The Inspector

November 1st, 2013, 11am

The night the old firehouse burned down, the trucks sat outside, placid with their water tanks. The next morning, as per protocol, an inspector from another station ambled into town to survey the damage. He found the fire chief gumming a breakfast special in his usual booth at the town diner, mumbling about the Red Sox and ogling the teenage waitress; basically, going about business as usual.

The inspector was a slight man with avian features, and the chief, not to mention his breakfast, loomed huge and suspicious across the table. Still, he soldiered on: How’d it happen, Stan?

The chief smoothed his mustache, missing a morsel of egg caught in the fine bristle at the corner of his mouth. The inspector found he could not look away. He watched as it bobbed with each careful word.

Maybe faulty wiring. Too soon to tell. But fella- you know as well as I do, sometimes things just burn down.

The chief fished a napkin from his massive lap and dabbed away the egg. In his meaty hands, the cloth seemed almost dainty. The chief’s hands were a maze of scars and burnt tissue, but when he stood and shook his goodbye, the inspector found the palms deceptively soft.

Will you be needing any assistance with the investigation? he asked. No, I expect we’ll be just fine on our own.

The inspector knew his orders; he could walk away any time, get back to his own cinders. Still, on his way out of town, he stopped by the site. By then, someone had moved the trucks. The firehouse stood apart from the rest of the buildings on its block, so the fire hadn’t spread. Now, its once-proud timbers were ash black and crumbling. The inspector picked through the skeleton of the place, tracing the route from garage to kitchen, noting without intention how well built it had been, how carefully up to code. Once, in the kitchen, noticing by habit the shattered glass among the detritus, he squatted down to examine - but then recalled again the many times spent here, laughing, and stood once more. What a fine place this once had been.

Outside, a small group had formed. When the inspector emerged, they stared but did not speak. Just paying my respects, he said. None of them looked particularly relieved, but perhaps they knew they’d nothing to fear. The inspector got in his car, rolled up his windows, and stared one long minute at the husk of the building. Then he headed home.

David Wade, Emanuel, Allan, Michael and 3 others said thanks.

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Zoelle Egner

Digital literature. Alternate reality games. Science fiction. Cocktails. Octopuses. Excessive pondering. By day I do the technology thing. (Sometimes by night, too.)

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