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.