Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Judgment Day

The following is an excerpt from a fiction piece I worked on this semester for my senior writing project. It's 32 pages long, so I will not be posting it all here, but if you're interested I'll email the draft to anyone that asks, with the understanding that it's still a work in progress. The premise is based off a true event that happened in Norfolk last December.

Doris stared upwards. The smoke hid the sun, but the day was bright. The sky was cheerful, almost welcoming the column of blackness creeping ever upwards, unaware of how the murky cloud blotted its complexion. Tendrils of smoke were curling towards her, like the gnarled fingers of an old witchy hag, but they couldn’t reach her yet. She estimated she still had at least a couple of hours.

The flames were roiling across the field underneath a 30,000-gallon propane tank, slowly cooking the gas inside like a burner heats a teakettle, only this one didn’t have any way to let off steam. If the gases built up enough pressure, the whole tank would explode. That’s what the radio announcer said anyways. Normally she wouldn’t trust what some quack on the radio said, but since she was staring at the flames herself, she figured at least most of it had to be true.

Doris hadn’t been this close to a fire since before she was married to Melvin. She’d been working as a secretary for Mr. Lory, a bank executive at Tyson and Loan, and living in Mrs. Halloway’s boarding house. One of the boarders on the first floor had too many drinks and forgot to put out his cigarette before falling into bed. The unfortunate man went up in flames along with the rest of the house. Doris thought she was destined to burn alive as well. She was sleeping in her attic room when she woke to the sound of muffled yelling. The floor felt hot when her feet touched it. Mrs. Halloway was down in the yard with the neighbors, gesturing frantically. The air was laden with smoke and it crept into her lungs every time she took a breath. She turned to flee, but a blast of heat knocked her over when she opened the bedroom door. The stairwell was in flames. She broke the window open with a book off her nightstand, but there was no way down, so she turned and sat with her back to the window, curling her knees up to her face while she stared at the flames. They were crackling, cackling, laughing at her fate. They knew she deserved to feel this heat after what happened to her family, that God was finally calling her to judgment.
But Melvin had other ideas. He was a new fireman recruit at the time and saw his chance to prove himself and become the hero. Climbed a ladder to her bedroom window and carried her to safety. They’d married the following summer. Doris never viewed him as her savior, but she had accepted his strong arms that snatched her away just as the flames began to lick at her feet. When she’d finished hacking up smoke and breathed in gulps of clean air, it felt like God released his grip around her throat. She supposed as long as Melvin was alive, it was God’s way of saying he’d deal with her later.

They’d had twenty-six semi-peaceful years of marriage, born one son and two stillborn daughters. All three of her children were pieces of herself—some alive, and some frozen in time. It was as close to happy as Doris ever aspired to be. Then one morning Melvin just up and quit. She woke up with a dead body in the bed and knew God was free to strike whenever he wanted from then on. Every morning she wondered if that day would be the day of judgment, like her own personal coming of the great and glorious day of the returning of Lord. So far he’d let her wonder for twenty-three more years. Secretly she’d felt when the day came it would be a fire—one to finish what the other didn’t. As Doris stared at the new flames across from her house, she knew the hour of reckoning had finally come. She wouldn’t let herself be snatched from this one and forced to wait another twenty-some years. Looking at the flames, she could almost feel the heat of the fire from the boarding house, the smoke piling up in her room. It would only be a matter of time until these flames were licking at her skin too. She coughed just remembering, but maybe it wasn’t memory. The air was thickening, a haze settling into the yard.

The radio said there was an evacuation. Everyone within a mile of the fire was supposed to leave. She could see small lines of cars on the roads across the field from where she sat. People panicked so easily. But this situation was grave. Even the firemen were scared enough to leave. Earlier they’d been running around the blaze this way and that. From where she sat they’d looked like kids who tried to dress up as construction cones for Halloween, bright red and yellow blobs covered in strips of reflector lights. She’d watched them work over her breakfast. But now the field was empty from every living thing, excepting the fire that lurched and devoured as if it were alive. It was odd the firemen had come and then left. Either the situation was really that hopeless, or God had somehow told them to leave to ensure Doris would face him alone when he brought her judgment. There was a steady stream of water shooting through the air and pouring onto the tank, but it was operating mechanically and didn’t seem to be doing much good. The flames weren’t subsiding. This wasn’t going to end pretty. Devastation, the radio called it. An explosion would steal a whole portion of the city and leave devastation. Doris gritted her teeth. It didn’t matter.

To be continued...

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