Ian considered himself an amateur historian. His area of interest was niche, but he spent many dark nights indulging his hobby.
He would find places of tragedy, whose last inhabitants had died in accidents there. He studied them as much as possible: blueprints, photographs, newspaper reports and even eyewitness interviews when he could. He would wait until night, then spend hours touring through the rotten interiors of once homely spaces. Once he was certain that the space lined up with his expectation, he would sit in silent judgement of the former inhabitants.
He would meditate in the most pertinent space with a torch, picturing the deaths and mistakes unfolding around him until the battery would die in his hand. It was calming to him, outwitting tragedy through his calm reasoning. He found it soothing in a way that nothing else in his life was.
Ian always took a memento. To him it was a way to pay respect – to keep a part of the building’s former occupiers alive and to remember the lessons that their failure should teach. A melted toy soldier was his greatest prize, which he wore on a chain around his neck. Whenever he looked at it, he thought of the mother’s statement to the newspaper, about how she hadn’t smelled the smoke until it was too late and when she finally fled she thought her mother had the child. She lost both. Ian always smiled at that. He would have noticed the smoke. He had.
When his childhood home burned down, he had walked calmly outside to play in the garden. He never shed a tear over his parents’ foolish attempts to find him as the fire spread. The firefighters didn’t even bother going into the building by the time they got there, it was much too far gone. He had left the building while it was safe and watched from his sandpit as it burned.
Tonight, he was walking towards a small house near a train station. It was set back from the road, but he saw it clearly in the moonlight. A cracked concrete path lead to the formerly two-storey building. From its most recent letting listing, he knew that it was once a white, wooden house with blue shutters and a dark brown door. It was charred for the most part, but the door still stood.
He circled his target, opting to not try the front door and instead headed towards the collapsed rear of the building. Once he stood in the unkempt backyard, he immediately realised he would not be able to get in that way. A large portion of the upper storey had collapsed onto what would have once been the back veranda.
Frustrated by the lack of details in the news stories, Ian skulked to the front door. It was in good condition as he had thought, and it was not locked. He ducked inside, turning to close the door as quietly as he could.
He waited a minute to turn on his torch. Standing in the entrance to the house, knowing that the woman that lived here never made it to the front door, he breathed deeply, pulling in the familiar scent of smoke and ash. The theory that he had come up with was that she had a pet she had tried to save from the fire, but not been able to find it in time. Of course, the news made no mention of this, but he had found her social media posts and noticed that she had put up plenty of photos of a white cat in her last apartment. That place had, as he found when he called the agent, been pet-friendly. It made sense that she would try to save her pet. It didn’t make objective sense, but he understood why she made her mistake. He would never have tried to save a creature that couldn’t do the same for him.
Ian finally turned the torch on, aiming it at the floor. He slowly panned it upwards, then looked around the largely undamaged front hall.
Part 2 will be up tomorrow.
This was supposed to be around 500 words, but it looks like it will be around 2,500.