A sound blasts in the distance and I lay the pillow over my head. As I wallow in the place between sleep and consciousness, I curse the neighbor who
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selfishly uses an alarm at such an unbearable volume.
“Shut it off,” I command while squeezing the pillow
tighter to my ears.
But, it still rings.
I toss and turn within my cocoon of blankets and realize that they are unnecessary. My anger continues
to rise and it seems to make my room unnaturally warm.
I envision myself stalking the halls of my apartment building to angrily trace the sound. I see myself pounding on a door and punching the inconsiderate slob who answers the door, but this fantasy offers me no
Could it be? Is the alarm actually getting louder and is my room becoming hotter?
A distant scream causes me to sit up straight in my bed and I hear the far-off murmur of frightened voices. I
leap from my bed and hurriedly pull on my jeans. Then, I slip my sock-less feet into my beaten white sneakers.
As I race from my room, I wiggle into my T-shirt that stinks of stale cigarettes and sweat, but it is quickly
overwhelmed by the scent of burning wood.
I stare at my apartment’s door and I am horrified to see the thin waifs of gray smoke that are wiggling into
“My baby. My baby!” A woman pleads above the sirens and steady rumble of fire burning unabated.
I tap at my doorknob to check its temperature and gratefully, it is cool. Then, I rip the door open and step into a cloudy hall. I look to my left and see a wall of flames, but to my right …
An abbatoir. Someone has been through this hall, causing damage far beyond the capabilities of a simple fire. A man lays against the fire escape door, a massive rent in his forehead. Two halves of a toddler lie on and near the stairs, respectively. The stench of blood, that coppery tang like old lightning, invades my nose, nauseating me. I pound down the hallway, more than a little worried, and punch the button for the elevator. I know, somewhere in the back of my mind, that one is not supposed to use the elevator in a fire. I am willing to chance it, however, to avoid the carnage at the other end of the hall.
Ding! The elevator doors open and for the second time that morning the tang of spilt blood invades my nostrils. Six, perhaps seven people have been murdered on this elevator. Two of them, possibly a couple, possibly not, are locked in each other’s embrace. A meat skewer through their bellies holds them together.
I shrink back, repulsed and terrified. At that moment, as if to mock me, a dead man’s arm flops out, blocking the elevator doors. I break and run, pounding blindly back down the hall. I slip on the entrails of an obese woman –the mother of the baby? I can’t remember- and roll down a flight of stairs. It hurts. The stairs are made of stone and quite sharp, each one bruises me anew. I am not, however, greviously wounded or dead. I get painfully to my feet and work my way down the steps, pretending not to see the boy lying in front of Floor 2.
As I reach the ground floor, something wild and stinking of blood barrels by me. It leaps against the wall, falls, rolls to its feet. It turns to regard me. It is a man, or something like a man, covered from head to toe in blood. It wears this as a coat of paint, a great red sheen like the worlds worst sunburn. In its hands, it holds a stringy length of meat.
“Now I have flesh again,” it whispers. “Now I have flesh.”
I break for the front door. I hear nothing following me, but I sprint all the same. I want to get out of this house of death and fire. I want fresh air. I push open the doors to the outside world and pause lone enough to vomit in the flowerbed. I take a deep breath and cough, almost vomiting again. The cool blast of air I had expected did not come. Instead, every breath is a stale, hot agony. I look up from my regurgitations to see: flame, flame, and yet more flame. My God, I think, the entire CITY is on burning!
“Not precisely,” says a voice from behind me. I whirl around and meet the clear blue eyes of a man in a pinstripe business suit. He is immaculate, undamaged by the fire. He smiles, and his teeth gleam white.
“What?” I retort.
“The city. It isn’t exactly burning. Don’t get me wrong, it IS on fire. All the same, it isn’t burning.”
“What’s going on?” I say. My head has begun to pound.
“You make me sad. A bright boy like you, unable to do a little deductive thinking. Do you remember last night?”
“Um.” My head is pounding harder now. “I…I was celebrating. Celebrating a birthday.”
“Ve-ry good, my lad. Now, can you tell me what presents you got?”
“Huh?” Someone was inside my head, mucking around with a ball-ping hammer. “Uh. A CD, another copy of Lord of the Rings, a movie, a cigar, a-,”
“That’s good enough. What did you do with the cigar?”
“Smoked it.” Someone turn off the jackhammer! “Got drunk.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere. What did you do after you got drunk?”
“Uh. Don’t remember.” Oh, God, my head!
“Let me tell you. You passed out in bed, cigar in hand. Follow me yet?”
I look up, up, above his head, at the burning building. “You mean I…?”
“Yep. A fire started- in your room- and by the time the firemen arrived, there were maybe fifteen dead. You saw most of them on the way down.” The man is still grinning, but his lips have pulled so far back from his teeth, the grin had turned to a rictus of pain. “Are you following me yet, my boy?”
“I…I didn’t survive?” My head is pounding like the end of the world.
“I’m afraid not.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Boy are you on the ball today! Three in a row! Have a cigar, my man!”
“Probably smoke inhalation. You’ll get used to it. Or you won’t. Anyway, I’m a busy man, no time for chit-chat. Enjoy yourself, my boy, you’ve got a lot of time to kill.”
And just like that, he is gone.
“No,” I husk. “Please.”
“NO!” scream a thousand tortured souls. “PLEASE!”
I am home.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.