A fire alarm box, fire alarm call box or box alarm was an early device seen on city streets used for calling the fire department. In the old days these boxes utilized a telegraph system and provided neighborhoods with the ability to summon help at any time. This, of course, was before telephones were invented. When a box alarm was pulled a signal was tapped out indicating the box number, and with it, its corresponding location, usually where cross streets were situated. This would alert the fire department directly. Firemen on watch would receive these signals and be able to discern the alarm's general location. Then the closest or most appropriate fire station/s would respond to the call.
Today, this system has been deemed long obsolete. Modern 911 systems dominate most, if not all, American cities as the primary method for summoning help. Box alarms, however, can still be found here and there, but their role has been relegated to street furniture.
Trevor J. Adams, Esq. wished his attire was a little more conducive to urban exploration. When he agreed to meet Archie Baczkowski at an old, nearly dilapidated brewery house, it should have occurred to him that his kaki shorts and Sperry Top-Siders weren't going to cut it.
Following behind the older man as he stepped into the gloomy building, he could feel small shards of broken glass mixed with crumbs of plaster crush beneath his feet. He wouldn't have been at all surprised if he suddenly felt the stab of a rusty nail punch through the sole of one of his favorite vacation shoes.
The building was cavernous, and its air, stale. Its bare brick walls glistened with dampness, and its windows, cobwebbed, dirty, and only slightly transparent, stopped more sunlight than they allowed in. Light that did manage to pierce its way through, did so in pronounced beams where floating bits of dust and debris danced, seemingly trapped in their own orbit of slow decay.
Trevor had been involved in a steady search now for nearly six months, trying a find an old place rich in character but still suitable for refurbishing and "modernizing." He hated that word. The plan was to create a home for his life long passion: antique collecting and selling. He wanted a place that lent itself to the look and feel of antiquity, yet possessed the ability, within his budget, to be covertly outfitted with fast and efficient technology.
This building, he was already able to ascertain, was too far behind in even the most basic of amenities. He wouldn't know where to start. Still, he drove halfway across Philadelphia to meet this man, so the least he could do was give it his full consideration.
"As you can see," Archie said, his hand whipping around as he spoke, "most of the big machinery has been removed. You've got plenty of space here."
Archie was gruff in both his appearance and his tone. He moved slowly with his over-sized pants pulled up way too high, and his t-shirt, sporting a faded picture of the Liberty Bell, had seen better days. His tired words seemed rehearsed, and came off dismissive, as if he couldn't wait to say them and be done with it. To top it off, there was a haughty air about him that suggested you might want to get his approval on any and all matters.
Lucky for Trevor, he couldn't care less. He just wanted to look over the property.
"How long has this place been shut down?"
The old man stopped, looking up to an imaginary point of reference. "Let's see... it first went into service in "54... there was the big walkout in "62... buy out in "88. Oh, I'd say twenty years give or take. I guess it couldn't keep up with the changin' times."
They continued walking again, as Archie began to reminisce.
"It was just a simple place, run by simple folks. Bustin' their backs to make ends meet. But you know how it is. The big breweries, the corporate conglomerates, come around with their fancy shoes and bastard lawyers. Pffft! Gone like that. Off to China along with everything else."
Trevor bit his lip a little. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Yep," Archie sighed. "You know how it is."
As they continued on, Trevor craned his neck looking at the ceiling and rafters. There was clear evidence of water damage, and he thought he could hear birds flying about somewhere in the dark shadows.
"How's the wiring holding up?" he asked.
"Most of it was redone."
Not up to code, I'm sure,Trevor thought. "And the plumbing?"
"That's another story," the old man quipped.
"Really," Trevor replied, making sure his waning enthusiasm showed.
"Any good with your hands?"
Trevor faced the other way before mumbling a response. "I don't know. The right wine. The right music. My magic reveals itself when ready."
"Here and there, Archie. Here and there."
Archie stopped and took a moment to size Trevor up. He gave him the slow once over.
"So, what is it that you do, Mr. Adams?"
Trevor brushed some dirt from his polo shirt. "I'm a bastard lawyer."
Archie just looked at him with undetectable emotion. His lip twisted queerly, his nose twitched.
Trevor stood his ground and secretly wondered if the man was screaming Polish obscenities inside his brain.
Turning away from Trevor, he picked up where he had left off. "I think the original coal burning furnace is in the basement. I'll show it to you."
Trevor smirked and followed behind once more.
As they worked their way down to the basement the temperature seemed to plummet at least twenty degrees. Large stone arch supports, dripping with mineral stalactites, vaulted low overhead. It was hard to see. Archie was moving painfully slow.
"So, what did you have in mind?"
Trevor paused to extricate himself from a spider web. "What? What was that?"
"This building. What did you have in mind?"
Trevor hated having to explain any element of his personal life to this man. He knew he was a judgmental old fuck, and had no intention of moving further in his endeavor with him and this God-awful dwelling.
"My girl and I are hoping to open our own antique business. The time is right. I'm on hiatus while she continues on at her firm. We both work in law."
They continued on through the darkening basement. The temperature dropped even more, and dampness tapped at their bones. The scent of mold and mildew became more and more distinct.
"Yoos two live around here?"
"No. No, we have a condominium in Center City."
"How long have you been married?"
Oh, here we go, Trevor thought. "We're not."
"Hummph," was all that the man could come up with.
Trevor just rolled his eyes. He would have turned and headed right out if he could see three inches in front of his face. At the moment he was a slave to his tormentor.
Donna would find this hysterical, he thought. She loved getting a good laugh at his expense.
His mind wandered back - five years. He was at a swanky bar whose name he couldn't recall. A buddy of his was in from Cleveland and they were supposed to meet for a beer. With his friend long overdue, Trevor's attention had begun to wander.
That's when he had spotted Donna, a tall, brown-haired, brown-eyed beauty, standing at the bar and shuffling through her purse. Her hair, softly highlighted by the sun along the sides, stopped midway down her back. She wore a loose fitting top that was pushed away by her breasts in such a way that it made the lower half of her shirt dangle delicately above her beltline, revealing slightly, her slender midsection. Simple yet form-flattering jeans hung a little low on her hips, and came to an end over, not in, a pair of trendy cowboy boots.
She appeared to be alone, but her confidence, Trevor had found, was hypnotizing. Other guys in the bar had zeroed in on her already and were not at all trying to hide it. Still, she seemed to have an invisible barrier around her. It wasn't a wall - just an intimidating fence. It could be climbed, but you had to know what you were doing.
Trevor had not the slightest idea of what he was doing. His success with women was not great. He struggled with openings, foundered during relationships, and was still plagued by fallout resulting from turbulent endings. It was a complex game of chess to him and he was all pawns. This was why, he often thought, he was a great cat person.
At one point, she glanced his way. The moment was infinitesimally short lived, but he had, at that instant felt something he had never felt before, nor had since. It was a strange feeling; that their souls had somehow recognized one another - even before their eyes met.
It was a ridiculous notion to him. Trevor was not a man for flights of fancy, not in a long shot. Still, he could not deny what he had felt. He had to find this out, to knock on this mysterious door.
Holding his breath, he walked up to the bar, trying to come off cool and casual. It wasn't working. He was scared to death. Why did he feel like so much was riding on this? On his approach, he felt himself break through into that very moment when it becomes clear to a woman that a man is not merely ambling to the bar but is in fact walking to her. It was the point of no return.
He made it to the adjacent barstool with the same gracefulness with which the Titanic met the iceberg. SCRAPE. BANG. Trying a nonchalant recovery, he began to feel stabbing pangs of self-conscious panic when Donna set her purse down and looked directly at him with expectant eyes.
Trevor smiled... awkwardly. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he pulled a fragment of knowledge he had somehow retained from his political science class during his freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania.
"You know Eleanor Roosevelt once said, 'Do one thing every day that scares you.'"
Donna smiled and nodded her head. "She did, did she," was all she said.
"Yes, she did. And right now... I'm terrified."
Donna smiled and blushed. He had just laid it all out on the line and it appeared to him that she respected that. Asking him to join her, it was clear he had earned her trust, or at least, piqued her curiosity.
Trevor so lost in thought, nearly walked into Archie's back.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Archie. I can't see a thing down here."
"God damn it," Archie snapped. "I forgot how dark it is down here now since I had all the low level windows bricked up. Friggin' vandals."
"Maybe we should... "
Trevor's words were cut off by a sharp CRACK!
There was a sudden glow illuminating the stone basement around them.
Trevor felt an icy chill race up his spine like a thousand cold spiders. He could smell smoke, spent sulfur.
"What... what are you doing?"
"I got some rolled paper here," the old man replied.
Trevor watched in horror as Archie raised a makeshift torch to the lit match.
"No! Please don't do that!"
"Oh, don't worry. There's nothing down here that can burn."
Trevor felt himself begin to tremble uncontrollably. Sweat was forming on the palms of his hands.
The torch flared up. He could hear the flames cracking and snapping. The smoke tinged his eyes. His voice took on a strange pitch, a tone not unlike that of a frightened child.
"No, please put that out!"
Archie could hear the raw fear in Trevor's voice. He didn't know what to make of it. The sudden change in affect threw him. Confused, he stumbled about, waving the torch around, feeding the flames.
"What's the matter?"
Trevor felt his panic surge beyond his control. He tried to run, but once outside the fire glow, found himself lost and flailing in blackness. This only caused Archie to chase after him, flame in hand.
Trevor threw his hands out in front of his face as if being attacked. "Put it out! Put it out! Put it out! Put it out! Put it out!"
"What? Why?" Archie asked, alarmed and bewildered.
Trevor pressed himself into a corner. "Please! Don't come near me with that!"
The old man, scared and panicked himself, threw the paper on the ground and began stomping it out. Stubborn at first, it was soon extinguished.
"Okay, son!! It's okay! I put it out. It's out."
Trevor's back was against the wall. Slowly his body slid to the cold floor, his arms still out in front of his face, flailing around.
"Please, put it out! Put it out! Put it out! Put it out! Put it out!"
He began to sob uncontrollably, his face in his hands.
Amidst the dark basement, the old man stood over him dumbfounded, not knowing what to do.
"Hey, are you going to be okay?"
Trevor just continued to sob like a boy.