It's A Mystery

Volume One's 2008 Fiction Contest Winner

Jason Long, illustrated by Mike Jacobsen

It was a towering blaze, a regular, bona-fide inferno, eating through the old apartment building like a bright orange locust. Smoke rolled from every window of the structure in whirling bursts of black smoke that dissipated, then re-gathered into a surreal fog that hung like an ominous spectator above the scene. Predictably, a crowd was present, created and multiplied by the free of charge, life and death spectacle set before them. From out of this crowd a man flew forth, a man wearing a knee length gray coat only half-buttoned, his face pained, his eyes darting wildly as if pondering some larger life question. Directly, the man was able to arrive at a conclusion to his dilemma. Having arrived, he made a mad dash toward the apartment building seemingly bent on, if the reader will permit me, extinguishing himself.

Of course, he never made it anywhere near the fire. A phalanx of broad shouldered policeman, rendered impotent in the face of the consuming blaze, eagerly gang-tackled the man to the pavement. The gawking throng, content only moments before to bask in the heat and light of the disaster in front of them, turned their fickle attentions to the suicidal character in the gray coat. They craned their collective necks to get a look at the man whose head, once the police managed to untangle themselves, reappeared to the general view. Despite his unenviable position beneath the two policemen who remained protecting him, the man shouted a plea to the crowd.

“My wife, my kids, my family is inside!” he shrieked before the police duo squashed his voice into submission.

The man’s efforts were not futile, however. His plea was so gut wrenching, so provoking of pity, that the crowd found itself re-enraptured with the scene. Instead of merely a burning building, now the spectators had a real chance at seeing some of their fellow humans being roasted alive. Here was a disaster story with some teeth. Dozens of eyes squinted for the sight of a fricasseed forearm, a roasted breast. Maybe even a flaming head.

Meanwhile, the blaze concentrated on what it was doing, oblivious to human interest. Licking orange tongues of flame flicked out of windows, greedily sucking in precious oxygen before leaping to the next window, the next floor. The apartment building fire was a shame, but a loss. The fact that there were people inside was even more of a shame. But the fire department had yet to arrive, and the fire was anxious to finish its business.

The tackled man in the gray coat momentarily wriggled free from his protectors and screeched a primordial prayer to whatever gods might be of help in the situation. Impossibly, a fifth story window flew open and three blond heads, one belonging to a woman, the other to a pair of smaller people appeared, the sum of them readily and eagerly identified as the family of the man. It was as if the pagan screams of the gray-coated man had conjured his family back from the dead. However, as fine a miracle as the appearance of the man’s family was, gravity and thermodynamics were quickly conspiring to reinsert the blond-headed trio back into the bosom of eternity.