‘Something’s burning down there’ –I said to myself-.
I know I sounded like that obnoxious popular pet phrase from Tweety's cartoons -‘I thought I saw a pussy cat’ (=‘I taught I taw a putty tat’) -, pronounced in front of a drooling open-mouthed Sylvester wanting to eat him, right before Granny or Hector the bulldog would stop him.
I was actually worried. I had the feeling that something terrible was going on, but didn’t know exactly what.
The last time I had witnessed a thick column of black smoke that could be seen for miles it was two months ago, driving down that same highway too. A plane had just crashed as it was taking off at the airport.
‘Something’s burning down there’ –I thought that time as well-.
I was not aware that almost 160 persons had just died or were just dying at that very same moment. It was the worst tragedy ever happened in the Sandwich Islands: None of the passengers aboard the plane survived.
The previous time I had seen a thick column of black smoke before the day of the plane crash, it was two years ago, as I drove back home from work. Very near my flat -in a quiet residential area- a big transformer was burning in an electrical substation. A large part of the city was affected by the power cut for almost one day. It smelled awfully smokey. Neither the traffic lights nor the lamp-posts worked. People wandered like sleepwalkers in the ghostly streets at night with the help of torch lights, while drivers managed not to get involved in a bad car crash driving through the crazy Sandwichian traffic.
The elevators wouldn’t work. I panted heavily after walking from the second basement to the third floor with one of my neighbours who used a lighter to see. I’m not used to do that. I’m one of these lazy persons who even take the elevator to go to the first floor. ‘Leave exercise to the fat’ –said to me the doctor once, when I asked him if it was a good idea to do some aerobics to keep fit-.
Believe it or not, previously I had even seen another thick column of black smoke four years ago, on a fine Monday afternoon, as I entered Dumbass Industries' premises after my lunch break.
‘Something’s burning down there’ –was again my recurrent thought, as I rushed to the main entrance-. And I was right: as the say goes, there’s no smoke without fire.
The guys from the Maintenance Department were testing the new fuel powered heating system and they were so enthusiastic about it that Big Cheese’s office burned like a Roman candle.
What was supposed to be an efficient emergency plan designed years ago to prevent situations like that one, failed completely. As it could be expected from Big Cheese, the Maintenance Manager and those who tested the heating system were fired –never better said-.
Normally, in the case of a fire at Dumbass Industries, I would feel inclined to just run away and save my ass; but unfortunately I’m among the six selected few who own a wonderful blue reflective vest, ten sizes bigger than mine. These selected few are responsible for the peaceful and safe evacuation of the staff in Building 1. They call us ‘The Smurfs’.
So when I arrived, they quickly gave me a blue vest, I joined my Smurf mates and checked that the area I was responsible for was clear.
It was easy. Everybody had left the building safe and sound twenty minutes ago, since it started smelling like something was burning. People were hanging around in the back gardens, happily talking about having a cup of coffe and celebrate that Big Cheese’s files all had gone up in smoke, while the firemen were finishing their job.
We were relocated in the chairman’s office while our area was rebuilt. Big Cheese was cranky and annoyed like a small kid. He locked himself in his office and ignored everyone and everything for one week. He started smoking again and eating compulsively huge amounts of all kinds of candy. He played furiously minesweeper and downloaded a zillion songs of Deep Purple, AC/DC and The Talking Heads from iTunes, while his pending papers piled up on my desk.
I uselessly tried to call his attention to forget about the disaster and start doing something, but he took his time. During that period, he tortured me playing David Byrne’s “Burning down the house” at full blast in his iPod’s loudspeakers until he decided it was time to wake up from lethargy.
But going back to that fourth thick column of smoke I could see from my car, –again- I repeated to myself:
‘Something’s burning down there’. That recurrent thought in my mind didn’t seem to go away, no matter what I did. Those words were already becoming a bad omen.
I got the shivers. Something was happening downtown and it looked like it was really serious. I stopped the music and switched the radio on. A woman speaking with high-pitched voice said:
“… BREAKING NEWS: A huge fire broke out this morning at Kynkybooks premises, in the center of Grytviken and threatened to spread to nearby buildings. There are no immediate reports of injuries among the staff of the publishing company, although the fire has not yet been put out. The fire cannot be contained because of the strong winds. Two loud explosions were heard before it had started, but it’s not clear yet what could cause the blaze. A police team rushed to the scene to restore order as panicky residents scampered off to the nearby streets looking for shelter. The firemen are using water from the sea to douse the flames and structures to prevent the fire from spreading. We’ll keep you informed and up to date in the next edition of the news…”
My heart started beating like a machine gun: Kynkybooks was burning! Ed’s business was burning! I immediately called him on his cell phone, but it was engaged. I left him a hundred messages as I approached the city center, but he wouldn’t answer them.
I decided to drive there. The street was blocked. I counted up to eleven fire trucks. The police had marked off a safety area with fences. The fire was ruining Ed’s prosperous publishing business. Kynkybooks modern premises were engulfed in flames. It looked like hell’s inferno.
I stopped the car and went down. I walked towards Kynkybooks premises and saw Ed standing in front of the building, hands on hips, then tearing out his hair, frantically speaking on his cell phone, shouting… when a black car with tinted windows stopped beside me. The rear window rolled down and a big hand gestured for me to come nearer. I couldn’t see who was inside.
As I approached, the hand grabbed my neck and a masculine low voice ordered:
“Into the car, Leni”.
The door to the car opened and someone from the outside pushed me in as the hand that had come out of the car window pulled firmly my arm. It was dark inside. I fell on the car seat.
When I lifted my eyes, I just saw a big human shape folded in a black cape. His rainbow coloured eyes stared at me.
- Who the hell are you?–I asked-
- That’s not important for the moment.
- I asked who the hell you are.
The car started moving and I desperately tried to open the door, but I couldn’t.
- Oh no. –I said, trying to open the door-
- Oh yes. There’s no use trying. It’s closed. We’re moving.
Who the hell was that guy??? And where the hell were we going???
"Burning down the house" (The Talking Heads).