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The Burnt House (Excerpt)
By Faye Kellerman
July, 2007, 16:19

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he cereal spoon stopped mid-air. Rina turned to her husband. “What was that?”

“I don’t know.” The lights flickered and died along with the TV, the refrigerator and probably everything in the house electrical. Decker reached over and picked up the portable phone. He punched in one of the land lines but got no response.

Rina lowered the spoon into the cereal bowl. “Dead?”

“Yep.” Decker flicked the light switch on and off, a futile gesture of hope. It was eight in the morning and the kitchen was bathed in eastern light that didn’t require electrical augmentation. “Something blew. Probably a major transformer.” He frowned. “That shouldn’t affect the phone lines, though.” He pulled out his cell and tried to contact someone on a land line at work. With no response coming from the other end, Decker knew that the damage was wide-spread.

The West Valley substation—Devonshire division in another age—was a few miles away from where Decker lived. When this kind of thing happened, the place was a madhouse, a switchboard of panicked people with emergency lines ringing off the hook. “I should go to work. The switchboard must be going nuts.”

“You didn’t eat,” Rina said.

“I’ll grab something from the machines.”

“Peter, if it’s just a transformer, there isn’t anything you can do about it. You’ll probably have a long day. I think you should fuel up.”

There was logic to that. Decker sat back down and poured some skim milk into his cereal bowl already laden with strawberries and bananas. They ate in silence for two bites. He noticed the wrinkle in Rina’s brow. “You’re concerned about Hannah.”

“A little.”

“I’ll stop by the school on my way to work.”

“I’d appreciate it.” Rina tried to think of something to say to distract the both of them. The default conversation was the kids. “Cindy called yesterday. She and Koby are coming over Friday night for dinner.”

“They were just here a week ago.” He looked at his wife. “Two weeks in a row?”

Rina shrugged. “Maybe they love my food.”

Decker finished his cereal. “How are the boys?”

“I talked to Sammy yesterday. He’s fine. Jacob only calls before Shabbos or if he’s upset. Since he hasn’t called, I’m assuming everything is fine.”

Decker nodded, but was distracted. He stood and tried the land phone again. The machine was still lifeless. “Is the den computer still plugged into a battery pack?”

“I think so.”

“Let me try something.” Decker unplugged the small, portable, kitchen TV and lugged it into the back den. Rina followed and watched her husband drop to the floor and inserted the electrical chord into one of the empty sockets. The seven inch screen sprung to life. Decker tried one of the local stations. The TV was color but the images on it were shades of black and gray.

“What are we looking at?” Rina asked.

“A fire.” As if to underscore Decker’s pronouncement, a billowing cloud of orange flames materialized. His cell jumped to life. “Decker.”

“Strapp here. Where are you?”

For the Captain to be calling him on his cell, something was really wrong. “At home. I’m just about to leave-”

“Don’t come into the station. We’ve got an emergency situation. Plane crash on Seacrest Drive between Hobart and Macon-“

“Good Lord-”

“What?” Rina asked.

Frantically, Decker waved her off.

“Is it Hannah?”

Decker shook his head while trying to digest the captain’s words. “ … took down an apartment building. A few firefighters are already at the scene, but the local units are going to need reinforcements ASAP. All units are being directed to Seacrest and Belarose. We’re planning tactical.”

“I’m ten minutes away.”

“You got a roof light in your vehicle?”


“Use it!” The captain hung up.

“What?” Rina was pale.

“Plane crash-”

“Oh my God!” Rina gasped.

“It landed on an apartment- …” Decker stopped talking, his ears picking up the wail of the background sirens. He pulled his jacket off the back of the chair



“Where on Seacrest?”

“Between Hobart and Macon.”

“Peter, that’s about five minutes from Hannah’s school!”

“Go get the Volvo. I’ll convoy you over with the siren in the unmarked and then go out to the scene.”

Rina’s eyes were still peeled on the TV screen. Unceremoniously, Decker turned it off. “You can listen on the radio. Let’s go!”

Rina snapped out of her stupor, realizing the extent of what was to follow. A very long day followed by a very, very long night. She wasn’t going to see him for the next twenty-four hours. But unlike the people on the plane, she would see him again. Her heart started racing, her throat clogged up with emotions, but words escaped her.

Once they were outside, she found her voice. “Be careful, Peter.”

He nodded, but he wasn’t paying attention. He opened the car door for her and she slipped inside. “I love you.”

“Love you too. And yes, I will be careful.”

“Thank you. I didn’t think you heard me.”

“Normally, I probably wouldn’t have, but right now I could hear a butterfly. That’s what happens when overdrives kicks in. All senses suddenly warp speed to hyper-alert.”

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