After the Fire
The fire trucks had folded their hoses
and shuttered their lights and left. The
two ambulances had also driven off, empty but for their drivers and techs. The
truck from the coroner’s office had
drifted quietly away, carrying the gray, soot-covered lump that had been Caro’s
The street was midnight silent. After all the noise and bluster of the
the lack of sound was frightening. Caro
could hear charred wood clicking as it cooled, and the syncopated drip of water
into the soupy pond that had been his mother’s living room.
Caro was empty – he had nothing left
to feel. During the initial shock, the
Red Cross minivan had arrived to offer their three C’s of aid: coffee,
cookies, and condolences. He had a card from the head Red Cross dude in
his pocket, along with the business cards of several dubious and overly helpful
contractors and ambulance-chasers. His
pockets had more inside them than did Caro himself.
According to a bristle-lipped Fire
Marshall, the fire had started in the living room and roared up and through the
roof. It was believed that Caro’s
elderly mother had fallen asleep while smoking.
Death by dozing.
Caro decided that he needed to do
something – anything – or he would
remain rooted here in front of his mother’s home all night. He forced
himself to take a step closer to
the house. His clean, white sneaker
smooshed into the overwatered lawn, and he searched for something solid to
stand on, located a kitchen cabinet door lying a few feet in front of him, and
perched there, heron-like. He stared at
the mess before him.
He should have moved his mother into a
nursing home a long time ago, he thought.
The last time he had spoken to her – a crisp and awkwardly truncated
phone call on Sunday – she had complained of goblins. Her home was infested,
she said. Caro had winced as he told her he would call
He spied another island in the muck
near a singed boxwood – a large chunk of waterlogged but still firm-looking
drywall – and he hop-skipped closer to the house. From this roost he could
see clearly through
what used to be the picture window and into the living room. Nothing remained
in the room to suggest that
his mother had ever been there. The
center of the room was covered in a slurry of ash, soaked insulation and soggy drywall.
At the corners of the room, like raised landscaping around some koi pond from
hell, were charcoal islands – the solid remains of anything in the room that
hadn’t had time to be fully consumed.
Caro sighed. His mother had been old, and he had been
preparing himself for her death for years.
It was still a shock for her to go suddenly, like this. He began thinking
of all the tasks he would
have to perform in the near future:
funeral, insurance adjuster, repair house or maybe just demo and sell the
As he stared at the debris, Caro
thought he saw something move. A pile of
charred whatever shifted slightly, as
if a mole was burrowing beneath the surface.
Just post-fire displacement,
he thought. All the remaining crap settling
into itself. He continued to watch that spot.
Movement again. This time, it was upward,
Caro was sure of it.
The blackened pile had lifted, as if someone underneath it was pushing
weakly to free himself. The motion
Caro wildly pictured his mother buried
beneath the debris, sucking wet soot and melted fiberglass into her lungs and
scrabbling to free herself, but he shortcut his panic by reminding himself that
she had left with the coroner. But
still: someone, or something, was trying
to get out; he was sure.
Forsaking his earlier concern over his
clean sneakers, he squelched through the swamp and into the living room. Perhaps
a fireman had fallen and not been
missed, perhaps his mother had an unaccounted-for visitor. He stopped before
the debris pile, one foot
in the floor-soup, and watched to see if it would move again. He strained his
ears for sound.
When he saw a chunk of gray drywall
lift an inch and then fall, Caro tore into action. He bent over and began grabbing
the soaked, acrid mess and throwing it behind him. He dug like a St. Bernard
saving a skier in
the Alps. When he had cleared away a
sizable portion of the pile, he stumbled backwards, confused. He had been right: someone was
buried in that fire hash, but it was too small to be a fireman. Was it
a baby? It made no sense. Why
would a baby be at his mother’s house? His shock combined with relief
as he saw an
arm move; the baby was alive.
With a burst of energy, the baby stood
up and shook insulation from its shoulders and looked at Caro with decidedly
un-baby-like eyes. Caro backed away
The creature was about a foot tall,
with grayish skin, although Caro couldn’t tell if that was natural or a result
of the fire. Its ears were pointed, and
its fingers were long, thin, and impossibly clawed. It bent over to pluck something
out of the
debris, showing Caro a thin, rat-like tail.
Caro felt frozen. The shock of the fire was nothing compared to
this. He heard himself muttering but
didn’t know what he was saying.
creature seemed to notice him again and stared into his eyes. Caro saw mischief
there. Then the creature held up the object it had
pulled from the debris, and Caro saw that it was a lighter, the kind you could
buy at a convenience store for a buck.
The creature grinned at Caro, and flicked the lighter’s wheel, creating
a little spark and a pale, yellow flame.
Then it skipped past him like a rabbit and ran off into the night.
Caro turned and watched as it
disappeared behind a parked car and thought to himself that perhaps he should
have listened more closely to his mother’s complaints.
# # #
Mark Jabaut was a playwright
and author who lived in Webster NY with his wife Nancy. Mark’s play IN THE
TERRITORIES, originally developed via Geva Theatre’s Regional Writers Workshop
and Festival of New Theatre, premiered in May 2014 at The Sea Change Theatre in
Beverly, MA. His 2015 Rochester Key Bank Fringe Festival entry, THE BRIDGE
CLUB OF DEATH, went on to be featured at an End of Life Symposium at SUNY
Broome County and is listed with the National Issues Forum for those who wish
to host similar events.
Mark also had entries in
the 2016, 2017 and 2019 Fringe Festivals, THE HATCHET MAN, DAMAGED BEASTS and
COLMA!. Mark authored several short plays performed by The Geriactors, a
local troupe of older performers. Mark’s fiction has been published in a
local Rochester magazine, POST, as well as The Ozone Park Journal, SmokeLong
Quarterly, Spank the Carp and Defenestration.
Mark Jabaut passed away on
November 3, 2021.
From the hollows of
Sowder divides his spare time between creating
art for Sugar Skull Press and working on various cryptid-themed projects. He illustrated
GEORGE THE HOLIDAY SPIDER by Rick Powell, which is due November of this year. You
can see more of his art at www.deviantart.com/latitudezero