burned house - linked to Darkliquid's story Ten


Steam rose from pools of black water. Flakes of ash drifted, and an occasional ember shone with fierce heat. Rubble, tumbled into uneven piles, shifted dangerously underfoot, cracking and ticking as it cooled. Breathe without a mask, and the air was still choked and hot enough to fill your nose with burning, sear your throat and send you running, coughing and hacking, for a fresh wind.

Fluorescent-suited figures ventured first onto the ruins, picking their way, sometimes slipping as the unstable ground gave way. Their silhouettes were distorted, made alien by the masks they wore. They prowled the site, ensured every fire was out. Probing, they discovered things that resembled burned and twisted sticks, stuck fast to stone or metal. Melted fat and cooked blood had made a glue to weld these limbs. Stripped bones jutted like knuckles.

Odd things survived; the coiling frame of a mattress, a porcelain toilet bowl, a chair-back. Things half-burned, put out by the weight of a collapsing ceiling and the expulsion of air from sealed pockets.

Passers-by who stopped to watch were held back by ropes, but those at the front could feel the warmth against their faces. Most were discouraged, turned away, but with new spectators always taking the places of those who’d seen enough, numbers remained constant. The news vans that came and disgorged clamoring, excited journalists were similarly held back. But these sensation-hunters proved more persistent than the unofficial gawkers, and some were eventually allowed behind the yellow strip.

Shell Nilson, trawling the rubble, heading toward the Eastern corner in response to her chief’s nod, arrived in a less damaged area that had once been a kitchen. She could see the remains of a microwave, several cupboards and the charcoal remnants of a table and chairs. There was glass and china everywhere, cans of food that had exploded in the heat. She stopped and looked carefully around herself, taking in the locations of walls and fittings, calculating distance and scale, building a mental image of the room before the fire. The kitchen had been a single-storey extension onto the property, windows to her right, the original entry just a foot to the left of where she stood.

She picked through the detritus, glad of her thick gloves as often as she was frustrated by them. At least there were no bodies here. Shell was far from any of the conflagration points, so her search was cursory. For the look of the thing she filled up a couple of bags as she moved around the space, marking off areas. One of the units, the one that had been situated nearest the rear wall, was still mostly intact. It even boasted a door, though admittedly this hung at an angle from one hinge.

Standing to one side, Shell wrenched it open using her pick as a lever. There were two shelves. On the lower shelf a stack of scorched and smoke-damaged directories, on the upper a black plastic box, the base of it melted into the veneer of the shelf. It wouldn’t move but she prised the lid and found ten CDs inside. They were re-writable CDs, not so badly damaged, and each one had a person’s name printed on it in black marker. Family photos, Shell thought, and she bagged them up to hand to her chief.

The End

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