I am attempting to write a novel in which the lives of a small but diverse group of people are directly or indirectly influenced by one person.
I. The Fire
A hand touched Joey Duduka's shoulder. Joey felt his body drift upward through an endless sea of darkness. Opening his eyes, he saw his mother's black silhouette bent over his bed.
"Quick," Ellen Duduka whispered. "Come look. There's a fire."
Joey reluctantly left his nice, warm bed and followed Ellen to the kitchen. Together, they peered out the tiny window over the sink. The entire horizon was bathed in a lurid, hellish, orange-red glow.
"Oh, my God," Joey gasped. "It's the new school!"
Joey rushed back to his room. He put on a shirt and pants and slipped his bare feet into his sneakers, without bothering to stop and tie them.
He followed Ellen out their front door and down the driveway to the sidewalk. On both sides of Hillview Street, people poured out of their homes and spilled into the street. They came singly and in pairs, small groups moving like zombies and sleepwalkers. Their lackluster faces were drawn and haggard and their eyes were dull and uncomprehending. Women came with curlers in their hair and stiff, green mudpacks on their faces. They wore nightgowns and pajamas, ragged,old house coats, and bathrobes belted loosely around their bulging bellies. On their sockless feet, they wore untied shoes and sneakers, sandals and flip-flops, and backless carpet slippers.
Joey and Ellen joined them. As soon, like an army of mindless lemmings, everyone turned to their left and swarmed down the alley, to Maplewood Street, where even more people poured out of their homes to join them. An excited buzzing filled the air.
They waded across Main Street, which at four o'clock in the morning, seemed wide and deep as a river---fortunately, the street was devoid of any oncoming traffic---and into the Baptist Church's cemetery. Most of the mob tried to be respectful and followed the narrow macadam path that wound like a lethargic snake through the tiny burial ground. But in their haste and excitement, many of them stepped blindly over the small assortment of haphazardly arranged tombstones, crunching dead leaves and broken branches under their tired feet.
From there, they poured themselves out in tiny trickles between the ragged bunch of scraggly sycamore trees that marked the boundary line of the Baptist Church's patch of property and onto the summit of a rolling, green hill, on the other side of the cemetery.
Looking to his right, Joey was instantly relieved to discover that it wasn't the new, multi-million dollar elementary school that was burning. The school's orange, brick walls glowed softly with a sinister half-light.
What was burning, Joey saw, was an old, wooden shed, behind a little, brick house, on the other side of Pipeline Road, about a hundred yards from where he now stood, next to his mother. Vivid orange and yellow flames lapped hungrily at the old shed's peeled and blistered boards. A huge cloud of ugly, black smoke billowed upward into the sky, partially obscuring the wam moon and cold, indifferent stars.
Two fire trucks were parked at the side of the road. Joey knew that one of those trucks belonged to the tiny hamlet of Sitrubla, four miles to the east of Monotoning; the other truck, of course, belonged to the good citizens of Monotoning. A handful of heroic men diligently directed a deluge of water against the voracious flames. At least a dozen more men, clad in the same heavy, black raincoats and thick boots as their comrades, trudged back and forth between the two trucks and the blazing shed. A half dozen hoses lay uncoiled like plump, yellow snakes in the trampled grass.
Even from where, Joey stood, he could feel the heat of the fire flicker playfully like warm, caressing fingers against his face and the left side of his body. Joey stepped back a few feet, but that didn't seem to make much of a difference. He could still feel the uncomfortable warmth of the fire.
A woman Joey didn't know came up to his mother. "This is terrible," the woman moaned. "It's like the end of the world."
"Yes, it is," Ellen agreed in a hushed, almost reverential tone.
Joey stood and watched with the others, until his attention waned and his eyes started to open and close repeatedly. He said to Ellen, "I've got to get ready for school soon..."
"I hear there was a little bit of excitement in your part of the world last night," Charlie Kharo said to Joey, later that morning, in homeroom. "You know who started that fire, don't you?"
Charlie grinned. "Why, your old friend and mine, Butch Kilabreski."
"You can't be serious."
"Yes, I'm serious," Charlie huffed indignantly. "They found him an hour after he started the fire. He was just sitting there in his car, in a clearing on top of the mountain, just outside of town, with the car door wide open and the engine running, and his radio blasting. Butch wasn't only drunk, he was stoned right out of his gourd. The state police found a baggie filled with matchbooks and cheap plastic lighters in his glove compartment, and a half-filled gas can and a bunch of oily rags in his trunk. Plus, the old woman who owned the shed happened to look out her window and saw Butch's red Mustang peel out of her back yard, just seconds before her shed burst into flames, and called the police---which didn't help Butch's case much, I guess. They slapped the cuffs on Butch, right then and there, and carted him off to the county jail, in Ellentown."
Joey couldn't help but smirk. "Well, I guess he won't be graduating with us, next month, huh? How do you know all this?"
"Didn't you see this morning's paper? There was a big article right on the front page. About the fire, I mean, not the other stuff. That I heard from Danny Splitter."
Danny Splitter was the younger brother of Raleigh, Monotoning's chief of police, and in Joey's humble opinion, a really cool guy. "Oh," Joey said.
He saw Emma Calhoun, later that afternoon, on his way to algebra class. She rushed past him without even seeing him. Emma looked anxious and nervous, and her pretty brown was creased in a deep frown. Joey knew that she was worried about Butch and what was going to happen to him now that he'd been arrested and could possibly spend a long time in prison.
Watching her go, Joey couldn't help wondering if it was just his imagination or was she starting to look a little too thick around the middle, like maybe, she was pregnant?