I was born in a small town outside of Salt Lake City. Utah is an interesting place, at least it used to be before the war broke out. Now it’s a bit closer to hell on earth. My family, rather my mother and my sister and I, didn’t stay too long though. We moved to Philadelphia after my father’s death. When I was twelve, my father saw an opportunity somewhere between the bottle he’d been drinking and the bridge he thought he’d play chicken with. I never did find out what it was.
Olivia and I always got along. She was about the only one I ever got along with. My mother always looked at her as the golden child, the one who wouldn’t disappoint her. She was dead-on mind you, but that doesn’t change the hurt it left inside. Olivia got straight A’s, I got black eyes. She won awards, I stole the trophies. Eventually I got a little bored with fighting and thieving, so I started spending inordinate amounts of time with my two favorite things; Mountain Dew and matches. I started small, mostly just building toothpick buildings and watching them burn. As I grew older, my imagination got bigger…wood playgrounds soaked in gasoline and my own personal pyrotechnics collection were a little lost on the authorities.
You can call me anything you want; pyromaniac, psychopath, serial arsonist, whatever. They’re all true in some fashion. I spent half my teenage years in Willow Creek Detention Center. They had a little room they’d always put me in. I didn’t mind it much, just missed my sister. They’d ask me “How many times is it gonna take, kid? How many years?” Then I’d smile to myself and laugh. I think they would have actually missed saying that to me.
After my third stint in Willow Creek, my mom was a little annoyed to say the least. She tried so hard to set me straight. She set up a nice house-arrest system with the police. I even had that fancy little beeper around my ankle. Then she tried to punish me. She took away TV, music, the phone, you name it. I never really had friends, but they would have been gone too. Unfortunately for her, all I really missed was the Mountain Dew.
By this time, we, well, Liv, was almost graduated from high school. She was the Prom Queen/Valedictorian/Cheerleading Captain, naturally, so she didn’t have much time for her criminal brother. She was civil, but I could tell in those cool blue eyes that she was ashamed of me. Why shouldn’t she be. We looked so similar…black hair, slight build, big smiles. Had I let my hair grow out like hers it would have been just as curly and luxurious. The only difference was that my eyes weren’t just blue; my left eye had a small hazel section. My mom said it made me special; everyone else thought it marked the bad twin. They were right.
My mom tried her best. It couldn’t have been easy on her having to deal with such dichotomy. Everything Liv was, I wasn’t. But she always said she loved me anyway. Other than Liv, she was the only one I cared about. I made her life hell, but I think she knew I loved her back. She’d spend nights awake crying, pop a few pills, have a drink and drift off to sleep. Eventually that was what killed her. Too much booze and too many pills. That’s probably one reason I’ve never done either.
Although she was an attractive woman, she wasn’t much on dating after my father died, but she did a little. Always the cruelest men with the nicest smiles. Nice cars too. I’d know; I stole quite a few of them. BMWs, Porsches, even a Toyota or two. They’d try to be patient and understanding of my ‘problems’, at least until I took a joy ride. I’d come back and my mom would be sobbing. A few of them even put their anger at me on her. After her trip to the hospital to treat broken ribs and a concussion, I stopped taking cars. Now that I think about it, maybe I knocked her off the dating horse. They didn’t deserve her anyway.
Liv graduated, got a scholarship, and moved away to college. She went somewhere close to Chicago…I don’t remember the name. I just know that when my mom died, that’s where she said she’d been. The funeral was small, since it’s hard to make friends when most of your time is spent disciplining or bailing out your vagrant son. Liv invited me to come back with her, which I refused at first. I wanted to stay home in Philly, try and start over. It wasn’t until I got home one night to see a big sign with the word ‘EVICTED’ printed in red on my door. Naturally, all I could do was gather my things, call my parole officer, and begin a hitchhiking trek towards the Windy City.
My sister was a lot of things; stupid she wasn’t. She wouldn’t let me live with her, but she found a place for me close enough to keep an eye on. She said it was for the best, and I believed her. I moved in with an old couple who let me stay in their attic. They would feed me, tell me stories about their children and grandchildren, give me my space, and kept their end of the deal. My sister paid them rent; they kept me busy.
Allister, the man of the house, taught me a lot about plumbing and construction of buildings. Angel, his wife, taught me to cook. Who knew that with a little effort, one could learn to take care of himself? They were good people, better people than most. They inspired me to try and be ‘good.’ They helped me get my first real job. They believed in me; probably the only ones who ever have. Until Trystix, anyway.
My first job was a janitor job at the local elementary school. Kids don’t have much respect for janitors. I know I didn’t when I was in school. They’d throw things, spill drinks on purpose, even vomit intentionally just to make me work. It got frustrating, but Allister and Angel kept me going. I was finally making something of myself. I don’t know when or where it happened, but my life momentarily stopped its tailspin and was straightening out.
Almost three years to the day after my mother’s death, I woke one night to the smell of smoke. A house nearby had caught flame sometime in the night, and the sound of sirens was getting close. I couldn’t see much outside except the flames. It was a thing of beauty! The whole house engulfed in the fire’s rapture, the crowd of people staring from across the street. It was all flawless, like something out of a movie. It was then that I heard a knock on the door. Allister was calling my name. He said the police wanted to speak to me. It was then that I noticed my window was open, and beneath it was a can of gasoline and my favorite lighter…
I didn’t set the blaze; Heaven knows I would have claimed that one. I was convicted however, seeing as I couldn’t afford a lawyer, and started my sentence in the state prison. Angel and Allister never came to visit, never believed that someone with my history could have all the evidence in his room and still be innocent. I wouldn’t have believed me either. Solitary became a nice fit for me. Months went by, and still no visitors. Liv sent in a package for our birthday, filled with Mountain Dew. She may not have liked me much, but she sure knew how to make me smile. She said she had started working for Trysticorp, a local law firm. She was a legal aide or something that sounded an awful lot like a secretary. She’d met someone, the Vice President of the company, Alex Ryder, but didn’t want to pursue a relationship with anyone in her professional life. Good for her I suppose.
Late one October evening, I was told I had a visitor. Most inmates would be happy. Me? I was suspicious. A very big man in an Armani suit doesn’t do much to boost trust, at least not mine. He asked me a very stupid question; “Are you happy?” I looked him dead in the eye and said “Can’t you tell? I’m a big ray of sunshine today.” Then he surprised me. He laughed.
“Why don’t you tell me what you remember about the night of the fire.”
“Go away.” I said.
“Now, now, I can’t very well leave an innocent man to rot in prison can I?”
Now he had my attention. What on earth would bring a man in a suit like that down into the depths of my cell? I had never met him, didn’t know anything about him, and yet he seemed like he knew exactly who I was.
“What do you want? I have no money. As you can see, I’ve had to call in sick to work a few times recently.”
“All I want is a favor from you. I need a good go-to man. You would work as my right hand. I get you out of here, you work for me. That’s all.”
“Anything that sounds that good has a catch.” was all I could think to say. Could he be telling the truth?
“Oh come on now. Haven’t you ever believed in something that sounded too good to be true?” he said.
“Yeah, but the Tooth Fairy stopped coming. She owes me big.”
“Jared, please. Think on it?”
Well, now that it’s out, I might as well tell you. My birth name is Jared Donovan. Unfortunately, this is the day before the part of the story that Jared Donovan died.