Speed Stories are unedited, not proofread, quick pieces of fiction by me that may or may not be unprompted. Leave a comment if you do want to suggest a prompt or subject.
What did I listen to as I wrote this?
Meat is Murder (album) by The Smiths.
Thick black smoke clouded Shari’s lungs as she moved through the pitch black of her bedroom. Her mind was still dazed by sleep and she coughed out a yelp as she slammed her foot against the corner of her dresser drawer hard enough that she felt like she rattled the bone. She began to utter a curse, but the lungs wrapped their way into her throat forcing her into a fit of coughs. This wasn’t good. No. She bent down like the hobbled over old women and men she saw making their way through the local mall on weekday mornings. The lower she was the farther the smoke would be. Didn’t Smokey the Bear always say smoke rose? Maybe that was just something she heard. She didn’t know. She reached for her door knob and as she wrapped her hand around it she let out a small gasp. The metal didn’t burn, but it was already getting hot. Her time was running out, so without anymore hesitation she swung open the door dashing into the hallway.
Pillars to yellow and orange flame sparked towards from down the hall to the back staircase. It almost looked like some sort of abstract painting against the black clouds Not like Pollock, but like something she probably thought about buying at the county fair. It was such an odd thought, but it just popped in her head and for a moment she wanted to laugh until a great and powerful dread weighed her shoulders down. Her tiny little house, proudly bought after ten years of saving, was going up in smoke. Was it electrical from all the work that pissy contractor did? Did she forget to blow out a candle on the kitchen table? Either way something had gone terribly wrong. She pulled her nightgown neck over her mouth, and began to turn towards the main staircase. There in the corner of her eye amidst the flames she saw a strange and imposing black shadow. She whipped her head around but there was only the smoke, which seemed to be smothering all the air on the second floor. There was no time to do anything. It was a trick of the light. She quickly began speed walking towards the stairs.
‘Goddamn long ass hallway’ she thought, picking up her pace to a run. As she jogged past her guest bedroom a light splash hit her ears and her feet felt wet. Confused she shot a look towards the wood floor. Somehow she stepped wrong and the floor went out from under her. With a resounding and thud her body smacked the floor. Her chin rattled up against her teeth, her sinuses tingled angrily, her knees and stomach throbbed as her breasts ached. With a grunt she scrambled towards her knees. It was then a sickeningly sour chemical smell permeated her nose, making her briefly wish for the smoke. She looked down at herself and across her night gown was covered in some strange liquid. She pulled the night gown down from her face, taking a quick strong wiff of the stuff. ‘Gasoline? Oh god!’. With disgust and fright she scrambled to pull her night gown from her body as the heat of the fire drew ever closer. She tossed the gown to the ground as though it took every ounce of gas with it, but far too much stuck to her bare legs for her to truly be safe from going up in flames like a piece of wood. Everything in her turned to terror and she jumped to her feet. She looked down the hallway and saw long dotted lines and random splashes of glistening wet peppered her floor like some some dog had pissed on every surface in some bizarre act of dominance. This certainly wasn’t home anymore, and who would do such a thing.
A loud roar of something giving way followed by loud unending fire crackling reminded her to stop thinking and go. Her whole body was shaking, but she began to cling to the left wall avoiding the trails of gasoline that hadn’t yet sparked. As she neared the stairs she threw herself against the other wall. She descended, clinging to the railing with shaking hand as though it were her only life line.She looked at the stairs and saw more glistening splashes. It was everywhere from the portraits on the walls down to the stair’s brand new beige carpeting. Someone knew what they were doing. What had she done? Who had she offended? She glanced back towards the quickly approaching fire, and adrenaline pumped through her veins. With loud, but careful, thumps Shari jogged down the stairs. What could she do? Her mind ran through everything as she got further from the heaviest smoke down to the middle landing of the stairs. ‘My phones off by the door. My keys. My wallet. My jacket-‘
Once more in the barest corner of her eye she saw that same figure looming in the kitchen hallway where the dry heat seemed to thickest. The figure appeared as though wearing a long, thick coat like she’d seen construction workers, police, or even firemen wearing. She whipped her head around, but all only grey and black smoke illuminated by yellow dancing flames was there. She was paranoid and running on adrenaline. She ran her fingers through her hair and then kept going forward towards the foyer. She grabbed a long raincoat from her rack and hastily threw it on. What would people think if they saw a naked woman on the front lawn regardless? She shoved the keys from the silver trey on the table by the door into her pocket along with her wallet, and then turned to grab her phone. As she picked it up and began to reach for the door handle, hearing the laps of flame approaching a sudden realization occurred to her. Why the hell wasn’t her fire alarm going off? From where she stood she peaked into her living room where her fire alarm remained silent. The light was lit. It looked exactly like it had since it was installed four months ago. She had another alarm just like it upstairs and yet there was not a single alarm. Having to pee woke her up not any odd sounds. She’d heard nothing and no one the whole night despite being a notoriously light sleeper.
It simply was not possible, but there she was, losing her house without any warning. It really could happen to anyone. With a heavy heart thumping like a drum she looked around one last time then ducked out of her house like she truly had caught fire.
Outside in the chill of the night she saw her neighbors had gathered on the road in front of her lawn. Some stood on porches with faces aghast with horror with phones pressed to their ears. Some didn’t even notice her exit, but a few ran towards her with faces full of worry. It was then the weight of it all truly descended. Faces came and went, questions were asked and answered. Blue and red sirens lit up the street, but they barely registered in her mind. She thought she did everything right. She thought she had lived a good life and done right by as many people as could. She said as much to the fire fighters and the police officer who first arrived.
“Well ma’am sometimes bad things happen to good people…I know we always say that and it’s more than little shitty.” He put a firm hand on her shoulder, but what happened in the next hour became a blur. Television cameras showed up. More police. More fire fighters. Questions became interrogations. Her lawn became a cold interrogation room even yards from a blazing inferno. Did she have insurance? What did she mean by she smelled gasoline? Did anyone see any strange cars? “No” was her neighbors consensus. Well did anyone have a grudge against you? “No” was her conclusion “at least not one to kill over”. Shari hid nothing. Shari felt nothing and yet this felt like something she’d never experienced. If she had her head on straight then she would have hated how much it showed on her face. The EMT said it was a case of intense shock. That sounded about right. Who was she to argue and why would she. After a while all she could do was watch in vein as firefighters pointlessly aimed their impotent hoses at her home. By then the roof caught light and the smoke rose high enough to block out the stars in the horizon. It was then she heard a shrill male voice shout “SOMEONE’S STILL INSIDE!”
Collectively everyone followed her neighbor’s point to a window in what would have been Shari’s bedroom. Her heart jumped into her throat and the adrenaline in her veins slowed into some strange frightening calm, as her lips fell open. There against the glass stood that same black bulky figure and then, with almost methodical slowness her curtains fell obscuring the figure. Within seconds the curtains were ash and the figure was no where in sight.
“Do you live with anyone!?” A firefighter barked. A dozen faces watched her, but Shari shook her head “Was anyone staying with you?” He repeated.
“Not a soul.” Shari said, but her face must have said it all because before she even finished the police and firefighers had turned around and a disquiet fell over the entire scene. Even as those brave men and women fought on that feeling seemed to eclipse them. Even as sympathetic neighbors laid hands on Shari’s shoulders, and offered her a place to stay for the night they gradually would look over their shoulder, just out of the corner of their eye, as though something unnatural lurked there.
She lived alone. Everyone confirmed it. She lived alone and didn’t usually have guests after midnight. Besides Miss Crawford and her grandsons were on their porch drinking across the street late that night, and they saw nothing until they looked out to see why so much light was pouring in their windows. No, to Shari none of this made a damn bit of sense.
After 15 minutes that first officer insisted she go in the ambulance where an EMT carefully began wiping gasoline from sore bruises and scrapes on her legs and arms.
“Did you breathe in a lot of smoke?” The EMT, Gladis according to her uniform asked.
“A fair bit, but I’m fine.” She didn’t mention the fact that she was more horse than normal.
Gladis nodded, but the look in her eye told Shari that the older woman didn’t believe her. “I’m gonna listen to your heart and lungs, James take her vitals. Is it ok if we take the jacket off.”
“Yeah I guess.” The moments passed in fast forward again after pulling off her coat.
Her home, her favorite books, her paintings, that photo of her grandfather in his WWII uniform, and even that fancy cheese she was excited to try were all consumed by something beyond her control, by primal destructive energy. Shari liked fire. She liked the smell of burning wood and clean smoke. She liked the warmth of fire on a cold winter’s night. She loved the way it danced on the tips of candle wicks. Even the sound was nice, pleasant, familiar. It reminded her of jack lanterns and Christmas, and spas. Fire betrayed her, and she always knew it could, but to see it and feel it? To know someone somewhere used it against her, violated her home with fire felt…mortifying.
It was then Shari burst into loud heaving sobs that turned into almost wretch-causing coughs due to the smoke still lingering in her lungs. She held onto her knees, and Gladis simply put her hand over Shari’s as James put a hand on her shoulder. There was nothing they could do. Everything she worked for was gone and she couldn’t explain why. And Shari did not really stop crying until hours later.
When the EMT’s mentioned this to the police, mentioned how every few minutes she went from shocked to raw heartbreaking tears, they decided it may not be best to tell her that when the last flames had finally been put out the wall of her charred ruined kitchen had one thing they could not explain. There on the beige wall was one large grey shadow with burn trails sprawling outward like great reaching arms that grasped and explored. Almost ,vaguely, the gas and shadow reminded the officers and fire fighters of a human octopus. It was best Shari did not know, they reasoned, when she had already lost so much.