HETCH HETCHY BASIN, KYBURZ, CALIFORNIA
The dog walking witness told the cops she saw a guy in a suit with a blowtorch in one hand and a gun in the other hiking down this trail. The cops called us when the smoke rose.
Captain sent in the machines, but it’s too dense back here. You need the hand crew. Wasn’t like we didn’t think we’d be called. We were taking bets on it at the firehouse- Marshall’s got the pot at forty bucks for a brush fire. I was going for the flaming turkey fryer disaster, but hey, it’s early yet.
I’m on McLeod duty with four other guys- coming up eleven men behind the lead chainsaw. Our job’s to rake the grass and debris with the McLeods, throw it onto the green side and bare the cool, brown soil to the heat of the fire.
When I talk about my job, I say we draw the line then dare the fire to cross it. Chicks dig firefighters. Guys think I’m full of shit- but fuck them- they’re not out here frying their nose hairs, filling their lungs with black smoke, busting their ass to save a bunch of half-dead trees and dilapidated houses that carry way too much insurance and will never be rebuilt.
Washington brings up the rear. He’s the CYA guard. He’s the guy nobody wants to be when the wind changes and the fire flares up behind us.
Captain calls a break ten yards before we hit the Manzanita. Half tree, half bush, it’s a vicious plant- full of sap that will burn for days, sap that sears like a branding iron. As I uncap my canteen, the tallest tree in the stand catches fire. Flames lick across the gnarled surface, bite into a long twisting branch. Mahogany sap bleeds down its trunk like the tears of a prizefighter. The branch falls, igniting the bushes below. Whiff. Crackle. Burn. It’s arresting.
Washington sees her first, a small white rabbit rousted from her burrow, patches of fur missing on her back and feet. She hops toward us, toward our road and the cool, freshly turned soil, then raises her ears and changes direction- back to the burn zone.
Washington looks at me. I don’t know why but I run after her, grass and brush crunchy dry under my boots, my breath raspy, the heat of the fire burning my throat. I get close, lunge and miss. As I stand, the wind shifts, sending a scorched tuft of fur tumbleweeding across my boot. Manzanita and Mother Nature- the white rabbit death cabal.
Later, back at camp, I take a hit of oxygen, then pull the rabbit out of my jumpsuit and lay her on top of the steaming body bag.
Kyburz, California, news radio, KLMA
Authorities believe the body is that of former day-trader Richard Celebrini, suspected of killing his wife and two daughters in their Brentwood home on Thanksgiving morning. Celebrini apparently drove his Porsche to Hetch Hetchy Basin, where he set a series of fires, then shot himself in the head under a Manzanita tree.
WINFRED JAMES SCHOONER
Perhaps it was the poltergeist. Perhaps it was the canola oil. Perhaps I should have implored the maid to walk the hound. Perhaps I should have let Buffy do the cooking, but she looked so sweet asleep in her quarters, so drained from the week’s social events, so calm with her pill bottles arranged just so on her 17th century marble nightstand.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have had that third martini.
I’ll have my attorney explain to the insurance company that the turkey was an inordinately large bird and we had been assured previously that the flooring was fire-retardant.
It must be the contractor’s fault. That stupid Mexican or his filthy beaner son, who’s always peeking in the window of the billiards room then asking to use the bathroom.
I can always do things the political way- a pair of Chiefs tickets on the fifty or a discreet envelope of spending money- and they’ll see things my way. After all, it’s only smoke and we’re all adults here and Lord, imagine if it had been me in the house when the second story came crashing down.
LETICIA REYES KING
SUNRISE APARTMENTS #5, ATLANTA, GA,
I wish there could be meat every night. I wish I could give my children meat and I wish I could buy them clothes in their size with labels from the mall- clothes that smell like starch and Venezuela- not thrift store clothes, that smell like mothballs and dead grandmas, poverty and despair, Lysol and Hamburger Helper.
Tonight there will be meat, thanks to Mr. Gonzales, a roast- an early holiday gift, he’d said. Enjoy.
The kids will be surprised when they get home from school. I’d like to see the look on Carlos’s face- always telling me how I’d never amount to anything- well, look at me now. I got an apartment and two jobs and I’m still not too tired to cook. We don’t need you or your late checks.
The table’s set, the roast’s in the oven and I have the night off work. What could be better? I even have time to lay down- just a little siesta, here on the couch.
Atlanta, GA, WABE 5:00 news, live with Doug Kellerman
“Thank you, Janice. The fatal fire at Sunrise Apartments in northeast Atlanta broke out at 3:00 this afternoon. The apparent cause, a faulty oven in apartment five.
Authorities on the scene are investigating claims from eyewitnesses that the smoke detectors failed and no alarms or sprinklers were engaged.
Before help arrived, Mr. Raymond Gonzales made two attempts to re-enter the burning building and rescue his neighbor, Leticia Reyes King. Each time, he was pushed back by extreme smoke and fire. He’s currently being treated for smoke inhalation and minor burns.
Ms. King, a recently divorced mother of three and new to Atlanta, did not survive.
When I spoke to Mr. Gonzales earlier, he expressed regret, saying, ‘There was just too much smoke.’
Live from Atlanta, I’m Doug Kellerman. Back to you, Janice.”
first published in MORONIC OX Literary and Cultural Journal – Escape Media Publishers / Open Books