The first fires started on Monday and by Saturday we were all evacuated from our homes, told to grab only essentials. And although it was never directly said to us, it’s implied we’re never going back. I’m writing this from my parent’s house in Michigan, far away from the hellscape that was once my home.
My boyfriend Ike, a volunteer firefighter, got called about the first house fire. Typically he doesn’t get called on for this sort of thing but apparently it was a rager. So with a kiss to my cheek and a cheeky reminder to let the cat in tonight, he took off. Meanwhile I settled in for a day off of work, I don’t get them often enough and I wanted to relax.
About noon Ike called me. I was dancing around my room to the Hamilton soundtrack while eating Pringles when the phone went off. I turned off the music and answered.
“You won’t believe this- it’s the McGowan house.”
I nearly choked on Pringle dust. “No shit- the one we used to dare each other to sneak into?” I asked.
“Bingo. It’s a lost cause, we’re just trying to contain it now. I’m telling you, this is nuts. There must’ve been something in the walls to make it burn this hot. Just telling you to be careful.”
I rolled my eyes and popped another Pringle in my mouth. “I’m staying inside today. You should be the careful one,” I said. Perhaps I said it in a joking manner, but I had a point. He was off fighting fires while I was safe inside, nice and cozy with the air conditioning going.
I heard Ike chuckle. “Yeah, yeah, it’s fine. I’ll be coming home for dinner, they won’t keep me long. They know I got a lovely lady to come back to.”
I laughed and was about to respond with something cheeky when I heard the scream.
It wasn’t Ike. It was something else, something high pitched and shrill. It grew so loud I ended up dropping the phone and covering my ears, I could hear Ike swearing up a storm. I almost hung up the phone with my toe out of sheer distress from the sharp sound when it suddenly cut off. All I could hear was the loud shouts of the firemen and Ike asking if I was still there.
I picked up the phone. “Yeah, I’m here babe, I’m here. What the fuck was that?”
“I… I don’t know. It came from the house, kinda? I think it must’ve been water or something, Jesus, the shapes the smoke made- I gotta go! It’s getting worse! Love you!”
He hung up before I had a chance to say it back.
Ike didn’t come home for dinner that night. His steak remained cold on his plate while I picked at mine. I knew he was one of the guys who always stuck around to make sure the coals were fully out before he headed home. But I still worried.
I went to bed figuring I’d be waking up the next morning to Ike back in bed with me, the cat curled by our feet.
The next morning, my bed was empty.
And my phone was ringing.
Ike sounded exhausted.
“Alex, holy shit, the fire still isn’t out.”
I had to ask him to repeat himself twice. How the hell was the fire still not out? It should’ve long been contained, old houses like that went up like tissue paper. But the McGowan house was still burning.
“There’s foundation left. But the flames are still reaching the sky. Holy shit.” I heard Ike groan, and I imagined him running a hand down his likely soot stained and sweaty face. “We’re calling in back up from surrounding fire houses, we’re all beat and there’s no reason this damn place should still be going up. Chief thinks it might be some sort of chemical that’s burning off. I’m just worried about it spreading to one of the other houses, ya know?”
“I know.” I got out of bed. “I’ll run to the store and pick you up some Gatorade. Blue or red?”
“Both. God, I love you.”
He didn’t even take a sip of either one before he collapsed in bed and slept for the entire day. I ended up taking a vacation day, I faked being sick.
I wouldn’t have needed to anyway. At three PM, another fire started. This wasn’t at some abandoned spooky house though.
It was at my work.
I got a call from one of my coworkers. They’d just opened a window, the air conditioning was being a bitch, a few sparks flew inside and suddenly the whole place was a furnace. No one died, thank god. But my boss had gone back in to make sure everyone got out safely and collapsed due to smoke inhalation, and now had serious burns over half her body.
I felt guilty for every time I called her a frigid bitch and sent her flowers.
I knew I was out of a job, but that was least of my concerns.
See. The fire didn’t go out at the firm. It blazed hot and raged through the night and showed no sign of stopping by morning. And that was just the beginning.
The air reeked of smoke. I’d keep the news on to see where the fire was spreading. Houses. Work places. The fucking school. Nothing was safe.
The school must’ve been the worst. Ike was there. He was running into the building and carrying out children screaming in terror. There hadn’t even been time for the fire alarms to go off before classrooms were filled with fire.
And the fire had continued to get stronger.
I was watching the news live from the school, the reporter constantly looking behind himself at the inferno. “As far as we know, there are no more students in the school, however three members of the staff are unaccounted for. And the fire seems to be like the rest raging through our town, there is just no sign of stopping. Several students are in critical condition from their burns, and some may not make it through the-“
A piece of smoldering ash landed on the shoulder of his jacket. Instinctively the man attempted to brush it off, and whether it was the friction of his hand that ignited it or what, I don’t know… but he went up like a Roman Candle. His scream will haunt my nightmares, along with the twisted expression of pain on his face before the feed was cut to a commercial.
I don’t know if he survived, or if he would be better off dead. No one can fully recover from burns like that.
Friday I was packing up our things. I knew I had to get out of here. There were firefighters from across the state trying to come up with something to stem the tide. I didn’t know what else to do. Hundreds of families were displaced, and many more were already leaving. I had to bribe S’mores with tuna cans to get him in his carrying case.
I called Ike, ready to tell him to come home so we could get the hell out of there.
The moment I heard Ike’s voice I knew he was in trouble.
“Alex… I went back to the McGowan House… and I don’t think I’ll be coming out.”
I felt my stomach clench as my world came crumbling down around me. I could hear the crackling of flames in the background, but unlike the other times when I called Ike, it was much louder. “Ohgod- Ike I’m coming to get you.” I grabbed my keys.
“Don’t!” I never heard Ike scared before. Not ever while fighting a fire. Not even this week. “Don’t… don’t come here! I don’t know how long my phone’s gonna last in this heat, so I love you. I love you so much, Alex. The ring’s in my dresser, please don’t be mad that I was too scared to ask.”
I sunk to the floor, my legs too shaky to support me. “Ike, why did you go?”
“… I wanted to see what started this. All of this. I found it, I found it Alex. Get out of here, don’t ever come back. This is like Greek Fire, it’ll never go out. I love you so much.”
The line went dead before I could say it back.
I didn’t leave that night. I waited for Ike to come home. The morning there was a man in uniform knocking on my door, telling me to get my things and get out.
I didn’t take the ring with me.
The Greek Fire took my soul mate. It can take the memories of what we could had have too.