The brown house was on fire to the attic. There was absolutely no way the damn dog was still alive but the man, moved to do something, anything really, kept approaching the firemen. They stalled him, pushing him aside. They had work to do. There was a fire. These were the things they told him. The feeling of displacement jarred him. He couldn’t help but notice how much he was not a part of this thing that was happening to him. He watched the flames crawl out the window. In stories they always say the flames lick something, the sky for instance. He noticed this was remarkably not true. When the firemen left, deeming this a job well done, the man looked up and down his street. He noticed with some degree of alarm that none of his neighbors had come out to gawk or worry over him. This wasn’t that kind of street.
When it was over, he walked inside, through the space that had once been the door. Immediately he felt what it was to occupy a negative space; an inverse; a nowhere. Inside were the guts of everything he once used and owned. Things he had selected from the numerous shelves in stores. His plates, his blanket, towels, razors, picture frames. The things we all collect to build a life. Now just twisted plastic melted into bizarre shapes, singed metal bent and mutated in its death. Cabinets in the kitchen stained from smoke and fire. In the living room, his couch was just metal springs, smoking soaked fabric. He ran his foot through ash and soot. It had happened so quickly he thought to himself. It was a simple decision; like a prayer murmured by a non-believer. It was spontaneous and obvious. Something had to be done about all the newspapers. This was the only available solution he had left.
He found the dog in the attic. It must have run up there in terror, he thought, leaning over it. The smoke must have killed it because the dog, the damn dog, was still untouched. Everything downstairs was destroyed, but not an inch of the dog’s wiry hair seemed singed. It lay on its side, teeth bared as if growling at the black curling smoke that entered its lungs. Its tongue was stained black. Only one eye was open. The man picked up the dog and noticed in death it held more weight than life. He started for the stairs. This was the change, he had prayed for, his finger rubbing together in need just hours ago. It did not last as long as he had hoped. It didn’t last as long as he needed. This was supposed to be a re-birth, he said to the dead dog under his arm. They were alone now, again, as they were before. It was so easy to step between the doorways. From a ghost to a man, briefly, far too briefly, and then without warning to a ghost again.