A house caught on fire instead.
I heard the sirens but ignored them even though they sounded closer than normal highway sirens, probably silencing them out because four years of college and living next to a state road just make you do that. If you jumped at the sound of every siren, you'd go nuts.
Jeffrey noticed the fire first, which was perfectly logical because his bedroom window faces the house on the other side of the fence. Looking out your window and seeing shades of orange instead of black and the occasional green or brown at midnight will kick common sense into anyone. He immediately ran to Mum and Dad's door.
"The house next door is on fire," he said.
It took them a minute, but I heard, immediately thinking Wendy and Anthony's house instead of the other next door. When I asked what was going on, he led me to his room and pointed me to his window. I didn't have to look, but I did anyway and saw bright orange.
Mum and Dad finally caught on, and we stepped into the backyard. I grabbed my keys on the way out, another remnant of the many faux fire drills from my ASC days.
Whoosh. The fire blazed in shades of orange and red, spiraling up and turning to smoke that covered the cloudless night.
My eyes stared at the fire with an eerie fascination. How on earth had this happened? Were there people in there? What if--
"Get the waterhose!" Dad yelled.
I couldn't stand in one place for long. I ran for the hose, unraveling it from its resting place against the wall, knowing full well that the hose couldn't reach the other house, and even if it could, what good would it do? Still, I made my way to the fence.
"No, spray the roof!" Dad yelled. Note to self: Number one person I don't want around in a crisis, no matter how resourceful.
I turned to the roof and aimed. My aim was terrible, just like it is when houses aren't burning down behind my back. There was no time to ask about the rationale behind spraying the roof, even though there were a few sprinkles today. There was no thinking, no logic, only composing. Composing words that would have to go on paper later because for now, there was only spraying the roof and making sure none of those flames came over here because if they did--
"Bring it back here." Zip. So much for that. That thought was a good one, and more of the water was hitting the roof, which was more than I could say a few minutes ago. Hand on the nozzle, I returned the hose to the rest of them while turning back to the fire. "No, turn it off." I did and handed it over. They could put the hose up themselves. I was writing.
No, Dad sprayed the roof himself with some help from Jeffrey; he asked Jeffrey to check the side of the house at one point to make sure nothing had burned. Nothing had. I ran back into the house to grab Dr. Nbook and a pen. The flashlight was on my keychain. Sometimes undying habits aren't so bad. I wrote while holding Dr. Nbook and the button to the light down with one hand and a pen with the other. It began to sprinkle at some point as it had during most of the day, but there was never enough rain to help put out the fire. Mother Nature is a cruel mistress.
The fire raged on, but the firefighters were working hard to put it out. We watched as the front gradually grew to smoke, while the back and the roof continued to burn. Then the gutter emitted small explosions. Boom. Sparks flew toward the backyard. Again and again this happened while a small fire continued in the center of the roof that neither grew nor went out.
Then it occurred to me. I didn't know who lived there.
To be honest, I never gave the place too much thought. For my entire life, the other side of the fence was labeled as 'bad' by Mum and Dad, and I never ventured over there much anyway except when a couple of friends I knew previously moved over there. (Mum still got on to me because they lived over there.) We knew the people who lived there about fifteen years ago, but after that, no one knew. None of us, anyway.
Finally the fire was out, and I knew what I wanted to do: explore the scene. I was set to just walk over there by myself right after scribbling down the last thought on my mind, but before I could do that, Mum asked if I wanted to go over there. I told her I was going to do that anyway, but okay. She went with me--why, I don't know. I'm 22 years old and can supervise myself, the constant supervision has impaired my social skills, and besides, there were plenty of people around who would notice someone not in a huge yellow suit.
A man in regular clothes sat on the bumper of the ambulance. "Here's someone you can talk to," Mum said. We approached him, and Mum introduced me with the line "She wants to be a writer." There went what little cover I had.
The house was abandoned, he told me. This was news. For how long, no one knew, and no one knew the cause of the fire either. Very strange. In fact, he knew exactly who I should talk to, but I shouldn't be offended because said person was only sixteen and already does a lot of journalistic stuff.
"Not offended," I said. "Envious, maybe."
The man walked me up to a kid in a yellow suit. The kid was holding a camera. "She wants to be a writer," he said and left. The kid and I talked about the scene and what the crew had to do before leaving. He showed me a picture he had taken of the fire at its peak, something I had intended to do but forgotten. Rehab was coming in soon, he told me. Gatorade, water, and food were on their way, and then it was back to make sure everything was out before leaving. It would be awhile. I looked at the house. It hadn't burned down completely, but the front of the house was black. It was a miracle the trees hadn't burned as well, but they would probably look different come morning.
I talked to a few more firefighters before returning to the ambulance man. Mum and Dad were talking to him. At some point the man pointed out that Dad looked familiar. Dad said, "Do you know Hisfirstname Lastname?" The man said yes. Dad replied, "I'm Hisfirstname Lastname." Turns out they knew each other from back in the day. Of course, given this town's small size, turns out that we're related to that guy through very distant cousins as well. Color me not surprised.
A few minutes later I walked back through the gate, across the yard, and into the house. The night would not be the same.