cbishop's forum posts
So. I've been sitting here trying to think of something clever to write, and the truth is...I just don't have it in me today. Not today, not yesterday, not the day before, or the last three before that. I've just been...numb...between numb and a crying mess, maybe. You see, I'm a dispatcher for an alarm company, and eight days ago, there was this fire. It looked just like any other fire alarm- same color code as any other fire, same priority, same procedure. But it wasn't just any fire.
I got two signals. One from a lower level detector, and the other from the two levels above it. At the same time. I noticed that while I was dialing the fire department, and it raised an eyebrow, but I brushed it off, because nothing was following it. Real fires send in alarms from every detector in the building as they get flooded by the smoke. I just had these two. Sure, it was from two different levels, but it must be a power surge or something.
Then, while I was giving the information to the dispatcher, three more signals came in, and I thought, "Oh no," but then was relieved to see that they were just trouble signals. An alarm is one thing. A trouble is just a glitch with the equipment- mostly batteries. That seemed to confirm the power surge. I finished the dispatch, called a couple of contact numbers with no answer, and moved on to the next alarm.
The rest of the night was fairly uneventful.
Seven days ago, I came in for my shift, and looking over the log for the past twenty-four hours, I saw that another operator had made a note that we were notified that a fire alarm dispatched during my previous shift had resulted in the house burning down. That's always sad news. Fire is something I cringe about, as I'm a collector of books and comics, and if a fire broke out, there would be nothing to do but escape with my life. I checked the account number on the log and found out that yes, it was the alarm I had dispatched on. So the two signals at once were a fire. Why weren't there more signals though? Had the fire moved that fast? I winced for a second, thought about all the owners would have to go through to recover from this, and moved on to the night's new alarms.
The night, like most, was also fairly uneventful.
Six days ago, I was off, but I had to come in for an hour, for a shift meeting. It's aggravating that they are usually scheduled on my day off, but it's a twenty-four hour operation, so somebody has to catch a meeting on their off day. I'm not required to show up since I'm off, but I don't like the idea of missing out on important information, so I try to make it in. The manager was surprised to see me. She said the president of the company had wanted to see me. I asked if that was a good or bad thing. She said it was good, but I'd have to catch him during the day.
We moved on to the training room for the meeting. Just my manager, me and one of my partners- the other was running late. That's all it takes for the night shift. We started without the late coworker, and covered some minor aches and pains of being an operator. We discussed some potential policy changes. Then, my manager brought up the fire alarm. Not a big surprise that she'd mention it. Statistically speaking, ninety-nine percent of alarm company dispatches are false alarms. True alarms are usually not a huge deal, as they're usually property damage at most, but a full burn down- that is both tragic and rare.
This one was worse.
The manager dropped the bomb- the house was sixteen thousand square feet, worth between four and nine million dollars depending on which news you follow, and was known to the neighbors as The Chateau. And there were six people inside- two adults, and four children. And just like that, my awe at the extent and expense of the property damage turned into a lump in my chest, as my head fell into my hand. I had dispatched on the "Ann Arbor Mansion Fire," and six people had died.
Four of them kids.
They were six, seven, and two eight year olds.
The room stopped for a minute...or maybe it was my heart, but my mind had to catch up to what my manager was saying. She was commending me for doing my job. She said she had looked at the dispatch history, so had the president of the company, so had the police and fire department (the police looked at it?) and they all agreed that I had done everything I possibly could, as fast as I could.
That's why the president had wanted to see me- to congratulate me on doing my job. It's a harsh fact of business, but actually, he wanted to congratulate me on saving the company from any liability to do with the fire. I was too stunned to be disgusted. My manager continued on- saying the president had wanted to be here to present me with something, but couldn't be here this late at night. Then she said she wanted to present me with something too, and she stood up, reached into her jeans pocket, and pulled out a gold dollar coin, and set it on the table in front of me.
I looked at it for a half second, and tried to hide the revulsion I was feeling, but picked it up so as not to be rude. What the hell? Six people died, and she was giving me a dollar? I looked at it for a few seconds, then looked at her with something between blankness and sadness on my face. Sitting again, she just said, "This is what we do." She went on for another minute, and I'm just holding this dollar, rubbing my thumb over it, thinking about how utterly meaningless it is, and I'm still looking at her the same way. Something twitched across my face, and it must have been a questioning look of some kind, because again, she said with emphasis, "It's what. we. do."
The rest of the meeting was uneventful. The late coworker showed up just before we finished. We ended the meeting, went back into the central dispatch, and I clocked out. I stepped into the manager's office briefly to thank her for the coin, trying to put more meaning on it in my tone than I really felt. I was still dumbfounded over the meaninglessness of what felt like blood money though. I knew it wasn't that. My manager is smart. She's seen this before. She knows that death hits an operator hard, and I show everything on my face, so I'm sure that it was obvious that I was devastated. So she gave me a token that I could focus on instead- something to diffuse me from drilling in on the deaths of six people that I didn't know of a couple of days ago. I understood that logically, but behind that, my mind was still caught in a downward spiraling maelstrom of emotions that shouldn't be there, but were.
I left to go home, but stopped off to get steak and eggs at a little breakfast joint near my apartment. I was still a little numb, and a little bit disgusted that I had just learned that six people died, but was there feeding my hunger. I was a little bit glad too, because it was a sign that I was still alive, even if I felt like little pieces of me were dying off inside. Logic was working overtime, telling me that I truly had done everything I could do. So why were my emotions battering me around like a raft in a hurricane?
I went home, looked up every piece of news I could on the Internet, until I just couldn't read anymore. I was scrolling through picture after picture of the fire- The Chateau completely engulfed in flames, the "memorial at the gate" pics that come with this kind of tragedy, and then one of them got me. A typical picture of three people hugging each other at the gate of the property, and I just sobbed aloud. And then shook, and sobbed some more, and shook, and sobbed some more, and stopped. Then sobbed again. Then stopped.
Then I turned off the computer, because I couldn't take anymore.
I tried turning my mind to something else- shelving some books that had been in boxes. That quickly turned my thoughts back to the fire, because...y'know...the fear of fire and my collection meeting...and I finally gave up and laid back in the floor, and just stared at the ceiling. Lost in thought for a few moments, my hand brushed my pocket, and I felt the gold coin through the denim. I winced, then scowled, and dug into my pocket to fish out the coin.
I turned it over in my fingers for a few seconds, and thought of it more and more as blood money. Is this what six lives are worth? A dollar? My mind was still numb about it, but I thought, This really is one of the sh*ttiest things I have ever been given. What. the. f***?
What the heck was I even supposed to do with this? I'd be ashamed to spend it. But what then? Sit it on a shelf as an eternal reminder? Throw it in a drawer so I didn't have to be reminded? Maybe run across it later, and forgetting what it was for, throw it in with my other change and spend it by accident? I mean really, what the hell? Was I supposed to put it in the drink machine at work? Buy "a Coke and a smile," and try to put this horrible, horrendous, gawd awful feeling behind me? I think if I spent it on something, I would never, ever be able to buy that thing again, for the sick feeling it would give me every time I tried.
These damned feelings were horrible. The worst yet since my grandmother had died. Something about losing someone who means so much to you: every death after that multiplies your grief exponentially. You feel it faster, deeper, and worse every time. Six? Six...I feel like it should put me in the f***ing ground. Four of them being kids- the youngest the same age as my nephew...could I please die now? I teared up a little, squeezed my eyes shut, squeezed the coin in my hand as if to wring the blood from it, and let my fist fall against my forehead until I heard...
...birds chirping...and felt...a breeze?
I opened my eyes. I was laying in grass, and it was dark. Then there was a loud "BOOM," and my head jerked to the left to follow the sound of shattering glass.
I was at The Chateau!
One end of it was crumbling at the top, and every window showed fire inside. The place was huge, so it hadn't caught everything on fire yet, so part of it still looked fine. I didn't know what the hell was happening, but I recalled that the news said that the large floor plan allowed the fire to spread quickly, because there was more oxygen to feed it, and before I even thought about it, I was running.
I remembered that the alarm had come in about Three Thirty in the morning, so it was the middle of the night now- the place was probably locked up. It was gated, private property though, and the news said they were loved by their neighbors. I didn't remember any burglary alarms coming in. Maybe they felt secure enough to leave the doors unlocked. I reached a set of French doors off of a stone patio, and found them unlocked as I had predicted.
There were the four children, running for the stairs instead of the exit, no doubt looking for their grandparents, the fire already to this part of the building. I caught up to the two oldest and grabbed up one in each arm, causing them to scream more than they already had been. The other two reached the stairs and started up, until I hollered, "WAIT!" The youngest stopped and turned to look. We locked eyes just before a loud groaning noise signaled the impending collapse of the roof, full of its several-ton beams. I hunkered down on one knee and hugged the two I had hold of close, and shouted, "Hold on, girls!" Their screams kicked up another notch with the noise, and then were a fading echo, as I found myself outside, back across the lawn, no girls in tow.
The Chateau exploded again.
Glass shattered again.
I ran again.
I didn't know what happened, but I was back at the start of the fire again. I felt the coin still pressed in my fist, and thought, That must be it! The coin! I couldn't explain it, and if I wasn't there, I probably wouldn't believe it, but my manager's words echoed in my head: "This is what we do." Damn! I bolted through the French doors, grabbed the screaming girls without stopping, caught up to the other two at the bottom of the stairs, knocked them down, fell on top of them, hugged all four close, and as the ceiling groaned, screamed, "HOLD ON!"
And I was back outside, across the lawn, all by myself.
Exploding Chateau, shattering glass, me running.
I gambled and won. I went to the main entrance door, closer to the stairs, and found it unlocked too. I headed off the two youngest, grabbing them up in my arms, causing them to scream. The two older girls screamed at the sight of me and took off running in opposite directions. The ceiling groaned, I hugged the two I had close, shut my eyes, and dammit! I was across the lawn by myself again.
Exploding, shattering, running.
This wasn't working. "This is what we do," I heard my manager saying. Did she know what she was doing when she gave me this damned dollar? Is this why the president himself wanted to see me? To give me this coin? To give me this chance? Is this what six lives are worth? A dollar? I remembered thinking earlier. The thought slowed me down. The ceiling was already groaning when I came through the main entrance. I could only grab one- the older of the youngest two. My shout and hers were inaudible over the noise of the house collapsing, and I was back across the lawn, still by myself.
I glanced at the gold coin as the Chateau exploded, squeezed it in my fist again as the glass shattered, and took off running as I heard my echoing thought, Is this what six lives are worth?...
But that's the thing, I thought as I reached the main entrance door, It's not saving six. The awful realization hit me as I burst through the door and the seven year old hit the stairs and started up. I locked eyes with the youngest as his momentum sent him right into my grip. The older two screamed and ran in opposite directions. I knelt down quickly to the boy, who looked more scared than I had ever seen anybody in my life. I pressed the dollar into his hand, folded his small fingers shut over it, and said, "Shut your eyes tight, and think about earlier today, when you were still home with your parents." He just looked at me in terror and tried to pull away. I held him fast by the elbow, my other hand clamped over his fist with the coin in it, and shouted, "DO IT!"
He squeezed his eyes shut tight. And then he was gone.
I sank to the floor wearily, smiling tiredly. The ceiling groaned. I heard my manager saying, "It's what. we. do." And then the hellish roar of fire, steel and stone. And then...dammit.
I woke up on the floor with my books.
That was five days ago.
And I've had the same dream every day since. Like the one I woke up from just about an hour ago.
I looked at the ceiling, shut my eyes, swallowed, inhaled deeply, and ran my fingers through my hair. I took a few deep breaths, rolled my head side-to-side, then slapped the mattress with both hands. I laid there another minute, then got up to start another day.
I came downstairs, poured some iced tea, and turned on the computer. I clicked on the Internet, went to Google, and typed in "Ann Arbor," before the search bar auto-filled "mansion fire," as it's something I've typed in several times a day, every day since the shift meeting. I sighed heavily- the headlines hadn't changed.
Search crews had still only found five bodies.
|Edit from cbishop- not part of the story:|
Up until the birds chirping, this story is all true. The name of the house and the location are thinly disguised/changed. But I really am an alarm operator, and I really did dispatch on a fire eight days ago, that resulted in six people dying. Crews have been searching for the bodies ever since, and even up until I started writing this story, had not found the last body yet.
I posted this story, went to another tab to check the headlines again...and they found the sixth body.
I was really hoping I could enjoy my ending just a little longer.
@cbishop: Can't find a reference for when Braun "died" I know Huntress hit him with her jabberwocky strike but as far as I knew he was alive and kicking. NDC simply stands for New Detective Comics, a world I may expand to let others play in but for now its just me
Hm...y'know...I may have assumed too much from the story. He was shown to be able to beat Shiva, because of the telepathic advantage he had. In that same story, yeah, Huntress beat him by clearing her mind and thinking only "Jabberwocky" (a trick that was used in an earlier story somewhere btw [I have yet to find it again, but I know that I saw it somewhere else]). After she beat him, Shiva gave him the stare that said she was about to swoop in and finish him. I don't think that was on panel though, so it's possible it didn't happen. ;)