He grinned at the thought of her distress upon learning that her old house was gone. Smiling, he imagined the horrified look on her face get replaced with pure joy and gratefulness, when she learned the truth. When she found out about the surprise that he planned as a replacement for her loss.
Watching the fire that he’d planted moments ago grow and rage, he couldn’t help but let out a laugh in pleasure. He’d picked out one of the best places in the area, and made sure to include the features that he’d caught her eying on multiple occasions. He’d kept note of all the house features that drew her attention whenever they visited someone else’s home, and specially highlighted anything that made her eyes linger for more than a brief moment. It was perfect. He was sure that she would like it.
What he didn’t expect was the truly horrified scream that she let out. He knew deep in his gut that this wasn’t simply horror from losing a home. Instead, it was a deep seated horror. An unexplainable horror that suggested that he’d accidentally left something out of his scope of consideration. But she lived alone, in a minimalist lifestyle. He doubted that she would have any irreplaceable valuables, whether in the confines of her home or otherwise.
He had to be overthinking things. She was losing a home after all. An invaluable asset to anyone. Even more so for someone like her, a person with such limited income. She was probably in distress, wondering how she would ever come to replace the previously rundown shack that she called her home. He couldn’t deny that at least a part of him felt a twinge of guilt for making her feel that way. But the feeling didn’t last long. The thoughts of her hopelessness were quickly replaced by the images of her excitement upon learning what he had ready for her on the other side of town.
He walked toward her, as the sound of sirens drowned out everything in the scene. Policemen, firemen, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians flooded the scene. He smiled. A perfect setting for telling her the truth. He kneeled before her, with a smug smile. She threw her arms around him sobbing, a reaction that was uncalled for, but one that he accepted nonetheless. He wrapped an arm around her, and pulled her closer.
“I set the fire.” He revealed in a soft voice.
“You did what?” She asked, immediately pulling away.
“It’s part of a surprise.” He answered. “I got you a new place!”
“Is my baby there?” She asked, a glow returning to her eyes. The ever-present hope that he was used to seeing in them, restored.
“What?” He asked. “Baby?”
“My son from my previous marriage.” She elaborated. “He was staying for the weekend. You did go in to tell him before you lit this house up…didn’t you?”
“What?” He responded, as a mixture of dread and shock coursed through him. “There was someone in there?”
He hadn’t known. She hadn’t told him. If he knew… God. How did his attempt at a pleasant surprise end up as something straight out of a nightmare? The fire was never meant to hurt anyone.
He took a step back, before collapsing against the pavement. No. It couldn’t be. How did it turn out this way? It was supposed to be a simple surprise. She was supposed to be the only one living at the place. He’d studied her schedule for weeks before making a move. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. He’d even confirmed with her in the morning that she wouldn’t be home. How did it turn out this way?
He thought that he’d taken all the necessary precautions. He looked back at her hopeful eyes. The excitement and glee that he felt earlier didn’t come back this time. Guilt wracked him, as he searched those eyes for any hints of her acceptance of the truth.
“I’m sorry.” He whispered, turning away. He couldn’t bear to see the hope extinguish from those eyes.
“You monster!” She screamed, throwing herself at him. “How could you?!” She shouted, throwing fist after fist at him.
He felt numb. Things weren’t supposed to turn out this way. He’d only wanted to make her happy. How did it go so wrong? How?
Tears fell from his eyes, as he let her beat him. He deserved it. He should’ve made a better effort to understand her life, and its unique events before he made a move. Perhaps he should’ve simply surprised her by taking her to the new building. Why did he ever think that placing a prank was a good idea? Why had such a harmless joke become something so terrifying?
He couldn’t answer those questions. Questions that he hadn’t ever expected to have. He didn’t have a response to his questions. He didn’t have a response to her. There was only one thing that he could say, so he said it again, despite knowing it was more than inadequate.
“I’m sorry.” He repeated, despite knowing that an apology could never erase what he’d done. Despite knowing that it could never bring back the child that she’d lost. It was all his fault, but he didn’t know what else he could do. He was a murderer. An unknowing murderer, but a murderer nonetheless. He looked up and raised his arms as the police approached to apprehend him.
“I’m sorry.” He repeated again, as he let the police escort him away. “The keys and address…they’re in my car. You know where…”
A place that he’d always left things for her to find. Things that have never failed to bring a smile to her face. Though he could no longer say the same this time, he had to at least do whatever he could to repay her. But, in his heart sat a cold and heavy fact. It would and could never be enough.
This scene was inspired by a writing prompt from the “Microcosm” Publication.
Tell us a fictional story inspired by a prank