A Hot Time in the Old Town

"Making my way up the stairs to look in on Bob Harrison, I felt like I was wading through molten lead. My eyes stung from sweat, and the air I breathed might as well have been from inside an oven. When I reached his door, I knocked. There was no response. I tried the door--unlocked--and jerked back even as it swung silently open. Bobby's doorknob had singed my hand as surely as if I'd grabbed hold of a new horseshoe still glowing from the forge.

"His living room was dark. I called out his name--nothing but silence. I pushed open the door and went in. I know landlords aren't supposed to do that unannounced, but I didn't really care at the moment. I crossed the living room on tiptoe, not for stealth but because the floor was burning the soles of my feet.

"Bobby's bedroom door was ajar. He was in bed, asleep. I could tell by the moonlight that shone in the bedroom window. Good for him, I figured, and I turned to leave. The temperature in the house seemed to shoot up even higher. It drove me to my knees and squeezed the air right out of my lungs. I began to crawl toward the door. I was desperate to get outside.

"Suddenly, there was a flash, bright as daylight. It lasted less than a second but it lit up the entire apartment. I could see every piece of furniture and empty cardboard box in Bobby's living room. Then, just as suddenly, the place was plunged back into darkness.

"I forced myself to my feet and ran back into the bedroom, fumbling for the light switch and yelling for Bobby to wake up. When I flipped the switch, my throat closed up in the middle of a syllable.

"Bobby wasn't there anymore. There was no trace of him except for a man-shaped silhouette of fine ash in the center of his bedspread and a slight smell of smoke in the air. I couldn't do anything but slump against the wall and try--and fail--to make sense of this.

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