I was sure my boss was trying to get me killed.
My last four sites–all disasters. Four was one too many for coincidence. Collapsed stairwells, blocked exits, too-close explosions… Yeah, the other guys worked the same sites, but they never seemed to be the ones running in for lost family members. It was always, “Carver, clear the bedrooms!” “Carver, go back for the cat!” and never, “Carver, man the hose.” It didn’t matter who was on the hose, anyway. They all burned.
So far I’d been able to save everyone–barely. But it was taking a toll. I had bruises from falling beams, I was hacking coughs on the regular from the smoke, and I could barely sleep for the nightmares. I wasn’t permitted time off. Every time I escaped a fire, my chief grit his teeth, causing his bulldog jowls to quiver.
I wondered if it was because of what I learned about the city. About how it’s changing, trimming itself. Houses are going up in smoke–literally–and being replaced days later with new buildings–except they weren’t new at all. They were buildings from other parts of town, suddenly moved. I saw it happen. And now I felt like the city was watching me. Each skyscraper a dragon with a mouthful of fire, ready to consume me.
I found a measure of escape in the job. At least, while I was in the station. Shooting the shit with the other fighters. But when the sirens went off, it was war. War with the city of fire.
My psychiatrist (work-mandated, to head off symptoms of PTSD) told me my work life was seeping into my regular life. That I wasn’t able to detach the two. That every building I walked into felt like a trap ready to spring. She said to relax. Everyone told me to relax.
My body, my instincts, told me different.
There are things humans can’t acclimate to. The tickle of a bug crawling on our skin, for one. That was what it felt like. All day, all night. Like my life was perpetually in danger of attack. Attack by the city itself.
I was going mad, but the city was madder.
Today’s three prompt categories were, “One too many,” “Firefighter,” and, “Work will set you free.”
More of The Odd City.