Thomas Street
When the Sirens Come Calling
I never considered myself as having the potential to one day be someone great. Not a singer, not an actor, not a writer, not an artist, not a dancer, not a baseball player, not a football player, not a film director, and certainly not a detective. No way. Nuh-uh. Nope. I had absolutely no desire to be any sort of detective, especially not the type of detective who investigates murders with magnifying glasses and wears the long overcoat. To me, at the time, that was the only type of detective that existed. Detectives weren’t boring, ordinary teenage boys and nothing but.
Being assigned to read mystery novels that were nothing but one giant cliche never really helped any.
Currently, I was sitting in my English class, buried deep within the pages of a good old murder mystery novel. Well, actually, staring absently out the window and wondering whether I could leave class without being noticed or not. To make things worse, I’d have to finish drafting an essay analyzing the story in two weeks, when I’d only read the first two chapters of the book so far. I know it sounds strange, but I’d rather be reading a dense, information-packed book on neuropsychology than a murder mystery jam-crammed full to bursting with action, mind-boggling questions, and suspenseful cliffhangers. What good did murder mysteries do? They didn’t teach you anything, and they were basically the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over again. No amazing scientific discoveries, no real information.
Because of this, I’d read exactly three words in the actual book before the bell rang. As usual, I sprang from my chair, nearly knocking my desk over, and jogged down the school’s maze of hallways to my locker in order to beat the crowd.
When I arrived at my locker, I noticed that my combination lock seemed to be missing. I usually left my locker locked, but when I didn’t, nobody seemed to care until today. Forcing my locker open (of course I had to get the only locker on the first floor that stuck), I set my books and bag on the floor at my feet. It didn’t look like anything had been stolen from inside my locker; my headphones, all of my books, my laptop, my flute case, and my wallet were still exactly where I had left them. I guess that was a good thing, but what kind of thief in their right mind would steal a cheap, slightly rusty combination lock and leave a pair of hundred-fifty-dollar headphones and a wallet?
Before I could pack up my belongings, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I didn’t even have to look to know who it was.
“What?” I said, sounding a bit more rude than I would have hoped. I told myself not to care, though.
“Hey, Rey?” came the voice of Julius Richards, friend and high school football star, from behind me. “I... uh... I wanted.... to know...Well, since it’s the last week of school before we’re seniors...I’m throwing a party over at my house, and our pool’s open, and I invited a bunch of other friends...I wanted to know if maybe you’d come? It’ll be fun. You know, cookout, swimming, and my parents won’t be home. I’m really–”
I turned to see him standing at my elbow, fidgeting nervously with a leather band around his wrist. I hadn’t actually ever seen him anxious or nervous at all before, and I found it slightly strange. It almost made me feel sympathy for him; it almost made me feel like maybe I was being too harsh. But then I pictured him with one of his popular-kid friends and my phone in his hands, exactly as he had been one week ago. Was it really me that was an awful friend, now?
“Julius,” I said, cutting him off mid-sentence. “Invite all the cheerleaders and athletes and stars you want, break out your parents’ beer, have a good time and get reprimanded by the cops, but this will never count as an apology and will certainly not help you earn my forgiveness in any way. If you’re hoping I’ll forget about things that easily, maybe you should just throw me away like you did to all of your girlfriends and get a new friend, because it takes a little more than a party to make up for what you did.”
I stared up into his wide blue eyes for a moment, attempting to uncover some true emotion in them. I didn’t succeed, and, much to my surprise, Julius stopped fidgeting and shrugged, shoving his hands into the pockets of his grass-stained jeans.
“Alright,” he replied nonchalantly. “Maybe next time. Maybe next time you’ll listen to what I have to say.”
With that, Julius turned and walked away. Not sure what to feel, I watched his spiky orange hair and black sweatshirt disappear into the crowd of people in the hall. Then I sighed, rolled my eyes even though nobody was watching, and scooped up all of my belongings and dumped them into my backpack. Listen to what he had to say? Yeah, right. He thought he never had to listen to what I had to say, and I felt it unfair to pay him respect that he didn’t deserve and had never deserved in the first place.
I leaned against my locker and stayed there as the crowd began to dwindle, vanishing slowly into the commons to wait for dismissal. I leaned against my locker and stayed there as the bus bell echoed through the hall, commanding students to leave. I leaned against my locker and stayed there as the second bell rang, and the parking lot filled with cars fighting to get away. I leaned against my locker and stayed there, until my chemistry teacher passed through the hall and asked if I was okay. Only then did I snap on my headphones, shrug my backpack onto my shoulders, and make my way to the front doors of the school after muttering an inaudible reply.
Julius’s shiny red car was still in the parking lot, and a bunch of his little popular-kid friends were crowded around it, throwing their school bags into his trunk. I tried not to look at them as I strode across the parking lot to my car. I tried to just concentrate on the aggressive voice of some rapper shouting into my ears from my headphones. Wrenching open the car door, again I only stood there and leaned against the doorframe for a few minutes. After Julius and his friends had disappeared, I plunked into the driver’s seat and slammed the door, which caused the whole car to squeal alarmingly. I didn’t take off my headphones as I left the parking lot and accidentally drove through a red light. Maybe two. I couldn’t help being distracted, even if there was no one thing in particular that was distracting me at the moment. Somebody behind me was honking their horn repeatedly when I got stuck in the usual afternoon traffic, and I may or may not have rolled down my window and screamed at them to lay it off.
When I arrived at the entrance to my neighborhood, something seemed off. Normally, there would have been runners, dogs, cyclists and children crawling all over the street like ants, but I didn’t see anybody until I reached Thomas Street, where I lived. As I turned the corner, I spotted a girl sitting on a tree stump at the side of the road. Her face was expressionless, and she was staring at nothing in particular. At least, nothing that I could see. She had her knees drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped around her legs. Her shiny, curly black hair looked like it maybe hadn’t been brushed any time in the past three days. She had a sort of…faded look about her.
I almost pulled over and asked if she was okay, but I decided that it would just be creepy. So I continued down the street until I reached my house, the big sand-colored one with the big sand-colored lawn. Somebody had set a a sputtering sprinkler out front in a halfhearted attempt to bring the grass back to life. The house’s shades were drawn and the lights were off, indicating that nobody was home.
I wrestled my keys from the ignition and got out of the car, which, as usual, squeaked indignantly at the loss of my weight, which was slightly frightening when considering that I only weighed a hundred twenty pounds.
As soon as I opened the door, I smelled smoke. Lots of it. I pulled off my headphones and tossed them into the car, and I heard sirens.
Not bothering to close the car door, I took off sprinting down the street in my untied sneakers. The farther I ran, the stronger the smell of smoke grew. Houses and mailboxes slid past, one big, air-conditioned cube and dusty lawn after another and another and another. By the time I reached the stop sign at the intersection, I was completely out of breath, and a billowing black cloud was visible above the treetops at the end of Thomas Street, rushing toward the sky like millions of tiny, frightened insects. The sirens were ear-piercing, even from where I stood.
This was much more than a lit cigarette flicked onto the lawn or a burnt pizza or an overheated appliance.
I crossed the intersection and continued running down the street, past house 105, 120, 130, until I reached number 150.
Only there was no house 150, nor was there a house 151 or house 149, and I now knew why the neighborhood had suddenly and frighteningly gone dead.
All three houses were engulfed in smoke and hungry, flickering tongues of flame.
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