During this series of Tales of the Slightly Unexpected we’ve had suspension parties, living in a squat, acting in a low budget horror and being an intern at Bizarre magazine. Now its time for something much more mundane…the night I set fire to my room.
I had just turned 15. My room was decorated in that 90s ‘I’m an oddball’ fashion of suns, moons, stars, Nirvana and Radiohead everywhere and a friend of mine had bought me a joke present, a book of witch’s spells.
Halloween was in the October air as I flicked through the pages one evening, never intending to enact any of the ‘magic,’ as I was far too lazy to draw pentagrams or collect leaves facing only in a south-easterly direction on a Tuesday etc. However I stopped when I reached a particular page.
Being a normal 15 year old girl I had a crush on somebody, and the ‘love spell’ was the only thing that wouldn’t require lots of effort. All I had to do was write their name on a piece of paper and burn it. Easy, right?
I eagerly wrote the name down and got out my lighter – for candles and oil burners – and set alight to the corner of the paper. I watched the orange flame flicker and grow stronger and the thought occured to me…what now? It wasn’t stopping automatically, it didn’t decide ‘Maddie’s one true love is now waiting outside therefore I shall put myself out.’ No, of course it carried on burning and began to make a frightening roaring sound.
I panicked and threw it away… in the bin. In the wicker bin. It really picked up at that point and consumed it with ease, growing taller and roaring and reaching for more. I watched it happen, doing a sort of hopping up and down dance. It hadn’t occured to me in my panic that my bin was under the curtains.
I emitted a helpless whimper as the bottoms of the material caught alight and the flame began to travel smokily upwards. I realised if I didn’t snap out of my shock I was going to burn the house down. My eyes flicked around the room…the empty glasses I was always being told off for! “Stop taking up a different glass every time you have a drink,” mum would say and yet here they were, calling out for me to use them.
I grabbed as many as I could and ran to the bathroom, filling them with water and trying to breathe evenly so as not to spill too much on the journey back. It was working…the flames began to recede and I made a scrambling dash to the bathroom with more empty glasses. I heard a voice travel up the stairs: “Maddie, I can smell smoke, what’s going on?”
“Everything’s fine!” I called like a housewife on valium, and soon the fire was nothing more than a smoking, smouldering mess of wicker and black curtains.
“I can definately smell something, I’m coming up!” She did come up the stairs, and she wasn’t happy. I did, however, point out the life saving role the empty glasses had played. For some reason she wasn’t as impressed as I was.