March 03, 2010

Fire Confession

By Chris Hall © 2010

A hot summer in Auckland, the balcony door wide open as I muttered to myself about the fact the hotel I was staying in had air-con in the halls yet neglected to provide any within the room in which I was dwelling. I'd been moved from another hotel because the latter had been overbooked, the mighty AC/DC concert that was to be on the following night had every rock 'n' roll fan with 100 miles queuing up to stay in New Zealand's premier city.

This hotel room however provided a cooker and I was in the middle of poaching some fish with some rice, both had nearly been overcooked but saved just in time. I left the overheard fan on as I turned off the two hobs and settled my food down next to my laptop which was loading up a Kaki King video on YouTube for me to watch.

Just as I began to tuck in, a loud alarm-like noise went off, there was a five second pause and it went off was coming from my bedroom.

"Oh God," I thought, "I've set the hotel on fire... or at least set the alarm off... I mean it must be me, I've just been cooking... OH GOD! I'VE SET THE ALARM OFF! FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!"

The completely rational part of my brain drowned in a sea of paranoia as I frantically flapped my t-shirt underneath the alarm trying to stop it from going off. I couldn't really see any smoke, but this was an expensive hotel, maybe it had very sensitive fire-alarms that could detect it easily, but my alarm was going off. Ergo, it must be my fault.


I had to do something, as the alarm declared that people could leave the hotel if they wanted to, but they were allowed to stay in their rooms for now. I called reception, the phone ringing continuously as I occasionally ran back to flap the non-existent smoke that I had create from my fairly average cooking.


It was no use, the alarm continued to go off, I couldn't hear any other alarms in any other rooms which made me feel even worse, what would people I've never seen, met or care about think of me now that they knew I'd accidentally almost set the hotel on fire but hadn't?


When reception finally picked up, I blurted, "I think it was me. My alarm has gone off."

A calm female voice replied, "Is there smoke in your room?"

"No...," I answered, confused, before adding the damning words of confession, "but I've been cooking."

"Just stay in your room for now sir..."

I thanked her and put the phone down, if there was to be a fire I was sure I would be able to douse it with the crop-field sized sweat-patches that had appeared under my arms. If the fire brigade were to come then I was already sure they would chalk me up as a tertiary option from which to withdraw water.

The phone rang and a man's voice told me that everyone was about to be told to evacuate the hotel, he rechecked my room number, room 13 on the 13th floor, someone, somewhere was clearly laughing at me. As I put the phone back down the alarm suddenly changed, declaring loudly that now everyone was to leave the hotel.


What do I do??? I looked at the error-strewn mess that was my room and felt it could do with a tidy before I went downstairs. If the firemen were coming in here to check why I had set the alarm off, I could at least make it seemed like I had some semblance of being a normal person. Messy people are guilty people. Also, my mum tidies up the house before she has the cleaners over and that strikes me as being far more weird. Hopefully the firemen won't catch on though, they'll see the semi-smart room and think, "Wow, this is a tidy place from a confident normal young man who was so comfortable having done nothing wrong, he left all his worldly possessions in here. He must be innocent."

I walked out of my room with my keycard, in a mask of deception belying how I truly felt. The mask was immediately shattered as I walked past a man carrying a laptop who gave me a slightly quizzical look as I began the 50m walk to my right and the emergency exit, having missed the other exit roughly 2m to my left.

"He knows!!! He knows it's all my fault!" screamed the voice inside my head. I casually turned around and followed him out of the door, he smiled as he helpfully held the door open for me. This overt act of kindness seemed suspicious given the circumstances, and I kept my eye on him as he amiably walked down seven flights of stairs.

As we made it to the lobby with most of the hotel already standing outside relaxed and laughing, the guilt welled up inside of me, it then burst through my dam of silence, I couldn't take it any more and dashed to the front desk. I immediately confessed, "I think it was me...I'm in room 1313, I think it was my alarm that went off..."

The man at reception didn't look too concerned, "Was there any smoke?"

"No, but the alarm went off!"

What didn't he get? My logic horse had truly bolted the stable by now, I was gallivanting in pastures generally reserved for reality TV stars, Holocaust deniers and people who like Nickelback because they are 'edgy'.

In my head I was screaming, "I confessed, it was me! Just fine me the bazillion dollars or whatever so AJ Hackett can build another bungee in Queenstown for thrill-seeking Germans to throw themselves off."

"It might not be you sir," he said, before ushering me outside.

I wasn't convinced though and went out of the lobby, avoiding eye contact with the two hundred or so people standing outside in case they saw right through me and decide to regress into a lynching mob. All I could think at this point was, "Everyone is out here because I overcooked my rice."

In my mind I contemplated creating an alibi, by sneaking around the corner, going to a shop and coming back with a couple of bags of groceries and then saying, "What the bloody hell happened here?" in front of a couple of people who hadn't seen me. I then discounted this on the basis that around 250 people had seen me with 3 or 4 having spoken to me while the rest had probably seen me guiltily pace around nervously for about 20 minutes.

Tomorrow's newspaper headline was already solved in my mind...
Auckland executes Brit for not poaching fish properly - A nation applauds
The firemen turned up, I expected one of them to turn at me at some stage and point like in the remake of The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Maybe they saw my exceptionally tidy room and gave me a break?

Using a cover of trying to flirt with one of the barmaids who had been converted into a makeshift safety officer, I attempted to ascertain whether the staff knew in which room the alarm had been set off. She replied that she had no clue other than it had been triggered, my attempts to pump her for information (and thusly to have a shot at pumping her) hadn't really produced anything tangible but hopefully they wouldn't know that I DID IT.

The firemen left and the massive droves of people gradually filtered into the trio of elevators back to their rooms. I took the stairs and quietly got to my room, still shaking.

And then with some much needed clarity I thought.

I'd left the balcony door open...

And left the fan above the hob on...

The hobs had been turned off by me before the alarm was anywhere near starting...

In fact I was eating food at the time...

How in the blue hell could I have set the alarm off??? This epiphany proved a storm drain to the sea of stupidity awash within my brain. Soberly, I went back downstairs to retract all confessions from the front desk lest they changed their minds and sent me to work in the mines of Moria or even the Tower of Barad-dûr and let's face it, no-one wants to go there.

The man at the desk laughed. and said, "We're confident it wasn't your room, but we did check." Finally satisfied, I turned to leave and he added, "By the way, the firemen said it was a bit messy in your room so a maid has given you new clean towels and made your bed..."

Chris Hall is mainly a layabout but is also a part-time writer and traveler from the UK. He really hates Richard Curtis films.

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