It was hot. According to the weather forecast it was supposed to top off in the mid to upper 90s with around 90% humidity. Doing my typical after lunch walk I could feel every one of those degrees above normal down to my bone.
Or perhaps it was just all of the other pressing issues.
The weight of the weekend was on my shoulders. Not just what happened first at the crypt and later at Winnies’ house, but all of the other stuff. The new power totally freaked me out. I found that I was reading people, seeing them as temperatures and colors. Most people, that is.
Bethy wasn’t home when I got there. She had left a note that she was out with her friend Carla. It seemed like she was with either Carla, Megan or Sheena every night. When she finally came in she wouldn’t talk. I unconsciously tried to read her but received nothing. It wasn’t total absence, it was more. It was the absence of absence. It was Void. A cold void.
It was no different in the morning. I couldn’t read her and she wasn’t going out of her way to be friendly. She made me coffee, which was the most disgusting bilge I had ever tasted, but didn’t talk to me.
I wanted to scream. Why were these issues happening with Bethy happening now? I knew part of the answer was they weren’t, they were on going, only I had just been too blind to see them before. She had always been cold, but I never wanted to believe it. I hadn’t seen a lot of things. Before I left the office for the walk I had asked my bank to run a check on our account on everything she had withdrawn or transferred to another account since we had opened the joint account four years ago.
But it wasn’t just Bethy. Or Milly or Amelia or, damn, the whole alphabet soup of names screaming in my skull. It was the world. The whole world was yelling. The whole universe seemed to demand immediate attention.
Each blade of grass was alive and I could feel it, hear it. Every tree, squirrel, bird. Every worm. They were all alive and I could feel them to my bones. And the people. The temperature and color was visible in all of them, calling out for attention. Not just the people on the street, but the person who walked by here an hour ago, a week ago, a century ago, even a millennia ago. Crowds and crowds of people from all times, their shadows still pressed upon the ether of the place, the mammoth hunter of ten thousand years ago was collocated with the person checking their smart phone, the colonial woman passing through the Victorian era man. Besides colors, temperatures and images, sometimes I caught words, thoughts and feelings. But with the throngs sometimes five deep, sometimes a dozen people in one square inch, those random thoughts became a babble, then a cacophony. My mind was being drowned out.
And then I heard it. Or rather, I didn’t. There was a silent spot on the other side of a hedge in the public garden. I walked around and found a bench that wasn’t visible from the sidewalk. It was out in the open, not the shade, and the view wasn’t great, but it was peaceful. I sat down.
For a moment I could still feel the shadow of people long since gone, but they were quickly fading. I knew I would soon have peace and quiet. But then one of the shadows caught my attention.
Dorothy Halley nee Hawthorn.
I closed my eyes and reached out.
The front door slammed as Benjamin left the house. As usually he was in a hurry. But there was something in his mannerism that made me know he was in more of a rush than usual. That, as much as anything, made me want out, made me want to get some fresh air. Made me want to escape my stifling prison.
I tried the door, knowing it was futile, knowing it was bolted from the outside. I went to the single window. It had been nailed shut.
My head began to throb in the heat. I felt as if my brain was burning.
The day was hot and he had lit fires in every fireplace in the house making the heat unbearable. I was sweating. I went back to the crib and used the bottom of my dress to fan poor Eliza in her crib. I laughed, thinking Eliza and her crib were the only things in the room not nailed down.
The laugh died on my lips. I bent down and tried to rock the baby. There was no movement, the crib was nailed down. I tried harder and harder, furiously trying to make the crib move. Finally exhausted and covered in sweat I just sat on the floor by the crib and cried. After a few minutes I cursed myself, knowing the crying wouldn’t do any good, and started to fan poor little Eliza again.
As the day went on it grew hotter and hotter in the room. My mind seemed to shut down in the heat, but slowly something broke into that heat numbed place and I began to realize the house was full of noises. I heard a rushing noise and crackling, snapping and popping. I smelled smoke. The house was on fire!
I carefully picked Eliza up and placed her to the side. Throwing all of my strength and weight at the crib I was finally able to rip it off of the floor. I ran and threw it out of the window. The hole of the crib passing through the window seemed to pull the flames from the hall with it into the room. I screamed and ran to Eliza.
She was red. Was she breathing? I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t tell! I could not tell!
I yelled at the top of my lungs and rushed to the window. I hoped Bernard would show up so I could throw him the baby. I yelled again and again, but then I heard a sickening sound. I heard Bernard’s voice. He wasn’t outside, he was inside, behind me. He was in the middle of the fire. The hall and room were all in flames. I could tell so was Bernard. He couldn’t catch the baby. He was caught too.
The world turned topsy-turvy in noise and motion. I knew it was the barrel of corn whiskey Benjamin had placed in the cellar yesterday. He didn’t trust it down at the warehouse, or so he said. The entire house shifted with the concussion, and continued to move. The floor dropped away and I fell.
I woke to darkness. It was a hot darkness. I couldn’t have been out for more than a second. I knew immediately I was trapped under the rubble. My whole body hurt. Soon I saw a red glow surrounding me.
I was pinned. A beam was across my pelvis. My right arm was trapped. I couldn’t turn my head to the right to see what was trapping the arm, only to the left. I couldn’t move as I watched the flames surround me.
Strangely, though, I could breath. I was in a bubble were there was no smoke and no flames. The flames came within a foot or two of me and then stopped. But I knew flames or no, I wouldn’t last long. It was more than hot. I was literally being baked alive and every breath brought flame hot air to scald my lungs.
I could feel my skin dry and peel. I could feel the blood boil. I could feel my brain boil and bake, expanding in its skull case, trying to press out through my eyes, through my nose, out of my ears. I could feel it bubbling. I could feel it.
Why wasn’t it done, why was I still feeling it? Why didn’t it end? Why was I alive? Why?
A laughing pounded in my skull, through the burning of my brain. The idea of a voice savoring revenge. A will keeping me alive as long as possible to extend the unearthly, hellish torture as long as possible. Long after my lungs had been burnt so bad to stop even trying to draw in any air in the inferno, long after there was nothing left of the heart, I could feel my boiling brain.
The eyes long gone, the flesh burned from my skull, I could still feel the brain burning, boiling.
It stretched forever, an eternity under the rubble of the burning house. An eternity as my brain baked and boiled away.
“Quick, throw some water on him, cool him down now!”
The voice was from another world.
“See if you can get some water into him.”
“Sir, sir, can you hear me?”
“We need to cool him down more.”
“Ice, we need ice.”
I felt something against my burnt and curled lips. Water. I tried to help, tried to drink.
I coughed weakly, sputtered and then was able to take a long drink.
Slowly I became aware of my surroundings. A small group of people had gathered. Two paramedics were rushing up. Someone dowsed me with water again. I wasn’t on fire, just hot. Very hot.
“Don’t worry sir, we’ll get you to the hospital,” I heard someone say.
It was unbearably hot, but it was me in the open. I wasn’t trapped. I wasn’t dead. But I was hot. Very hot.
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