Sometimes I feel like the rest of the world is asleep and I am the only one wide awake. I can’t ignore what is going on all around me, and often I am outraged when no one is listening or paying attention to what is going on. A Witch is trained to be aware not just in a psychic or some supernatural way, but to keep one’s eyes open and really look, not just see. When I look and discover something wrong, it’s my duty to report (or bitch loud enough if the case may be) to put things right, especially if it is not always within my physical power to tackle the problem at hand. It seems like such a little thing, to just report something suspicious, not the glorious, heroic thing to do, like directly and aggressively attacking a criminal, but it is important, perhaps the most important thing to do, in apprehending a culprit. It is far more effective than just casting a protective spell over a home, it is putting action behind the symbols and words I use to ward my sacred spaces from evil.
Thursday, November 24th, I was busy all day and night preparing for the holiday weekend. Whenever I went outside to take out trash, I was sickened to my stomach from a sudden, strong smell of kerosene or gas, I wasn’t sure which. I asked my neighbors, all of whom were on their way out the door leaving for Thanksgiving break, where the smell was coming from. No one seemed to really mind. Everyone was preoccupied with the holiday weekend, no one wanted to stop and think about what was going on right then and there. I live in a college town and the area here is predominantly occupied by students, so during the holidays it becomes a no-man’s land around here. The parking lot was nearly empty by 10pm, but the chemical smell, however, never did go away and seemed to get stronger as night wore on. I thought this might be an accidental spill, especially after I discovered it reeked the most in our communal laundry room, so I called my apartment manager’s emergency maintenance line and was happy to get an immediate response from a crew member in the area. He came over and I walked him around the complex.
I was disturbed by how casual he was taking the dangerous smell. “Don’t you find this suspicious?!” I asked, concerned, “I don’t want to wash my clothes in there if someone has spilled gas in the dryers!” The maintenance guy told me to relax and tried to assure me that there was no way a fire could start from someone trying to clean and dry clothes with a gas stain on them. I corrected him. Anyone who has worked with chemicals and grease knows not to put gas soaked clothing in a dryer! That is, unless they want to start a fire…
The only other area the smell was coming from the strongest was behind the maintanence garage. Now, if anyone has ever been around here, they’d know there’s no need to build a pile of rubbish to start a fire there. There is already a mess of dead tree branches, leaves, and garbage behind the garage that my apartment managers and owner have NOT cleaned up since last July’s wind storm. This is a fire hazard and I’ve long complained about this to maintenance and the owner, but they DO NOTHING about it.
And they did nothing about it Thursday night.
I did not sleep Friday night, especially after I spotted four suspicious men behind the maintenance garage around 3am. In light that students were gone home for Thanksgiving break, and no one was home in the area where they decided to hang out, and that where they were hanging out was exactly where the kerosene smell was strongest, it seemed most strange. I turned on every light in my apartment, turned on music, just made noise to show them that someone was around. When I did this, they left. I never got a clear look at their faces, but they were all young men in their early 20s, nondescript and keeping close to the dark. Very weird. I did not forget the incident.
Come Friday night, my guests arrived and I was preoccupied with entertaining them. I am relieved they are smokers because this meant that they took frequent breaks outside to smoke. If the suspicious guys come back, they’ll know there are people here. We may have all been women, but we were loud and talkative, and for all they knew there was a party going on. Safety in numbers.
Early Sunday morning, I could not sleep. I chuck it all to nerves because I was anxious about my guests leaving. I wanted to wake up early to spend as much more time with them as possible before they left. After surviving two assaults, I still deal with the occasional post traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Even if it’s due to my anxiety, or over active imagination, the sense that I have to protect and guard the front door, check the windows, make sure the locks are secure, well, that never escapes me. Sometimes the fear that someone might break in or attack someone I love prevents me from completely relaxing. I’ve always got one eye on the door or window, always watching, always vigilant!
But the “danger sense” I picked up on Thursday due to the strange chemical smell was still shaking inside me even after my guests went home, so I took time out to seek quietude among the trees closest to my home. As I walked around, I noticed still the slight smell of kerosene, especially coming from the back of the maintenance garage. I also discover several mounds of rubbish and leaves stinking the strongest of kerosene, but the rain has now made these piles wet and dampening the smell. By the time I get to one of my favorite spots, I am greatly disturbed by the stench of human piss and kerosene mixed together on one pile that is different from the rest. I wonder if the kerosene was deliberately spilled there. I walk around the area to see if there is more evidence of the kerosene. No. It was just in that one spot.
Yet I put it in the back of my mind. It began to really bother me. I could not forget it. Danger sense was no longer tingling, it was a sharp pain in my lower back. I called the emergency maintenance crew to get the piles removed. “I think whoever spilled that kerosene on Thursday must have got rid of it in that pile,” I said in my message to the crew, “You need to get over here and shovel it out of there before it starts a fire!” I imagine the devastation of what a wildfire would do to the nature reserve. Security is too light around here. Students and residents take for granted how good things are. We all assume someone is taking care of everything. That’s a problem. That kind of complacency invites an outsider to take advantage of our trust in the goodwill of humanity.
Monday comes and goes. Finally Tuesday I get a phone call from maintanence and they say they’ll check it out. I wait all day for them to come. They never do. I walk back out to the pile. Disgusted no one has done anything about it, I take a garbage bag and shovel and destroy that pile. How can anyone ignore the potential danger? I start to look around. I notice more garbage since the last time I was around there. Who has been here throwing crap in my little patch of solace? Assholes! I am on the verge of throwing up as I head to the dumpster and pretend to throw away all of my concerns into it like I did that bag of rubbish.
Wednesday I go back out there and find another pile where I cleaned up the huge one. This one is smaller, pyramid-shaped with a little hole in the middle of it, like a hollow cone. That’s it! I called emergency maintanence again and they say they can’t do anything. It’s time to call the police. My heart squirmed in my chest like a trapped frog in a mason jar. I waited all day to talk to a detective. I wait another two hours for a plain clothes officer to come to the apartment complex and I gave him a tour of the area where I found the piles of kerosene soaked rubbish. Yet even as I do this, I start to feel a little useless. I’m just pointing out things and I’m not allowed to take action. I have to let them do their job. Nothing can be disturbed or touched. This job of justice seems tediously slow. Anger and anxiety build in me. I know I have to let things be, but the desire in me to do something hurts me SO MUCH.
There is not much else to report I can reveal, but all I can say is I did my part and I hope it did some good. What scares me is that, what would’ve happened if I HAD NOT reported anything? I was outraged that the owner of the property I live on wasn’t outraged about the potential danger. Even worse, my neighbors were not concerned about that strong kerosene/gasoline smell on Thursday. Everyone I talked to just assumed it was being handled or that it was all someone else’s business. Why didn’t anyone care? Wouldn’t you be wondering, ‘what the hell is that?!’ and want to know what was going on? Especially when we live so close to a nature reserve, a place protected by the city and university as a sanctuary for animals and plants, and there is this noxious chemical smell saturating the air?! Would you be pissed off, at the very least, if you saw someone pouring acid or some other dangerous poison on your front lawn? No matter if I’m in a hurry to visit my relatives for the holidays or not, I would stop and get fools arrested for the crime of harming MY environment. Yet time and time again I see people just let this kind of crap go!
So… How can YOU and I prevent arson? Instead of bitching, I wrote down a list of things I’m doing (things you should do, too) to prevent assholes from setting our beloved homes on fire:
* Keep all sides of your apartment, building, homes well lit, especially the parking and garage areas. Most arsonists will attack these areas first.
* Remove loose material combustibles and trash from the property.
* Keep doors and windows locked when the building is unoccupied.
* Become involved in a “Neighborhood Watch” program.
* Ask trusted friends and family members to keep an eye on things while you are away. Even if you are away for a week, arsonists often “stalk out” a place and check peoples’ routines to pick the best time to set a fire. If you’re not home, you aren’t there to do anything about it.
* Report all suspicious persons, vehicles, or activities in or near your home.
* Take frequent walks around your property or neighborhood and check for vandalism. Vandalism often precedes arson.
* Keep yourself informed about your area and surroundings. Watch the local news, read a newspaper, listen to the closest radio station for coverage of events at home. Burglary also often precedes arson, so check to see if there have been any break-ins nearby.
* Eliminate woodpiles, paper, and leaves that are around the property that could fuel a fire. This is important even when there is no potential for arson. Embers from a cigarette or ashes from other small, controlled fires could be carried by the wind and start a fire.
* Start cleaning up garbage in and around your neighborhood. Especially so if no one else is doing this. The more trashy a place looks, the more someone else will assume no one cares, and when no one seems to care, the more someone may think it’s okay to cause some destruction.
* Install motion-activated lighting near windows and doors. Especially in the back yard.
* Keep trees and other shrubs trimmed so that passing patrols can easily see the building.
* When painting your home or building, white paint or light colored brick is best for safety, this way it is easy to spot a human figure in the dark against the walls outside.
* Secure flammable liquids and other materials inside. Don’t even leave out tiki torches. Put them away when not in use. Don’t leave out a grill, too. Accidents can happen with them as well.
* Leave some interior lights on at night, or turn them on whenever you hear strange noises or see strangers hanging out in areas around your home. Some people are less prone to break into a place when they see it well lit and occupied.
* Consider decorative iron protection for windows. Windows that are used for emergency exits must be able to open in case of emergency, so get ones that open from the inside. This is especially good to prevent burglary, too.
* Never try to apprehend or confront someone you suspect of arson or burglary. Always call 911 first.
* If you find yourself in a situation where a fire has been started, warn your neighbors, but, please, EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY! Small fires can turn into major disasters with little to no warning.
* Always have a fire escape plan and stick to it.
* GET EDUCATED! Learn more about fire safety in general to prevent accidental fires, too.
There’s only so much the authorities can do. There seems to be no lack of potential threats out there. You can drive yourself paranoid worrying when and where the next disaster will come. But I’ve learned that with a little awareness, you can save yourself.
You can, like me, become the Witch that refuses to be burnt!