We drove about fifteen minutes via Karmann Ghia in the opposite direction of my home area and arrived to the last rescuable part of the city. On the brink of becoming the shady part of town, the houses were as old as the ones where Miss Durant lives but less cared for, held together with their inhabitant’s good faith and will to survive, regardless of how long ago their golden age was. The streets were mostly empty, but there was endless noise coming out of the houses, as if to assert that there is in fact life happening here. Miss Durant parked her car on one side of the street, we crossed to the other side, and walked a couple of blocks.
“Is it safe to leave the car so far away?”
“It is preferable.”
Miss Durant stood in front of the charred skeletal remains of a house, all black and gray. There was still some light smoke coming out of some parts of the house, and the ends of broken beams had hints of orange that were still warm. It looked liked there was not one undamaged room, only bits and pieces survived the fire.
“Miss Durant, why are we here? What happened?”
“It burnt almost completely last night, this is what my brother and I rushed to witness and attempt to end. Unfortunately, due to our lack of equipment and preparation, we could only wait. You and I are here to collect evidence, something we were unable to do last night.”
‘So you rushed out of the house last night, but weren’t sure what you were going to?”
“In a way… the storm from yesterday, do you remember it?”
“In accordance with our tools, the storm had strong activity to which its point of origin was here.”
“Like the eye of a storm?”
“Quite. So while we were confident something of importance was happening in these coordinates, we had no way of knowing what. Apparently, though, it started a fire.”
Miss Durant took a couple of steps towards the house, observing it all the while. I took out my camera and followed.
“I brought you here, Miss Abby, to help me with the photographic evidence. I need you to capture the most you can: from a full view of the house, to small details that capture your attention. Anything in particular that I might need you to photograph I will let you know.”
“So, do I follow you?”
“If you feel you must, but this area has been determined free of danger, so you may walk around freely.”
Miss Durant went ahead and walked into the rubble, gently and slowly, she barely pressed the ground bellow her, and inspected pieces and areas one by one. I took a couple of steps back and took a shot at the whole house. I then followed Miss Durant’s orders and began taking pictures of any and every angle I could manage. The shape of the house was mostly intact, but the walls were half-gone and the roof was wholly imaginary. There were bricks all over the ground, beams were either balanced between walls or lying in pieces on the floor, all charred but still warm. I tried capturing as best as I could, but unsure of what we were trying to identify just made me take an artistic approach.
I tried but was unable to manage being as gentle as Miss Durant, so I walked around in my tiptoes, only placing the whole sole of my foot when I needed to take a picture. There was not much particular evidence of whoever lived here. There were the remains of furniture mostly, but whenever I found something else I took a picture: very old bits and pieces of photographs, clothing, trinkets, silverware, and other barely whole belongings. They all seemed old, though, nothing relatively new like a television, or a computer or anything electric, and considering the area this house was in I didn’t find it odd. To me it appeared as though the house was either abandoned a long time, or whatever technology that was worth the money had been stolen already. There most curious thing I can remember seeing was a doll on the floor that looked mostly intact, so I took a shot of it.
I followed Miss Durant’s voice to what might’ve been the drawing room, and she was standing still while staring towards the ceiling. I stood next to her and saw that this room was intact, even the roof. There was no furniture or belongings of any sort, but the yellowish carpet was unburnt and appeared to be clean. The wallpaper was equally intact, and the only window in the room had it’s dark orange drapes closed and uncharred.
“I need you to photograph this room in every angle possible, s’il vous plaît.”
She moved to the side and allowed me to take a picture of the whole room first, then went in and I followed. I tried every angle I could imagine and did closeups to the wallpaper, the ceiling, the drapes and the carpet. As I knelt to try and take a picture from the ground up I saw that there was a small hole in the carpet. It looked bottleneck sized, the edges were dark as if burnt and there were drops of wax around it. As I took a picture I felt the warmth of someone else behind me, my heart raced in remembrance of the outcome of our last venture to a mysterious house, but then the smell of light perfume calmed me. Miss Durant was hunched behind me and also examining the hole on the carpet.
“In all likelihood.”
I took the picture and stood aside. Miss Durant took a pair of tweezers and a plastic bag and took pieces of the wax from the floor. I continued to look around and try to spot anything in particular that might need a closeup, but everything else seemed spotless. It gave off the idea that the room had never been inhabited or even used for anything, not even as storage. It even smelled differently than the rest of the house, old like a bookstore, and not a single hint of smoke or ash in the air.
“Did you call any authorities? Firefighters? Police? Anyone?”
“The way our pre-determined agreement with authorities functions, Miss Abby, is we examine and extract first, then once cleared of anything that does not concern society we allow them to interfere.”
“But it concerns us?”
“Are you protecting society then? Like, it’s not ready for whatever you investigate? Aliens or ghosts or whatever?”
“Oui, in a way…”
I turned to see she was still occupied with the floor, lost in her unspoken analysis. She was either still playing coy and avoiding direct and explanatory answers, or she was normally detached from conversations. Despite the circumstances, the scene looked almost like a portrait form my point of view, so I went ahead and took a picture of her. I then continued to amateurly examined the curtains, which looked as clean as the carpet. I knelt to see the bottom edges and they were clean too, so unless they were cleaned very recently this gave me the feeling that they were either never opened or shoes never touched or grazed the curtains.
“Miss Durant, should we open the curtains to see what’s behind?”
She got up and walked towards me, staring at the curtain all the time.
“Oui, but allow me.”
She took one curtain in each hand, fully gloved, and pulled them apart at the same time. Behind there was not a window after all, instead there was a huge painting, or what used to be a painting. The frame was thick and decorative, forest themed and it looked like it might’ve been painted gold a long time ago but the paint had either fallen off or darkened with time. The painting itself however, was empty, as if the artist had captured only the background and forgot to include the model. I took several pictures.
“Bellow as well, Miss Abby.”
I looked farther down the wall and there was mess of paint bellow the painting, like a waterfall, a mix of dark-shaded colors appeared to have leaked from the painting. The paint stretched all the way to the floor, but not spreading over to the carped. In all honestly it seemed as though it had been done on purpose, for artistic reasons or to make a statement, but I kept an open mind. I took the picture.
Miss Durant lightly pressed her gloved finger onto the paint and examined. She took out a tiny razor and began scraping pieces of painting into another plastic bag.
“It appears to have barely dried.”
“Do you think it was done on purpose?”
“I have my doubts, but it’s quite comedic, is it not? A melted painting to be found after the rest of a house that burnt down.”
“Yeah, it has a surrealist feel to it.”
I took closeup pictures of the painting, the frame and the dripped paint while Miss Durant examined the curtains. They were free of paint.
“Will we take the portrait with us?”
“No, I shall have the paint examined and send for someone with better tools to further analyze it. Until we have any clear results of whether it poses us any risk or not, I shan’t be bringing it into my home. Miss Abby, shall we head back?”
“Uh… sure. If we’re done.”
We left the room, and as we came out felt the warmth of a house that was recently sent aflame. I hadn’t noticed that the room was oddly cooler than the rest of the house until then. Miss Durant walked across the street towards her car and didn’t look back and I followed.
“If you would have had what you needed, would you have tried to stop the fire?”
“Absolument. We always attempt to put a stop to the issue, regardless of the severity. Unfortunately I am merely a part of a whole, so I cannot do it alone.”
“Which reminds me, how is your brother? He seemed weird yesterday, like he was getting sick.”
“Indeed, he barely managed to wake up today.”
PREVIOUS CHAPTER – NEXT CHAPTER