Thursday, 7 November 2013

Up in Smoke

It started out as a humble purr before erupting into a vicious growl, as the beast sank its teeth into its prey. There was a deathly silence as the stiff, wooden body fell lifelessly to the floor. It had been the last reminder of a phone call I had never hoped to make and now it was gone, just like all the others.

I was at my mother's house when it happened. I was sat in front of the TV with the thing on mute and my nose in a book. It wasn't a good one but I was on the last page of it and I was engrossed, when I heard a call from upstairs to look out the window. I ignored it and turned my attention back to the words; they seemed more important. It was shortly followed by a much more urgent call. It still didn't sound serious enough to dignify it with a look, but my father's sudden burst of expletives summoned me to my feet to look outside.
"Fuck."
I made no hesitation and made straight for the telephone. I steadied my nerves and punched the telephone number into the handset and made the phone call I never wished to make. Twenty-six years and I was grateful I had never had to make one like it before.

The neighbours' house was on fire.

I kept as calm as I could, followed the procedure they taught us in school and told the operator everything they needed to know. They thanked me for the call and told me help was on its way. I hung up and made my way outside.

The first thing I noticed as I opened the door was the wall of heat greeting me. I could feel it against my cheeks and it was oddly welcoming. In the street, there was a chaotic hustle and bustle of bodies as neighbours moved nervously between the houses, trying to fathom what to do and how to help. In the sky, the flames made their home, stretching thirty feet in the air and dancing. It was the purest, strongest, brightest orange I had ever seen and it was truly alive. Plumes of thick, black smoke effortlessly slid from its tip and filled the air. We were all powerless as it spread, devouring anything in its path.

Some people dashed to their back gardens to spare their clean washing from being spoiled as it hung out to dry, and others dashed inside to shut their windows to keep the rich smelling smoke out of their homes. Some people were comforting children and soothing them from a panic while others dashed to do what they could to limit the damage. I didn't know what I could do, so I stayed the hell out of everyone's way. I fetched a cold beer, cracked it open and watched. I wasn't alone. This was a spectator sport. For what was usually a quiet, suburban road was now a popular point for people with cameras to drive to and turn their cars around. Some people seemed to get pleasure from watching this part of the world go up in smoke. It was a spectacle, and a relentless one at that. There wasn't a whole lot you could do but to sit and watch.

The excitement was short lived. I was barely at the bottom of my second beer when the flames began to dwindle and turn into a quiver of smoke. It was over. The panic had receded. Fire-fighters had tackled it from the other side and won. Peace was restored in suburbia once more. All that was left were a few tall, blackened reminders of what had happened, and an impending battle with the insurance companies. 

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