Cambiare

I colori dell'autunno

He hadn't seen that coming.

He had been just walking out of school, his blue backpack a steady weight behind him, his mind already flying away with thoughts of what he would do when he finished the lengthy pile of homework his teacher had given him.

He had been brought out of his musings by a crunching sound beneath his foot, causing him to immediately crouch to see what he had stepped on. A rather large piece of mirror, which he quickly grabbed, wondering about the usefulness of the object. Unluckily, he had been distracted enough he didn't see the kick that pushed him to the ground, knocking the breath out of him.

"So you like being near the ground, Inferno?" A voice he despised taunted him. Great, just great. Just one distraction and Troy and his goons were already on him.

Inferno. The nickname his brother had given him after discovering his little...addiction. The boy quickly stood up, not looking at his attacker in the vain hope this would be it.

"What's that in your hand? Let me see." he took a step back at the same time Troy advanced towards him.

"I don't have time for this, I'm late." he muttered. Him speaking seemed to be the trigger for Troy to push him again, enough that he stumbled trying to regain his balance.

"You know, it was really interesting what Miss Dale talked about, about how some babies are thrown aside like trash. Sad, don'tcha think? Especially since we have an example of that in our own class."

And there was it, the blurring of the world while the larger boy continued taunting him, waves of rage licking at him, stronger and stronger, until one of them took his common sense away.

"Shut up! Shut up." he growled, loudly at first but quieter the second when the boy was assured that he got the bully's attention enough that he stopped talking. "Shut up."

Troy regarded him with a smirk, either appreciating that he rose to the bait or waiting for the opportunity to knock him around some more. "What did you say, freak?"

"Stop bothering me. You know, yes, my parents aren't my birth ones, I don't know them , whatever you say, but at least I'm not a loser like you, you jerkass."

He could see the widened eyes of the other kids as Troy's own eyes narrowed. The boy was glad to see it happening, glad he could wipe the smugness from his eyes. "You're a loser and you know it. You'll never, never be someone. I pity you."

The sight of one, two, three other boys who didn't look the least bit pleased with him made the bravery disappear.


Dante White sighed as he picked up the pages that remained of his once-complete essay. It wasn’t fair. Of course he’d be the one who Troy and his lackeys would pick on this time. He could take them on, one or two, but four of them against one? Not a chance. The only thing he could do was stand and watch as they took his backpack and threw it around, eventually opening it and spilling its contents around.

‘They had no right…’ Dante thought, the pages crumpled in his hand as he went to the park, following a shortcut that many of his classmates used to go home. Trying not to think about what happened, the brown-eyed kid looked around. A few kids were playing in the swings while the parents watched nearby. A dog was resting on a patch of grass, catching as much sunlight as he could. A couple of girls from his school were chattering about who-knows-what. His friend Isabel about to enter her house and waving at him.

The scenery around him was both familiar and boring. Nobody looking at him with inquisitive eyes, wanting to know. Nobody there about to tattletale on what he was about to do, yet he still felt like a sore thumb every time he decided to do it.

But it didn’t stop the bullies from stopping him when he was leaving school. Again and again and again.

Power was a strange thing.

Power.

Raw. Animalistic instinct. Once was never enough.

Before he was aware of what he was doing, the ten-year-old was dashing, not caring how far he ran. He had walked those streets his whole life, he knew them just the same as if they were etched in his head with a sharp knife. Never in the same place twice, away from onlookers.

He knew it wasn’t right, what he was about to do. He knew it was dangerous, but he couldn’t help it. People become addicts to anything that makes them feel better for a while. It happens with alcohol, coffee, people... Cigarettes were almost normal, same with alcohol, but his...

His addiction wasn’t welcomed around.

Dante hesitated, remembering the warnings and the asking. He shouldn’t be doing that, he knew that much, but it hadn’t hurt anyone so far. ‘They all think I’m some sort of troublemaker…I’d be proving them right if I do this…’

But still…still…

A few pages ripped off his notebook, the ruined essay, some sticks and his trusted lighter. The nascent fire played amid the kindling like a child with a new toy, its flames leaping in excitement, it's quiet crackling like so much giggling in the woods. Dante allowed a smile to form on his face.

Heat. Burning. Flames danced upon papers. For a little while it eased his consciousness, it calmed him, the orange, red, blue, even purple, and white, were a balm to his mind, if not his body.

The dancing flames were pretty, as well as tantalizingly dangerous. There was something just mesmerizing about a flickering flame, the red, yellow, orange. The colors of autumn. He loved to feel its warmth, to test its limits, to see how they consumed everything they touched.

It was beautiful.

So incredibly beautiful.

His dad would say that it’s natural to feel uncomfortable with the opinion of certain people about matters you liked, even if the people in question knew him. Even if he had an older brother, he usually played by himself a lot. Too much, his grandmother used to say.

Loneliness made him experiment. Dante liked to play with fire, liked what the flames did, how they transformed objects, textures, colors. He liked to think it was art, in a way. Sometimes Dante thought he must be a little insane to think like that. He didn’t know, honestly. He had only talked about it with his family and two very close friends. It was their secret. It was his defect. He loved fire. His family didn’t. He could understand why they got angry or worried if they saw him burning things in the oven, or making a bonfire in some wasteland.

Really, he had caught his brother staring at a candle’s flame, how the hazel eyes were hypnotized by it the same way Dante was. Maybe it was because he made fire, bigger than average? Because it could hurt them? That, he could understand, he had gotten a few burns from it.

He still remembered how Davide had discovered him in this very same spot, last year. The boy’s hair was sweaty and messy and his breath had been ragged. His eyes had widened when he had caught his little brother red-handed. ‘It isn’t natural.’ He had said, and Dante had explained to him. Tried to make him understand he wasn’t going to hurt anyone with this. It was only to set off steam, to burn out his troubles. The argument had escalated to the point of Dante confessing the primary reason of why, leading his brother to become his ‘protector’ in school. Anything to prevent things from getting out of control.

The two of them were capable of understanding the other pretty hard during this despite the disagreement, and for a day and a half their minds sang back and forth with the worry and joy. Now they knew the why of the younger brother’s plight. They knew the consequences of this.

‘Every extreme is bad’, was the saying. As much as the fire was dangerous, it was useful. It could keep you warm in the days of cold weather, cook your food so it tasted better, provide with light, and it could be used as a weapon. Or, like Dante, to burn away your problems.

At first he just kept a match book in his pocket and would strike them while he sat on the swings, watching the obedient flame flicker in the breeze, blackening the wood, transforming it to charcoal at his command. An uncontrollable grin would spread across his features. Soon he graduated to burning things related to whatever incident that had angered him, often times the flame would be a different hue or emit copious black smoke that choked him. For that brief moment in time that the flames leapt, devouring feverishly, he became tranquil.

He had heard that nail polish made things burn quicker, but preferred to stick to his current methods. He didn’t want anything getting out of hand.

But of course, they only saw that part, almost harmless, typical, normal. They didn’t suspect what was behind that.

Because there is always something more behind such a behavior.

As odd as it sounded, Dante considered fire his friend. And that, to someone surrounded by wood and heat, is something very dangerous.

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