Haven Page 3


When they were done, the legs were still outside the bag. The only way they were going to fit inside would be if they were bent up in weird ways or taken off, and none of us were prepared to do that.


I stood up straight, abandoning my bag-holding duties. Derek was already breathing heavily from the shoveling and dumping, and we hadn’t even finished one body clean-up.


“This isn’t going to work,” I said. “It’s too much. We don’t have the right tools.” I put my hands on my hips. “What the hell are we going to do?”


“We could just light the whole thing on fire,” said Flick. He was standing in the entrance, looking inside.


Bodo stood and stepped away from his task. “Yes. Let’s make a fire. It is faster and better for da environment.”


“Except for the whole breathing bone-smoke into our lungs part,” said Gretchen, sarcasm lacing her words.


“It’s not a bad idea, really,” said Ronald.


I looked at him like he’d left a critical piece of his common sense in the lobby. “Dude. We can’t set fire to our home.”


“We can set fire to this fridge unit, though. I mean, it’s metal all around. It’s totally insulated. We’ll never use it as a fridge again, and we have fire extinguishers to keep it from getting out of hand.” He pointed to several spots on the wall where the red canisters were mounted.


I really wanted to know what Peter thought about this idea. I didn’t feel confident noodling through all the ramifications on my own.


“What’s the matter?” asked Winky. “What are you thinking?”


“I’m thinking I want to know what Peter thinks.”


“You don’t need Peter, just ask us. We’ll vote.”


Everyone stepped out of the fridge and gathered by the door, Jamal too once he’d re-donned his hood.


We stood in a circle. “Okay, so we need to vote. I don’t feel comfortable making this decision without you guys weighing in. We can torch this whole thing and burn everything inside if you want, but the problems I see are that there are no windows in this room and there’s going to be a lot of smoke. Plus, the fire could get out of control and then we’d burn our whole house down.”


“Talk about screwed,” said Winky.


“Exactly,” I said, searching the others’ faces. “Anyone else have any input?”


Derek was looking up on the ceiling. “There are exhaust vents in here. Smoke rises. Maybe we could open them up a little more and get the smoke to go in those?”


“How do we do that?” I asked.


“I have no idea,” he said.


“How about this …,” said Gretchen, “… we start the fire and see what happens. If it gets out of hand, we put it out. We’ll stand here in our masks, which should help against the smoke, and be ready with the extinguishers.”


I looked around and no one seemed to be shooting the idea down. It wasn’t ideal, but I couldn’t think of anything better.


“Okay, let’s take a vote. Fire or no fire. Yes? Raise your hand.”


All of the hands in the circle went up.


“Okay, fine. Fire it is. We need to each have at least two extinguishers. And someone needs to tell the group out front what we’re doing, so they don’t panic when they see or smell the smoke.”


“I’ll do that,” said Jamal, disappearing out of the room in a flash. He seemed very anxious to put some distance between himself and the fridge, and I didn’t blame him one bit.


“We’ll go find some extinguishers. Come on, Flick.” Ronald left the room at a fast walk, Flick right behind him.


“We need something that’ll catch fire,” I said, looking around the kitchen. I was no chemistry major, so I had no idea what that might be.


“An accelerant,” said Derek. “Several of the chemicals we found could do the trick, but I’m afraid if we combined them there’d be a poisonous gas created that could really cause more harm than good.”


“Yeah, let’s avoid the poison gas thing,” I said wryly. Jesus. That’s all I need … to be known as the girl who created the first gas chamber in the new world.


“What about this?” asked Gretchen, holding up a jug of something.


“What is it?” I asked, walking over to check it out.


“Well, it says acetone on the label.”


“What’s acetone?” I asked. “Isn’t that like nail polish remover? Why would they have a big jug of that around here?”


“It’s a solvent,” said Derek. “My dad had a garage. We used it to clean up the grease. Heavy duty stuff.”


“Will it burn?” Gretchen asked.


“I guess so. We could try a little spot on the floor and see what happens,” he suggested.


I nodded. “Good plan. Let’s get whatever we can find and do a few test-burns. Then we’ll use the best one and keep the rest for … whatever. Cleaning.”


“Or burning more bodies,” said Winky. “This can’t be all of them, can it?”


“Why not?” I asked. I really didn’t want to hear the answer to that question, but I listened anyway.


“I don’t know. How many do you think there are? That can’t be all the prisoners and the other people who were brought here.”


Bodo stepped away for a minute or two while we marinated in that bit of awfulness in silence. When he came back, he said, “I cannot count exactly, but dare iss probably a hundred bodies in dare. Dat’s a lot, but I think dis prison had more dan dat.”


“Maybe they shipped a lot of them out when there were still facilities for that,” I offered. It was a lot of wishful thinking on my part.


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“Let’s hope so,” said Winky. “But just in case, make sure you don’t use all that acetone in one shot. We might need more of it.”


“There has to be more here,” said Gretchen, looking around. “I’ll bet there’s a closet full of it somewhere in this place.”


“Remind me to put inventory control and supply discovery on Peter’s list of things to do,” I said. There was so much crap to get done here. Until now, I hadn’t fully appreciated the sheer amount of work it was going to take to get this place up and running. Even what should have been a fairly straightforward job was turning into a nightmare that could get really out of hand in a hurry. And we had kids who were going to be showing up any day asking for shelter and almost no food to feed them. This is an impossible task.


Bodo came over and put his arm around me, tapping his mask against mine in a weird kind of hazmat kiss. “You are making the funny faces with your eyess again. It’s gonna be okay. All of dis … it’s not a problem. We make da decisions and we do da work. Like a team. Like a family.”


I nodded. “I know. You’re right.” Thank goodness I had Bodo with me. He made things seem not as hopeless. Even a little comfort meant a lot these days.


Jamal came back into the room. “We’re all set. They’re ready for some smoke out front. They moved the sickest kids outside temporarily, til we tell them it’s all clear.”


“Okay then,” I said with a sigh. “Let’s light some test fires.” I looked over at Flick. “Bring me that fire extinguisher, would you?”


***


We stood in a circle, everyone but Flick with an extinguisher in hand. I squeezed the trigger a little, hoping I’d have the strength to fully compress it if necessary. I didn’t want to waste any test-squirts, so I was running on faith that it would work.


Flick poured a capful of the liquid on the concrete ground in the middle of our circle. “Okay. Here’s the acetone.” He took the box of matches we found in a kitchen drawer and struck one, hurriedly throwing it onto the liquid before it could burn his gloved fingers.


A flame jumped up immediately, making me jerk in panic. It stayed high for several seconds until the liquid was gone, eventually dying down to leave a burn mark on the ground.


I took a deep breath and nodded, looking around at the reactions of my teammates. They looked as relieved as I felt.


“That was good, I think,” said Flick. “Want me to try another one?”


We had three other containers of possible accelerants.


“Nah. Let’s just do it with this one,” said Derek. “We’re losing daylight. We still have to wait for the fire to die out and then clean up the mess.”


“He’s right,” I agreed. “When we run out of acetone, we’ll try those other ones.”


Flick grabbed the container and went to the fridge. We all followed behind.


“So, you want me to douse everything in there?” He waved the container in the general direction of the piles of bones.


“No,” I said, still worried we were going to torch the whole place if we got too enthusiastic. “Just do that body in the middle. We’ll do a test run.”


“Good plan,” said Jamal. His voice sounded weak, even with the mask effect going on.


“Why don’t you go sit on that counter over there?” I suggested, touching his shoulder and gesturing with my head over towards the sinks and prep tables.


“No. I’m going to stand firm. I’m going to say a prayer for these people.”


“Whatever floats your boat,” I said, turning back to the fridge. “Just don’t pass out.”


“I’ll try.”


Ronald moved over to stand next to his brother and the two of them held hands as they murmured words of prayer.


Flick stepped inside the fridge and opened the container. “How much do you think I should use?” he asked, looking back at us.


“A capful,” I suggested.


“Three of ‘em,” said Winky. “That little flame we just had isn’t going to be enough.”


“Works for me,” Flick said, measuring out three caps of the liquid and slowly pouring each over the remains.


“Everyone out,” I said, stepping over to the edge of the door. I swung it most of the way shut. “Flick, throw that match from outside. I want to shut the door, just in case.


Flick stepped outside and put the cap back on the container. He stopped just outside the door and turned back to face the inside. “Ready?” he asked, not looking back.


“Ready,” I said. The others murmured their assent.


“Here goes nothin’,” he said, as he lit the match and threw it inside.


I hurriedly pushed the door shut and heard the latch click, my pulse racing a hundred miles an hour. I wasn’t sure why I was so freaked out. A part of me worried all those bodies would make gasses that would maybe blow the place up. But it was probably long past the point where that could happen. They were months and months old, and we’d had the door open long enough to let any of that stuff out.


“Well?” asked Gretchen. “Should we look?”


I put my hand on the door. “Here goes nothing.”


***


The body was still there, but now it had some weak flames dancing along the top of it. Parts of the remains were charred.


“Well, that worked, didn’t it?” asked Ronald.


“Deliver her soul to heaven, Father,” said Jamal.


“Isn’t her soul already there?” asked Winky, leaning on my shoulder to look into the space.


“It’s just a form of respect,” said Jamal, pausing only to give her his explanation before continuing with his work of sending any lost souls to where they needed to be.


“I think that worked, right?” asked Gretchen. “Can we do the rest of them now?”


I shrugged. “I guess. I’m just worried, okay? Let’s make sure we’re totally ready for an inferno.”


Flick went inside and opened the container. He turned it sideways and started pouring it liberally over the bodies, walking slowly around the room. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”

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