Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Conflagration" by Caleb Zachary

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday Grant had woken me up by kicking the door of my room in as he passed by in the hallway. Thursday he kicked it open and tossed a bag of CliffsNotes onto my bed, aiming as close to my head as he could without looking like he was trying. Friday Dad left early, so Grant celebrated his freedom to torture me by blasting Rebecca Black from the kitchen while he had his cereal.

Grant is my cousin, older than me by one grade, who moved in with my father and I for an indefinite period of time. He and Dad got along famously, trading witticisms and abstract trivia while also taking every opportunity to goad me, knowing I was born to be a comedy straight man.

While I've been going to a small private school since middle school, Grant enrolled at the local public school and he hates it with a passion. He had another week before his school got out, while I had started summer break two weeks before, thus his surplus resentment. I crawled out of bed and pulled on a shirt, bumping my way drearily into the kitchen to pull the plug on the "Friday"-blasting speaker. Grant didn't even look up, only pushed the cereal box toward me and mumbled a mouthful--something about clean spoons.

I wandered toward the wide window and yanked open the curtain, feeling a bit vengeful. I heard Grant groan as light flooded in onto the gleaming tile counters. I gazed out over the residential high-rises a few blocks away right above Grant's school, mirror images of the ones we lived in. (My father joked that if we lived in one of the other high-rises, Grant could rappel from our balcony onto the baseball field.) I left the curtain open, even though the brightness made me squint.

"What time do you get out of school today?" I asked.

"2:30," he said, "but I'll be staying a bit late to talk to Lena."

Lena was Grant's math teacher, who he had developed what I considered an unhealthy crush upon.

"If I'm not too busy partying it up, do you want me to meet you when you're done?" I asked.

"I'll be partying with Lena," Grant mumbled, knowing that I had absolutely no plans. "Meet me at Starbucks at three."

I grunted affirmation, trying to calculate just how late he'd be, and headed back to my room. While Grant might have to wake up at 7:15, I could sleep as late as I wanted.

* * *

I thought I was still dreaming when I rolled out of bed to the screeching, until the room shook and my eardrums popped, filling my ears with a dull whining sound. My head throbbed, and as I stood up the building shook again and glass broke somewhere in the apartment. My clock, jolted from its wall mounting to crack on the floor, was frozen at 11:28.

I stepped over the shards of plastic into the hallway, where paintings and pictures scattered the floor. The kitchen was where the destruction began. The window was shattered across the white tile, glittering in the sunlight that still streamed through the frame. Pots and pans littered the counter after falling from the hanging rack.

A cloud of smoke was rising to shroud my view from the window, but the remnants of the adjacent high rises were still barely visible, even as they crumbled to the ground across the school below. 

Across the road, buried in the third floor of the closest high rise, hung a wrecked passenger airplane.