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Scared to death

by citygate1 

Posted: 04 December 2003
Word Count: 1684
Summary: A short story

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Scared to Death

Opening the creaky wooden door to his potting shed, Fred stepped out into the lowering evening sun. A broad smile spread across his face as he rubbed his eyes to adjust to the light, then ran his hands over his head to smooth down his ruffled hair.

Turning to the shed door that had closed behind him he gave a little wink, bent to pick up the Sussex Trug, a present from his wife, with its contents of freshly picked vegetables and headed down the grassy path toward the gate and the short journey home.

At sixty five he was a sprightly chap and his walk toward the gate had quite a spring to it, if he had been a few years younger he would most certainly have attempted a Fred Astaire skip into the cool evening air. But his legs were already feeling a little light and shaky from the afternoons exercise so decided against trying.

As he reached the street he broke into tune, whistling the sound of Rain Drops keep falling on my Head echoing off the houses that hid behind the fences and hedges of the quiet tree lined street. Ironic really considering it wasn’t even raining; in fact the summer had been so good it had hardly rained at all over the previous few months. And it was testament to his skills as a gardener that the Trug he carried held anything at all. A stickler for energy saving was Fred, that would account for the three rain water barrels he had around his potting shed, nothing went to waste when Fred was around. He was the same at home, lights were always switched off when not in use, and he even refused to plug the radio into the mains, preferring instead to run it on batteries. “Keep costs down” was Fred’s motto.

Things at home had been easy in this respect since Edith, his wife had become ill. Early stages of Senile dementia, the doctors had called it, Fred had noticed some changes in her lately, she had become more still, often sitting in the same chair from dawn till dusk staring at the television, it not even switched on, just staring at her own reflection in the glossy grey screen. Fortunately for Fred she was still in control of her faculties and could manage to take herself to the ladies room when necessary. He’d had decided, that when the time came that she lost her self-control he would make the necessary arrangements to have her looked after at The Pines.

The Pines is the local rest home, only a few minutes walk from their home, and quite a pleasant place by all accounts, unlike the local authority establishment in the town where they herd the old folks in like cattle into a pen and treat them with about as much dignity. Despite everything he wouldn’t want her spending her last days there. She hadn’t been the easiest person to live with had Edith, and she’d had quite a vicious tongue on her until she became ill. More often than not using it on Fred, and its fair to say they didn’t have the best of marriages.

Fred always put it down to the fact that he couldn’t give her the child she’d always wanted and he felt Edith had always resented him for the fact that he wasn’t quite the man she’d intended to marry, and had once said so to his face.

The fact was Fred had a low sperm count, and forty years ago there was no such thing as IVF or any of the other wonderful medical miracles of the modern world, and having both been brought up the traditional way, where marriage meant for life, they stayed together, childless, for life.

Despite her tongue and his own feelings of inadequacy, he still loved her. Forty years of marriage and they had grown but he was still, after all, a man, and a man had needs, even at his age.

Turning into Francis Avenue the evening light was quickly fading and the first of the street lamps was casting its fiery orange glow upon the pavements. Only a few more minutes to home Fred thought already looking forward to the next day.

Today was much the same as any Thursday, best day of the week as far as Fred was concerned. After a visit to the post office to collect the pension it was back home for spot of lunch with Edith and then down to the allotment. Fred had had the plot for over twenty years and used it as a source of escapism from the atmosphere at home. Lately though, it had the added attraction of Mrs Lewis. A widower of some five years and of similar age to Fred she had acquired the plot adjacent to Fred’s following her late husbands demise to a dodgy heart.

The potting shed didn’t hold the same ambience as a warm cosy bedroom but it served a purpose, and Mrs Lewis had made it quite comfortable, adding a woman’s touch to the place. It became a lifeline to Fred, a chance to escape the house and spend a few hours of an afternoon in the clutches of another woman. It made him feel alive, after all he hadn’t made love with Edith for nearly three years and wasn’t likely to again now the illness was taking hold. She didn’t know of course, Fred had kept things very quiet about his little affair, not even mentioning to his pals at the bowls club. He didn’t want the word to get out that he was misbehaving behind his sick wife’s back.

As he approached his home he felt the slight pangs of guilt in his chest and for a moment contemplated telling Edith what was going on. Would she understand? Would she even hear him? The illness had progressed quite quickly since the diagnosis and Fred dreaded the day he came home to find she had messed herself because that would signal the end, and a move to The Pines. Despite his antics on the allotment he loved her dearly.

His feet crunched heavily on the gravel drive, signalling his imminent arrival and departure, to Edith still sat in the armchair, still staring at a blank screen.

Fred stood for a moment while retrieving his keys from his trouser pocket and proudly admired the display of summer colour spreading across his borders. Finding the right key he inserted it into the door lock and turned it anti-clockwise, gently pushing the door at the same time.

The smell came to him first and he immediately recognised it as gas. It filled the dimly lit hallway and his nostrils. His immediate concern was for Edith, the guilt of the moment before dissipated as quickly as it had come. Pushing the door wide open he turned and committed a fatal act. He reached for the light switch and flicked it down into the on position.
The tiny spark within the switch set of a chain reaction that would have devastating consequences for Fred and his wife. That one tiny spark ignited the gas that had seeped into the switch, the flame, an iridescent blue travelled at the speed of light toward the kitchen, rolling across the ceiling like waves on a beach. Fred stared transfixed his mind unable to comprehend what he had done. His eyes followed the sea of flame across the ceiling where just for a moment it seemed to pause.

The gas was escaping from the cooker at quite a rate, the kitchen door containing most. When the flame reached inside the kitchen it immediately became an intense fireball, expanding, growing hotter and seeking fuel. The fresh air drafting in from the open front door was just what it needed. The ever expanding gases blew out towards the source of oxygen, taking with it the kitchen door and headed for the cool air.

Fred didn’t stand a chance of avoiding the onrushing wall of flame. What was a mesmerising gentle blue sea had become a tidal wave of searing blue and orange flame in less than a second. It enveloped him, took him by the shoulders and lifted him from his feet. He could smell the singed hair from his head and face and for what seemed like an age he floated, unaware of moving but hearing the rushing sound of a wave braking over a shingle beach.

The force of the explosion not only took Fred but also the entire front left-hand side of the house and deposited it, and him, in great lumps of smouldering masonry and plaster across the gravel drive.

Fred watched the waves crashing over that beach as a child, the roar in his ears and the spray stinging his face, only this was different, he couldn’t open his eyes against the spray, it was warm and sticky. He was lying down, it felt odd, something was wrong, he couldn’t breath, the air was being taken from him as a pressure greater than he had ever felt before pressed down onto his chest. He panicked and tried to move away from the force against him, he pushed with his legs but didn’t move. The last of his air was expelled and his head became light and his eyes became dark.

He felt no pain now, only a slight feeling of light headiness. Blinking to clear his eyes he felt his chest where, only moments ago he had felt the weight of what was his home, the rubble had been removed.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he became aware of piercing blue lights that seemed to penetrate his eyes, deep into his head. He lifted his head slightly in the direction of the light source and saw the ambulance with its rear doors open. There was movement around his body, he could hear someone clambering over loose bricks and rubble. He tried to call out to the human shape moving toward him, yet no sound escaped his lips.

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Comments by other Members

Deryk at 16:04 on 06 December 2003  Report this post
Wow, that story was really very good. I like your writing style, it flows very easily and is descriptive and immersive. Well done.

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