“What did you do to the guard?” I’m not going to answer.
“What did you do?” I can’t deny I hurt him
“Liam.” My name strikes me like a lightning bolt. I look up to see two police officers over me, just standing there. Now I’ll talk. But first I’ll question what I did.
“What happened to the guard?” I ask. And now they hold my silence. It’s broken at the opening of a mouth a short eternity later.
“Fire. His body was found burning near his office.” The words are even harder than my name. I smile, then I look down to laugh, and I hope they can’t see me. Once again they ask me what I did to him. Both of their faces are straight as I laugh in front of them.
“Don’t worry Liam, you succeeded. He’s dead.”
I hadn’t thought it any other way, but I had hoped he had survived. Hearing it straightened my face, because I had failed. And I tell them I never intended on killing him. At least now I have confessed.
“Why the fire?” I smile again.
“I like the fire. It keeps me warm.” They nod as they scribble notes onto their clipboards. The sound of pencil stroking paper makes me uncomfortable, and suddenly I start to shake. I can barely hear it but it gives me a headache. My sentences are stringy and detached, like staccato notes on a piano. Jumpy. Free. They’re short because I’m afraid of hurting myself or others by giving too much away. I’m also dyslexic, so I struggle to piece longer sentences together.
“Liam, he is the fifteenth person. It’s gone too far now. I’m afraid we can’t free you because you are a threat to society,” they tell me.
They say more after that but I have zoned out. I’m too busy laughing. But nothing can change the fact that they are bad guards, because they don’t know my plan. I have an arm behind my back, and a clenched fist on the end. They must assume, through their stupidity, that I am holding nothing. Air can not be gripped. I’m waiting, hatred brewing in my eyes, but they can’t see. I’ll strike a deal with them, a bargain. And then they should know.
“How much could I pay to get out?” I ask. One of them actually looks like he pities me.
“You can’t bribe us Liam,” but I won’t stop trying.
“15?” They decline.
“16?” Once again they turn it down.
I allow myself to sigh, because I don’t want it to, but it has to happen
“17.” Except now I’m not asking a question. Both of them shake their heads, and one of them tells me he’s sorry. That’s all I ever hear and it’s almost as if they are apologising to me for my own mistakes, because they have not faltered, and they have none of their own mistakes. The law is a perfect human being. So what if they are bad officers? It’s not a crime. A lot of the time I think of my life as a crime. Survival is a chore. Breathing is too hard. Even when I try I can’t force my heart to stop. My emotions hurt my head and they’re buried deep into my brain. I’m not sorry. A frown cloaks their faces as they stare me down. Then the words I have been waiting for:
“Take your hand out from behind your back.”
I state my surprise at the delay in noticing, then I bring it out slowly. I’m holding a small metal can with a spout three quarters full of petrol. It’s easy for me to get hold of because my job is car washing. My name is Liam Payne and I am prisoner number 18643259 in the United States Penitentiary Atlanta prison. It is my job at the prison to wash the police cars, and now I face the guards with the can of petrol. I’ve bolted the door so they can’t run. When I move towards them, they jump. They don’t look comfortable when I sit down either. Their faces are masked with fear. I don’t think it is a mask actually, because it looks too real to be drawn on. I repeat the number seventeen through desperate shouts of:
They don’t understand. I’ve been hurt by society and by authority and I can’t take it anymore. It will not be my first murder, but my sixteenth and seventeenth respectively. By now you would have thought they would have called help. I did as well, but they were too frozen in their own icy expressions to move. So I take my can between thumb and fingers and I approach them with tentative steps too soft to split their skin on their own. Both of them are staring me down with watchful fear, and they hammer and shake the door. The liquid in my can greets their hair and kisses their skin. I see them screaming but the sound is too strong for me to hear. Their breaths race and then stop, and race again. I laugh because they hurt me and now I can hurt them back. They hurt me as much as a man could possibly be hurt. The petrol starts to leave holes in their skin now, and it weaves through their faces like a snake. I hold a match at my side and the wall is dark and inviting next to me. I try to hide against it because now I start to feel afraid. I feel threatened. I strike my match against its course edge and I sit down near the younger of the two men, although they are both young.
“Don’t worry, i’ll make it quick now,” I tell him. His eyes are pierced with gaping wounds as I bring the match to his head and light his hair. It sizzles and spreads through the petrol. Then I light his clothes and soon the fire melts his screams. He’s still thrashing around as I approach the other and repeat the process. I sit and watch them. The fire alarm blazes away in the background but I try to block it out because I would rather hear the harmony of human screams and pitiful fire. What now? A few more minutes pass whilst I laugh myself cold and there is no heat in remorse to thaw my ice. Both of them are still moving, alive, it’s not subtle enough to be nerve reactions. Now my cell starts to catch light. The walls plunge into fire and petrol traces heat it up. This is how I hoped it would end because I want to go like this. A short pile of my work sprawled in front of me which tells the finder of my body what I thought of people. The guilt I should have felt glazed upon my shoulders to tell God what I felt of my time on earth. It’s nothing but the pain though. I’m conscious on my bed, my feet heated and the guards now dead. I’m sure of their death because their bodies are almost ash now. I’ve failed again though. The bodies are gone but I need to do more than hide the bodies. I must hide all the evidence to avoid being caught. But the fire is too strong for me to hold. I’ll wait. I’m in prison anyway so it won’t change anything for me. They may not find me though, because I may be dead long before they reach me. The alarm still buzzes my ear. I feel two hands grip my shoulders and a loose harp playing in the distance. Shouts of police officers can’t pull me back, but I think I’m still sat in bed. They open my cell and pull me out. I walk, taking each step with ease away. I have no other choice, because I’m too weak in that moment to resist the force they place on me. I may have collapsed on the floor and choked on my own inflicted pain. It’s too much. They lay me down, and now I’m lost because I can’t tell if I’m held by the angels or the guards. They might be fighting over me in a game of tug of war. It’s the guards that win me over at the end, so for now I can live. For now. And the smile is still engraved on my lips.