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After the Fire: Fiction by Mark Jabaut
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Mark Jabaut: After the Fire

ym_94_afterthefire_jsowder.jpg
Art by John Sowder 2022

After the Fire

 

Mark Jabaut

 

 

          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 mother.

          The street was midnight silent.  After all the noise and bluster of the fire, 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 an exterminator.

          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 lot.

          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 continued.

          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 handfuls of 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 further. 

          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.

          The 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 Kentucky, John 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  



In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022