The little village, surrounded by the sea, burned to the ground within fifteen minutes. That included the villagers.
Afterwards, information was maddeningly corrupt but rescue workers – no, disaster witnesses – told of piles of slag, indistinct mounds of what they could only guess were houses and vehicles and crops and…and people.
Sea water had already made a mess of the bigger mess by the time that anyone from the outside realized that something had happened to the village and gotten out there. It was pretty remote. Scraps of this and that floated out to greet the first wave of workers and they hadn’t even come within a mile of the shore before they knew that the little collection of lives was gone. Poof.
The fire, or fires, must have been intense. Details were shoddy, but supposedly at first, experts couldn’t trace the source of the blaze’s beginnings; whether or not that was true the fact remained that initial explanations didn’t fit the puzzle.
Thousands of people, millions even, across the planet, once they heard the news imagined what it would have been like that night. Were most of them sleeping? Did the animals react first? Did anybody try to get away? The screams, the flickering tongues, the screams, the smell – oh God, the smell.
His fist whfft'd past me and I felt the air move in front of my face. Missed me by a mile, of course, but I acted like he’d connected and jerked my head back, grimacing. I even staggered backwards a step or two, just to make it look convincing. A lot depended on this.
Another guy ran up behind me and taking advantage of my mock-disorientation got me in a headlock. He was applying a bit too much pressure for my tastes and I struggled against the hold. The one in front of me threw another punch and it too sailed across my bow, inches from my jaw, making a kind of whistling sound to my ears. I jerked my head back again, this time giving a little vocal to it. Inside I smiled.
Then someone hit me. Really hit me.
Everything stopped dead. They all realized something happened that wasn’t supposed to happen. Everyone froze, wide-eyed, looking around at each other like kids caught doing something naughty.
“Dammit, let me go!” I yelled, struggling against the headlock the dummy behind me insisted on maintaining. “Jock – what the hell?!?”
The director gave a feeble “Cut!” and Dummy let me go. My collarbone smarting from where I was hit I turned to the goon on my left, a guy I hadn’t even seen join the fight, and was about ready to pounce on him. My agent stopped me.
“Why don’t…we all…break for…lunch?” Freddy talked like that. I don’t know why. He wasn’t sick that I could tell of, and he wasn’t fat, and he wasn’t an overly dramatic person; he just talked in pauses. Whatever the case, he defused me and Jock looked away sheepishly and turned to go. I pushed past Freddy and grabbed Jock’s arm and punched him as hard as I could in the delt. I was rewarded with a grunt.
“That’s for bad aim,” I told him, then gave him the twirling-finger motion to turn around. I gave his other delt another solid pop. “And that’s for hitting the star.”
Jock grinned and alternately rubbing each arm he shuffled off the set, looking idiotic in his schoolboy costume. I turned back to Freddy, massaging my clavicle.
“If these guys can avoid actually laying any more on me for another week and a half, we might just finish this thing without me ending up in the hospital.”
“Dee,” said Freddy. “I…think this is going to…work. You want some lunch?”
Knowing full well that in about three hours I’d be in a booth at Unkle’s and ordering anything I damn well pleased, I shook my head in the negative.
“Nope. I want to be hungry later. And I’ve got that recording session in…” I checked the clock on the wall, a prop that really worked and kept good time. “Cripes, one hour!”
I pulled off my gloves, unhooked my cape, and doffed my mask, plopping it all into Freddy’s outstretched hands and made a hasty retreat to my so-called dressing room.
To Be Continued (on or around May 31st)
© 2008 by Jim Beard