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Craig drove home with his three-month chip in his pocket. His mom used to call night drives insect massacres, and he’d always been sad to see all the bug bodies plastered against the front of the car after. But driving at night was beautiful, especially out here, past the dark, [End Page 16] looming mountains, the stars so weird and bright they pricked your eyes. He rolled down his windows and took big breaths of the night air. A moth bleared into his windshield and left a puff of powdered sugar and yellow gook. It was then that he saw a light on in his house. He was a [End Page 17] few miles out. Soon the light grew into a lush and friendly orange. The color deepened mile by mile, and then he knew.
When he turned onto the dirt road, losing traction and swerving and regaining it, there were fire trucks outside his house. Bob’s house. The sound of the burning was loud, and he smelled charred cedar.
It was then that he noticed Ben barking from the upstairs deck.
Kayden was standing there with a wet face. He got out of his truck and stood next to her. Firemen worked the hose without speaking. She squeezed his hand in small pulses. She smelled like sour sweat, or maybe he did. Had he left something on? A burner on the stove? What else was there to leave on? He couldn’t think of anything he might have done wrong. He felt like he’d blacked out. There was no way the fire was not his fault. Everything that went wrong was his fault. He bent over to throw up, but nothing came out.
The firemen tried to get a ladder up to the deck, but it kept slipping off. The deck was too high; the angle was wrong. They couldn’t reach the collie.
Ben’s screams sounded like a child going Wahoo! Wahoo!
Craig watched the ladder slip off again and again. He’d only heard a dog make that noise once. At work a guy had dropped off two tame-looking pit bulls to board at Bob’s kennels and didn’t mention that they were trained for fighting. He’d walked them with a pit bull pup named Mikey that he thought might like some father figures. The bigger dogs tore Mikey apart. Craig had been high.
The firefighters stopped with the ladder and focused on hosing the flames, which ate thousands of gallons of water and hissed.
“Do something! Do something! Fucking do something!” Kayden yelled.
Craig tried not to think about Ben. Seeing so much burn at once mesmerized him.
“There’s no way to get to him,” a dirty face told Kayden, mistaking her for the dog’s owner. “We’ll have to focus on saving the structure.”
Craig found himself thinking of Kayden’s ex, picturing the douche bag lighting a nice dipper somewhere and smoking himself up into the atmosphere. He pictured the ex on top of Kayden, his sweat dripping onto her neck.
He dropped Kayden’s hand, sucked down some air, and ran into his house before anybody could stop him, wrapping his coat around his hand to open the hot front door. Inside, it was so smoky he could not breathe. [End Page 18] He took a step forward, then another. The metal chip in his pocket radiated heat. Two firemen dragged him back outside by his armpits.
Wahoo! Wahoo! Ben shrieked, unevenly now. There was another groan from the house. In one long, slow moment, the second story collapsed. Ben disappeared from sight. Kayden was quiet. She stared at where the dog had been. They all did. Craig was shuttled against his will to the hospital, so he could owe money to somebody new.
The sixth time Craig’s loved ones decided he needed to clean up, he chose Warm Springs. The name made its program sound simple. Pleasant. Not like Promises Addiction Treatment, his first. There had also been Rocky Mountain Treatment Lodge, Cirque Center, Missoula Ranch, and, worst of all...