Four in the morning, and Corb and I both wake up, at the same time. The air feels cool from the open window over Corb's head.
"I smell something funny," I said, groggy. "Like food burning."
"Might be the squash," mumbled Corb. "We left it on the stove."
I stumble out of bed and shuffle to the kitchen. The squash is there on the stove, and it is pungent, but I don't understand why it would smell smoky. I check the burners, and they're off.
I move to the front door; open it up. The smell of smoke is even stronger, and I start to get a little nervous. I walk down the stairs, and it's even stronger, as I move down to the first floor.
The rest of the apartment building is completely quiet. It's a weird feeling. I open the front door, feel a gust of cold air blast my face. I crunch through the snow-covered lawn, move around the building. All the lights are out, I don't see any flames.
I smell the smoke when I come back in, though. Worse than ever.
Corb's on the bottom floor, near the fire alarm. "Look at this," he said. Someone had opened up the box, so that it wasn't registering.
That does it. "I'm going to call the apartment complex," I said. "Let them know about it. At least they'll know."
I look around the living room, as we enter, contemplating what I should do if there really is a fire. What should I take? Instinctively, I grab my work computer, which contains my manuscript. I walk it down to my car and lock it in the trunk.
After that, I call the answering service, and Corb crawls back in to bed. He has to work the next day, bright and early. Fifteen minutes later, I receive a call, from the man on duty. I explain what's going on.
"I'll be over," he says, gruffly. "Can you call the fire department for me?"
For some reason, I feel weird about that. I don't want the fire trucks blaring down the street, waking everyone up. Especially if it's false alarm.
"Well, then I'll call them," he says. "It's my ass on the line if there's a fire. I'd be the one getting sued."
About ten minutes later, the fire department arrives. On little cat feet, too. Flashing lights provide the only indication that they're there. No sirens, at all.
I walk down stairs. "Some guy left a pot on," a fireman tells me. "Burned it all to hell."
"Oh." I'm concerned. Only a burning pan. "Sorry I called, then."
"No, it was the right thing to do. And this..." He points to the fire signal, and shakes his head. "That shouldn't be. No one should have access to that."
I crawl back to bed, thinking about the laptop in the trunk of my car. Funny that I should pick that to save, of all things. Funny the things that really matter. Of all my possessions, I guess that one represents the future, to me.
I fall asleep, and my thoughts turn to Sherlock Holmes, of all things. A Scandal in Bohemia . Sherlock Holmes stages a fake cry of fire to flush out the location of a compromising photograph. "When a woman thinks that her house is on fire, her instinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values most," he informs Watson.
I guess I don't have any compromising photographs. However, I do have hope.