Firebug

By Angela Alsaleem
The tiny, brittle legs twitched on Tracy’s tongue just before she crunched the finger-length cockroach in
half with her front teeth. Eyes closed, her jaw worked up and down as she savored the flavor, the cold
guts spreading through her mouth. Then she swallowed, the bug’s exoskeleton scratching her throat on
the way down. Tangy, yet bitter; like some kind of exotic candy. Crouched in the corner, back to the
cafeteria, Tracy popped the back end of the cockroach into her mouth, making sure the wings didn’t stick
to her fingers as she did so.  
Good girl, a soft voice whispered in her ear. She smiled.
Hair matted, dress hiked up over her knees, she squatted, padding along the floor with dirty fingers
searching for more. Her twitchy eyes scanned the room to make sure no one was coming to stop her.
Laura rocked back and forth across the room, bound in her straight jacket.  Poor Laura, Tracy thought.
She would go over and talk to her, but first another snack. Back in the corner, there, a spider web; a
large, yellow and black spider hung in the middle of the web, beautifully intricate patterns striping and
spotting its body. After taking a moment to admire the spider’s frailty and the beauty of its web, she
snatched it from the center of its web and popped it into her mouth, crunching down before it could bite
her in defense. Once, a spider had bitten her on the lip as she tried to eat it. Her lip stayed swollen and
itchy for a week; had to be careful with spiders.  
As its abdomen burst in her mouth, she relished the creamy center and smacked her lips while walking
over to Laura.  
“They brought in a new demon today,” Laura whispered to Tracy as she approached.  
“Really?”
Tracy sat on the floor next to Laura’s chair. She looked up at Laura. The bound woman’s head lolled on a
limp neck, chin pushing into her chest, upper arms resting against the table in front of her.
“He’s over there,” she said, but didn’t indicate which direction. “I can smell him. He stinks with the foulest
stench of hell.”
“Where? What do you mean?”
Tracy glanced around the cafeteria. A tall man with scraggly, brown hair shuffled across the floor with the
finger on his right hand pointing at Nurse Claire’s bottom, a manic grin plastered over his deranged face.
When the man’s extended finger touched her, Nurse Claire screamed and then turned and smacked the
man across the face. He laughed and said something about thunder and lightning. Tracy suppressed a
giggle behind her hand then continued looking around the room. People in this place were always doing
crazy things like that. She felt sorry for Nurse Claire, always having to put up with the lot of them. And
she knew she, herself, was no picnic.  
“Can’t you smell the fire on him? He’s over in the corner, by the door.”
Tracy looked at Laura and realized that the woman was looking right at the man across the room,
straining her eyes upwards with her head down so that the whites of the bottom of her eyes showed,
red veins lacing their way through, her oily hair hanging in her view. Tracy shivered; crazy lady.  
Just as Tracy turned to get a good look at the guy, Laura said, “He’s a firebug.”
And then Tracy could see him. He rocked back and forth on his feet, facing the room, but not looking at
anything in particular. White hair and red eyes, pale skin, Tracy thought this particular demon didn’t have
a good enough disguise. In fact, if she squinted just right, she could see fiery antennae and wings, could
see the extra limbs sticking out from his torso; a great, big, burning moth. She licked her lips and felt a
longing stir within her, something she’d never felt before.
The firebug rocked in his corner, eying the room. What was he looking for, she wondered?
“They should let me out of this thing,” she hissed. “He’ll destroy us all, but I could stop him. I know how.
I’ve done it before.”
But Tracy wasn’t listening. She focused on the firebug before her.  
As she walked away, she could hear Laura still muttering, the words lost in the murmurs throughout the
room. Could he speak people language? She would find out. When she got close enough for him to hear
her, she chanced a greeting, waiting with held breath for a response, whether it be him scurrying away to
find someplace dark to hide, or him speaking back.
“Hello,” she said.  
He didn’t acknowledge her but kept rocking, pinching his lips with one hand and cupping his elbow with
the other. Red eyes blazing, he took in each person in the room; one at a time, sizing them up it seemed
for some demonic purpose. A demon and a bug; she’d never met anyone like him. And then she realized
she hadn’t exactly met him yet, either. She tried again.
“Hello.”
His eyes flicked in her direction then back to the room.  
“Hi,” he muttered.  
Her grin deepened making her eyes sparkle in the harsh florescent lighting.
“I’m Tracy.”  
She proffered her hand.  
“Sean,” he said as he touched the tips of her outstretched fingers with his. In that moment, a surge of
heat passed through her and she knew that he was what Laura called him: firebug.  
His red eyes flicked through the room, their wary watchfulness making Tracy uneasy.  But her smile never
faltered. Then his eyes fixed on something across the cafeteria and she looked over her shoulder to
watch what he watched. Nurse Claire had the guy who touched her bottom on a stretcher and was
wheeling him from the room, the squeak, squeak of the wheels digging into her teeth.
Eat him, the voice in her head whispered.  
“Shut up,” she hissed over her right shoulder.
Sean didn’t seem to notice.
Eat him and be saved. You have to pay for what you’ve done. That familiar taunt; she didn’t know why
God’s angel talked to her in this way. Her angel had been sent after the devil told her to kill her parents
when she was a teenager. She didn’t know it was the devil talking to her, but the angel told her that she’
d allowed the devil to trick her and told her that for killing her parents, she was only allowed to eat bugs.
The bigger, the better; so she did. After all, she wanted into heaven, had only killed her parents because
the devil told her that they were involved in a satanic cult and that they were going to kill her, that God
wanted her to be his hand and destroy them. So she did.  
Tracy placed her hands over her ears and shook her head, scrunching her eyes closed in a futile effort to
stop the voice.  
“Tracy!” A nurse trotted over to her from the other side of the room. “Tracy, are you okay?”
She fixated on the nurse’s voice, focused on its location and turned to look the nurse in the eyes. There
was something they could give her to make the voice go away for a while, but this pink pill made her
dizzy and sick. Besides, she needed the voice to remind her of what she did, that terrible, terrible thing
she did to her parents; needed to be told when to eat.  
But she couldn’t eat the firebug. She liked the way he looked and he was too big. She wouldn’t be able
to crunch him in half like the cockroach, or pop him into her mouth like the spider.
“Tracy!” That nurse again, bringing her back to her senses.  
“I’m fine,” she muttered and turned her attention back to the fire bug.
His white hair and red eyes glowed, the nimbus around his head looked like a crown and his fiery wings
furling and unfurling behind him. He didn’t look at her.
The nurse left them alone. The whole world disappeared except for him. She wanted to touch him again,
to feel the burn he made in her.
“Sean,” she whispered.
His eyes flicked in her direction then continued their scan of the room.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said. “I know a secret way.”
She took his hand and felt the heat surge through her once again. Licking her lips, she grinned as he
followed her. After a quick scan, she slipped a small, plastic card from her pocket and swiped it over the
magnetic strip next to the door. The tiny light flashed green and the door clicked. With one more quick
look, she opened the door and slid into the hallway, Sean, her firebug in tow. Head down, he followed
her, not saying a word. She thought he’d ask how she got the key, but he didn’t. Slightly disappointed,
she walked on.
“Through here,” she mumbled as she led him through a door marked Authorized Personnel Only.
The dark hallway beyond whispered dirty secrets and sighed with noxious breath. Eat him, the voice
whispered again.  
She shook her head no then checked to see if Sean noticed…he hadn’t. She expected him to ask her
where they were going…he didn’t. Onward then; light seeped into the hallway from a doorway up ahead
to her right. She thought it odd since no one was ever down here, in the dark. She could hardly see in
the gloom, but knew her way around since she snuck in here all the time, to the room in the back, down
the hall and to the left, a dark and secret place. No one else was supposed to be in here. She stared at
the door as she passed.
“Now, did you bring that yo-yo like I asked you to,” she heard a man ask from behind the closed door.
Was he talking to her or to someone else? The question was answered moments later by a shrill scream,
a different voice. The scream turned into gagging, choking sounds as the first voice, the questioner,
shushed the screamer, telling him it would be over soon, to just quit struggling. Just before she got to
the end of the hall, she heard the questioner say, “And now you’re mine, little yo-yo. Into the box you
go with my other trinkets.” He laughed as she rounded the corner to the left.  
Just as she pulled Sean out of sight, she heard the other door open; the door with the questioner.
Footsteps sounded down the hall, away from her, their sound growing fainter with each step. After a
short time, the door she’d snuck through opened with a squeak then closed.  She chanced a glance into
the gloomy hallway. Empty.  
With a sigh, she continued leading Sean to the end of the hallway.
Inside the open, padded room at the end, she sat down in the middle of the floor and pulled Sean down
with her. His eyes seemed to glow in the gloom around. She watched his fiery wings fold behind his back.
A tiny bit of light filtered into the room from a small window near the ceiling, too high up to look out.
“So, why are you here?” She leaned in, looking up at him with lovers eyes.  
Eat him and all will be forgiven, the voice cooed.  
She grimaced and turned away. No more bugs. Could it be that simple?
“Fire,” he said.  
“What do you mean?” She strained to ignore the voice’s laughter.
“I like fire,” he said.
Sean rocked back and forth.
She sighed when he didn’t ask why she was in there. She wanted to tell him how she killed her parents,
how she drugged their wine at dinner then cut their throats while they slept. She wanted to tell him
about her angel helping her gain absolution from this atrocity. Wanted to tell him how she drank their
blood in order to obtain forgiveness, how it had been salty and cold and thick; how she’d gagged with
the first gulp, how the police found her huddled in their bedroom, stroking her mother’s hands, crying
with blood on her face, the taste of her first bug still pungent in her mouth. How the first bug had been a
spider, how it had bitten her lip, how she just wanted it to end, wanted to be forgiven for what she’d
done.
But he only sat there, quiet.  
Finally, her curiosity about him stronger than her desire to reveal her secrets and be accepted, she said,
“Show me.”
Sean shook his head no. His wings shivered.
“Please. I want to see your fire. Laura said you’re a firebug. Show me your true form.  Please.”
“My true form?” He looked at her, a confused expression marking his features. “What do you mean?”
This was the most he said to her since they met moments before.  
She thrilled in this and so egged him on.  
“Yes, I want to see you in your bug form. I can already see your wings and your arms, but they’re
hidden. Let me see what you really look like. I won’t tell.”
He started standing and then stopped, looking at her as if he feared her.  
“But, I’m not a bug. I don’t…what are you talking about?”
“Firebug,” she whispered. “I’ve never seen one. And you’re beautiful. Show me your fire.”
Her eyes sparkled in the blue light.
“I can’t,” he whispered. “I’m not supposed to.”
“Please. I bet it’s even more beautiful than what I can already see.”
“It is,” he said. “Fire is the most beautiful thing in the world, the most powerful. It brings light, warmth. It
will sanitize the entire world. The world will end in a rain of fire, the ultimate cleansing.”  
He stood and paced the room, talking as if to a mass of followers, reveling in his own words.
“I want to see it,” she said.
“Here?”
“No one will know.”
“But, here?”
“I can keep a secret,” she said in an almost inaudible voice.
“I can’t show you without my tool,” he said, now piercing her with his red eyes.
“What tool?”
“I need my lighter. They took it from me.”
“What does it look like?”
“Like a lighter. It’s silver with a lid that flips open and a wheel that makes the spark…the spark…the
spark,” he trailed off and sat back down.
Tracy prided herself on being a trinket keeper. Various things caught her attention. Once something
attracted her eye, it always ended up being hers. Her pockets often jingled with the many odd objects
found on her daily wanderings through the hospital, the little plastic key-card her most important
possession. And it seemed no one knew it was missing. She hid her items in her mattress in a little tear
in the side. But one object, the one she’d picked up today, she still had in her pocket. It fascinated her
because of how shiny it was. She’d never seen anything like it in her ten years locked away in this dark
place. And now she had a little light, a spark of hope that maybe, for once, she’d found herself a person
who could be more than a friend.
She pulled the shiny, silver thing from her pocket and held it tweezed between her fingers, loath to give it
up, but unable to suppress the urge to see what he found so beautiful.
“Is this it?”
“Oh, my baby,” he said as he took it from her and cradled it in his palm, the grin spreading across his
face. “My sweet baby.”
“Okay, show me,” Tracy said, now squatting on the balls of her feet, bouncing.
In one motion with his arm, the lighter made a metallic click and then there was orange light, filling the
small space around them, the tiny flame unable to reach the corners of the room, but more than enough
to light their oval faces from underneath, giving them both the look of crazed goblins.  
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked, never taking his eyes away from the flame.
Tracy was disappointed. Yes, it was pretty in its own way, but nowhere near as great as he’d described.  
Eat him, the voice screamed in her head. She clapped her hands over her ears.  
“No, I won’t!”  She screamed.
“Won’t what?” he asked.  
His voice came from far away, trancelike. She didn’t seem to matter to him anymore.
Eat him, eat him, eat him. The voice drowned out everything around her.
“I can’t. He’s too big!”
“Isn’t it beautiful? Watch this,” he said and placed the flame to the padded floor.
With a fwump, the dry padding caught fire. He giggled as the blaze spread over the floor.
Eat him while he’s hot.
“He’s too big. Look at him.”
As she said it, she did look at him. Surrounded by fire, all she saw was a giant bug. His true form; a huge
moth made of flame and ash, brighter than the room itself.
“Oh, so powerful,” he said as if in the throes of ecstasy.  
All she heard was a harsh chittering sound. His antennae felt toward her. His proboscis uncurled and his
arms reached for her, ready to pull her into him.
He wants you to eat him, see?  
And it did seem like his legs beckoned her, motioned for her to come closer.
“I want to show you something else,” he said. “I want to show you how fire can cleanse your soul.”
Again, all she heard was an insect’s buzzing and chittering. His wings were extended behind him,
preparing for flight.  
Tracy stepped into the fire. All would be forgiven if she ate him, only him. She grabbed his arm and sank
her teeth into his flesh.
Sean screamed and tried to push her off of him. He gagged when she tore a hunk of meat from his arm.
He dropped his open and lit lighter and grabbed his bleeding arm, screaming, backing away, his retreat
stopped by the padded wall.
She didn’t take the time to chew, but swallowed the chunk whole the way she’d learned to do. She could
feel his fire burning her from the inside. He’d said fire would be cleansing and she could feel it burning
away her sin, burning away the awful thing she’d done to her parents.  He huddled against the wall
across the room, his buggy arms crossed. She lunged at him, grabbed hold and took another bite.
Sean screamed again and tried to pull away.  
“You’re ruining it,” he screamed. “You said you wanted to see this.”
Somewhere in the building, an alarm went off, high and grating. Tracy heard it, but ignored it. Her hair
caught fire and she laughed, feeling the searing pain and knowing it meant she’d be free from all this. His
blood sizzled and dried on her chin in the heat. Her skin tightened over her bones. The pain from his fire
made it almost impossible for her to keep going, but she knew she had to. If she didn’t consume every
part of him, if she didn’t let his fire burn out inside her, she would never be free. She had to be free.
Firebug; he tasted salty and hot. His legs didn’t crunch like other bugs, but tore like meat. He sure was a
special bug. She sank to her knees, bringing the bug with her. It chittered and buzzed and beat at her
with his legs. Finally it rolled onto its back, giving in to its fate. Her eyes burst from the heat, the thick
fluid bubbling over her charred cheeks, but she kept going, separating herself from the pain. She couldn’t
allow herself to give into the pain.
“I’m sorry,” she tried to whisper, but the heat sucked away her voice. Fire filled the room. Her arms felt
brittle as they turned black. “I’m sorry, my firebug.”
“So beautiful,” he whispered. “I always wanted to die like this.” His red eyes took in the glorious power of
the flames surrounding him, consuming him.  
Tracy tried to bite him a third time, but the charred flesh around her face cracked and she’d grown too
weak. She collapsed on his chest, unable to breathe, his arm around her shoulders.  
With a roar, the fire consumed the padding and everything in the room leaving behind nothing but ash
and bone. By the time fire fighters showed up to put out the flame, it had died on its own, having
nothing else from which to feed off. The damp, cold stone contained the flames, preventing the spread of
Sean’s cleansing flames.
Tracy’s skull grinned against her firebug’s ribs. Free.