The heat was unbearable. Jason felt the skin on his hands and arms burn. His arms shielded his eyes from the fire. He looked left and right; there was nowhere to go. He smelled his clothing, hair, and skin burning. Smoke and heat made breathing hard. He screamed and felt the heat and smoke rush down his throat, burning him from the inside. His scream hit a high note…
Jason sat straight up on the edge of his bed. He had less than two seconds to realize he was not on fire before he fell off the bed onto the floor. His alarm went off. The piercing beep, beep, beep was nothing to the echo of the scream in his head and the scent of burn. Jason sat there for a minute trying to piece the dream together, but like all dreams, it had escaped.
Shower, dress, Pop Tart, out the door, and on his way to Off Target in his Honda Civic. A long day of work ahead of him. All the way to work, Jason kept trying to remember the dream, but only bits and pieces would come back. Every time a fire. Jason pulled into the parking lot and immediately knew a long day was ahead. The parking lot was full, all the way back to employee parking. Screw it, he thought as he pulled into a spot farthest away from the front door.
Eight long hours later, Jason left Off Target. More customers with issues than he could count or care to count. The dream, forgotten. His date with Bethanie was next. Time enough to get home, shower, and dressed before he was to meet her at Jade Panda for some Chinese. Thoughts of spending time with his longtime girlfriend put a bounce in his step to his car and weight in his pedal foot. Home in record time. As Jason pulled his shirt over his head, his stomach let out a loud rumble, reminding him that he was very hungry.
Jason pulled into Jade Panda’s parking lot. Bethanie’s car was close to the front door. He parked next to her car. She was not inside; maybe she got a table and ordered food for them already. Bethanie did know what he liked. As Jason exited the car, his stomach let out another loud rumble. The smell of Chinese food slapped him in the face and his stomach unleashed another rumble.
“Alright, alright,” he said to his stomach.
As he stepped into Jade Panda, he saw the standardized decorations that defined all American-Chinese restaurants, but he did not see Bethanie. A waitress came from the kitchen, smiled at him, and waved him around the corner to a table. Already seated, Bethanie looked at Jason as he rounded the corner, she, unlike the waitress was not smiling at him. His stomach let out another very loud rumble.
“Hey babe,” Jason said, as he approached the table and started to sit down.
“We need to talk,” Bethanie interrupted.
“Things…Things aren’t working out,” Bethanie said.
Jason starred at her face; she did not seem to be upset. His stomach was upset, another cramp and loud rumble.
“We have had a great time together, but…well,” Bethanie started, “you’re not going anywhere. You still live in that tiny apartment. You still work at Off Target. You never have money…”
“Oh, I see. This is not about us. It is about me,” Jason retorted, but his retort lacked conviction.
“Yes. Actually yes it is,” Bethanie shot back without giving Jason time to recover, “I have tried. I have. I have talked to my girlfriends and they say the same things that I know now. That you will never be more than you are. You are holding me back.”
Jason was sure, at that moment, his brain had fallen into his stomach, which was leisurely taking bites out of it because he couldn’t think of a thing to say or do other than sit there.
Bethanie got up from the table, “This is what I am talking about. Nothing.” She left the restaurant without another word or glance back.
Jason was not sure how long he sat there before he realized the waitress was standing there, order pad in hand and expectant look on her face.
“I’ll have the number nine.”
End Part 1
She screamed. Her mouth opened wider and rounder than a mouth should. As her scream reached the crescendo, her face melted away and flames washed over her head, covering him in their broiling embrace.
Jason sat up in bed. A second or two passed, before he realized he was screaming louder than his alarm. Yet, he had a lingering feeling something else other than the dream or alarm had woken him up. Jason tossed the blankets on the ground and sat, legs hanging off the edge of the bed, for a minute trying to shake the fog.
“I’ve got to stop eating before going to bed,” Jason said to nobody.
Speaking brought back memories of Bethanie dumping him. Memories of Bethanie combined with thoughts of another day of soul sucking work made getting motivated difficult. Standing in the shower, Jason woke up; shook off the fog, but not the sense something other than the dream and alarm had woken him up.
Dressed for work, Jason walked into the kitchen, grabbed a Pop Tart, and drained a glass of milk. He reached into the refrigerator for a cold soda, before heading out the door. Outside, the first thing Jason saw was the empty parking spot.
“What the hell!” He said in shock and disbelief, “Where is my car?”
Jason walked to the empty spot and looked around. The sound of plastic sliding over concrete drew his attention away from his lack of car and towards his feet. Scattered across the parking space were CDs, lots of them. A few seconds passed before he realized they were his.
“What the fuck! Take my car and leave my music behind?”
Why? Why? He kept asking himself all the way to the bus stop. Why break up with me? Why take my car? Why not take my music? Why am I on this bus? Why am I going to work? Why? Emotionally battered, sitting at the back of the bus, Jason put his head in his hands. He could feel the rumble of the bus, hear people talking, listening to music, and at least one woman yelling into her phone. Jason thought about what he needed to do; work another miserable shift, call about his car, call about the payment, check his bank account, call Beth…
Jason felt the explosion, more than saw or heard the explosion. A concussive wave knocked him against the back of the bus. Hands, knocked away from his face, Jason watched the flames and debris rocketing at him. Time really did slow down, he thought. A woman a few seats in front of him turned towards him. Jason watched her scream. Her face disappeared in the fireball before the flames washed over him.