4 AM: Jackie’s Time

by Shawn Allen

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Loudly a clock struck the hour: Gong, Gong, Gong, Gong.

Standing in the middle of the old street, Jackie looked around as all the buildings burst into flames. Terrified, she began to run.

Glass, hot and sharp, exploded from windows. It crunched beneath her feet like malevolent snowflakes as she ran. She could smell singeing hair where a few shards had landed, and several others left small, bleeding cuts on her arms.

In her panic, Jackie almost ran past the girl standing in on the sidewalk, looking into a flaming storefront. Wearing a winter coat, hood pulled up and zipped, and thick mittens, the girl seemed unaware of the holocaust.

Jackie ran to the girl, turned her around, but couldn’t see the girl’s face – it was hidden in the hood.

“We have to get out of here!” she yelled.

From somewhere deep inside the hood, a small voice asked, “Why?”

She must be in shock, a part of Jackie’s mind said.

“Because it’s all burning!”

The little girl turned back toward the gaping hole where the plate glass window had once been, and said, “It’s been on fire for a long time. You just never noticed before.”

Stunned, Jackie stood up and looked around. Suddenly, the street was familiar: she’d grown up on this street, in this neighborhood. It was impossible that she could be here…

Jackie looked at her watch, but she couldn’t make out the face no matter how hard she tried. It kept shifting, changing.

I’m dreaming, she thought.

The flames froze, waiting.

Jackie walked to the middle of the street, and took a deep breath in. The conflagration came rushing toward her. The fire surrounded her, dancing, burning away her clothes, lifting her into the sky.

She gathered it to her, compressing, condensing it until she could hold it in her hands. Then soaring above the burnt out street, she ate the inferno.

As the blaze infused her, she woke. Beside her, gasping loudly on his back, her husband shook as the booze burned its way out of his body. He, and the room, reeked of stale sweat, cheap vodka and fear.

Jackie got out of the bed they’d shared for eight years. Still feeling the heat in her body, she walked to the small closet and dug deep into the back until she found the suitcase. She’d packed it over a year ago after he’d smacked her down during a fight, leaving her with a bruised jaw.

She got dressed in the darkness, even though she knew Tommy wouldn’t wake up if she turned on the lights. Then, clothed, she looked at him.

There was no emotion; no sadness, anger, nothing. She watched him shivering, laboring to breathe.

She put the suitcase down and, reaching under him, turned him on his side. His feet kicked a few times but his breathing came easier and he never woke.

Then, recovering her suitcase, Jackie walked out of the bedroom, through the small apartment and out the front door.

The fire in her belly kept her warm against the October night.

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