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The winding driveway twisted through the darkness paving a trail toward the tall iron gates. As a subtle breeze swayed the elms, the moon's light peeked through the leaves sprinkling the ground with shadows. A majestic oak wrapped its branches through the gates. A lone sparrow clung to a twig and surveyed the silence. The breeze intensified and an auburn leaf flew from the tree's peak. The brittle leaf surfed through the cool air, and landed in the flagstone courtyard. The wind blew again and dragged the same leaf across the yard toward the large white columns that lined the entrance to a three story white brick structure.
The home was adorned with black shutters. Each window framed the darkness within. On the top floor the shutters were illuminated by the television's light. The gold trim on the ivory curtains flickered like trees during a lightning storm. Through the window, Katharine Pirelli sat up in bed watching a movie.
Katharine was a beautiful, petite woman. Her warm smile, and neatly groomed silver hair gave her an aura of sophistication, but her sparkling emerald green eyes were her most distinguishing feature. She had seen much with those eyes.
Suddenly Katharine heard a noise downstairs. She lowered the volume on the television, and heard a loud thud. She tossed the covers aside and jumped out of bed. As she opened the bedroom door she smelled smoke. Her heartbeat quickened as she raced down the back stairs into the kitchen. She could see thick black smoke seeping through the wooden door, which lead to the living room. Shequickly flung the door open. A wave of smoke rushed toward her. Katharine began coughing incessantly. The blistering heat nearly sealed her eyes, but as she squinted she saw hot red flames ravaging the living room. She froze as she witnessed the destruction of her beautiful home. Her antique furniture fueled the fire. The oil paintings on the walls melted before her eyes. The oak bannister on the grand staircase collapsed to the floor. The freshly painted walls were blistering. An inferno was burning a hole in the ceiling sending the flames towering throughout the home. Katharine felt dizzy. The heat scorched her face. She staggered. The fire hypnotized her. Her life was crumbling before her once again. Suddenly the bay window exploded shattering the fire's spell over her. Katharine retreated into the kitchen and bolted for the back door. She grabbed the sweaty doorknob and frantically tried to open it. She dried her hands on her nightgown and tried again but it was locked. Trying not to inhale she wrapped her sleeve over her parched mouth and wobbled up the back stairs to find her keys. As she reached the top she scrambled to her desk and shuffled through its drawers. The keys were nowhere. She began coughing again. The smoke clouded her vision. She had to escape. She was about to run into the bedroom. At that moment she noticed the carpet in the center of the foyer. It was glowing. It began to bubble like melted cheese when suddenly the illusion disappeared giving way to a growing hole. Fed with oxygen, the flames rushed across the disappearing floor like an incoming tide. With frightened eyes, Katharine watched the fire roll toward her.
The flames cast a bright white light into the sky. Hysterical neighbors called the fire department and within minutes shrill sirens led by foghorns were heard in the distance. Four trucks arrived at the scene. Katharine's son, Steven, had also received several frantic calls and was on his way with Katharine's husband Tony.
When they arrived, Steven bolted from the car and raced toward the burning home.
"Where's my mother?" he shouted desperately. "We've got to get her out." But he knew it was hopeless. Steven's usually well coifed sandy blonde hair was now wildly tossed. With sweat pouring down the sides of his narrow face and tears flowing from his panic stricken blue eyes, he watched the flames overwhelm his childhood memories. Tony slowly walked up behind Steven while staring at the fire.
Nearly two-dozen firefighters, armored in black and yellow protective suits and helmets, surrounded the home to tame the blaze. As two firefighters routinely secured water hoses to nearby fire hydrants, others dragged the rubber serpents toward the home. Instantly, life was pumped into the thick yellow hoses. The men attempted to douse the fire with waves of water, but the relentless flames had consumed the house. Two men cautiously approached the front door with axes. The door was buckling from the tremendous heat trapped inside. Forcefully a firefighter rammed the ax into the door sending the flames charging at them. Others, armed with hoses, instantly greeted the roaring monster with its liquid enemy. The men followed the water into the eye of the storm. By now, all three floors of the home had melted into one. The flames towered within. Suddenly the heat shattered the skylight in Katharine's bedroom sending a backdraft throughout the home. Flames rushed toward the new found oxygen like a vacuum and exploded through the roof like roman candles. The tremendous gust sent ignited debris racing toward the sky; then drifting toward the earth. The fire flaunted its power as the flames at the top of the home reached out to the neighboring properties. Several vulnerable men stood on the truck's outstretched ladders attempting to douse the red-hot laughter that chastised the men's efforts.
As the wind blew it sprayed the crowd of spectators with a light mist. Tony approached Steven and put his arm around him. The flames danced in their eyes. As beads of perspiration dribbled down Steven's cheeks, he began to tremble.
Three hours later, only sparks remained but the fire smoldered for hours. Steven watched as the police officers and firefighters jotted notes down and discussed the fire as if he weren't even present.
"I'm going in," Steven finally demanded and Tony followed. They bypassed two firefighters who tried to stop them, but it was to no avail.
"Get out of my way," Steven scolded. Steven cautiously approached the front door. Through the darkness and dense fog the men observed that their beautiful home was destroyed. A sympathetic firefighter eased up behind them and shot his flashlight into the blackness. They observed the remains, covered in thick soot and ashes. The rooms were hollow. The walls were crusty and water stained. The home's once majestic staircase was now a pile of charred wood. While Tony continued to peer through the haze, Steven carefully tiptoed around the side of the home and entered the kitchen through the back door. Suddenly, the men heard Steven howl a deep pitiful moan as if from a wounded animal. Tony hurried over to the kitchen to find Steven kneeling on the floor by Katharine's charred body, blackened with ash. It was scorched and unrecognizable. Even Katharine's son could not identify the beautiful face of his own mother. In many places her flesh was burned so badly it revealed her brittle bones. Steven reached for his mother's singed, blistered hand, which was still warm from the flames. He noticed she was wearing a gold and emerald ring he had bought her for her fiftieth birthday. Steven removed the ring and held it in his hand as tears dripped from his eyes on to Katharine's seared body.
Excerpted from Crimes of Fire by Nick Katsoris. Copyright © 2000 by NK Publications. Excerpted by permission.