A flash fiction piece about the residents of a small apartment complex witnessing a late-night fire of their building.
[Editor’s Note: Written back at the age of 23, Nicholas Martinez doesn’t really know what he would improve this surreal tale. When one of our editors showed him this story from antiquity, all Martinez could say was, “Huh. Not sure what that was supposed to be.” When pried for more information, Martinez caveated with “Everything’s there on purpose.” We hope you enjoy this quirky gem as much as we did.]
There was a fire. It was a fire. It was a fire with flames. The fire ate everything, even though it was the night. The fire proved to be gathering momentum throughout the night. The fire lit the parking lot in front of our apartment complex. As we all stood frigidly in the middle of the night at our apartment complex, you would have believed we were attending a funeral if you did not notice the fire behind your head. We all listened to the flames of the fire consuming everything it confronted in its path. I also heard my neighbors, the ones I was standing near. The groups that gathered seemed to clump according to the people from the hallway of our floor. I suppose we had seen each other enough for that to validate a conversation to commence. (Just like how races are formed.) Except, this grouping also included the dogs of everyone wanting to sniff the others’ butts. Except Mr. Cleveland’s dog, a basset hound who just laid there, staring despondently at his owner for a look to allow him to socialize with the other dogs. Mr. Cleveland, wearing nothing one would wear to sleep, looked dismissively at the fire, as if he had prohibited the fire from burning the apartment but the fire decided to disobey him anyway. Over Mr. Cleveland’s shoulder stood Mrs. Carenas who had wrapped herself in a comforter still wearing her hair curlers. She stared with fright up at the blaze as she clutched onto the TV Guide. Her gaze wormed from the apartment fire to Mr. Carenas flirting with Ms. Davinia. (Maybe) they were talking about something of importance, but Ms. Davinia’s body language would prove to be coquettishly demonstrating its intentions to consume. Mrs. Carenas called to Mr. Carenas, “Marco, did you bring Danny’s leash and jacket? He looks cold.” Mr. Carenas peevishly looked down at the dachshund at the foot of his wife and responded, “No, querida, but I don’t think you should worry since our apartment is far from the fire. The firefighters’ll arrive soon, and we’ll go and warm up Danny.”
“Do you know where the fire started?”
“This looks bad. This looks really bad.”
“I was washing a dish, and I heard noise. So I came out.”
We shuffled around hesitantly expecting. The breeze swirled very briskly from the north and chilled us to the marrow. Chloe from two doors down was scurrying around in a bathrobe and scanning the knees of everyone standing outside. My toes numbed either from the wind or from the fire. “Have you seen my daughters?” Chloe’s daughters appeared behind Mr. Carenas and Ms. Davinia like a wolves leering at their target. I sheepishly raised my arm to alert Chloe of her children’s whereabouts. As I grabbed the shorter of the two, I heard Mr. Cardenas and Mrs. Davinia discussing the fact that the firefights hadn’t arrive yet.
The fire had spread along the roof of the unit next to us. It burned from the top downward. The fire had a piece of ivy, which had crawled down the northwest of the apartment building. The ivy had dried like it normally does, and the fire found a host that would permit the fire to completely consume it. This strategy of the fire to burn as much as possible was working.
Mr. Cleveland said, “Why aren’t the firefighters here yet? We pay our taxes. We’re citizens. We have our things.” He turned to Mrs. Carenas and saw no hope of engaging her in conversation, so he turned to Chloe and asked her,”Did you call 911?” Chloe said, “No, Mr. Cleveland, I was trying to get my girls and Fluffy out of the house as quickly as possible.”
I had not called 911, but now I was wondering what my couch looked like now that the fire was burning into my side of the building.
The firefighters finally arrived. They pulled out their hose, and they began to talk nasally. They gathered by the fire truck. The firefighters bounced around the parking lot on the tops of their toes like ballerinas. They started to bound toward the apartment. They shouted at the fire. They ran a few circles around the building. The firefighters formed a semicircle around the fire that had crawled down the side of the building. One firefighter started shadow-boxing the fire. The firefighters still in the circle started to howl.
The one who started the punching turned his back to the fire. He stopped punching the air. He began to crouch down and growl at the firefighters. The others panicked. They started to clump together and they played a tug-of-war of aggressive grunts with the one firefighter. That firefighter defended the fire by pawing at the other firefighters trying to kill it.
A firefighter from the main group detached and climbed to the top of the fire truck. Another walked to the truck and turned on the pump to use the hoses. The hose filled out and waved like it were a snake trying to move over the concrete to the fire. They opened the hoses, and they washed away the Defender Firefighter. The liquid, though, from the hose made the fire burn faster. The liquid pouring from the hose was not water to douse the fire but gasoline to amplify the fire’s thirst for more. Despite the heat, the wind blew and we tried to close ourselves tighter against the cold.
It was a ballet that caught my neighbors’ ire. “My movies!”, shouted Mr. Carenas as his wife gripped her TV Guide even tighter. The fire had spread to their side of the building. My face froze as I saw what was occurring. All our stuff was gone.
The wind kept blowing. So we started digging for fire in the grass adjacent to the builiding. Mr. & Mrs. Carenas, Mrs. Davinia, Chloe and her two daughters, Mr. Cleveland included, and the rest. I don’t know what made us dig for fire, but the coldness was getting to us and we had to find an escape. We searched for the fire for the warmth, but found none. We kept trying.
The dogs just stood idly gazing into the gloriously disintegrating apartment, confused at their owners.