The Cats at Skyline Manor
They fled as the heat reached them, hugging the walls, curling around the corners of the building like a different kind of smoke, escaping in the opposite direction. Outside it was icy cold, and although they were more used to warm laps and knitted blankets, their thick coats protected them. They kept running until the adrenalin subsided and the tang of smoke was no longer in their noses. Then they crouched and waited.
They stayed away, cold and afraid, for days. Some of them had never been outside before. They found unoccupied corners and disappeared into them. They scavenged for scraps. If they had hunted before, it had only been in play, full-bellied and careless. But there was nothing to hunt in this lingering winter anyway.
Eventually the cold and the hunger drove them out of their hiding places. They approached the charred-out building, tentative, testing the air. They didn’t know where else to go. Everything they had ever known had been there. Knowing nothing of safety inspections and structural integrity, they slipped under the security fencing and padded through the blackened ruins, looking for something familiar.
Firefighters and security personnel put out dishes of food, hoping to lure them out again. If they could be reunited with the tenants who had lost every stick and shred of their accumulated belongings, maybe this could bring some small comfort. But they were wary, having turned half-wild with the urgency of survival, and not easily caught. They pilfered mouthfuls, then darted back into the rubble. Soon the newspapers turned their attention to other stories. The townspeople slowed less often to gape, the tenants pulled pieces of their lives back together, and the gutted building continued its imperceptible inward collapse, centimetre by centimetre.