The fragments of their lives settle in grimy heaps like fallen leaves. A ragged pair of football boots, melted DVDs, blistered photographs. They remind me of artefacts from Pompeii or Herculaneum. I say this to the boy, but he simply reminds me that he is dead. I fold the seared remains of his school uniform and place it onto the pile with the rest of their belongings.
Today the students from his old class learned about supernovas. How the wreckage of a dying star leaves a black hole in its wake. How a black hole consumes everything around it. The children don’t notice the empty seat anymore. They’ve lost interest in black holes. In the playground the children laugh and sing.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
The halls of the tower are a blackened lung. Scorched plaster hangs from the ceiling like rotten meat. I spill my insides near a burned-out lift, my heaving body echoing through the empty corridor as shadows scurry into the walls. In the darkness something soft squeals beneath my boot. The charred eyes of a child’s teddy stare up at me, lifeless.
I’m woken by the smell of burnt toast. Black plumes of smoke rise in mile high cascades from the smouldering toaster, devouring stars one by one. Over breakfast I come across the boy’s name in the newspaper, retracing the words again and again until the paper ignites in my hands. I scrape black crumbs into the bin until it overflows, charred ash piled waist high and rising.
The boy came to me again last night, weeping at the sirens, clinging his teddy tight to his chest. He is still young enough to find comfort in its wiry fur. Spinning blue lights twinkle across the wild darkness, crawling on the inside of my eyelids. The boy takes my hand as a pall of black smoke spits from my lungs, obscuring all around us. With arms outstretched I feel my way to safety, dropping a trail of cinders like breadcrumbs in my wake.
Charles Prelle is a London based writer and playwright. His short fiction can be found in Retreat West, Cabinet of Heed, Idle Ink, Storgy and Reflex Press among others. His work has been listed in various flash competitions and published anthologies. Website cprellewriter.wordpress.com | Twitter @CharlesPrelle