-The smell of kerosene never really comes off.

Uncle Lou stood over Jonah, breathing heavy, lecturing the eleven-year-old on the virtues of fire safety.

-Don’t get too much of that stuff on you. All it’d take is one little spark and WHOOSH, you’re burned up like dinner.

His small, pale finger pressed the siphon pump a few times and then watched the red river flood the clear tube. Jonah thought of it as liquid fire rushing to burn away the cold of his room. He wondered if tasted like red kool-aid.

-I got this second-hand from a guy I know. Don’t how long the wick will last. When it burns out we ain’t gettin’ another one.


Uncle Lou smacked the back of Jonah’s head.

-I’m sorry. Yes sir.

The man left the tiny, windowless room. His feet sent vibration through the floor. Jonah hated those vibrations. He knew what they meant when he heard them late at night; when the old man stumbled about reeking of pond fishing and whiskey. Those moments before Jonah went inside his mind to escape what his body felt. Jonah focused on the heater’s wick as it became a crown of fire.

One Sunday, long before it all ended, Jonah was sitting in Sunday school. The room had tall windows that always revealed a blue sky, no matter the weather. He sat in a small chair, towards the back of the room, hoping no one would notice the holes in his pants. The air smelled of play-doh and from then on, whenever Jonah smelled play-doh, he thought of Jesus. Mrs. Hanson finished a lesson about Jesus and some fishy bread.
-Any questions?

Jonah raised his hand quickly.

-Yes Jonah.

-What does Jesus do to people who hurt kids? I mean if they get to heaven and stuff.

The teacher’s eyes dulled as the optimism of her salvation met the reality of her surroundings.

-You mean people who spank children for being bad or unsafe, or people, who actually, you know, hurt them, as in beat them up.

Jonah felt the rooms’ eyes on him. His face went flush with emotions he couldn’t indentify.

-Just hurt them. I guess.

Mrs. Hanson felt those same eyes now on her. She inhaled deeply.

-Well. When grown ups hurt children while they are here, once they die, they meet Jesus like everyone else. That’s when the judgment takes place. Either Jesus knows your name or he doesn’t. It’s pretty simple.

-What does he do to those people who hurt kids?

Jonah was now standing. His eyes locked on Mrs. Hanson’s mouth, waiting for the answer to come…

-He casts them in a lake of fire…

Jonah’s eyes widened.

…and they stay in that lake, burning and burning for all eternity. Never escaping the pain and sorrow they inflicted in life, they endure that same pain after death.

-He burns them.

-Yes Jonah. He does.

Jonah thought of that lesson as the crown of fire rose higher. He pictured Jesus standing there with his fishy loaves wearing a crown of fire. When a grown up came to him who hurt kids, Jesus would take some of the crown’s flame and use it to throw the adult into that lake of fire.

The sun’s light fell behind the horizon. Jonah watched it disappear slowly as the room took on the orange glow of the heater’s flame. He heard Uncle Lou leave mumbling some words under his breath. Jonah watched the flame. He drifted asleep an hour or so later, his mind lost in the dreams. He saw his mother again. She was standing at the stove stirring a red liquid that would become Jell-O. She smiled at him. Uncle Lou walked in. He grabber her spoon and tapped her on the head. She disappeared in a dusting of smoke and ash. Uncle Lou grinned. He stumbled toward Jonah.

-You’re gonna come with me now boy. I’m all you got left.

Jonah opened his mouth. Wooden matches came out. He tasted kerosene. Jonah bent over to vomit and began to fall in a black tunnel. Silence.

He awoke as he landed. The crown of fire seemed to consume the room making it as bright as morning. Jonah wiped the sweat from his nose.

Thump. Shhht. Thump. Shhht.

He recognized the drunken walk. The right foot went down hard, the left foot dragged.

-Oh, he’s cute.

A female’s bourbon lined voice…

-Told ya. You wanna have some fun?

-Let’s make the little bastard squeal!

Jonah opened his eyes wide enough to see Uncle Lou’s shadow with companion. She was tall and wide.

He used to fight it. Kick his feet. Scream. Bite. Hit. Cry. Each invasion was a lifetime discovered and destroyed with each assault. But now, lifetimes later, he just waited.

Uncle Lou held him down. She gave Jonah a crooked smile. Her face was orange from the flames.

-Aww. You’re a sweet boy. Be sweet to Mama…

She licked his face; then smacked it. Jonah didn’t make a noise. He bit his lips tight. Her fat fingers found the waist seam of his pajamas.

-He likes it. You like it. I can tell.

Jonah tried to make it go away. Tried to stop it from doing what it did. He couldn’t.

Uncle Lou kissed him hard on the mouth. She pulled at him gently, then rougher.

They flipped him over. His pajamas landed on the floor.

He woke up early the next morning. The room smelled of kerosene fumes released by the empty heater. Jonah limped slowly down the hall. The two of them were asleep in Uncle Lou’s bed. She was naked with only one leg under the cover. Uncle Lou was on his back, his hairy barrel chest rising and falling as he snored.

Jonah stared at them. He licked his lips and tasted the whiskey and the lipstick and the fluids they left. He wiped his mouth. The smell of kerosene was fading, but still there.

-The smell of kerosene never comes off.

Jonah continued to watch them. She rolled her head once to the left. Uncle Lou snorted then returned to his drunken slumber.

It came easily for Jonah. As if it was in his mind floating around waiting for his heart to finally catch up. He walked back to his room.

The can was still nearly full. It sloshed and splashed as he brought it down the hall. Jonah tried to control his huffing and puffing. But still. He noticed. He had no butterflies, no anxieties. For the first time in many lifetimes, Jonah felt no fear being in the house.

He made sure the two windows in Uncle Lou’s room were locked. Jonah set the 5 gallon jug on the floor near the wall. He started as far from the door as possible. He pressed the siphon pump quietly until the red liquid pouted from the tip of the tube. He sprayed the liquid on the wall, about two feet off the floor.

He moved to the left one foot and repeated the procedure.

Then another foot to the left.

Around the base of the window. Some for the glass and sill.

Carefully watching the liquid’s movement on the wall, Jonah ensured all the liquid touched.

Another foot to the left.

She began to roll over. Her flabby pale breasts spread around her ribs.

Uncle Lou snorted and turned away from the woman. His sleeping, bulbous head faced the door.

Jonah inhaled. The kerosene’s aroma began to fill the room.

He continued.

He worked his way around the second wall, leaving extra on the window and sill.

His mother used to make him Jell-O when he was sick. He was sick often back then. Their house was drafty. Their groceries were charity boxes and handouts. Jonah never blamed her. He once told Mrs. Hanson he wished he could leave also. Just take off. Disappear.

-That’s not the answer. Jesus has the answer.

Jonah skipped over the door. He sprayed a little kerosene on the wall next to the bed. Then let some pour from the tube underneath the bed.

He reached as high as he could on the back of the door. He coated the bottom half.

At the foot of Uncle Lou’s bed was a steamer trunk. Uncle Lou said it was from his navy days. Jonah struggled to turn it on its side, but failed. He lifted the 5 gallon jug up and set it on the trunk anyway.

Jonah closed the door quietly. He watched the liquid seep in and wondered if it would work at all. What if the liquid was absorbed too fast?

He went to the far end of the room, tiptoeing around the bed Uncle Lou and she still occupied.

He lit a match and touched it to the stain on the wall. Nothing happened. Jonah winced.

Back at the door, he lit another match. He watched the flame for a moment, letting it get as hot as possible. Then he touched it to the door.

The match’s flame became a river of fire spreading across the door. It touched the molding and ignited a line of kerosene on the door. Jonah jumped back, then, remembering his plan, pushed a kerosene-soaked towel against the bottom of the door.

He hurried to the steamer trunk and took up position next to the can. He pressed the siphon pump quickly. The red liquid poured on the bed as Uncle Lou jumped up.

-What the fuck? What the goddamn fuck?

She shrieked when she woke up. The room was filling with black smoke as the door was engulfed. The flame spread around the room. Jonah sat on the steamer trunk, his crown of fire growing higher around him. The windows now blazed.

She yelled for help.

Uncle Lou grabbed at Jonah but was met with spray of kerosene to the face.

Jonah laughed as the giant man fell back. He yelled over the noise.

-The smell of kerosene never comes off…the smell of kerosene never comes off…