from here on out.
There was a week when you were young where Spencer was just gone, and you didn't know what to do. You were nine at the most, and didn't understand where he had gone because one minute he was there, and then all you can remember is the smell of smoke hugging the air.
Behind your eyes, orange and yellow flashed and you could feel a burning heat against your skin; then, you blacked out. The next thing you remembered was waking up against a sycamore tree and not seeing Spencer for a week while his family was still around.
The first day Spencer had been missing, you went to his house and asked where he was. Spencer's parents wouldn't look at you.
Pause. Fast forward.
"We should go somewhere, anywhere, escape for a little while," Spencer says, wringing his fingers together. "I don't like just sitting here. We're just wasting away here."
"Poetic fiction," you say "is a wonderful thing if you know how to use it. We can go anywhere without leaving."
You look down at the lighter that your fingers still cover, and smile, knowing exactly where to go.
You flick the lighter closed, and drive. Pedal to the metal you think, move fast, move out, and leave. Spencer is looking at you, his eyes hooded, surrounded by dark circles and pale skin. His gaze is calculating, but he hasn't complained about the change in scenery yet, so you figure he'll be okay. He's never not okay.
You drive to a small family barn on the outer edge of you little town, and let the car idle for a moment as you turn to Spencer.
"I'm searching for my next disaster," you say. "I'm on a sinking ship, and I don't want to go down alone."
"Then why are we here, what's a barn gonna change?"
"This will be my ticket out of here, my escape."
Spencer just nods.
Before Spencer disappeared, you stayed at his house a few times. It was always weird, being in the house, seeing the place as little more than a maze. Back then you weren't used to the world, the way it worked.
One night, you couldn't sleep so you crawled down from your place on Spencer's bed, he was always nice enough to give you his bed, and shook him awake.
"I can't sleep," you said as you slid into his sleeping bag. "Any chance you'll tell me a story?"
"You know I can't tell good stories," he said as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.
"Then let's tell secrets," you whispered. "You go and then I'll go, and then you go and we keep doing that until one of us falls back asleep."
"Who should go first?"
You ran your fingers along the bottom of the sleeping bag until you found Spencer's hand.
"How about you tell me your biggest fear?" you asked.
Spencer smiled softly, fear glowing in his eyes.
"Fire. Burning candles that burn down a house on accident. The idea that a human life is oh so tangible."
Pause. Fast forward.
Spencer's fingers are intertwined with yours as you flick the lighter open and closed next to the old barn. You want to set this place up in flames, destroy it the way the world has destroyed you since you were young, but you can't seem to do that just yet.
It's not that you're afraid; you've done this before, you have, it's just that with Spencer there, the circumstances are different. He has to see this, to watch what he's most afraid of. You've done that, many times, and it won't be the last, so Spencer should watch this. That's how you rationalize it at least.
"People will get hurt," Spencer says, "they'll get hurt and what about their families?"
This is the first time you've heard Spencer care about other people in a situation. He cares, he'd just rather look out for himself than for everyone else.
"We all die," you deadpan. "They'll die anyway, I'm just speeding up the process."
Spencer's eyes widen and he just looks at you, calculating as always.
"I'll live forever," you whisper, "if I do this, I'll never die."
You know your voice is shaking. It's not that you want to be infamous; you just don't want to go out as no one. You need people to know your name, you always have.
"You'll live forever, but you won't be around to see it," Spencer says, voice laced with ice. You can see his veins underneath his pale skin. Something's different with Spencer, something has been different with him, but you can't quite see what it is. "You just repeat everything don't you?" Spence says as he stalks away.
You stare at him, confused.
Fire, you remember Spencer always saying he was afraid of it. Your fingers clutch at the matches that are sitting softly in your hand.
The smoke surrounded you, grey clouds of ash that cause heaving coughs when you took anything that seemed like a deep breath.
Spencer's house was in flames in front of you, and you started the fire. From outside the house, you could hear yelling and feet pounding down the stairs. Spencer's mom had the door open, and was ushering three kids down the same. It took moments before you realized Spencer was missing from the pack. Spencer's mom noticed too late.
In the distance, you could hear sirens blaring, and could see red and yellow flashing, speeding towards you. You panicked, and ran, feet thumping on the ground as you ran, not quite knowing where. You didn't have anybody waiting for you back home, so you ran to the place you found most comforting.
The sycamore tree.
When you sat down, you passed the box of matches between your hands, not knowing what else to do. You felt jittery, but at the same time, languid and relaxed. Your muscles had been trembled at the thought of what you had done.
Pause. Fast forward.
You watch the barn go up in flames from a distance as you slowly walked back to your car, to find Spencer sitting on the hood. He looks tired, and you can still see the veins in his arms, but he doesn't say anything. You don't expect him to.
When you open your door, he jumps into the car, and looks at you. You leave the barn and the flames behind you, and just drive again.
"You know what happened," Spencer says, "and you still repeat history."
"Am I going crazy?"
"No, you just needed someone around, and I happened to be free."
"Spencer, YOU'RE dead, gone, not alive. How am I not crazy?"
"Because," you turn your head towards Spencer as he speaks, "this is real to you, and they say that's all that'll matter in the end."
You're distracted, eyes not on the road, so there's no way you could see the turn in the road. Or the rocks that block the cliffs edge from being the edge of the road. A car is too fast to stop before you hit especially without notice, and, suddenly, the car is in flames.
Spence smiles, "You're stuck with me now."
You never really took burning out literally. You were wrong. Because now, you're up in flames.
This is the end, you think.