Nathaniel A. Orona About 2500 Words
IT DIES BY FIRE
Nathan Alex Young
In most instances of death caused by fire, a person will suffocate long before the flames consume them.
Michael scrolled down his screen. Most days he would sit at his desk and flip between windows. The news. ESPN. The news again. Perused whatever the hot thing in social media was that week. Checked fun facts.
Often, in the Dark Ages, when they would burn witches and thieves at the stake, the accused would die of smoke inhalation long before the flames could crisp the calfs.
On average, Michael only worked about three hours each day. That was fifteen hours of real work in a forty hour week. He held a Human Capital position for a mid level technology company that a friend of his from college helped him get. The term, Human Capital always struck him as awful. It made him think of people as a battery or an energy source to be used until it was no longer needed. The company was more than proud to tell them at the monthly motivational meetings, that they worked for a company that was one of Forbes top ten. Because of the hard work and dedication of every employee, the company made two hundred and fifty million dollars in annual revenue, served one hundred and fifty million members and counting, hosted two hundred countries, one hundred territories and blah, blah, blah.
When it came down to it, Michael wasn’t one hundred percent certain he knew what the company really did. However, he was brilliant at what he did for the company. This afforded him the luxury of going a week at a time without ever talking to anyone. His coworkers respected his work and he made more money than he deserved. What more could he ask for?
When certain furnishings burn, they emit poisonous fumes that kill faster than the inhalation of smoke.
On the other side of his cubicle, was a girl. Five foot two. One hundred and fifteen pounds. Intense brown eyes. The type that looked good in thrift shop chic. She went by Jess, which he was sure was short for Jessica. He had a crush on her for awhile that started with her peeking over the cubicle wall, throwing a piece of paper at him and saying, “ Hey! Want to burn this place down and get out of here?”
That was two years ago, and they hadn’t spoken since. There was an occasional wave when passing by and plenty of polite hellos, but nothing ever allowed him the nerve to really talk to her. When it came to having the balls to speak to women, he was a verbal unich. He never understood why he wasn’t more assertive. It wasn’t like he was hideous. Being above average height never hurt and he had always been told he looked like a young Matt Damon.
Reading his fun facts about fire made him wish that they had burned the place down and were living on a beach in Belize. At the time, something about this fantasy felt a bit cliche. Now, he just felt creepy thinking about, Jess. Jessica.
In the event of a fire, you are supposed to remain calm. Place the back of your hand on the area where the door and the frame meet, so as not to burn your palm. If it doesn't burn you, then you can open it. If you have to go out a window, make sure any doors in the room remain closed. This will lessen the chance of the fire finding what you both want: Oxygen.
It was complacency that held him to his job. He didn’t love it. He didn’t hate it. He just did. It. The worst part of the job was undoubtedly, the owners. The three upstarts. Michael was twenty six and they were the same age. All three of them. They were always there. Somewhere. In the building. They never seemed to be together at the same time, but once you saw one, another was not far behind. Like the Hydra, you get rid of one head and another pops up. He’d heard others around the office refer to them as Fric, Frac and Ug. No idea who was nicknamed what. In fact, he was only sure of one of their names. Christopher. Not even Chris, yet. Ashley might have been the girls name. No clue about the other. Jesus, what was the other one’s name? During his many hours of doing nothing, he thought to enlist a search engine to the task of finding out their names and backgrounds. But, in keeping with the charm of not fully knowing what the company did, he reserved their right to privacy.
A fun fact about Michael: At four years old, he set his Grandma Westerbrooke’s new couch on fire. He ran to get his mother, who was sitting on the toilet. As a child, he had a speech problem that doctors gave a fifty percent chance of correcting itself.
Fire! Fire! This is what he felt he was saying.
Wire! Wire! This is what he was actually saying.
His mother, fluent in Michaelese, rushed off the commode with no bottoms on. Faster to take them off. She beat the fire to death with a throw pillow and then she beat Michael with the charred remains. He remembered how hot it was, standing so close and watching his bare assed mother, frantically flailing the pillow around. When Grandma Westerbrooke saw what he had done, she chased him into the front yard swinging a broom at him. The sound the broom made reminded him of a light saber, as it cut the air. He was fast for a four year old. After it was all over, there was crying and laughter. His mother and grandmother shared the sentiment that, at least, no one was hurt. Not much, anyways. Michael still had the scars made from the melted remains of the polyvinyl threads which kept the throw pillow together. Little tick marks that resembled the brandings of tribesmen he had seen in National Geographic. Though he had a pretty boring, run of the mill, childhood, he later looked at that moment as a rite of passage. Trial by fire and death to all couches. He even made up an imaginary spirit indian that spoke in broken english, like he saw them do in the movies. “You are warrior now!”
Michael sat back in his chair, looking up to the ceiling. He counted fluorescent bulbs and mentally made a checklist of the ones that flickered or had dead spots. He peeked over to the cubicle across from him. They were staggered in such a way that only allowed him an abstract view of his stablemates computer screen. He always hoped he would catch a glimpse of porn. Nothing to soft, but none of the disgusting stuff he’d stumbled upon late at night while stroking his addiction. Anal prolapsing was something he could never unsee. It was a sexual act where a girl would violently push the last few inches of the large intestine out of her asshole and others would have their way with the strange, pink bulb. Strange because it oddly resembled the head of the rose. He’d read that some of these poor girls had to have surgery so that their rectum would sit back inside of them in a manner that somewhat resembled normal. Rectal prolapse surgery. Gross. Unfortunately, today he couldn’t even make out a side boob. Today, in his boredom, he wished he had the balls to peek over at Jess. Jessica.
Fuck it, he thought.
He stood up before clearly thinking about what he might say. As he stood, the wail of fire alarms set ablaze to his eardrums. “WTF,” Michael yelled as he splayed out his arms! Immediately, he mentally cursed himself for speaking in text. He thought of his old speech therapists and how they would react to this. Before he could make sense of the situation, the sprinklers doused him with their chemical water. He reacted. Looked over the wall to shout for Jessica. She was not there.
Looking into the cubicles, so that he might help others, he found no one. Square after square, he searched.
He was alone.
What the fuck!
Stairs! He had to get to the stairs.
Down the hallway, he sprinted. It seemed aggressively long. Finally, he made it to the stairwell. Faster and faster he descended. With each step he felt as if his feet were going to give out from underneath him. His quadriceps were gelatinized. Water continued to spit down on him. With a burst, he was out! Out of the building. Out on the street. There were no cars. Either driving or parked, there were no vehicles. He was wet and sweaty at the same time. He couldn’t catch his breath. Deep heaving and panic set in as he tried to formulate a tangible idea that could possibly anchor him to reality. In his wait and terror, he heard the crashing, grinding and twisting of metal. Looking up, he saw his building collapsing. demolition style. In free fall. 9.8 meters per second. Squared!
Again, he ran. Sprinted! Besides the ringing of adrenaline, everything went silent. Otherworldly swells of dust and debris chased him. It had his back. He was every man that had ever had his ego checked by nature. Or physics. Whatever this was.
This might have been that judgement day thing he had read about, somewhere. He
cut into an alley. Squatted and covered his head. Closed his eyes so tight that he saw the piercing blue light of blackout angels flash within the darkness. Suddenly, sound came back. The rush and roar of the falling building surged past him with such force, that it sat him on his ass.
You are warrior now!
“Michael. I’m going to count backwards from three and you’re going to open your eyes. Three...two..”
Michael’s eyes shot open, prematurely.
“Jessica,” he let slip out before he was fully back.
“Michael. We’ve talked about this. In the office, I’m doctor, Norris.”
His eyes tried to focus but could not. The effects of Meditative Hypnosis. Visualization. Whatever this was.
“What was your vision this time, Michael? If I had to guess, I’d say that you were picturing yourself lost and alone within the waves of a turbulent sea, again.”
“You make it sound poetic, but no. It was the collapsing building.”
Dr. Norris looked up from her notes and said, “I thought we agreed that this was no longer healthy?”
“No, you agreed that this wasn’t healthy. I make breakthroughs each time I face it. Besides, we’ve already battled it out over the fact I’m only here because of my mother’s death and the ‘Heads’ couldn’t have a sad bastard walking around the office.”
“Mike, you’re here…”
“Please, it’s Michael while we’re in the office,” he snapped.
“You’re here because you,” she paused and took a breath, “you’re here because you had a severe episode brought about by overwhelming anxiety and stress, and understandably so. We can’t keep going back and forth like this. Eventually, you will have to come to grips with the reality that you are one of the youngest billionaires on the planet.”
He was thirteen years old, again. Michael slumped down into his chair, closed his eyes tight and prayed to be back under hypnosis. Hearing the B-word was like hearing the news of his mother being trapped and cooked alive on the ninety eighth floor of the World Trade Center. Dr. Norris...Jessica continued.
“You started this venture, along with Christopher and Ashley, who have problems of their own without adding you to the list…”
Michael shook his head back and forth. Kept his eyes closed.
“...Michael! Whether you like it or not, you are filthy rich. You are one of three people in the world that can do what you do and the other two love you. You own the fastest growing tech company in history and that’s because you designed a fucking camera drone the size of a horse fly! And that was when you were fifteen, for Christ’s sake. Not to mention the thousands of other things that you have created since then. Since you and the ‘Upstarts,’ as you call them, started Hyd…”
“Don’t say it, Jess! Don’t you fucking say it,” Michael stood and screamed!
“Hydra Tech! Hydra Tech, you selfish little fuck! You want a breakthrough? Try realizing that nothing you make or do is ever going to fly back in time and save your mother. Nothing!”
He dropped to his knees. Jessica stopped talking.
Crying had become a kind of specialty of his. Jess was right. Always right. Nothing would ever bring his mother back and nothing would ever cover the fact that his company was a bringer of war and death, now. His revenge had been exacted a million times over, yet he still couldn’t form an exit strategy. Even if he did find a way out, someone else would pop up in his place. His mother. His mother would despise what he had become.
Jessica slowly got out of her seat and left Michael to his sobbing. She’d seen it before and it would last a good hour. In an adjacent room, she met with Christopher and Ashley. A large set of orderlies appeared behind her. A black one. A white one. The types with no neck and a serious set of gazes.
“What,” she barked at them? “Oh…” she rubbed her temples and adjusted her glasses, “...give him the usual, but back off on the dosage. We need him fresh. Thorazine on a half track, and monitor him through the night. Long day tomorrow, boys.”
She looked at her guests and shook her head.
“Look, it’s been a long day. If you two need to go and prep for the board, I understand.”
“Is he doing better,” Ashley asked.
“Fuck that,” Christopher chimed in, “Is he going to be able to perform tomorrow?”
“He’s doing fine. Your product will be ready to go, Christopher. Both of you…”
Ashley interrupted, “That man in there. Our friend in there, doesn't look fine.”
“The three of you knew the risks. Now it’s time to reap the rewards. We have to keep Michael stressed to make sure we don’t have another episode like the one we had in Syria. You two need to go home. Get some rest. It’s a long flight to Pakistan and you have a lot of private investors to convince that Hydra Tech is the past, present and future of weaponized nanotechnology.”
She was right. Always right. With that, the upstarts left. Dr. Norris behind them.
Michael slept with the dreams of fire.
When a person is engulfed in flames and doesn’t die from either poisonous fumes or smoke inhalation, doctors agree that the brain is the last thing to die. The brain shuts the body down and it’s shock that finally kills you. The flesh fights until it’s gone. But your will to live, sadly...it dies by fire.