It was not Phillip’s job to pay attention to the guests.
His sole duty was to patrol the grounds surrounding the house and prevent anyone from passing through the gardens.
He tried not to pay attention to who arrived, how they were dressed, or how many entered through the large doors.
Despite his attempts to ignore the guests, Phillip heard their laughter as they approached the house. He saw the invitations held tightly in the hands of beautiful people and heard laughter and familiar conversations about who would be there and how long the party might go for.
He had done this job for decades, night after night. His pay had not risen in all that time. The same amount delivered as a cheque in his mail box every day, regardless of whether the post had arrived. He never saw who delivered it.
It was 7:02 and Phillip made certain that he was around the side of the house, hidden from view by the immaculately trimmed bush. He heard her laughter, heard the scuff of shoes on gravel as she nearly tripped in unfamiliar heels. If he stepped out, she would greet him cheerfully. She would be wearing her mother’s red dress and the necklace he bought her for her birthday. But he refused.
His daughter had been invited to the party.
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Part 2 is a lot longer than intended, but I didn’t want to split it into 3 parts
There was a shoe rack beside the front door and a table with keys on the other side. There were stairs directly ahead and two doors on either side of the hall.
He walked through the left door, confident with his knowledge of the house’s layout, into the loungeroom. Only the back wall showed damage, although the smoke would have not made this a safe place during the fire. He had analysed the information and come to the conclusion that there was no space that would have guaranteed safety in the house, anyone inside would have had to leave through the front door. Falling asleep in front of the television would not have save the woman who lived here.
He continued through the open doorway to the kitchen. It was much darker here, the back wall having largely collapsed. He peeked around, trying to find the source of the fire. The reports indicated that it had been an electrical fire, but he needed to know for himself so that he could accurately piece together the events.
The shelving on the right wall had been burned away. From the charring on the wall below, he deduced that the electrical socket on the wall beside the fridge had started the fire. He took only a few steps into the wall, staying under largely undamaged ceiling. He turned in a circle, his torch focusing on the highest point of the walls. He found what he was looking for above the doorway he had just come through. The smoke alarm.
He dragged a footstool from the loungeroom to the doorway and began to prise it from its holder. With his feet sinking into the soft cushion, he could not quite get the height he needed. He leaned up onto his toes, the hand holding the torch pressed against the doorframe for balance. It was hard to twist the smoke alarm one handed, so he turned off the torch and put it on the footstool and blindly gripped it with both hands. The moment it clicked, he heard a noise from the entrance to the house and fell, the alarm thrown from his hands as he reached to catch himself. He landed on the charcoal smeared floor of the kitchen. He quickly grabbed for the torch, pressing the lit end against his belly to smother it as he fumbled with the switch. The moment it was off, he froze and listened.
It would be so easy for someone to think that loud creaks were simply the house settling. He couldn’t have been that loud and he was sure that he had not screamed as he fell.
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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.
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There is smoke in the air.
I smell it as I wake, wondering blearily what it could mean.
I stumble to the window, expecting to see a neighbour’s house burning.
Ever since the sickness began, we have been at war with each other. Paranoia ran through town faster than the virus and soon it was every household for themselves. Every person for themselves, I reminded myself as I tried to forget Mr Philips down the road burning a pile of his wife’s clothing, covering something that smelled like roasting meat when it finally caught fire. He had waved when he saw me staring through my window. I waved back, both of us seemingly terrified of seeming abnormal in this time.
Apart from the obvious physical conditions, the virus’ main effect is to dull response. A victim will be delayed in feeling pain, temperature, taste, even guilt. There is no cure, if they would even care for one.
Opening the curtain, I can see what looks like the entire town in my yard. They are holding torches and I do not see any mercy in their eyes.