Gary grumpily opened one eye and lumbered out of bed and into his apartment's small kitchen. What was wrong? Something just didn't seem right. Yawning, he drank a glass of water and mumbled, "Well, I guess I was just dreaming. I'd better go back to bed. Shuffling back to his bedroom, he suddenly heard a crackling noise and bright orange flames were licking under the doorway. "Oh my gosh! I wasn't dreaming! I must have been smelling smoke of something!" he cried. He panicked. "O. K., now, they're gone just put out this little fire and everything's gone be fine." But as he felt the heat getting more and more intense, he knew he was going to have to get out. Grabbing his most prized possessions, and shoving on his boots, he forced open the window and hurried down the fire escape. Looking upwards, he gasped and ran back away from the building. Huge orange and yellow flames were pouring out of the building, devouring everything in sight. Luckily, it had not yet reached his apartment, but was feet away. The fire department was doing all they could to put out the fire, but it was going very slowly and the fire inched closer and closer to his apartment. He took a few steps back, and then everything went black.
The next thing he knew, he was hearing beeps and a huge masked face was leaning over him.
"Gary? Gary? You gonna be O.K.? It's me, Chuck."
"Ohhh…" he groaned, then half-heartedly tried to stand up.
"You took a really bad fall there. Your kitchen is pretty crispy, but I think the rest of it's all right." Chuck reassured him. "You're gonna have to move in with me for a while." He helped Gary climb unsteadily from the hospital bed. "It's time to go home."
Gary sat down in the waiting wheelchair, and dazedly stared at the halls and doctors as he was wheeled down the hallway to Chuck's waiting Lexus. He got in and Chuck started the car. "Ohhh…" he groaned. He knew Chuck's driving antics and did not feel ready for this in the middle of the night.
"Oops, sorry Gary," Chuck said as he swerved to avoid an oncoming car. Zooming straight through a red light, the wheel screeched as he made a big U-turn. "Sorry," he muttered. Finally he pulled into his parking space at his apartment, only to be hit in the rear by a car who was pulling out of the space behind him. Getting out and slamming the door, he yelled at the driver: Watch what you're doing!" Lowering his voice, he added, "Yikes! We need more careful drivers in this town, don't we Gary?" Gary only moaned in reply. "Gary? Oh, well. I can't wait until you meet Zinnia. She's such a great woman. I have a date with her tomorrow night."
"Yelch!" Gary thought. Most of the people Chuck took out were disorganized, brainless slobs, and few lasted more then one date. "Well, at least he dates people who are a lot like him!" Gary thought, and smiled.
"Well, here we are," Chuck said as he turned the key to his apartment, "my humble abode." Gary almost fainted again when he saw his apartment. He'd known that it was messy, but he had had no idea it was that messy! A moldy banana peel lay draped over the chair, and assorted pieces of wadded paper, gum wrappers, and empty coke cans strewn all over the place.
Sweeping the trash off the couch, he cleared a spot for Gary to sleep. Clicking on the T.V. and turning to a basketball game, he grabbed a handful of stale pretzels and said "Well, here we are. Make yourself at home." He said this with his mouth full, so it was slightly difficult for Gary to discern what he was saying. "Why didn't the paper warn me?" he wondered. He whipped the paper out of his back pocket. Scanning the page quickly, he found a small notice that he had missed the first time.
"Lakefield Apartments in downtown Chicago burned down last night due to a stove fire. The extent of damage is not yet known."
Gary groaned and quietly tried to sweep off a place in the couch and rest. Chuck had been painting his cabinets bright red, an idea he had recently gotten, so cans of red paint sat around everywhere and the nauseating odor of paint wafted through the air. Gary began to feel very sick. A bottle of Aspirin sat high on a shelf next to Chuck's beloved goldfish, Sparky's bowl. Clumsily, Gary stood up and tried to grab the bottle. His hand swerved and hit Sparky's bowl, spilling its entire contents into a waiting bucket of red paint.
"SPARKY!!!" Chuck yelled and raced to the scene. He spluttered a few moments then grabbed a plastic baggie, filled it with water, and dumped Sparky in. "Gary, C'mon! We've got to get Sparky to the fishy doctor before it's too late!" Chuck cried.
Gary moaned as Chuck swerved crazily around the road. With a sinking feeling he realized Chuck was more worried about the dumb fish then about Gary! Finally, they were there. Chuck rushed into the vet's, fishy bag and all. "We have an emergency!" he yelled, and ran into the nearest examining room. About ten minutes later, he came out and bust into tears. "They have to keep him with them until he's all better," he bawled. "How am I gonna live without my Sparky?!"
Back at the apartment, Chuck didn't even bother to clean up the mess, just turned the t.v. back on and shot Gary a "it's all your fault" glare. Gary tried to apologize, and then gave up and fell asleep.
The next morning, Gary woke up with a start. Where was he? Then it all came back, the fire, the hospital, the goldfish. He groaned and rolled over. Finally he got up only to find Chuck still asleep. He started the coffee to boil, and then suddenly he realized something. Where would the cat deliver the paper? He raced to the door and pulled it open. All that was there was an empty piece of carpet. What would happen? There would be headlines: MAN FINDS PAPER DAY EARLY, ALL PREDICTIONS TRUE. Then he would be over with. Done. "Come on, cat. Come on." He thought. Suddenly he felt a harsh "WHAP" on his head and fell backward.
"Whatcha starin' at the floor for, Mister? There's nothin' there but carpet," A deep voice bellowed. He looked up to see a delivery man staring down at him. The man chuckled. "Here's yer stuff that wasn't toasted." He left, leaving a huge box behind him.
Gary halfheartedly tried to drag the huge crate inside when he heard a lone "meow". Was it real or was he going crazy or something? It came again. "meow." He slammed the door and ripped off the top board. A tabby cat jumped into his arms. A paper sat at the top of the box. Was it magic? Or luck? He didn't know. Smiling, he sat down with his cup of coffee and began to read the paper.
P.S. Sparky came back fine, although he forever after had a slightly reddish tint to his scales…
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