Authors: David Oppegaard
Tags: #fire bug of balrog county, #david oppegard, #ya, #ya fiction, #ya novel, #ya book, #young adult, #young adult fiction
The Firebug of Balrog County
Â© 2015 by David Oppegaard.
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E-book ISBN: 9780738746548
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The firebug of Balrog County / David Oppegaard.âFirst edition.
Summary: “Haunted by his mother's death, eighteen-year-old Mack Druneswald roams Balrog County looking for things to burn, staying one step ahead of his grandfather, the mayor, who is investigating the recent spat of arson”âProvided by publisher.
[1. ArsonâFiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.1.O67 Fi 2015
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In memory of my mother, Kayc Kline
firebug has woken inside my heart. He feeds on smoke and char and he is always hungry, even when it appears he's asleep and his flaming eye turned inward. I have done my best to feed him well, slinging him a diet of fires both large and small, yet this has not always held him in check. In fact, nourishing my inner firebug only made him stronger, increasing his appetite tenfold and bringing all manner of calamity to myself and the semi-innocent inhabitants of Balrog County.
My name is Mack Druneswald. This is an accounting I plan to put before God, who I don't really believe in, with little hope inside my firebug heart that it'll change a single goddamn thing.
A Brief Survey
of Balrog County
alrog County is not actually called Balrog County. A balrog is a fictional creature from J.R.R. Tolkien's
The Lord of the Rings
that happens to be shrouded in fire, somehow, and wields a fiery whip that would go nicely with my collection of gas cans, oil rags, and colorful plastic lighters.
Balrog County, h
owever, is simply my nickname for a territorial division somewhere in the United States of America that is far, far away from any ocean. The county is dotted with seven or eight small towns, little hamlets populated by dazed white people and a sprinkling of minorities. The three biggest towns are Thorndale (pop. 38,739), Dylan (pop. 12,345), and Hickson (pop. 3,476). Thorndale has two malls, the county hospital, and a state university. Dylan has a sawmill and a bunch of seedy bars that offer free popcorn. Hickson, where I grew up, is barely large enough to maintain its own high school and is notable mostly for its location, which is a convenient
fifteen minutes south of Thorndale down a four-lane highway.
he rest of our state, Balrog County is still thick with old
growth trees that the pioneers never got around to chopping down because the area's rocky soil is unfit for growing crops. The first white men to see this area were fur trappersâhard
fighting dudesâand most of the towns are named after trappers who either died of some horrible disease, froze to death during one of our trademark bitch
ass winters, or killed a bunch of Indians before returning to the East Coast as wealthy, wild-eyed men in p
imping fur coats.
Our town was named after Alfred James Hickson, a real hard case who came over from England in 1840 looking to ge
t rich but ended up dying of rabies. Legend has it old Alfred was out a-trapping one fine spring day when a raccoon jumped out of a rotten log and bit his leg before scrambling away, foaming at the mouth for all to see. Alfred, who was a classic frontier realist, sat down in the woods, wrote a final letter to his wife back in England, and tied himself to a tree. Thus secured, he proceeded to die a slow and lonely death, trying to drink away the rabies with gut
ey while deliriously screaming at the forest around him.
They say Alfred's rabid ghost still haunts the woods around Hickson, which shows you how intelligent “they” are around here. We have a couple of wolves, though, and so many deer that the highway between Hickson and Thorndale often looks like the floor of a half-assed slaughterhouse. Indeed. When I was growing up, my grandfather and I would go deer hunting three or four times every fall and considered it a public service. We'd head out in the dark blue of early morning with our high-tension bows, climb into a rickety wooden stand, and wait until the sun rose and it was legal to start firing away.
Back then, deer hunting seemed like a reliable pastime, a fun, arrow-filled way to spend the day, but when I was fifteenâthe year Mom diedâwe stopped hunting altogether. I guess we'd had our fill of death for
, even if there were more deer running around than ever, terrorizing the highways and gardens of Balrog County like the skittish sons-of-bitches they are.
The Shiny Hellscape
st fall, rou
ghly two months before what I shall call the Great Conflagration, I passed through the double doors of Hickson High and gave myself over once again to the shiny hellscape that is public school. I sat through the first week of my senior year, th
e second, and the third.
I felt numb.
I had no clue why I was bothering with such a charade, since I had no plans of attending college or leading anything remotely like a productive life. I'd long dropped out of any extracurricular activities, didn't have many friends, and couldn't even be bothered to work up an unrequited crush on the six or seven hot girls in my grade. Our entire school only had three hundred and ninety studentsâI'd seen all these fools for so long it was like hanging out with turnips that could walk and talk and enjoyed calling me Drunesdick.
Sure, I did my homework and got decent gradesâA's in English, B's in most other stuff, C's in math and scienceâbut that was only because I didn't want to be hassled by well-meaning teachers. Class itself was the worst partâeach hour was a fresh wave of white noise, a barrage of marker
board scratchings that resembled obscure hieroglyphics handed down to our teachers from some ancient race of busybody dullards. I spent the majority of class time thinking of ways I could burn the school down without getting caught (fake a boiler room explosion? Ignite something in the chemistry lab?) and laboring on the mighty speech I'd deliver when I finally lost my shit, stood up in class, and let everyone have it.
“You all suck!” I'd say, leading with a strong declarative sentence. “None of you know shit about fuck and you probably never will. You sit in these small desks, thinking small thoughts, while your brains rot inside your cotton candy skulls, slowly melting into a gooey raw hamburger-like substance barely capable of processing reality TV. You think any of this regurgitated âeducation' is going to help you lead meaningful lives? Get good jobs? Fuck. You wouldn't know meaningful if it slapped you in the face with its big meaningful cock!”
Here I would pause, both to catch my breath and glare at everyone in the classroom, including the astonished teacher. The room would be filled with a particularly profound brand of awed silence, the proper response to such bold truth
telling. I'd have their attention.
“You shamble now, and you will shamble evermore,” I'd continue, my voice lowered a notch, yet still razor sharp. “You will shamble throughout your small, stupid lives and when you get to the end of it all, you will find only death and more ignorance waiting for you. Memorized historical facts won't save you. Elaborate algebraic equations won't save you. Even copious amounts of oral sex won't save you. Life is a vast, horrific net, and it's caught us all. We can only trudge ever forward and hope to squeeze some small enjoyment from it before we, too, are tits
up in the dirt.
“And school,” I'd conclude, “school
Then I'd gather my books and materials, walk out of the classroom, and chuck everything into the nearest garbage bin. I'd imagine thunderous applause following me as I walked out of the school, a moment of supreme triumph. I pictured the school going up in flames behind me, combusting into an entire city block of fire you'd be able to see for miles and miles, a defiant signal to a blind and callous god.
The Pale Girl
n my eighteenth birthday, mi
ghty September 24th
I endured another long day of school and afterward went to my part-time job at Hickson Hardware per usual. Groggy and dull-eyed, I was sweeping the store's linoleum aisles for the millionth time when the front door chimed. My boss, Big Greg, was behind the front counter reading a hot-rod magazine. Approaching him was a g
irl who looked around twenty and had cascading ringlets of jet-black hair and the palest skin I'd ever seen. She was dressed in a black T-shirt, black canvas skirt, black fishnet tights, and black army boots. She asked Big Greg a question I couldn't hear and he pointed to the back of the store. When she t
urned to look, I saw a pale heart-shaped face, dark eyes, and a nose piercing that glittered as it caught the light.
My God, she was beautiful.
I retreated to where Big Greg had pointed and circulated with my dust mop in a holding pattern. The pale girl entered my aisle. Her boots made a heavy clopping sound as she approachedâ
clop clop clop
that caused my brain to spike in fluttery agitation. I straightened and squared my shoulders.
“Hello. Can I help you find something?”
The pale girl frowned and looked me over. I imagined how I looked to herâa tall, skinny dude clad in a red smock, with messy blond hair, a big nose, and large blue eyes frequently described as “intense”âand I felt the jittery excitement of a born idiot with nothing to lose.
“Something's weird about you,” she said, folding her arms across her chest.
“Yeah,” I said. “I get that sometimes.”
“How old are you?”
I coughed into my hand, summoning all my manliness. “Ei
ghteen. Today's my birthday.”
The pale girl took a step forward, still hugging herself. She had narrow shoulders, a nice rack, and the kind of slender wrists you wanted to encircle with your thumb and forefinger a
nd just hold for
“All right, birthday boy. Can you tell me where the hacksaw blades are?”
“Mack,” I said, pointing to the nametag on my smock. “My name is Mack.”
Nobody spoke for a moment and I wondered what the pale girl planned to do with
hacksaw. You could hear the florescent lights humming above our heads like tiny, demonic angel
“Saw blades are at the end of this aisle,” I announced, jerking my thumb over my shoulder. “Don't worry. We've got a fuckload of them.”