William R. Soldan ~ Flares

 

Faces round a fire call back spin­ning wheels, pull up that throb­bing glow, the hiss of drip­ping sul­phur on a grade of crush run grav­el.

Fourth of July and they thought it’d be a kick to stick pieces of bust­ed lum­ber to the back of my bicy­cle, duct-taped road flares branch­ing off by the baker’s dozen, all of them gath­ered behind me as I placed my foot on the ped­al, strik­ing black tips with stripped caps, sway­ing drunk in the sum­mer air as they set me rolling down the slope toward town, a mobile harzard, lit up and sanc­tioned by my only known gods.

But the cop who stopped me didn’t find it fun­ny none, dri­ving out to a nowhere holler when a phone call had the devil’s own infer­no blaz­ing the main drag, red light spread­ing clear across the con­try­side like the stoked coal bel­ly of a dooms­day frieght. Didn’t find fun­ny the prayers and por­tents of fanat­ics jam­ming the lines. “You tryin’ to burn the whole town down, son? The Sam Hill you thinkin?”

He stayed with me the whole way home, cruis­ing slow with flash­ers whirling while I dragged the burnt remains like an out-of-sock­et limb along the dirt shoul­der.

We’ll make sure he’s pun­ished right and prop­er, offi­cer.” Heads shak­ing, faces fake with shame. “Yes sir, you can believe that.”

Silence, taut and strained till the squad reached bot­tom and cut out of sight.

Then it came: the pres­sure valve release of let loose laugh­ter, back pats, arms embrac­ing.

It was the first time and nev­er one time since—the only time I felt like a hero.

~

William R. Soldan holds a BA in English Literature from Youngstown State University and an MFA from the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts pro­gram. His work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in a num­ber of pub­li­ca­tions such as New World Writing, Kentucky Review, Jellyfish Review, Elm Leaves Journal, and has been select­ed for inclu­sion in the Best American Mystery Stories 2017. He lives in Youngstown, Ohio, with his wife and two chil­dren.