Within the Fire
The first “occurrence” happened on the first day of the transfer. My new firefighting team consisted of four people including me and Charles from the New York district. The other two firefighters Zach and Angela were both from Jacksonville but new to firefighting. We had only met each other for maybe half an hour when the alarm sounded, and a voice sounded over the intercoms, “Company 17 – Truck 66, Truck 62! Reported kitchen fire and civilians trapped at 283rd Forest Ave!” We didn’t even wait a second before dashing into the garage. Racing towards the fire, we could already see a thick trail in the distance as we weaved through traffic and bounced off road. By the time we arrived, most of the building seemed to be ablaze. Clambering out of the vehicle, I moved towards the fire hydrant when I suddenly heard screams from the third floor over the roaring of the fire. Not stopping, I called to Charles and Angela to prepare a ladder while I hooked up the fire hydrant to the vehicle.
The lieutenant from Truck 62 yelled out, “We got first floor, you guys get third, we’ll clear out at second!” and with that, I scrambled up the ladder while flipping on my respirator, with Charles following right behind me. As I made my way up to the open window, I immediately noticed the lack of heat. From a fire of this intensity, I normally would already be sweating and panting like a dog in a desert. Ignoring this abnormality I clambered through the window, when I heard another scream.
I called out, “This is the Jacksonville Fire Department. We’re coming to get you!” As I took another step forward, I heard a third scream, however, unlike the first two, this sounded unearthly. It sounded like a high pitched roar with the overwhelming power of a speeding train, and it echoed through the wall next to us. Taken aback, I looked at Charles, who shared the same confused, worried expression.
I unhooked my fire axe and slammed it into the adjacent wall. Charles started to clamber into the next room but we both froze when we saw her. She was pale. Pale with splotches of crimson red set around her body. This was first thing I noticed. Then I saw her eyes. I had never seen such agony, such despair in my life. I felt my heart wrench, and I took another step forward when I suddenly noticed her skin. It was drooping, oozing away as wax leaks from a melting candle. I took took two steps back as Charles stumbled over into me. As she turned her face, more of her skin dropped off her cheeks. When her mouth opened at a hellishly unnatural angle, the only sound which came out was a choked, muffled croak. It took a few steps towards us but faltered in the middle of the room. Her arm moved up in a jerky motion, and I raised my axe instinctively, but as she made another staggered step a ragged shroud of black smoke billowed from the back wall, seemingly reaching out and snatching the girl. I cried out as the vapour withdrew with the melting creature, both of them rippling through the wall and vanishing.
Hours after this incident, Charles and I decided not to tell anyone (not like anyone would believe us anyway). Our brains were fried, our energy exhausted so we called it a day. Charles went home, and I took a break in the truck. The thought of the amount of paperwork we would have to handle already doused our bewilderment of the disappearing girl.
The building had entirely collapsed, and we had rescued the three people trapped in the building. While clearing out the debris, which we normally do to search for any signs of life, Zach had found a horrifying discovery. At first we thought he had picked up a burnt piece of wood, but upon more careful inspection, it was quite evidently a charred human left hand, with the fingers bent at unbelievable angles, the skin peeling off. Holding down a rising urge to throw up, I notified the police crew on the scene to take away the hand.
About five days later, we were called to another fire in which a home on the outskirts of Jacksonville had caught alight. When we arrived at the scene, I began unravelling the high pressure fire hose when a young boy, maybe 6 or 7 years old ran out of the burning front door, screaming, “Help! Mommy and Alice are still inside!” As Angela ran over to calm him down, Charles and I put on our respirators and moved towards the front door. We leaped through the flames, feeling the heat lick at our coats. I called out, “This is the Jacksonville Fire Department! We’re coming to get you!” and immediately, there was a response.
“Help us! We’re over here! Help!” I dashed towards the source of the sound, and smashed through the door which the cries of help were coming from. I looked around. Fire and smoke surged around the edges of the room and in the middle were a woman and her child cowering, huddled together in one tight ball. As I approached them, the woman looked up, her heavy eyes both locked in terror and watery from the smoke.
I reached my hand out, yelling to her, “Take my hand! Follow me and we’ll get out of here!” She uncurled, clung onto my arm like a leech and held the child close to her side. Charles and I staggered out past the blazing door-frame, out into the hallway, however we abruptly stopped when we heard the scream. It was a similar high pitched roar as the scream Charles and I had heard five days ago, however, now I could make out the unmistakable despair of the creature. This time, I heard the cry of a shattered soul as the scream died down. Then she appeared, limping around the corner seemingly immune to the raging flames. I froze, suddenly feeling no heat from the fire, Charles stopped moving a few meters ahead of me and the woman behind me let out a little yelp.
“What are you?” Charles called out, but instead of a reply, the creature simply cocked her head, skin dripping over her grey, tormented eyes and raised her arms, finger pointed towards us. That’s when I noticed it, as did Charles who was still rooted in his spot. The woman behind me let out another sharp squeal when she saw the creature was missing one of her hands. Her left hand. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening, and I didn’t see the thick black smoke rising through the floor in time. It materialized out of the cracking floorboards, clasping itself around Charles’ legs. He turned around, struggling to move, and as his eyes widened fearfully, I swung out my arm to grab him but it was too late. The wooden floorboards collapsed, Charles ripped through the gaping hole beneath him.
“Charles!” I scrambled towards the edge of the ruptured ground and stuck my head over the side, ignoring the terrified scream from the woman. It was dark, there was no fire, and there was no Charles. I glanced back up and the woman was gone, but I sure as hell was not going to leave Charles for dead. Radioing Zach, I notified him of the woman and her child, and sent them to move along towards the front door before the whole building collapsed, before I hauled myself over the edge, and down into the basement. I landed on my feet, instantly overwhelmed by the cold, chilly darkness. Flicking on my shoulder light, I grabbed my axe with my other hand, peering around the room.
Straining my eyes, I was unable to locate Charles and my flashlight felt absolutely useless. I called out, “Charles? Charles!” but all I heard was my own echo. I turned in circles halting my rotation when the beam of light from my torch locked onto something. Due to the human tendency to recognise humanoid shapes, I thought I saw Charles, but a second of registration and I realised I had made a massive mistake coming into the basement.
The being in front of me resembled the shape of a human, but there was nothing human about it. It was a cloud of smoke, seemingly contained and contorting to imitate the human body, but then I saw the eyes… or what I assumed to be the eyes. The smoke hollowed out, forming the eye sockets, and staring into it, I saw nothing but an abyssal darkness. My flashlight moved up, illuminating the smoking shoulders… the twisting neck…. the distorted face… and as I reached the eyes, the empty chasm of the eye sockets sparked violently, the creature erupting flames from random spots on its body. Thinking I had injured it, I screamed out at it, “Where is Charles?” but instead of an answer, it started rushing towards me.
I raised my axe and it stopped a few meters away from me, suddenly focusing its flaming eyes on something behind me. I spun around instinctively and instantly shielded myself, reeling backwards as I collided face to face with the disfigured, melting girl. A heavy force slammed into me from behind, and as I was knocked flat on my face, I felt a rush of cold dry air followed by a barrage of pockets of extreme heat against my back as I struggled to push myself back up.
When the heat subsided, I risked a glance around only to find I was alone. Eyes narrowed, mouth pulled into a tight grimace, I decided it was time to leave. When I reached the door, I could already feel the orange wave of heat behind the barrier, but before I could blink, something erupted through the door. A tsunami of explosive air threw me up into the air, and as I hit the ground, I blacked out.
My eyes trembled open, the bright artificial light temporarily blinding me. I had woken in a hospital, a day after paramedics pulled my crumpled body out of the rubble. They didn’t find Charles, and there was not a sign of foul play except for another charred limb. This time, it was a foot, scorched to the extent where the skin would just crumble where the slightest of pressure was applied.
A few days ago, the police report came back, identifying the two limbs as belonging to the same person, even though they were found in different fires. I asked them for more detail. They said no.
A few hours ago, I reported to the battalion chief of the Jacksonville Fire Department on the sightings of the creatures in the fire. At first he thought I was joking, when he realised I was serious, he told me, “If you ever see any crazy shit happening, you run the hell out. You haul ass and dive out the window if you have to, but I promise to god if you stay inside, you will die.” I asked him to elaborate, I mean, who the hell was the girl. He said no, no questions.
So I did my research on the history of Jacksonville, and I found some startling information.
1987: Jacksonville Fire Department burnt down to the ground, leaving one dead and one in coma. Delving in a little further, I found out the person who died was a young woman, her body was found with sickening wounds, third degree burns ripped through her back, fourth degree burns traversed her once beautiful face, creating the impression that her skin was melting off. My heart thumped as I continued. The man in the coma was convicted of arson and 1st degree murder, but before they could put him out of his misery, his body vanished from the hospital. The day after that, the hospital was burnt to the ground, killing everyone inside.
I pushed my chair back, brain ticking, when the doorbell chimed. I approached the door, opening it, but nobody was there. Looking down, there was a box with my address labelled on. Taking it inside, I flipped open the cover, and instantly threw up all over the floor. Inside the box were the two charred limbs, heavily decomposed, burnt skin rotting and some revolting fluid pooling at the base of the box. Running over to grab my phone, I halted when I smelt it – Smoke.