Fire Was ComingFire Was Coming possible

Everyone knew Tuffy lost his mind the first time he dropped acid. It was the stuff of old wives’ tales and our mothers never missed a chance to illustrate their warnings. “Look at Tuffy,” they’d say. “Did it once and scrambled his brain. Is that what you want? Walk around town claiming you’re Jesus?”

To be fair, Tuffy rarely left the confines of the old lube station. His parents owned it in the Eighties and after they’d died it was passed on to him. This was back before Tuffy dropped out and succumbed to illusions of grandeur. Back when he was an EMT and a volunteer fireman, before he painted insane, made-up Bible verses on the windows and proselytized that he was the second coming in the glass-strewn parking lot.

Mariah Carey is The Songbird. Follow her to Salvation

Make Ready Your Soul – I Will Always Love You

For whatever reason, he seemed to have it bad for Nineties’ era female pop singers. They always figured into his delusions and whatever new scripture he was writing into the big school tablet he carried around was filled with references to Whitney Houston, Sade, and Shania Twain.

We teased him about it on Friday nights when we hung out in the free parking next door. The town was small so we didn’t have anything better to do than cruise up and down the strip, riding low in our seats while listening to edited CDs we’d bought at Wal-Mart, before parking and trying to make it with whichever girls showed up. Some of us smoked the shit-grass the farmers sold, others huffed duster in their backseats. Sometimes, if we put up with his bullshit long enough, Tuffy would walk across the street to the Shell and buy a case of Budweiser for all of us to split.

“Tell me about Mariah,” we’d say.

Tuffy’s face glowed at her name. “She will make a beautiful, heavenly bride indeed.”

“And how many brides are you going to have?”

“Twelve,” he answered and produced his tablet, a bent-to-hell, red-covered composition notebook. He flipped through the pages and came to a nonsensical chart near the back. There were wild lines racing everywhere, a pasted clipping from Time Magazine reading, OLD TENSIONS FLARE IN COMBUSTIBLE MIDDLE-EAST. He pointed at the clipping as if no more explanation was necessary. “One for every tribe of Israel,” he clarified with wild eyes.

If he was meaning to limit his harem to twelve then he was going to have his work cut out for him. He had his sights set on at least twenty or more pop stars and the number seemingly grew every Tuesday when all the new albums were released. Not to mention, there were the girls in the parking lot to consider.

The downside to putting up with Tuffy was that he scared them away. Sure, he’d throw us some beer every now and then, but it didn’t necessarily make up for how creepy and weird he got whenever a carful of girls would stop by and talk with us guys. They’d roll through, bum a cigarette, and it wouldn’t be five minutes before Tuffy came strolling over in his dirty robes, thumping his scripture.

He liked to get in their personal space and ask questions. Always with the questions. He’d tell us, when there weren’t any around, that he’d read in a magazine that females were “a species intoxicated by queries.”

“Do you believe in God?” he’d ask them.

“Have you ever heard my voice in a dream?”

“Where do you live?”

Most of the time whoever he’d picked would clear out in a hurry and we’d all have a good laugh about it later. Or, they’d tell Tuffy to take a hike and he’d catch the hint. Tuffy was crazy, but he wasn’t unreasonable.

Except, that is, when it came to Amber Keith.




If Erin Williams was the queen of the popular girls, and she most certainly was, then Amber was the leader of the rough and tumble ones who smoked outside the gym and were rumored to go all the way. She was just as pretty as Erin, or any other girl for that matter, but she’d grown up in West Everton, a neighborhood of trailers across the railroad tracks where all the dope dealers and welfare cases lived. There was something mean simmering under her good looks, an anger that seemed ever ready to boil up if given half a chance.

For years she’d been untouchable. The only guys she dated were the dropouts and men old enough to be her dad. Her sophomore year she’d screwed around with Mr. Reynolds, our junior high basketball coach, who was married with three young kids. Amber was experienced and way out of our league.

So, we left her alone. We didn’t make eye contact, didn’t talk to her, just gave her some space to hang out with her girlfriends and hoped like hell we could maybe catch their interest.

Tuffy though, he couldn’t help himself.

“She is an angel,” he’d say whenever he saw her.

At first Amber got as big a kick out of Tuffy as anybody else. She’d flip her long, dirty blonde hair and smack her lips as he ran through his regular gamut of questions.

“Do you believe in New Jerusalem?”

“You bet.”

“Would you like to enter my Holy Kingdom?”

“You name the time and the place.”

Tuffy would nearly die from the titillation. He started painting AK on the windows of the station, pasted in his tablet one of her school pictures we’d given him along with a torn-out page from the phonebook listing her address and number. One Sunday afternoon he showed up at her front door with a copy of The Bodyguard Soundtrack and a chuck roast he’d bought at the Save-A-Lot. Amber’s stepdad took the CD and meat and thanked him before slamming the door in his face.

When we heard about that we nearly died.

Not everybody thought it was so funny.




Carlos Ruiz came to our school the year before when his parents got hired to help the Perigo Farm on the edge of town. There were already a handful of Mexican families in Everton, but they all lived outside city limits and none of their kids came to our school. The Ruiz’s made the mistake of renting a house right off Main Street and it wasn’t two weeks before it burnt down in the middle of the night.

Nobody was too surprised. It hadn’t been ten years since the Klan marched in our Independence Day parade and eighteen since the last lynching.

“They should’ve known better,” my old man said as he read about the fire in the paper. “Perigo’s should’ve warned ‘em to get a place out in the country. It’s too bad, but I don’t know what they thought was gonna happen.”

To everyone’s surprise, the Ruiz’s rented another house three blocks over. We all waited for that one to burn, and it probably would’ve had Carlos not tried out for football that fall.

Having played soccer his whole life, Carlos was a natural kicker. Though the Warriors had always been a pretty decent football squad, we’d never had anybody who could kick extra points, let alone field goals. Then there was Carlos, who had a cannon for a goddamn leg.

Back then I was a second-string lineman just struggling to survive. All the other players had four to five inches and at least thirty pounds on me, and it was nothing for them to run me over or send me flying. Needless to say, I spent most of my time hobbled on the sidelines, nursing a bum knee or a dislocated shoulder, and that gave me, more than anybody else, a chance to watch Carlos in action.

From inside twenty yards he was automatic. Just a quick chip shot for an easy three points. But what was incredible was how he got better the farther out he went.

Forty yards.


I swear to god, I saw him kick a sixty yarder the practice before we played Sullivan, our biggest rival. He just looked at me and shrugged. “Could’ve done seventy,” he said.

That Friday he beat the Golden Arrows with a fifty-two yard bomb that sailed through the gnat-thick night sky and over the crossbar with room to spare.

Life was considerably easier for the Ruiz’s after that game. Carlos had become something of a folk hero at that point, the “Mexican with the leg,” as my dad and his buddies called him. Nobody cared where they lived as long as the kicks kept coming.

Of all the privileges Carlos’ celebrity earned him, including his house, his school, and a harassment-free life, the biggest and most tentative was his relationship with Amber. The lynching, after all, had been necessitated when the one black kid in Everton High took a white girl to prom.

After that Sullivan game Carlos had done what nobody else had the guts to do and asked her out. The two of them were instantly joined at the hip, a coupling Dad and the good ol’ boys danced around whenever they sat at the table and drank beer while discussing the next week’s game.

“You know, that Mexican with the leg’s seeing that Keith girl…”

“Long as he puts it through the goalpost,” somebody would say, “I don’t care who or what he does.”

That season Carlos broke the scoring record and carried us to Semi-State. He missed a grand total of two field goals, and one of those was blocked when a miscommunication at the line let a guy get through. We saw less and less of Amber Keith at the parking lot. We figured it was because Carlos and her were off screwing their brains out. Tuffy took it hardest of all and there was hardly a night he didn’t ask after her.

“Where’s my angel?” he’d say. “Where’d she go?”

A year later and the shine had worn off. Carlos was still hitting kicks but missed a few here and there. We played Sullivan again and this time he duck-hooked an extra point that cost us the game. There were letters to the editor. Grumblings.

“You hear that Mexican and that Keith girl got an apartment?”

“No shit?”

“Out at Johnson’s Crossing.”

“Well,” my dad said, “if he knows what’s good for him he’d better keep the door locked.”

Later, after another loss to Sullivan in Sectionals, we were all out at the parking lot, licking our wounds by shotgunning Buds and doing whip-its when the coast was clear. Tuffy bought us beer so we were letting him tell us about his newest prophecy that’d been delivered to him via an eagle sent directly from the President of the United States.

“It said fire was coming,” he preached with his arms raised like he was begging flames from the heavens. “It said to prepare for tribulation. For Armageddon. It said the time was near.”

He’d moved onto telling us about the gathering of armies in Megiddo, about how the celebrities we all knew and loved were agents of The Beast and his Antichrist, when Amber pulled in. As she got out we all noticed she looked like she’d aged a few years since we’d seen her last. Gone was the wild girl we’d all feared and in her place a woman we might’ve walked by in the bread aisle at the supermarket.

We gave her a beer. Tuffy was beside himself. His angel had returned.

“Where have you been, my queen?”

“Huh? Oh. Around.”

“Have you heard my words in your daydreams?”

She laughed. “Only every day.”

That kept on for a half an hour, Amber answering Tuffy’s ridiculous questions and him getting more ramped up by the second. They were interrupted though when Carlos drove by and immediately did a U-turn in the middle of the street when he saw Amber.

“What’re you doing?” he asked the second he opened the door. “I thought you were coming home?”

Coolly, Amber sipped her beer. “I was going to. In a bit.”

“It’s midnight!”

“What’re you?” she spit. “My father?”

“My young friend,” Tuffy said, interjecting himself. “You need to speak to this beautiful woman like the queen that she is.”

Carlos, who preferred to stay at home and never hung out with us in the parking lot, looked as confused as anybody I’d ever seen before. “What the fuck did you just say to me?”

“She’s an angel,” Tuffy repeated. “Treat her like an angel.” It was then that Tuffy wrapped his arm around Amber’s shoulders and groped her breast softly with his hand before planting a kiss on her cheek. “Like so,” he said.

Amber reacted first by slapping Tuffy so hard it turned his head, but that was minor compared to what Carlos had in mind. He rushed Tuffy and planted him in the concrete. We tried to wrestle him off as he threw one wild punch after another, but he wasn’t going to be stopped. We’d no sooner got him off the ground then he backed up a few feet, his steps measured in a strangely familiar way, and then stepped in, planting his left foot and striding through with the right. Perfect form for one of his miracle kicks.

It was a few seconds before we all took off. I think we were in shock. I know I was, anyway. Tuffy was lying there, his white robes stained pink, his body convulsing as the breeze turned the pages of his castoff notebook.

Carlos and Amber seemed as surprised as anybody.

The next day they arrested Carlos at his and Amber’s apartment. The Monday paper had the write-up: Tuffy’s skull was fractured and he’d suffered severe brain damage. He’d have to live in a home the rest of his life; a fate most people agreed would be best for him anyway.

Mom was cracking green beans in the sink when she sighed. “It’s just a shame,” she said, not bothering to explain what the shame was. “Terrible how things work out.”

Dad had the paper folded. He’d already moved onto the classifieds. “That’s what happens,” he said like anybody knew what that meant.

Senior year I started at tackle six games before I quit the team. I wasn’t getting any better. Some plays I’d bust my ass and stick the defenders at the line, other times I’d let them slide on through. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason which one was which.


Jared Yates Sexton is a born-and-bred Hoosier living and working in The South as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia Southern University. He is the author of three collections and a crime novel, and is currently covering the 2016 Election for Atticus Books.