Chapter 1: The Incident
Monday, July 9, 2007
It was quite the ordinary day as Mr. Cedric Belton Cedarbrook emerged from his stately suburban London home on his daily constitutional. The weather was warm but not stuffy and the sun dominated the blue sky. Clouds had fled during the early hours shortly before the Englishman exited his front door.
The elderly gentleman (for he was a gentle man) walked down the driveway and paused to admire his magnificent brick home. He and his wife had purchased this large, beautiful residence a mere three years ago at a time when he first pondered retirement. So, they spent a considerable sum and moved in early 2004. It was a lovely two-story structure in Hampstead surrounded by a good-size lawn.
Passing through the gate, he turned right and began his quick stride up Elm Walk, a pleasant street with beautiful homes and spacious lawns. At six-feet four-inches, his steps devoured the pavement beneath them. He seemed to walk even more briskly today, likely a consequence of the delightful weather.
C. B., as he was known to his friends, was a handsome man at sixty-five years of age. His head still boasted of a considerable amount of gray hair, but, today, was covered by a recently purchased hat. His curly moustache matched the color of his hair as did his sparkling gray eyes. His sight remained strong except when he was reading. That was the only time he required spectacles.
Cedarbrook continued his pace down the street and crossed West Heath Street seeing no other soul or vehicle. This was somewhat unusual but not unprecedented. The homes were few and somewhat far between and traffic was seldom a problem much to his delight.
Elm Walk changed to Beaumont Gardens on the western side of Heath. Trees populated much of the ground to his left. Only a few homes were on this stretch of the road. Cedarbrook always traveled down this long block, circled, and returned to Heath.
Unlike the younger generation who exercised with plugs in their ears, listening to their music, Cedarbrook wore no such devices. He enjoyed merely listening to the sounds of nature. The birds were chirping today though he had no idea what species they were. He never had much of an interest in ornithology. Loud music was blasting from the nearby home on his right. He recalled its residents were new to the area and of a much younger age than his. If his memory was correct, their name was Russell and they were on some assignment from America.
“Oh, what this younger generation considers to be fine music,” thought Cedarbrook, shaking his head as he passed the home. At his age, he was quite settled in his ways, and those “ways” did not enjoy such contemporary sounds.
He reached the circle of Beaumont Gardens and began his return to Heath. As he walked, he contemplated the decline of civilization, partly the result of modern music such as was still blaring from the Russell home. The roar of a jet caused his thoughts to wander and his eyes to glance heavenward. It was either arriving at or departing from Heathrow. The loud music faded from his ears as well as from his mind.
When the recently retired investment broker reached Heath, he turned left, walked for a block, and turned right onto Weston Hill, the street which ran behind his own home. By this point, he had traveled almost a half-mile. His morning excursion was roughly one-third complete. He would circle Weston Hill and then return to his home on Elm Walk.
His attention was diverted to his left, to the flowers in front of the Henson’s home. David and Betty Henson were long-time friends of the Cedarbrook’s and one reason they had moved to Hampstead. The former couple maintained one of the nicest flowerbeds in the neighborhood. As he passed by their home, he noticed the beautiful red roses, his wife’s favorite.
The thought of his wife brought some sadness and concern to his soul. She was still asleep back home, ill in bed, as she had been for the past week. The doctor said she was suffering from a severe cold and needed to watch out for the development of pneumonia. The elderly couple was learning that old age was, as the saying goes, not for cowards.
The roar of a nearby automobile engine snapped the Englishman back into the present. A car was backing out of the driveway of a home on the left side of the street. He was surprised when he realized this was the first moving automobile he had witnessed on his entire journey. As the car passed him going the opposite direction, the retired elderly gentleman stopped his walk. Something caught his attention.
It was a strange sound he was hearing, a somewhat high-pitched whine growing louder by the second. He sensed it originated from above, to his left, slightly behind him, and off to the west. He turned to his left and gazed into the sky above the neighborhood homes, his eyes opened wide.
There, far above, was some object streaking towards the earth at almost a forty-five-degree angle. It appeared to be small but quite shiny, reflecting the brilliant eastern sun off its nose. As it continued its descent, the shrieking, whining sound emanating from it reached an unbearable level. Cedarbrook paused his steps and covered his ears with his hands. Then, horror!
A tremendous “boom” roared down the street to his left and flames leapt into the sky. A massive explosion quickly followed the initial crash, knocking the hat from the gray-haired man’s head. Neighbors began pouring out of their homes to see what had happened.
“Whatever that was,” exclaimed Cedarbrook to no one, “it has crashed in our neighborhood!” Staring at the flames and smoke arising far above the Elm Walk rooftops, the thought suddenly crossed the old man’s mind.
“Why, those are coming from near my home!” Realizing the falling debris must have impacted one of the neighborhood residences, Cedarbrook began to reverse his steps, now jogging to West Heath. He turned left and jogged a few feet to Elm Walk.
As he rounded the corner, he realized the flames were quite close to his home. His jog became a run. The smoke was very near his home, perhaps just next door. Flames were now visible, streaming above the neighborhood treetops. His heart began to race, and his mind began to imagine the unimaginable. Behind him, in the distance, he heard a new high-pitched sound, the sound of sirens. Police and fire were already on their way to the scene.
After taking only a few steps down his street, Cedarbrook froze in the middle of the road. It was his beautiful home! The flames were leaping out of the windows and the roof, quickly consuming the structure. Within seconds, the entire roof collapsed onto the second story. His worse fears had come true. The streaking, heavenly object had crashed into his residence and the home was ablaze.
Unable to move, he watched the second story give way and collapse to the ground. A smaller explosion was heard, and more flames shot upward seemingly from the earth itself. “Maggie!” he screamed, suddenly remembering his suffering wife who had been in the upstairs bedroom. As he fell to the ground in shock and horror, the emergency vehicles appeared on the street.
Mr. Cedric Belton Cedarbrook fainted, his eyes closing on firemen rushing to the blazing remains of his residence.