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Tanya beamed as brightly as the object she hoisted into the otherwise black barren sky.

“What the hell is that?” Jimmy screeched, rising from the rotten log he’d used as his seat.

“Don’t touch. It’s all mine, boys. All mine.” Her eyes lit up, or maybe it was just the light bouncing off her retinas, and she chuckled, low and raspy. She waved the burning wand in front of her face, and we watched, mesmerized by the light dancing off each others faces.

“I want it.” Peter said in his quiet monotone. With the speed and agility of a wildcat, he leapt up from his red plastic lawn chair and grabbed for the wand. Tanya wrestled it away from him with a ferocious sneer, and suddenly Peter was enveloped in the flames, not real the red and yellow flames licking the logs in the center of our circle, but some sort of hallucinatory hellfire with purple and blue swirling tendrils. They spiraled around him in a vortex while he screamed, then he collapsed and the false fire was gone but the wand shone even brighter than before.

For a few moments, we sat there, shocked and silent. Tanya was bent over Peter with the wand held high over her head. Peter sat up slowly, clutching his head in his hands and panting heavily. Tanya patted his shoulder. “There there, Peter. Sorry about that, but you musn’t go touching my wand, you hear?” Peter nodded and went back to his chair.

Everyone looked round the circle, waiting to see what we’d say. Jimmy nodded to me, then back at Peter. I was sitting closest to him. I inched forward, aware that Tanya was gazing at me intently.

“How’s it goin’, Peter?” I said quietly, and wondered if he heard me. A few minutes later, after the most uncomfortable and awkward silence of my life, he finally answered my question.

“I’m on fire.” His reply was matter of fact, like he’d said, “I’m fine, how are you?”. Then his eyes drew up slowly and burned bright against his pale white skin. I swear I saw purple flames flickering around the reflection of myself in his eyes. A hard shudder cascaded through my body.

“You want me to take you to the hospital or something?”

“No.” His eyes left mine, and I inched my chair back to its original position. I didn’t want nothing to do with those flames.

Conversation was sparse after that. No one wanted to talk about that wand, or what happened to Peter, but it was all that was on anyone’s mind, so we all made excuses about having work in the morning and left the circle to Tanya and her wand.

Those flames haunted me all night. Tossing and turning, Peter’s screaming face had wound its way through every nightmare.

I felt the heat first. Then, a bright spot burned behind my eyes and I knew that wand was close. I thrashed in my bed, and scooted as far back into the corner as I could, but it wasn’t far enough. I sat huddled and shivering beneath my blanket while Tanya laughed, low and gravelly.

“Hey there Steve, long time no see.”

I hissed, startling myself with my strange response, but my biggest concern was Tanya.

“Now, be a good boy, Stevie, and come here. I need to show you something.” She put one hand on the bed and leaned forward, extending the wand as close to me as she could get without climbing onto the bed. It didn’t quite reach.

“Steve,” she cooed in a voice promising nothing good, and my mind cracked. I yelped like an old hound scolded by his master and leapt to the window, then broke right on through the screen without a moment’s hesitation. I bolted to my rusty old Ford pickup, thanking myself for keeping my keys in my pocket for just such an emergency, and then thanking my truck for starting up on the first try. I put it into drive and didn’t think about where I was going.

I realized I was only two miles from Jimmy’s house. I hoped he wasn’t out again with that blonde waitress who just moved into town.

I walked slowly and reluctantly toward Jimmy’s door. I stuck to the shadows and avoided light of any kind. His house was wrapped in shadows. The porch light, normally on, was busted out. The broken glass littered the sidewalk leading to his front door.

“Jimmy,” I hollered, “it’s Steve. Let me in.” I banged on the door for a good fifteen minutes, but I got no response. I walked around the house and banged on the windows, but the only words echoing through the dark night were the owls’ persistent questioning.

A car pulled into the drive, and I let out a sigh of relief. The light from the headlights blinded me, so I couldn’t see anything, but I heard the footsteps crunching on the glass on the sidewalk next to me, then they stopped. Suddenly, the light seemed to change. They compounded into a magnificent orb of light, and I knew it wasn’t Jimmy standing there. I turned to run, but something smacked me in the head and I went sprawling to the ground.

Tanya’s wicked smile glowered down at me. “Don’t bother looking for Jimmy. I took care of him a few hours ago.”

“Stay away from me, you crazy bitch,” I hissed.

Tanya laughed like a wheezing cat, eyes focused on mine, and stepped forward. The wand was inches from my face. The heat was so intense, I couldn’t see. I couldn’t breathe. The tongues of the artificial flames licked my face, teasing me with their tender kisses. Then, with a whoosh and a grunt, the flame was gone.

I opened my eyes, but I couldn’t see a thing in the darkness. Once my eyes adjusted, I saw Peter standing over Tanya, beating her to a bloody pulp with her own wand. His arm descended over and over again with catlike speed, blood and bits of bone were flying around him in a circle of destruction. I inched closer, begging him to stop, and he finally did. Then he turned to me, and I realized his eyes were glowing. His dark brown eyes were swirling with purple and blue flames. His long pale face was drawn into a thin wicked smile with drool glistening at the corners of his mouth.

“Hey buddy,” I said, trying to calm him with my peaceful tone, “let’s put that wand down now and call the police, okay?” I wasn’t sure we’d actually call the police, since they’d lock us up in the looney bin for certain, but I thought it’d calm him down. I was wrong.

He twitched like he’d gotten a jolt from an electric fence, then he raised the wand and it began to burn once more. I tried to stand but tripped on my own feet, falling back onto the busted glass sidewalk. The shards embedded in my ass and hands were painful, but not nearly as painful as I expected the burn from that wand to be.

“Don’t worry, Steve.” Peter spoke so quiet I could barely hear him. “It burns. But it feels so good. You’ll see.” His mad grin pulled the corners of his mouth damn near to his cheeks, like his head had been sliced in half at the mouth.

I yelped, I hissed, and I backed away. But it didn’t matter, soon enough, the wand lit my skin in those purple and blue flames. They climbed up my body in a swirling vortex of pain. All I could do was scream while Peter stood over me, laughing quietly.

Peter was right, it burned, but it burned so good.