First they burned the Joneses’: a wide, flat, single-family duplex that had always housed too many mouthy little cunts, anyway. Those popsicle-red tongues of fire flicked and waggled from window sills—nah-ne-nah-ne-boo-boo—as the girls moaned and scraped their knees on the sidewalk. Their nice green yard: now yellow, now brown.
Scorched bald, all but the eldest who’d always slicked hers down across her forehead, so that from behind or at a short distance the question arose—male or female? Now, in climate-controlled homes, in structures still sheltering custom wallpaper and reputable kitchen appliances, the discussion naturally returned to their hairstyles. Those weaves had been ridiculous, after all. Hadn’t they been taught to be proud?
Outside, ash streaked their upturned faces white. The mother and father becoming inevitably blacker amidst the lazy flames.
Up and down the street, whispers fogged panes of glass: They’re trying to stop it from spreading, you’ll see.
It was not possible to determine the source of the fires. Those setting them had no discernible agenda. No clear target, said the neuters in black fatigues from behind tinted shields, aiming their guns inadvertently.
STAY IN YOUR HOMES. YOU WILL NOT BE HARMED.
Of course, they hadn’t marched in armed with hoses. So, everyone held position.
Behind homes, walls were hastily erected against chaos, backyard fences dwarfed and reinforced by towering cinderblock perimeters. All progress duly noted between bent blinds.
Doesn’t the Smiths' wall seem just a little bit taller to you?
Listen: you can still hear the Schwartz’s worthless fucking dog.
Still, they burned the Raychaudhuri’s bi-level. Rumor had it a member of the weaponized neuter squad was actually inside, poking his little beak in that dirty bird’s nest, just like every other boy ever had.
(How her parents pretended not to know, how the whole family acted so superior and proud. Sending her to boarding school, better hope she’s on birth control. They’d never attended the neighborhood luaus, the scrimmage softball games, or fundraising yard sales. Kept their blinds closed.)
It was dusk when the fire started, so both sides of the sky were drenched in kermes when his screams pierced the feathered dusk, when families raced to their well-stocked window sills mistaking his falsetto; he was a woman until their binoculars were raised, adjusted. Blind hands groped for bottles but poured full glasses with ease. Blankets were drawn and gathered across shoulders. No one blinked.
Mr. Raychaudhuri flailed until they released him. Everyone gasped when he threw himself against the house and then lay down, shrouded in flame, watching the smoke clouds fly away from his driveway. Who would dare put him out?
Of course, afterward, androgynous armed heroes surrounded the spot where his body had burned to a shadow. Heads bowed, themselves mere shades against so much crimson.
They were sick—all of them—and they knew it. But without symptoms, who could diagnose them? The fires were the only way.
Everyone suspected the Nguyens knew something they weren’t sharing. Weren’t they from China or North Korea, or at least somewhere hateful and culturally inarticulate?
Or because they were “eclectic”—suspiciously on-trend. Had their precious chickens become rotisserie in the fire? Didn’t the air just reek of smoldering compost and “deviant” art?
When their bodies were declared missing after the gas masks pillaged the bungalow’s remains, newspapers beseeched the Governor to declare a National Emergency, and internet communities charged right past hysteria and guarded suspicion into cynicism, questioning the ulterior motives of everyone, especially adopted Asian girls. But behind wooden venetians and dual-paned windows, who had time to notice the difference?
That same night, three men in three separate homes masturbated, imagining they’d been kidnapped by kimono-clad, lesbian, ninja-terrorists.
After the Nguyen's fire, a helicopter flew overhead every quarter hour. But for days nothing burned. What is our sickness? From what do we suffer? Neighbors hollered across yards and over fences. From opposite the kitchen table they confided: We are still here because it’s not our fault. We are healthy—you know why. Everyone prayed with their fingers crossed.
Two weeks into the unknown arsonist’s sobriety there was a mass evacuation of all armored enforcement squads, but how or when the teams took flight—a mystery. One morning, the walls hovering behind each home seemed to urge a gathering; even from third floor windows, no clearly demarcated exit could be found.
Only the Smith, Stewart, Ryan, Wheeler, Richardson, and Walton houses remained. Each family’s patriarch standing at the front door, and then at the driveway, and finally at the street—each inspecting his neighbors' and—after a slant-eyed assessment of those remaining—converging at the roundabout, sniffing the air, pressing temples, holding chins to think.
From their gaping doorways the wives observed them nodding, discussing. When each woman felt assured that safety and peace-of-mind were forthcoming, she turned her attention back toward herself, and looked around. Robes were pulled tight, hairs smoothed or fluffed. Sleep was discreetly picked from the corners of eyes.
To Mrs. Smith it was clear that Mrs. Wheeler hadn’t bothered to shower, and Mrs. Wheeler saw the way Mrs. Richardson fondled her pocket and felt satisfied to know she’d again taken up smoking. Ms. Ryan would have confirmed smelling the tobacco smoke, as her backyard was just a few down from the Richardsons' but she was watching Mrs. Walton whose enormous tits were ever-braless and perky, and who Mrs. Ryan’s husband would eagerly fuck if given half the chance. Mrs. Stewart would have gratefully fucked her too, but was distracted by the jalopy parked in the Ryans' open garage, announcing its owner, their Puerto Rican housekeeper, in pink and white letters—what was her name? Maria Something? Slender, strangely petulant, and curvy as a mountain pass, she should have been sent home weeks ago.
In turn, each woman wondered of the others: how low is she willing to stoop to keep a leash on her man’s dick?
As usual, it was Mrs. Walton who broke the taut silence, running out into the street with her arms open, tits cresting and crashing, complexion creamy, mouth tied in a lipo-perfect bow, and cried: My Girls! My girls! O—Finally! And each one smiled.
Candra Kolodziej lives in Traverse City, MI. Her most recent fiction has been featured by Eleven Eleven Journal, Hobartpulp.com, and Uncanny Valley. Find her on Twitter @trappedbydesign and Ello @candra where daily she decries the industry standard third-person author bio and champions the tenants of economic socialism.