Company 42


December 21st, the first day of winter, Detective Peter O’Brien stood in water and ash and smelled that unmistakable odor as firefighters pried rubble off the bodies of children as the stove used for heating exploded. The old run down wooden frame on Colorado Avenue went up like paper and the flames trapped several children inside.

Janet Saez, the baby sitting grandmother was trying to heat up the apartment while two of the four children were sitting at the kitchen table when the stove just exploded. The grandmother and the two children died instantly. However, the fire slowly made the other two children suffer before taking their lives. O’Brien prayed to God that the smoke killed them first, but that was not the case. The firefighters from the 42nd pulled out a burning little girl and she died as they tried to revive her.

The family that lived on the second floor did not make it out either. The young mother and welfare lifer was on a mattress shielding her two children from the licking flames, but lost the battle. She did all she could to protect her little ones as they just burned like the mid-night oil.

The firefighters moved the body of an eighty year old man who lived on the third floor and died in bed. There were no windows, and poor ventilation. It was almost a guarantee that the smoke killed him before the fire came knocking. The body was bloated and ripe and almost ready to explode as it cooked in its own juices. O’Brien turned away and swallowed a mouthful of dread, and fear.

One of the firefighters removed a crib with a baby still inside burnt to a crisp. The firefighter, Mark Firpi, removed his mask to breath in some cold fresh air, and the wind just crystallized his tears.

Zoraida Saez was out of the house working her third part-time job trying to make ends meet had no idea that her family was gone. Her priorities were her children, but after December 21st those priorities went up in smoke.

O’Brien had crowd control detail, but he allowed anyone who wanted to get a closer visual by. Truth be told, he didn’t have the strength to hold anyone back. Some of the firefighters were slipping on the man made ice skating rink, and the water from the hoses filled the air with a freezing frost. The wind was howling and O’Brien could have sworn on a stack of bibles that he heard the devil’s laughter being carried on each passing blow. That wind was making it very difficult for the firefighters to complete their job as it fanned the flames. It had taken shared participation in creating hell on earth for the dutiful members of the 42nd.

More often than not these were the types of days O’Brien found himself talking seriously about packing it in. The higher pension could never give him back the sorrow he suffered. The anguish he had to hold inside while trying to comfort people when they lost loved ones. In his mind he kept asking himself, how the hell do you comfort a mother like Zoraida Saez, that while she was working over a hot stove, a hot stove was working over her children.

O’Brien also knew that for every life a firefighter saves, doesn’t make up for the many they couldn’t. He wished he had the power to arrest the flames before they could cause more harm, but that was just a ridiculous thought.

O’Brien could still smell the stench of burnt flesh even through the winter breeze as he watched trained firefighters assemble the dead…

© 2014 Frank Atanacio

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Comments 44 comments

Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

What a truly tragic story…but, sadly, true to life. That children had to perish so cruelly brings tears. The “devil’s laughter” is right. Detectives and firefighters have to witness far too often, first hand, what we read or hear about in the news. Your profound description of this event brings this type of tragedy home…with searing, horrific clarity. Very well written, Frank.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thank you so much Genna for putting up with my tragic events...bless you


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

Great images in this sad story...the devil's laughter on the wind...great line, Frank.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thanks billybuc for reading my short :)


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

How awful Frank, I hate fires. Especially when someone tries to heat a house with a stove. I do everything that I can to prevent them. It almost brought tears it seemed so real. I gave it thumbs up and shared it.

Kevin


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thank you kevin for sharing and reading :)


annart profile image

annart 2 years ago from SW England

You've created a terrible scene here. The tragedy of it all is palpable, not only due to the loss of life but also through the feelings of the fireman who wonders if he can put up with any more.

All those affected by such an incident are represented here and it's really well done.

Ann


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thank you annart for stopping by I appreciate it :)


tobusiness profile image

tobusiness 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

Frank, superb writing! I can still smell the smoke and taste the horror. A truly horrific scene, so sad, but bad things happens, even to children. You've captured the emotions very well.


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Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thank you tobusiness for stopping by :)


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 2 years ago

This should be a chapter in a book. Frank this was so real for me I could almost feel the heat from the fire and the bitter cold from the winter.

voted thumbs up and sharing.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thank you shyron for reading my short :)


always exploring profile image

always exploring 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

Frank you have the gift of telling a story so horrofic that it makes you cringe in fear, yet it tells a story that happens to the poor people in this world. Your words were so vivid i could see the victims. Your short stories are important as they have the oppurunity to open hearts to help the needy more. Awesome write!!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

You have described in minute detail a horrific scene such as firefighters too often have to witness. It is a tragic tale told over and over again with slightly different details each time. Fortunate are the ones who die instantly instead of those who have to suffer when such events happen. You certainly wield "the power of the pen" or in this case...those computer keys...in the telling of your stories. Firefighters and police deserve more pay for what they do and witness in protecting the rest of us! Sharing!


LadyFiddler profile image

LadyFiddler 2 years ago from Somewhere in the West

What a horrid tragedy i am sooo afraid of fire that i always ensure that the iron/heater is off, the stove burners are straight and the gas is off. especially with my granny who forgets the stove on or do not turn the burners all the way off.

Being a detective you sure got to have stamina the kind of things they see and have to do is really a task.

Thanks for sharing.


Patsybell profile image

Patsybell 2 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

That's it?! That's all we get?! What a tease you are. I am hooked. I want more.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

Thank you so much for sharing your comment Always Exploring, Peggy, LadyFiddler.. and welcome Patsybell bless you all :)


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

Frank, Your writing is getting even crisper as you give just enough detail to let us connect emotionally with the characters and put us right there at the scene. So vivid. Voted up and more. Great stuff.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

flourish thanks for the compliment bless you :)


mylindaelliott profile image

mylindaelliott 2 years ago from Louisiana

So sad, I love your storytelling but so sad.


carolinemd21 profile image

carolinemd21 2 years ago from Close to Heaven

Hi old friend how are you? Great suspenseful writing as always. It never stops. :)


Anna Haven profile image

Anna Haven 2 years ago from Scotland

Great imagery and emotion here. You have had me feeling their pain. You captured the tragedy and hopelessness perfectly.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

mylinda, caroline, and Anna thank you for stopping by and reading my company 42


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

This makes me think of a tiny toddling brother of my moms who fell backward into a tub of scalding water and though he was grabbed right out of course it had done the damage and he did not die immediately though as the sheet around him was pulled off; flesh came with it. I guess she is with him now though is the only happy thought there.

Sharing.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

wow Jackie that was a sad story...:( bless you for reading my company 42


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thank you Jodah... im sure you experience your own horrors im talking about the wildlife... bless you bro


DreamerMeg profile image

DreamerMeg 2 years ago from Northern Ireland

So sad and so well written, it's a shame that it really happens. :(


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thanks dreamermeg for visiting my company 42 :)


ubanichijioke profile image

ubanichijioke 2 years ago from Lagos

Sad, sad and sad! poor guy O'Brien must have seen and heard more than enough. He did the best he could. Another fantastic write, Frank.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thank you Uban..:)


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 2 years ago from Arkansas, USA

Wow, that's heavy. And very well-written!


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thank you Victoria


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Dear Frank,

You have brought the grim reality of such to life here. I hear about such fires, sadly, all the time where children die and it always brings tears to think of their suffering. I pray God takes them on up before the pain is felt, but even so, after it is no longer felt.

Burning flesh smells the worse for sure.

Voted up and more

Blessings always


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thank you my dear Faith.. Bless you too :)


Ariel-Cal profile image

Ariel-Cal 2 years ago from Bridgeport, CT

Very sad but well written.. Thumbs up again sir!


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

LOL thank you Mam :)


wingedcentaur profile image

wingedcentaur 2 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

Well done Frank!

We have here a simple story about a firefighters sorrow for victims of a fire he does not even know. But of course, we understand that he has seen far too many of the tragedies.

I think I mentioned this to you before, Frank, but you have a real talent for finding stories "between" stories, if you know what I mean. I never would have thought anyone could write a story about a guy just feeling bad.

Anyway, take it easy.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thanks winged I like the comment :) bless you


Patsybell profile image

Patsybell 2 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

You are an illustrator. I see your characters as clearly as if I had a photo in front of me. I like your style.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thank you Patsy


Writer Fox profile image

Writer Fox 2 years ago from the wadi near the little river

It's like I walked into the middle of something. A riveting vignette!


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton Author

thank you writer fox


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 22 months ago from Dallas, Texas

You've portrayed this devastation so chillingly well that I could almost smell the smoke. Awesome writing with such a firm grip on the emotions that accompany such a disaster.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 22 months ago from Shelton Author

thank you so much pegcole

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