I’m feeling nostalgic today, so here’s the first piece of work I ever had published, a short story that appeared in the 2009 edition of the College of Eastern Utah’s “Nighthawk Review.”
Thanks to the Rain
The door swung loosely on its hinges as Detective Inspector Sam Donovan approached it slowly. The wind tossed angrily, clawing at everything around it with a fierceness to suggest that each whirlwind of dust had caused it a great personal insult. Carried in the wind was a nauseous fume, reminding Sam of fire although he couldn’t place the exact scent. Dried autumn leaves tumbled across the ground, their parchment forms chattering loudly, each sounding like a death rattle. The sky above was a dark billowing gray, advertising the eminent rainstorm it held. Sam had always hated the rain; it was wet, smelly, made it hard to breathe, and clung to your skin and hair. In short, Sam believed the rain was a necessary nuisance.
Suddenly the door screeched grimly as a particularly rough gust pushed it wide open, causing Sam to jump fearfully. The building to which the door belonged was a black, foreboding monument. It had once been a small warehouse of some kind, but several years previously the building had caught fire with its owner locked within and nobody had bothered to refurbish it. Each windowpane gaped open, not even shards of broken glass remained, and the double doors hung haphazardly. On the walls you could still distinguish the black marks of the long dead flames, searing their permanent story on the rotting wood in rippling, warped scars.
Almost as if by a signal both doors slammed shut and then flew open. With the darkness within the warehouse, the doorway seemed like a yawning mouth waiting to swallow up its next victim. Sam shuddered and then walked determinedly toward the doors. The sooner he got the job finished the sooner he could leave this infernal place and return to his house, where his wife Claire would be waiting expectantly for him with their sweet little Tiffany asleep in her lap.
In the doorframe Sam stopped and looked around. Everything within was dark and heavy with shadows. He couldn’t make out anything, moving or stationary.
“Hello?” he called hesitantly into the gloom, his voice quivering ever so slightly. His voice echoed back to him but other than that he received no response. “Hello!” he shouted again.
At the far end of the building a small flash appeared, dissolving itself into a tiny flame that illuminated the waxy top of a candle, floating in the darkness. The flame moved jerkily toward Sam, weaving in long arcs as though the candle-carrier was walking around clutter.
“Mr. Donovan, you came.” The soft voice hissed out of the darkness, smooth as oil across glass. The hairs on the back of Sam’s neck stood on end and he found his hand close instinctively around the gun at his belt. “You came alone?”
“That was one of the terms of our agreement,” Sam said by way of an answer.
“Good,” the slick-voiced man said. “As I also told you, I do not wish to be discovered for who I am. I have left the package at the far end of the building. You will go into the building to retrieve it and I will depart. Then you may do with the package as you wish and I will remain anonymous. Understood?”
“Understood,” Sam agreed. Cautiously, Sam began moving into the warehouse, his free hand held out in front of him in the darkness to feel for any painful dangers he might happen across. His palm hit the back wall and he knelt down, fingering through the dust for the package. Finally his hand grazed against an envelope which he quickly grasped. Just as he was tucking the envelope into an inside pocket of his jacket he heard a foreboding thud from behind.
He spun around and the building had been darkened even more as the doors had swung shut. Panicking, Sam rushed back toward the front of the building, but not being able to see his leg collided with something and he tumbled to the ground. A silvery laugh reached Sam’s ears. He glanced up, tears of pain clouding the corners of his eyes, and saw a slim, shadowy face in the window farthest from him. Sam’s heart leapt into his throat as he glimpsed this person, thinking for a moment that a skeleton had appeared the windowpane. Narrow and angular with deep-set black eyes and waxy white skin, the face seemed to be an omen of death come to take him from the mortal world to his eternal resting place.
“I am so sorry about this, Mr. Donovan,” the man said, his voice filled with ill-repressed pleasure. “But my company didn’t like the fact that you were snooping around. It really is nothing personal but then, business is business. And this way we rid ourselves of a meddling detective and the evidence of our crimes.” Sam suddenly choked; black smoke was billowing in underneath the edges of the doors. “I shall give your family my condolences.” And with that final statement the man disappeared.
Sam clambered clumsily to his feet. His left leg was throbbing angrily but he hurried as quickly as possible to the doors. Just as he approached them orange flames licked–through the old boards. Within seconds they were climbing up the rotting wood, trying to successfully consume the building they had been denied so many years prior. Sam charged at the door, hoping that the years and damage would have weakened the wood but they held firmly and he only succeeded in bruising his shoulder.
Thinking wildly, Sam rushed to the window where the man had appeared to him. The flames raced with him, but Sam was unable to run with his leg so sore and the fire easily beat him to the window, consuming it in a passionate desire. Sam staggered, searching for another escape route but the flames had moved around the warehouse with unnatural swiftness. Sam suddenly recognized the scent he had smelled earlier: petrol.
“Oh Claire. Oh Tiffany,” Sam sobbed, limping into the middle of the room to escape the waves of heat that threatened to overpower him. His bleeding leg gave out and he crumpled heavily in the dirt that layered the floor. Hopeless tears flooded from his eyes as his thoughts revolved around his beautiful wife, expecting a baby in no more than three months, and his daughter who was turning three come winter.
Suddenly a brilliantly white flash illuminated in the fiery window, bringing Sam’s head up abruptly. Seconds later a long crash echoed, shaking the warehouse around him. Sam jumped to his feet and hobbled as close to the window as the flames allowed. Outside a thick layer of gray rain was pouring from the sky, falling in musty sheets. It pounded on the roof overhead, sending sparks flying down from the old boards, but the warehouse was filled with a loud hissing as the raindrops battled with the flames.
Sam felt his eyes well up with tears again but this time they were tears of joy and relief. Suddenly a resounding crack echoed from above and Sam scurried against the wall as a large section of the roof collapsed with an angry shriek. Flames jumped up and then quickly disappeared under the onslaught of water. He watched as the rain continued to break more of the ceiling down until no more than broken fragments remained, and then he quickly hauled himself through the windowpane behind him.
A safe distance away, he stood in the rain to watch as the storm captured the rest of the building. Slowly the walls began to break down until they collapsed in on each other and all that remained of the building was a mound of broken rubble. Sam stared in awe at the warehouse that almost claimed his life. He realized now how closely he had come to death and also how lucky he was to be alive.
Grinning, he threw out his arms and looked up into the gale, laughing as the rain hammered against his skin. After several long minutes the rain lightened and as the clouds began to drift away a long arching rainbow appeared in the sky. Filled with a cheerfulness beyond anything he had ever known before, Sam hurried back to where his car was parked in the shadow of a tree. Sam climbed into the drivers’ seat and then quickly checked the pocket of his jacket. The envelope was still there.
I managed to get a clear view of the man’s face, retrieved the evidence for the case, and get out of that building alive, Sam thought, staring at the grubby brown envelope in his hands. And it’s all thanks to the rain.