I wake to siren blasts. Fire! Collapsing ponderosa pines smash the forest floor, obliterate acres and acres of lush growth, beloved bike trails, homes built on slopes where sweat and fortitude prevailed. Explosions near my cabin bring urgency. Debris blocks the driveway. I panic. How could I have fallen asleep?
I throw essentials into a backpack, a photo of J.D. in smokejumper gear, a tiny music box. I speed-text on my way stay safe and pocket my phone. I tie a wet bandanna over my nose, dunk a moth-holed blanket in a bucket of water, drape it over my head, run. A dogwood, next to the half-ripe tomatoes, bursts into flames. I brace Santa Anas and head for the fire trail. Helicopters hover. My legs, heavy as kettlebells, dodge past embers, wildlife in flight. I concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other on the evacuation path. It hurts to breathe. I tell myself Keep going. I cough. Keep going. I choke. Keep going. Whimper. Gonna make it, J.D., gonna make it. Shelter in sight, I muster a hoarse, “Thank you, God; thank you, God; thank you, God."
Volunteers direct me to the bathroom. I clean up, chug electrolytes, take a spot among stricken folks buried under layers of fear. On a cot, I eat a protein bar, rub itchy smoke-burned eyes, take the music box, wind the key. A few worn out notes of “Over the Rainbow” plunk and die like the last notes under my mother’s fingers on mornings after tucked military corners and watered hydrangeas. Relief soaks in like drought under a deluge of rain.
I close my eyes, pray for J.D., wait for the baby’s kick.
Cath Wren holds an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University, where she served as an editorial assistant for the literary journal, The Lindenwood Review. Cath writes across all genres. Her flash fiction is published in the literary journal CafeLit and her poetry in Poetry Pea.