We watch something burn until we notice it’s our apartment. It’s where we’ve been living for the past few hours. Fortunately that means most of our stuff is still boxed up in the truck. No skin off our backs. We’re out on the sidewalk.
Soon the whole village could be on fire. Well, we don’t really live in a village per se, but it feels like one.
The situation is out of our hands now. And yet here we are, the closest thing to firefighters merely due to our humanity.
The flames don’t scare us so much as our inability to move.
A scarf with a head attached arranges itself out the crack of a window above us.
Red trucks careen into view. Civilians coagulate on the curb. We’re almost milling about at this point.
A whole lot of pageantry for a couple of charred walls. That’s what we think at the beginning.
Our neighbor tells us to “Keep it together!” And that’s exactly what we’re doing.
She’s worried about her son. He’s not around.
“They always come back. Just like Grave Digger and the McRib,” we assure her.
“You don’t understand,” she says. “He’s really committed to being an arsonist, and other unsavory practices for that matter. This foray must be all part of his sinister plan.”
She looks like the type to spread rumors, but we don’t know her yet. We read somewhere that noses continue to grow throughout our lives, and this checks out with the Pinocchio story. That puppet was an unexceptional liar like the rest of us.
She wants to go looking for him. We ask if she needs any security detail.
She says he might be attending the annual pancake festival, but that neither syrup nor manhunts agree with her.
“We’ll get to the bottom of it.”
She pulls out a hand-drawn portrait of her son.
“He has a mole in the shape of Nebraska and he’s in love with the local anchorwoman,” she says.
“Here, keep yourself busy.”
We tear off a poster stapled to the telephone pole and hand it to her.
She studies the poster.
“Everybody claims to be a dog person and yet these posters tell a different story. They’re always FOUND DOG and LOST CAT.”
The important thing is to make it look like we’re breakfast food enthusiasts. Everybody’s at the pancake festival. The hotcakes are selling like hotcakes.
We position ourselves in a line and end up eating along with the rest of them. Melted butter drips down our collars and onto our shirts, which unfortunately won’t disappear unless we wash them.
We go about our business. We don’t do schemes, but as we all know, you can tranquilize anything. So we hope for an encounter in order to do just that. We don’t want any unpleasantries. If he has any associates with him, that might be a different story.
Little Miss Pancake is crowned right when we get the call. Our neighbor says her son is catering a birthday party at the petting zoo.
On the way over, we discuss what to say to him. Maybe we’ll tend to the animals or harvest some fresh eggs instead. Or maybe we’ll tell the truth.
He presides over the taco bar. Decidedly non-dubious in nature.
The goats act as though nothing has happened. One of them is sleeping or dying, we can’t be sure which. The adjacent pond is purportedly toxic. That could do anybody in, man or beast. We have an eye for toxicity, but now’s not the time.
He gathers his personal effects and agrees to return home with us.
Looks like we made something of ourselves. We don’t have to say what that something is.
Claire Hopple is the author of five books. Her fiction has appeared in Wigleaf, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Peach Mag, Forever Mag, HAD, and others. She lives in Asheville, NC. More at clairehopple.com.