Black. It used to be green but now everything is black. Or greyscale. Occasional tinges of ashy white, but mostly just black.
I shiver in my sweatshirt. Surreal when, just two days ago in this same place I faced an inferno.
Acrid, sooty, charcoal smells. Sharp, smoky assault on my nose and throat. The dry, earthy taste of ash on my tongue.
Wisps of smoke still rise, here and there, from fallen power poles and smouldering trees. And skeletons of houses. And shells of cars. The odd flicker of flames occasionally licking through some burnt hole. A million blackened trees stand silently around and among and behind the remains, a few dry leaves clinging vainly to the brittle twigs.
No laughter of children playing, no music floating through the trees from a weekend barbeque, no sprinklers tsk-tsk-tsking their life-giving refreshment over lawns, no kookaburra laughing to its mate. Now silence. Dead silence.
A police unit on patrol stops to check my i.d., making sure I am a resident and not a looter who has snuck past the barricade. A sombre nod and his car idles quietly and slowly away.
A resident. Am I? Do I even want to be? My house is still there. Its modern brick and happy red roof, the ornate ironwork seeming completely of place amidst the charred fences, burnt hedges, the singed lawns that surround it. No light, no sound from inside. There is no power or water. But the house still stands. How, I have no idea.
I look across the road. Aaron’s house is there but the double garage with his pine loft office is now one of the smoking piles of inky beams, tin twisted bizarrely as if it died in contorting agony. A caustic, melted-plastic smell wafts over from the wreckage making me feel a little ill. His computers?
The next house down the road is completely gone. Once a massive modern McMansion just completed, the owner-builder’s dream now an unrecognisable tangle of girders and cement piled like a lava flow into crazy mounds. I didn’t know concrete could melt. I wonder if Dan will rebuild.
Further down my street power poles, fallen trees and electricity lines lay tossed randomly around like my childhood game of Pickup Sticks. Another four yards, all in a row, are gaping holes containing the cremated remains of what were once homes alive with life and sound and stories. Some contain vehicles, their sightless windows and naked frames all that remain. Those also smell, like burnt plastic and gasoline.
Past the four burned houses is one like mine, completely untouched by the flames. Then beyond, more sooty skeletons and vacant lots. Random, fickle, reasonless chance; the fingers of flames pointing and picking in a manic dance of evil. I shiver again, despite the pallid sunlight struggling to warm me through the veil of smoke.
Looking back at my house I feel guilt instead of fortune. How can I be grateful when so many others are homeless? Possibly hundreds of homes are lost or damaged, yet mine stands defiantly and cheerfully unscathed amidst the carnage. Guilt too, because I should want to return but I don’t. I never want to come back to this place of terror. I almost wish it had burned. I wonder for a crazy second if this is some horrible nightmare that I will wake from but feel the kick to my gut as I realise that this is reality.
Taking a bracing breath, I walk to the gate hanging staunchly on its brick post. The security is redundant now as I walk around it, stepping over the wire still attached to the wooden fence-posts laying on the ground like charred, slain soldiers.
The lawn is as far as I get. Bile rises in my throat, tears prick my eyes, panic wraps itself around my ribs as I struggle for air. Weight like a cement slab threatening to enclose me in a tomb of terror.
I sob back to my car and drive away. Back to the real world; relief at getting out but guilt that I am not stronger, back to safety yet wondering if I will ever feel safe again. I survived the fire but wonder if I will survive after the fire.
Black. It used to be colour and life, now everything is black.