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Firestarter |

Mark Collins decided it was time to seek the professional help of a therapist. He spoke candidly and fluidly, without any need to be prompted.

“As a child I watched my father’s daily fire lighting ritual. In his dressing gown and with the first cigarette of the day between his lips, he prepared the grate. It had to be done exactly the same way each time. It was like a telly advert on repeat, until the dialogue and the product are so familiar you could easily play that part. Yesterday’s 'Northern Star’ newspaper was manipulated into equally sized paper twists which poked out between the newly positioned coals and wood kindling.

My excitement mounted towards the moment of ignition. When those first flames took hold, the smouldering, earthy aromas that infiltrated the room thrilled me. I think most youths have an innocent fascination for fire, but for me, it was an addictive one. It brought about a tingling excitement that could only be derived from fire setting and lighting.

One day at school I was taken out of class. I was instructed to go to the headmaster’s office where my mother was waiting to speak to me. I could see her face through the glass-panelled door; her pallor was grey and her expression grim. She bore the look of the newly bereaved and was wiping her eyes as I entered. I guessed something terrible had happened but not that my Dad had died of a heart attack that morning. Too many cigarettes...too little time to ask if fire had thrilled him and lit up his life, as it did for me. I could not fathom that I would never see him again. The headmaster ushered us into the corridor and I sensed he was embarrassed by our situation.

I began by setting my toy trucks ablaze, mimicking Hollywood special effects on the smallest scale imaginable. I burned an abandoned tyre by the roadside but the black smoke was acrid and the fire was a disappointment. Using the blazing sun's rays I concentrated a magnifying glass on a haystack until the wisps of smoke turned ochre. I was enticed into addiction, and like any sufferer, I needed to satisfy my cravings. Fire fixes carried me along on a wave of excitement, yet I didn't aim to harm anyone or be a menace to society. My compulsion wasn't driven by anger; I craved those feelings of euphoria that followed. I believed that I was in control, but the thought that a small spark could start an inferno is intriguing.

I think I've managed to hide the crazy look in my eyes every bonfire night, but time is running out and in just a few days it will be 5th November. I’ve been increasingly tormented by intrusive thoughts of burning a building because the smaller stuff is no longer good enough. I'm looking for a big thrill but I stand to lose too much. I could lose everything as a senior partner in a building insurance company that deals with fire, flood and storm damage claims.

Do you know the old Archer’s building, the derelict one on the trading estate? The temptation to torch it is overwhelming. I really hope that together, we can stop this. Please help me !”

© Angela Craddock 2021-07-31


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