Probie Hoseman (2877 words)
Probie Hoseman; what do you say about such as Probie Hoseman? Deluded he was; he thought his destiny lay in fighting fires. But he sat never knowing he was waiting in the firehouse not for fire, but for water to break out someplace; water to come up and destroy; water to drown and suffocate; water to overtop and flood out. Things had swapped you see, between Vulcan and Neptune; a deal was made and the laws of nature were adjusted. Probie Hoseman was appointed to watch, in the big grey firehouse, for the need to rush to combat any breakouts of rushing, overtopping, drowning, all engulfing waves, and didn’t know it.
Across town from Probie Hoseman, the Cuzzak funeral home stood grey and tall on the corner of two prominent streets across from the Immaculate Church whose patrons it serviced. Inmates, not patrons, they should have been called, as the church had them firmly in its grip and they truly believed that to spend a lifetime in that particular church and to die and to be funneled into heaven by that particular funeral home, which was the biggest by far in town, was their fate, and they lived their lives accordingly. In the dark basement of the funeral home, a short wide man with a fat face and shock of hair worked on the latest townsperson to be laid out there; a Mrs. Singapore who had been going to that church for sixty years. She lay stretched on the icy steel table nude as a newborn, as Stretch Hansen, the latest embalmer, worked slowly and methodically, smoking a menthol, bringing it repeatedly to his lips, savoring its goodness, as his boss Preston Scully, across the embalming table, mocked the crude habit that one day would bring Stretch’s frame onto an icy steel tabletop too. But, unknown to him, this would be at another much less grand and more distant funeral home, because it would be after this one was reduced to rubble, leaving only a great grassy green star in the middle of the overgrown lawn.
What the hell do you smoke those things for, Stretch? said Preston, bending to adjust the tube of a cheap leaky blood dripping bag. The floor was slick.
For fun. Why do you do the things you do?
Everything in the world, Stretch, cannot be done for fun, said Preston.
Mrs. Singapore’s cold corpse quivered dead and gone between them, as Stretch probed her plump soft abdomen with his razor-tipped trocar cannula. Her pale mild face looked sightlessly upward, sunken eyes wide open, not yet sewn shut. Stretched worked vigorously, right up until he looked at his watch, let go the instrument, grabbed for a hand towel, and looked at Preston.
Hey Preston. Look at this. It’s five o’clock, time to knock off. Come on, he said, stepping back and pulling off his white lab coat, after placing his lit cigarette on the edge of the steel table. The smoke curled and branched up toward way past the ceiling, toward a place far above and beyond, where Vulcan and Neptune wakened, smiled, and got ready.
Should we put this old lady in the cold locker for the night? asked Preston.
Nah, said Stretch, tossing his coat over the back of a chair. She’ll keep. We’ll turn the heat down. Its twenty degrees outside today. Be colder tonight than last night. She’ll keep just fine.
Do we leave her like this? said Preston. Naked and with that thing stuck in her belly?
Sure. You leave a roast out to thaw all night when you’re going to cook it tomorrow, don’t you? Here, let me set this thermostat—
The cigarette was forgotten as Stretch stepped away. Its ashes dropped softly down to the floor, into the blood puddle from the leaking bag, as Vulcan and Neptune looked on smiling.
Do we mop up this blood before we leave? asked Preston.
Nah, said Stretch, peering closely at the thermostat. We’ll just be making the same mess tomorrow—there—sixty degrees. Cool. Come on, let’s go.
Ripping his keys from his pocket, Stretch opened the door, flipped off the light, and left with Preston, leaving Mrs. Singapore blanketed in dark. As the door locked for the night, Vulcan and Neptune looked at each other in their perch above, dimly smiling.
Go for it? said Vulcan, smiling.
Go for it, pronounced Neptune.
And Vulcan flicked his finger and the cigarette on the table edge rocked, and tilted, and dropped to the bloody floor. And not fire, but water, spread out its tendrils; part of the deal between the Gods; part of the magic. The water came alive. It began to engulf the floor. It was alive, and Vulcan and Neptune sat back to watch. The water rose quickly—it gushed and bubbled and surged, it came up the legs of Mrs. Singapore’s table. Rising, it touched Mrs. Singapore. She came alive. She shrieked convulsively into the world of the dead for help. But none would help. The water was relentless, rising, smothering her. She died again and the trochar protruded from the water a moment, then was gone. The room was gone, the water surged and plunged and heaved and rose. There was plenty for it to eat. It ate everything. It licked at the bottom of the door. It sluiced through under into the hall. It sought the stairs. It took the lab coats, chair, and instruments, and continued to rise and eat and grow and spread and destroy as Vulcan and Neptune looked on laughing, hysterically clutching their stomachs like mortals. Evening fell: night passed in silent chaos in Cuzzak’s funeral home as the water continued to rage higher and deeper. Dawn at last broke, upon a terrible scene.
Mrs. Petersen, the gaunt pale widow, lived next door to Cuzzak’s in a tall stone house, which was designated a Historic Place, that had been there even longer than either Cuzzak’s or the church. She tossed and turned in her large heavy bed; something began intruding on her nightly dreams of her dead husband as a knight, coming to save her on a great white charger, as he did over and over every night. The vision was replaced by the rushing rumble of gouts of water splashing someplace; in her dream, she began to need to pee. Her eyes opened and the sound of water spraying, shooting, and gushing filled her. She stumbled from her bed to the bathroom and found she could not pee, but, nonetheless, the water sounds intensified, coming down from the cracked-open window above the toilet. Rising, she peered out this window, and the soft morning light showed her water gushing from the bottom of the stained-glass windows of Cuzzak’s funeral home next door. It was unnatural; she wiped her eyes to clear them of the vision which must be the product of eyestrain, or the earliness of the hour—but the water came rushing out of the windows onto the ground. She ran into the bedroom, picked up the pearl handled telephone which, though antique like her, worked clearly—and she dialed 911, for the first and last time ever in her entire life.
I’m up by Immaculate Church. Yes. Water is everywhere. Water. Yes—it’s shooting out of Cuzzak’s funeral home. Send someone. Send someone quickly. Send someone now!
Vulcan and Neptune breathed soothing whispers smothering over the operator’s thoughts.
Water no longer takes down fire, said Neptune.
Fire takes down water now, and forever, stated Vulcan.
They chucked to themselves as the call went in, the fire bells rang, and in the bunkroom above the fire station, Probie Hoseman sprang awake. Quick as a bolt, his feet hit the floor, as did forty-nine other firemen’s, springing into action. Vulcan sat on Probie’s left shoulder and had his left ear and Neptune sat on Probie’s right shoulder and had his right ear. They were on the shoulders of all the firemen, and shouted fire takes down water; there is water to be taken; there is water to be taken down now! Go, go—and moments later men were running in all directions; suspendered men, bald men, small men, tall men—they flowed down the fire pole rushing to the downstairs lockers to begin making themselves look like real firemen, as they’d been taught. There was water to be taken; fire versus water. Downstairs in the locker room in the chaos of elbows and knees and arms and legs, and talking and yelling and laughing and the din of boots pulling on and fire gear being donned, a hand firmly came on Probie’s shoulder. He turned and faced the chiseled-faced Chief.
You’re on the lead gun today, Probie. Up in the bucket. It’s your turn.
The Chief slapped him on the arm.
Yup. When we get there, knock hell of that shit. Knock it down.
I will sir.
The men rushed for the truck, in an instant they were gone, with tall, gangly Dryden at the wheel, his fire hat half pulled over the one good eye he used for driving. The roads and traffic flowed by behind, and as the siren pierced the air. Far-off early morning walking dogs howled.
A red fire hydrant stood a half block back from Cuzzaks. Vulcan swooped for it and beat the firemen to it, spun on a hose, and it filled full of fire, steaming and straining and flaming to get out. Vulcan jumped with joy, and remained there. He bathed his face in the fire, he ran it back through his hair. And as the wailing of the fire truck arrived, Neptune was likewise in the funeral home. The water was surging up from the cellar, having killed Mrs. Singapore for the second time, and it came across the dark patterned carpet and rose quickly to the bottom of the floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows; it was from these windows the water burst waking and alarming Mrs. Petersen, who waited anxiously watching through the wavy antique glass of her lace curtained kitchen window next door. When would they get here? When would they arrive? In the main viewing parlors of the funeral home, Neptune hovered, spreading his magic. A Mr. Hackensack was laid neatly out in his gold-trimmed casket in the main viewing room; as the waters rose, the wreaths and flowers surrounding him began to rock back and forth and move and float. The water rose to the bottom of the casket, foaming, surging; and it overtopped the casket and Mr. Hackensack’s neat blue suit quivered as he came alive and strained to open his sewn-shut lids; he let out a cry like Mrs. Singapore had, but not inarticulately; he pleaded to the world of the dead to not have to be forced to go through death again, this time by drowning.
God of death, he cried—God of death, do not take me! Drowning no not that—
But the water surged over and engulfed him and his pleas and muffled them to nothing. He was covered over by water, littered with floating funeral cards and flowers and wreaths, and he slowly drowned in agony. In the next viewing room Mrs. Chrysler, who was also laid out neatly, suffered the same fate. Vulcan and Neptune did not regret this. When Gods lay plans together, nature’s laws do not apply; but outside, a small crowd had gathered on the sidewalk, hearing the sirens coming, watching the water gushing, and they heard the screams, and it was shocking.
My God someone’s in there!
My God, what was that?
Someone was yelling for help!
They’re probably trying to get the caskets out!
Yes, they must get them out—
The fifty firemen who all looked alike and who had just pulled up in the screaming fire truck poured out on the funeral home lawn and ran to begin their respective tasks. Probie Hoseman climbed to the lift bucket as the windows of Cuzzak’s first floor burst and water shot out, along with wreaths, papers, cards, and gobs of flyers and brochures and inspirational booklets and empty smelling salts wrappers. The firemen dragged out the hoses made fireproof by Vulcan, exclaiming in their frenzy lord God this is hot—lord God I am burned—Lord God this is full of fire; but the lord God was there, and he calmed them for a moment, but as the second-floor windows shattered with a bang and blasted water out over the yard, the fireman yelled, No! Get back everyone! She’s gonna blow. We’ve seen it before. She’s gonna blow!
Stretch and Preston arrived for work. Bug-eyed, they sprang yelling from their large sedan.
We work here! Preston yelled at the firemen—what the Hell is going on?
Yeah, what the Hell? cried Stretch.
The place is going up, yelled the sweating firemen. It’s gonna blow. Get back, now!
The red light of the truck played across their faces and Preston yelled at Stretch.
Your cigarette did this! That God-damned cigarette! I told you not to smoke down there!
But this is water, said Stretch. It’s all water—where is all this water coming from?
Neptune laughed loudly atop the building.
Preston said nonsense—somehow, it was your cigarette—damn you, I ought to—
And then it all happened at once.
From all windows of the funeral home, the glass shattered and water poured out and from the chimney top water fountained grandly; and the water surged across the yard like a mini-tsunami, washing back the firemen and spectators, and rocking the truck; but at that moment, Probie Hoseman opened up from the sky bucket fifty feet up, and shot out a thick jet of twisting licking wide deep red flame, that plunged into the funeral home, smashed through the roof, and a great cloud of steam shot up from the meeting of the elements; and Vulcan and Neptune danced and danced atop their cloud in heaven, in ecstasy. At the same time forty-nine firemen with fiery backpacks surrounded the building and jets of fire entered the first-floor windows and Preston gripped Stretch by the sleeve.
What are they doing, he cried. My funeral home! They’re destroying it!
It’s already destroyed, said Stretch. Can’t you see it?
Large crowds gathered to watch the battle between fire and water, and sheets and clouds of steam and smoke and cinders and spray filled the air. The roof collapsed from the force of the flames, the walls, the floors, the fire was clearly winning the fight. And an hour later, the funeral home was no more than a heap of charred rubble spread across the yard with steam and smoke and thick stench billowing, rising. All the water was gone; soaked deep into the ground, back to its element. All the fire was turned off, turned down, gone; and above it all stood Probie Hoseman, looking like a God, one hand on his smoldering fire gun, looking down at the adoring crowd, with the steady-eyed clear gaze of a hero.
Preston suddenly rushed toward the rubble.
The caskets! He cried. The bodies! The viewings! Where is it all?
Gone, called down Probe Horseman from the slowly lowering lift.
Gone, repeated the chiseled-faced chief, coming up and touching Preston’s arm.
Preston turned and looked the chief in the eye. Probie Hoseman came up.
You have insurance, he said. You will rebuild.
Yes, said Preston. Yes.
He looked down and kicked at a sodden wreath lying there among some others with the saying Farewell-Good Luck stretched across it; he stepped on the wreath and went on, hands in pockets, followed by Stretch, as, in heaven, in a cork lined room with a floor of flowers, set a long conference table with plush corporate chairs and a model of what had been the Cuzzak funeral home set in the middle. Vulcan and Neptune set at each end, their robes flowing down gathering on the floor; and along the sides sat Mrs. Chrysler, Mrs. Singapore, and Mr. Hackensack; the dead now glorified, dressed in similar robes.
How do you feel about what happened to you, said Vulcan to the three. How do you feel about being made to die twice?
Well, said Mr. Hackensack—I thought my heart attack was bad, but drowning is a bitch!
They all smiled at each other.
I didn’t mind, said Mrs. Singapore—but you could take this thing out of my belly now.
She pulled her robes aside to show the troche cannula still piercing her belly.
Oops, said Neptune—forgot about that—
They all laughed; Vulcan snapped his fingers and the cannula was gone. Mrs. Chrysler spoke next, saying, I died first of old age, in my sleep. The drowning was extra, it was pretty awful, but I only experienced death once and am grateful for it.
The others smiled and nodded. Finally, Vulcan and Neptune looked at each other and then back to the dead people, who slowly, calmly, evaporated, as down on earth, back at the firehouse, Probie Hoseman stood with his eyes closed, showering fiery sweaty filth from his body, his arms rippling with muscles as he scrubbed down clean, ready to fight again, as every true to life hero must constantly be.