A woman, Eileen, middle-aged, dressed in a skirt and brown heels, walked rapidly down the street, down the incline of the hill. Her hair whipped in front of her face. Her hands grazed the dull metal parking meters. She looked back. There they were at the top of the hill--dark figures. They moved quickly, circling in. She walked faster, tried to jog, but didn't know where to go but to keep going down the hill. There was no one around, not even any cars.
They caught up to her. They were black amorphous blobs with hands and claws darting out of their bodies. She punched and her hands fell into a cloudlike substance, no connection, but their hands were solid enough to grab at her clothes.
She screamed and pushed. She tore at the hands, ripping them off. Then they opened their mouths. They had teeth of charred black wood, ashen tongues.
"Why?" they asked in unison, "Why?"
"Go away," said Eileen, "please go away!"
"I don't know! I honestly don't know!" She leaned against the tiled wall of a pharmacy. "Please...leave me alone." She started crying.
Eileen pushed away from the wall and started running again. The hands did not hold her back, but she heard them, receding.
"Why? Why? Mommy, why?"
Eileen fell into a parking meter, clutched it. She shook with fury. Why? Why did I leave them?
She saw the flames again, as if they were right in front of her. She smelled the smoke. She saw the bodies of her children in their beds, after the firemen put out the fire. Crumpled charred husks, little more than outlines. She remembered the cigarette she lit and never put out, resting on her lap in bed. She remembered gazing at the cherry on the end, her vision blurred, about to pass out. Why? Why? Why?