Authors: Lauren Wolk
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. While the author was inspired in part by actual events, none of the characters in
Those Who Favor Fire
is based on an actual person and any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
Copyright © 1998 by Lauren Wolk
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:
“Dirge Without Music” from
by Edna St. Vincent Millay (HarperCollins). Copyright © 1928, 1955 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Norma Millay Ellis. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Elizabeth Barnett, Literary Executor.
Excerpt from “Moon River” by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini. Copyright © 1961 by Famous Music Corporation. Copyright renewed 1989 by Famous Music Corporation. Reprinted by permission of Famous Music Corporation.
APE, A DIVISION OF
UK: “Fire and Ice,” the final stanza of “Reluctance,” and title usage of one line from “Fire and Ice” from
The Poetry of Robert Frost
, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright © 1951, 1962 by Robert Frost. Copyright © 1923, 1934, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc. Rights throughout the British Commonwealth are controlled by Jonathan Cape, a division of Random House UK. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, Inc., and Jonathan Cape, a division of Random House UK.
Excerpt from “Midnight Train to Georgia” by James D. Weatherly. Copyright © 1971 by Polygram International Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Polygram Music Publishing.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Those who favor fire: a novel / Lauren Wolk.
813’. 54—dc2I 97-39827
Random House website address:
When a spider plunged from a fixed point to its consequences, it always sees before it an empty space where it can never set foot, no matter how it wriggles
Halloween was hellish in Belle Haven. It hadn’t always been that way, except in the minds of its small children, who could not imagine that the world had been any different—that there had even
a world—before their own momentous arrival in it. But the year that Mary Beth Sanderson died, Halloween was, at best, impure, corrupted by its cavalier association with the dead and dying both. Less than a week had passed since the earth had opened up and taken Mary Beth, and the town was still in mourning. But Halloween was Halloween, and the people of Belle Haven went about the whole thing with the last of their resolve.
It was as if they couldn’t pass up the chance to polish Belle Haven’s silver lining, to flash it one last time in the cool light of an indulgent moon. Despite misgivings, those who had not yet left Belle Haven carved their jack-o’-lanterns with exceptional precision, decorated their trees with elaborate ghouls, and chose their candies with care. Then they entrusted their children to the uncertain dusk, warning them to beware not of child snatchers or rapists or bullies but of the very ground they walked on.
Living on top of a fire makes people cautious. It makes them wonder whether a flaming tentacle is at this moment winding its way toward the root cellar. It makes them walk softly and sniff the air for sulfur like a species of strange, two-legged deer. It makes them fight amongst themselves when the conversation turns to the tired old question, now nearly moot, of whether they should pack their bags and leave or stay and, quite possibly, die.
Rachel Hearn had listened to such arguments for a long time now—in the grocery store, at the post office, on the radio, in the street. She understood the urge to go as well as the resolve to stay. She even understood the really stubborn ones who saw the boreholes spouting their plumes of yellow smoke, who watched litter turn to ash as it blew across the hot ground, who had known Mary Beth Sanderson for every one of her thirteen years and still refused to take the fire at its word.
“It’ll never get us,” they’d say. “The fire’s nowhere near my house.” But they all owned canaries and kept one eye on the ground.
Rachel Hearn thought there were simply too many pianos.
“What the hell are you talking about?” asked Joe. Most people knew him by this name alone. Just Joe. “What in blazes have pianos got to do with the fire?” (Fire puns, intended or not, were an accepted and rarely acknowledged part of conversation in Belle Haven.)
Joe was sitting on a tree stump this Halloween night, dressed as a troll, eating a huge, tight-skinned MacIntosh and watching a handful of children sneak slowly down the street toward him. To cross the old and narrow bridge that took Maple Street over Raccoon Creek, the children had to first pass close to the stump where Joe sat, collecting his toll. Rachel, done up as a witch, perched on the rail of the bridge, swung her feet in their tall boots, and absently stabbed her own palms with her sharp witch’s nails.
She said, “I once heard someone say that the reason more Jews didn’t try to escape Nazi Germany before it was too late was because they couldn’t bear to leave their pianos behind.” In the face of Joe’s silence, she hunched inside her tattered gown and closed her eyes, lulled by the language of the water passing under the bridge. “Too many roots,” she explained, “that went too deep.”
Joe had a different theory.
, he said to himself, wiping the apple juice from his chin.
. He said it with gentle contempt, exasperation, and great fondness.
Whenever people asked Joe whether he was going to stay or leave, he’d say, “Why the hell do you care what I do? What in hell is the point of even asking?” But everyone knew that he would leave only when Rachel did, perhaps with her, perhaps alone.
was a word heard often in Belle Haven. The reporters who had been coming into town lately never failed to ask, in the rare interviews
they were granted, “Do you think of this fire as a sort of hell?” Then, glancing casually at their notes, they’d drop names from Dante and paraphrase the Bible, all the while wielding their microphones like weapons.
None of them expected much from Joe. Most passed him by altogether. His clothes were threadbare, his hands were thick with calluses, and the expression on his face was meant to discourage their intrusions. But a few, hoping to add color to their copy, laid their analogies carefully before him, smiled with impatience, pronounced him illiterate with their judge-and-jury eyes. Joe invariably backed away down the street, saying, as he walked, in a slow and thoughtful way,
Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire
But if it had to perish twice
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice
“I’m sorry,” he would say over his shoulder. “ ‘Fire and Ice.’ Robert Frost. Not mine, although I, too, favor fire.”
Now, from his lookout on the tree stump, Joe watched the trick-or-treaters inch toward him, giggling with fear. Nearly at his feet, wary of his big troll hands, they stopped, reached into their candy sacks, and pulled out the apples they’d been given by the few old ladies who still refused to leave Belle Haven to its fire. The children placed the apples carefully into the bushel basket that Joe used to collect his toll each year.
“Pass,” he growled, waggling his horns at them. At this, even the older children trotted across the bridge, laughing like goats, all real fears forgotten.
The children gone, Joe polished up their grubby apples, made adjustments to his costume, and studied the stars. “How’s business been this year?” Rachel asked him, and her voice, in this lull, sounded too loud, too old.