The Twilight Zone: Episode 1x: The Smoke of a Distant Fire

Ed Clanahan had answered hundreds of alarms from the red-brick fire station at the leafy corner of Elm and Main Street. He had no way of knowing that today would be very different. He had no way of knowing that he was about to enter....the Twilight Zone.

The brassy clang of the alarm brought Ed from a deep and dreamy sleep. As he bolted from his cot and climbed into his yellow asbestos overalls, he glanced at his Timex. 3:01, it read. Why, he thought, did things always have to burn at three in the morning?

And why, come to think of it, was he alone in the upstairs dorm? Ed strapped on his helmet and ran to the gleaming pole. He wrapped his legs and hands around it and let go for the short drop to the main floor, where he fully expected his crew to be impatiently fidgeting aboard the truck.

Just as Ed Clanahan had done hundreds of times, he instinctively prepared to let go of the pole and hit the ground running. Instead, he gasped in horrible shock and tightened his hold as he plummeted impossibly through the floor and down deep into the earth. The pole skittered through his gloved hands and grey layers of rock flew past his widened eyes like a TV screen gone amok.

Insane, he thought; I've gone insane.

He dared a peek down and saw a pulsing, pillowy cloud of red and orange that seemed to be speeding toward him. He clenched his thighs around the pole and slowed his catapulting descent. Out of fear, out of habit, almost out of his mind with hysteria, he tightened his grasp and came to a slow stop as he slid into the fiery mist.

His boots touched solid ground, but Ed hesitated to release the pole and its tenuous connection to sanity. Finally, he stepped away, inhaling only small breaths of the dense, acrid air that was so familiar. He brought his hands to his ears to muffle the brassy clang that permeated this mad, impossible place.

Ed cast a glance at his watch. 3:04, it blinked. He looked up the pole, gleaming and stretching out of view.

A small shape moved in the fog and Ed unsnapped his fire axe as the thing neared, flickering and swaying in a rainbow of tawny hues.

"Thank you for coming," it said in a small voice that crackled like fire. "Follow me." It receded slowly into the smoke, a dimming flame. Ed stumbled after it, fire axe in hand, and soon saw billowing smoke that was darker and denser than that around it. He squinted his tearing eyes and saw that it seemed to be coming from a small structure with high sides..Around it floated countless shifting shapes, some glowing like embers and some throwing off bright orange flames. They almost drowned out the mad incessant clanging with moans that sounded like wind. He looked at his watch again: 3:07.

"Please put it out, Ed," said the small shape, pointing with a fiery hand. Ed found his voice, and shouted into the din."What is this place? What are you?"

Out of the smoke, a charred face sprang at him so quickly that he had no time to raise his axe.

"We are the Fire Dead," it said. Its breath was hot and sickly sweet, and its singed hair glowed with black and red. Ed winced and looked at its lifeless eyes. "We live forever here the way we died."

"And that?" he asked, pointing at the dense black wisps that fluttered over the high-sided structure.

'"New fire. Spontaneous combustion. It does not belong," said the black-scaled face. "It will kill us a thousand times over. Isn't our own agony enough?"

"Please, Ed," pleaded the small shape. "You've tried to help us before."

His heart thumping with madness, Ed could only stammer. "Will you get me home after?"

"Of course," hissed the face. "You are not Fire Dead." Then it added, "Yet."

Ed coughed deeply at the bitter smoke that crawled in his chest. Human shapes of flame floated out of his way as he strode towards the darker smoke. Now he could see that it was coming from a crib, where fresh yellow fire was hungrily eating up the head board and licking at the mattress near a baby's head.

He hefted his fire axe and split the crackling headboard from the bed, holding the mattress with one gloved hand. He worked the metal support off the remaining  bed frame and eased the mattress and silent baby to the ground. He patted at the mattress flames with his gloves until they were out, and then removed his overalls and smothered the burning headboard with them.

He looked at his watch. 3:20.

"Thank you," crackled the small burning shape behind him. The wind sound from the countless floating shapes grew loud enough to  finally drown out the brassy clanging.

There was a flash of fire and light, and Ed Clanahan was suddenly sitting up in his cot at the fire station.

Around him was the gentle sound of sleep.

He looked at his watch. It was just before three.

Ed Clanahan shook his head. He looked at his peg on the wall. His overalls were missing.


The End

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