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1st – The Straight Way Was Lost by Samuel Walden

From what I can tell it didn’t get started until it was almost too late to be avoided so I don’t really know what you want from me.

They started in the 80s, yea, 86 if memory serves. Well… officially they started in the 90s but there was a local understanding before that, an official oversight cos I think everyone kind of liked having them around back then.

It was the kid, why speak on the cut and dry, there’s more.

Tragic, awful, those poor children growing up in that house of sin, as harsh as it sounds, this tragedy was the best thing for them..

Why’m I blame the kid? Come on… man you see that kid you know, he in prison now anyway. If he still alive.

Yes, I, well naw they weren’t official ‘til the 90s but half of us were going there forehand anyways. We weren’t gonna let get put down.

It was pretty much government sanctioned the kind of folks who was going.

The first I knew was when my wife shoved me awake, she’d heard a loud crack that we later reckoned was the support going, we could see the glow all down the street. By time we got there it was all over just a great pyre.

God damn. She blame that poor kid? Bitch hag—that bitch, he was a good kid, no, he ain’t in prison no more, and that wasn’t nothing but a misunderstanding, kid was alright, sometimes he get a bit mixed up but he never do nothing like this.

Yea the cops went there, councillors too, shit I even saw the mayor there once or twice. Had a thing for blondes and his wife was greying… what’s a man to do?

If not the kid who? Why I tell you, there were a couple o’ kooks in that neighbourhood I heard some people say was Kim but she never had no problem by time that fire happened. I mean she got a little hot—she got little angry for a while after she left but no tha’s years before and by this time she realised wha’ blessing truly was, she got nice job in a bakery, good life going. I hear some fellas like try blame one the local kids. Nah, I reckon we never know, though I ‘ppreciate that you’re doing this. Least someone trying.

I don’t know why them kids in there, I don’t think anyone in the town knew them kids in there. That straight rule Kim out, least for me. She only left the place a couple years before so must’ve been around maybe even known the children there. Kim got a sweet spot, no way, it was never Kim. It was the bastard kid. He always staring up at my window, had to keep my curtains closed most the damn day to stop him staring and I know he hung around Marie’s trying to catch a sugar sight. Why I think he burn it? Shit, I dunno, he lonely, and no means neither.

She nailed the windows down the year before. Stop fellas slipping out without paying.

Yea she got official year or two prior, bought a big neon sign, never saw her so happy.

Those poor kids, secret from whole town, I wonder if they ever went outside. Think what it do to a young girl, always around these pretty women, always around all that fucking. Think what it do to a boy. Tragedy blessed them.

Maybe one guy. Came when he could but all too often short. Couldn’t like he wanted. Had to turf him out few times cos he couldn’t pay for what he already took. We used to let him back if he repaid and some but Marie just got tired and banned him and he went off and he came back later stinking whiskey. So must’ve had some money, and he was acting a fool. And I hate doing it. There was a bit of a crowd too. I think that’s what he hated, that some of the girls saw.

I can’t think how only those two children got out. I heard the stories. Word miracle gets thrown round a lot. Who believes in miracles when fifteen girls burn to death the same night?

Well I sure hope you work it all out, no I don’t have nothing to add but if you find whoever did it you let me know I’d shake their hand.

Few times saw someone checking the place out. Well, I thought it was him, still creeping round, but not wanting another bruising. Thought it might have been a kid who tried to check out the place few times too. Tried to catch him. Chased him down an alley but he just slips away into the dark or down another street. Checked round a few buildings but couldn’t find nothing in the dark. Slow glow filled the alley and I rushed back but no.

It was so warm. The fire was so high. When I was seven or six and the bonfire nine ten feet high with smiling scarecrow and I wondered if the scarecrow was hurting but he had his smile painted on so I think he was having a good time. This fire was taller though, hotter too, and the ladies hadn’t finished painting their faces. They painted their smiles on last.

I was outside. I wanted to help, but there was no way in. The building was covered, the flames even grasping at the rafters. I saw them all squeezed up like cattle in one of the upstairs rooms, Marie too, I don’t know why they were all up there but that’s where they were. And some were at the window battering it with their hands and some of them were clawing at the nails and tearing their hands to pieces so that they smeared the windows a bit with their bloodied fingers. Then he was in there too. The only still person in the room. Never seen him before, and unmoved when even the walls writhed and peeled. Marie doesn’t let men up before opening but there he was and I felt dreadful to look at him.

Yea some people did blame me for the fire but I’m no animal or psycho. I was pissed at first, sure, but that was years before and I’d got a good job. I was done and glad to be gone. Are we finished? I really have to. Oh? Yea okay…No, there were no kids living up there at the time, Marie doesn’t—Marie didn’t allow it.

Then he moved away and was gone. I watched them mutely screaming but they were already far away.  

Every door in the house was unlocked. They could have walked on out.

Marie should have been at reception who knows why she was up there with her workers and why they were penned in that one room.

Then he was downstairs and leaving the building. Why hadn’t Marie and the girls followed him? There he was, a graven angel, and nestled to his chest in his sculpted folds the two rosy children. The girl was about six or seven and peered back past his great shoulders at the sweaty fire, the boy watched forward.

The fire station was only a mile away, the fire began at 11:09pm, the call came in to the fire station at 11:12, the fire truck left at 11:15, they travelled and they kept traveling, all traffic moved aside but they would never get there, not until the beam had cracked and the building collapsed. The fire truck arrived almost immediately, at 11:29.

Neither of the children seemed scared. I didn’t see a mark, a burn, not a scrap of soot on either.

He went back in after he left the children on the bank. I thought he went to save the women, but the building collapsed just after. They didn’t find his body.

The children got shuffled in with a thousand other lost children and dealt out someplace.

The angel, I don’t care about all this debate, the angel, he must be an angel if he saved two children, the angel was of God and the whores were of the devil. God loves children and God hates whores and so God saveth the children and God burneth the whores.

Red cheeked but calm, she looked just like my youngest, I whisked her up and covered her in my coat and I tried to turn her away, so she wouldn’t look at the blaze but she kept staring and even I couldn’t bear to see them burn, and I couldn’t block out the screaming so I sang. I sang her a soft song whilst she watched what I couldn’t.

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The Straight Way Was Lost by Samuel Walden won 1st Place in our 2016 Halloween Creative Writing Competition