73 comments

Submitted on 08/07/2020

Categories: Fantasy Drama African American

Fire.

Smoke.

Ashes.

They neared the Great Divide, each step heavier than the last. The notion that maybe they had left too late, and that they would never step foot through the gateway swam around in his mind, but Andrei pushed it away, struggling to keep hope alive through the damp washcloth draped over his nose and mouth. The sounds of an active war zone surrounding him and his heavily pregnant wife, Oleksandra, jolted the rocks underneath their feet as the bombs rained from the sky. He and Olek had come to the West about five semigens ago to escape the Fall of the East. Neither had dreamt that they would ever return.

But there they were.

Olek's breath came harsh through her cracked lips; her arms, red from the sizzling ash that fluttered from the smoke clouded sky like rain, clutched her protruding belly. Hanging her head and following in her loyal husband's footsteps, the square heel of her rugged, golden bronze boots caught against a rock jutting out from the cluttered ground. Throwing her to her knees, an immense pain consumed her, wrenching her insides and bringing stinging tears to her eyes.

Andrei turned at the sound of his wife's body colliding with the leaf-covered forest floor, and for a split second, snippets of his life before the Fall flashed before his eyes. In the back of his mind, he knew Olek wouldn't make it. Although the pathway to their new life seemed dark, they could not turn back. All they could do now is run. Pulling her to her feet, Andrei and Olek stumbled on.

And then the light met his eyes.

The last standing gateway.

The only way out.

The glowing, scarlet embers of the swirling portal gave Andrei the spark, pushing him to summon everything inside the bloody mess that he called himself could find. His entire body was coordinated to one sole cause, to undo the wrong he had done to himself and his wife.

As Andrei was running with all his strength and might, Oleksandra slowed, leaving long, snake-like trails in the dirt behind them. Going back for her was wasting crucial time, time that they didn’t have, time that was the difference between life – and death.

        ‘Run, Olek!’ Andrei cried. ‘Run!’

        Moaning in pain, Olek stretched her arm and leaned on a tree, beads of sweat breaking out on her forehead, running down her face, pooling on the pit of her collarbone.

        The baby was coming.

        The expressions of inconceivable pain from Oleksandra graduated from moans to cries and to screams of what felt like endless torture. Andrei's mind raced, searching for how to help her, but something inside told him what he already knew. He could do nothing but watch his agonized wife. Nothing but watch the gateway to the east burn down, the vibrancy draining out like an unclogged drain in a sad and somber style.

        Olek slumped to the floor like a withered tree. She could hardly be heard as the tumult of the surrounding noise drowned out her voice. Andrei held tight to the clenched fist of his wife and with a whisper that could hardly be heard, she spoke her last words. “ Mikhail, ” she gasped. If he survives, call him Mikhail. In great agony, she gave one last, deep push.

The sound of a crying baby brought a joyous glow to Andrei’s eyes. He cradled the baby and chipped off a sharp piece of tree bark to sever the umbilical cord. “He's a boy, Olek," Andrei whispered into the silence. He paused and turned, watching her chest, waiting for it to rise and fall, just the way it always did when he watched her sleep. He rushed to her, the baby still in his hands. "No." Tears came to his eyes. Her chest stayed put, blank, glassy eyes staring into the sky. "He's a boy, Olek, " He whispered to her motionless dead body. "He's a boy."

- - - - -

19 Years Later... 

Mikhail woke up and groggily checked the time. Three in the morning. Three hours before daybreak. Maybe I should work on the boat, he thought, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and fitting them into his tight clogs. Slowly, he eases open the heavy steel door, slipping through the small crack and hopping off the ledge into the garage turned workshop.

He stopped by the workbench cluttered with tools and dinner plates from too many nights spent eating outside and grabbed a few nuts, bolts, and screws, then quietly walked to their project, the one he and his father Andrei had started on his birthday, 3 years ago. He climbed over the rim, sat on the moss-covered wooden planks that they used for seats, and placed his hands on the grips of the paddles. 

My 19th birthday,” he muttered to himself, holding in his hands the acceptance letter to the U of W, the University of the West that he had left in the bottom of the boat the other day. “I’m going to college in a few weeks.” It had never been a celebration day. Besides the tale of his birthday, there was much more of a story to be told. It was 19 years since the mother he never met gave birth to him in the scattering of ashes that littered the forest floor. A single tear ran down his cheek as he remembered the grand stories his father told of the woman he never knew. His father longed for her, longed for his wife. 

Quietly, he stepped out of the boat and started back towards his room, pausing outside the rotted wooden door to his father’s room. It hung from a hinge, but in recent times, his father didn’t have the energy to fix it.  

Mikhail didn't have to enter the room to know that his father was lying on the bed, sobs racking his aged body. Mikhail continued on and entered his room, shutting the door quietly. This is how it was every year. Because today, 19 years ago, his father gained him. But he also lost so much more… 


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73 comments

Woah. Just...woah. This story was sooooo creative and interesting! Such an intriguing plot, and these characters are *chefs kiss* beautiful. 9.8/10, Keep writing! -Aerin! P. S. Would you mind checking out my new story? Thank you!

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Phebe Emmanuel
16:34 Sep 02, 2020

Yeah, sure! Thank you!

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Sjan Evardsson
13:16 Aug 23, 2020

Well written, imaginative, and heartfelt. You slipped from past tense into present tense in one sentence ("Slowly, he eases open the heavy steel door...") but nothing major beyond that. Stay safe and keep writing!

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Phebe Emmanuel
00:56 Aug 24, 2020

Whoops! Thank you for the feedback, Sjan!

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Rayhan Hidayat
13:10 Aug 11, 2020

Stunning, visceral, and poignant, especially that first half! 😮 Very well juxtaposed with the somber and calm tone 19 years later. Good stuff! 😁

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Phebe Emmanuel
18:24 Aug 11, 2020

Thank you soo much, Rayhan! That makes me so happy!

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Basil Boi
15:22 Aug 07, 2020

Dang!! You have such a fantastic way with words! Liked it a lot!

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Phebe Emmanuel
17:25 Aug 07, 2020

Thank you!

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Gopika Ashokan
14:53 Aug 07, 2020

Hey! What a unique take on the prompt. And I feel for Mikhail, how he has to start a new journey with only stories of his mother and the agony of his father :/

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Phebe Emmanuel
17:27 Aug 07, 2020

Yeah, it is a bit sad. My brother had the idea for the story when he needed to write for an English project, but since he can't write, I wrote it for him (totally not taking advantage of me). And it fit the prompt, so I just submitted it. Glad you thought it was cool!

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Deborah Angevin
10:24 Aug 07, 2020

Ooh, the last sentence hits the emotion... Great story, Phebe! Would you mind reading my recent story out, "(Pink)y Promise"? Thank you :D

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Phebe Emmanuel
14:16 Aug 07, 2020

Already did! I also think I commented too. It's wonderful, and the green-eyed girl is my favorite out of the three characters!

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Kristin Neubauer
10:16 Aug 07, 2020

“Trial by Fire” is such an interesting and original take on the prompt. I loved your descriptions and the suspense you built. This feels like a story that could grow into a longer one or a novel. Looking forward to your next one!

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Phebe Emmanuel
14:14 Aug 07, 2020

Thank you so much, Kristen! I really appreciate it!

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Aditya Pillai
10:07 Aug 07, 2020

That was such a wonderfully poignant read! The panic, hardships, the small glimmer of joy and the overall pathos of it has come through really well. Really good, looking forward to more :)

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Phebe Emmanuel
14:11 Aug 07, 2020

That means a lot to me. Really, Aditya, thank you.

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Mustang Patty
09:41 Aug 07, 2020

Hi there, Thank you for sharing this story. You have a nice tone and a unique voice in your style. Good luck and KEEP WRITING, ~MP~

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Phebe Emmanuel
14:11 Aug 07, 2020

Aww, thank you, Mustang!

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Verda H
06:53 Aug 07, 2020

Great story, good writing. Keep posting on Reedsy!

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Phebe Emmanuel
06:54 Aug 07, 2020

Thank you so much, Verda!

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Verda H
06:58 Aug 07, 2020

You're welcome! :)

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Phebe Emmanuel
08:13 Aug 07, 2020

:)

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Jesna Anna s.
05:13 Aug 07, 2020

Nice story! Keep writing!

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Phebe Emmanuel
05:15 Aug 07, 2020

Thank you, Jesna!

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Philip Clayberg
00:52 Nov 07, 2020

Thank you for writing the story. I don't think I've ever been able to write a story like yours. However: I think, if I were Mikhail, that I would've hugged my father while he cried. To let him know that he wasn't alone with his grief. They *both* gained and lost: Mikhail gained a father, but lost a mother, and his father gained a son, but lost a wife. At the very least, father and son had each other. Maybe that would help ease the pain of their mutual loss eventually. I hope so.

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Phebe Emmanuel
01:00 Nov 07, 2020

I guess so. Huh. I never thought of that. Though Mikhail isn't my character, he's actually my brother's. He came up with the idea and I wrote the story, much like the series that I'm working on now, Choices. He said it'd be cool to write a CYOA story, and so I did it. But Trial by Fire was actually an English project of his. He couldn't (and still can't) write to save his life, so I wrote it for him. :) Lol, his teacher gave him 100% and never even noticed!

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Philip Clayberg
01:11 Nov 07, 2020

Your brother is a good source of inspiration, then. It sounds like you have a good team there: he comes up with the ideas; you write the stories. I hope that's been thankful and appreciative of what you've done for him, writing-wise. Still, I don't think it was honest of him to get the 100% for the story you wrote for him, though. But that was between you two, so I guess you were both okay with it. I've never had someone write a story (or essay or term paper) for me. I've had people proofread and edit what I wrote, but I still had t...

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Phebe Emmanuel
04:17 Nov 07, 2020

Oh, no. First of all, it doesn't really count because he's in 8th grade and I'm in 7th. It's not like higher education or anything. Also, in our family, everyone works together and helps out where others are falling short. Plus, he stood over my shoulder the whole time, and I do get to claim that the story is mine. And my brother is amazing. I wouldn't ever cheat, but I'd do anything for him.

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Philip Clayberg
20:35 Nov 07, 2020

(I hope this doesn't sound like I'm being overly negative towards you and your brother.) Helping each other is a very good thing, but maybe your brother needs to learn how to write his own stories and how to type them up (even if it means only typing with two fingers). What will he do on the day when you both graduate from high school? You might be going to one college and he might be going to another, and he might still insist - via email - that you do his writing for him. If the draft is handwritten by him (and he really can't learn ...

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Phebe Emmanuel
20:53 Nov 07, 2020

Oh. I understand. He wrote something first, but it was horrible, so I rewrote it. He writes papers incredibly well (and everything else for that matter), but I 100% see where you are coming from. Stories just aren't his strong suit. He's one of those people who can't wrap their head around writing fiction. One of those "nerds" who buries their heads in history books and aviation. Still, I understand and I will try to get him to write some things himself. Thank you for sharing your personal story and I will honestly take that to heart. Thank...

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20:09 Sep 01, 2020

Hello, LOVED THE STORY!!!!!!! I found a few a few tiny mistakes, but that's ok, we all are not perfect are we? P.S. Would you please stop by and read my recent story?

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Phebe Emmanuel
05:29 Sep 02, 2020

Thank you, and I will try!

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14:43 Sep 02, 2020

Thanks

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Aaron Barkley
12:12 Aug 16, 2020

This was amazingly well-written. Great job.

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Phebe Emmanuel
22:43 Aug 16, 2020

Thank you, Aaron!

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21:20 Aug 15, 2020

Beautifully written! Sparking creativity! This struck me as fantasy (is it?) and I loved every BIT of it! Wonderful write up Phoebe, I love outstretched imaginations! Truly an outstanding job! (and I would also just love to know the meanings of those names...) (P.S. Would you please stop by and read my recents? Feedback would be nice too. Thanks!}

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Phebe Emmanuel
19:11 Aug 16, 2020

Yeah, thank you! It is a fantasy, and I will try to read one or two in my free time.

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20:02 Aug 16, 2020

: )

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00:01 Aug 14, 2020

Oh my that was beautiful!! I loved the way you ended that too, I'm just in love with slick words. But the back story was super emotional and I loved that you added that in there. The story was short but super touching, I felt so sad for the character Andrei and the boy Mikhail. I also loved the names, they are so unique. But this was perfect👏

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Phebe Emmanuel
01:05 Aug 14, 2020

Aww, thank you so much, Ugochi!

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01:25 Aug 14, 2020

Of course!!

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Shruti Saxena
11:14 Aug 13, 2020

Amazingly well written, a great read!! :)

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Phebe Emmanuel
20:45 Aug 13, 2020

Thank you!

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Vanessa Marczan
05:58 Aug 13, 2020

Hey Phebe, I really enjoyed this! Great sense of tension and action and a quiet, poignant, reflective ending. I like the tone, the world building you achieved with pretty much no explanations- that was really impressive to me! I think the only thing I would comment on would be regarding Olek's labour, perhaps when you mention they had left it too late, you could say something along the lines that they could have left earlier, when Olek first felt labour cramps but Olek had assured him it was okay- it can take many days from onset of labour ...

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Phebe Emmanuel
22:05 Aug 13, 2020

Well, I've never been pregnant, so I'll have to take your word for it! :)

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Jonathan Blaauw
12:25 Aug 12, 2020

This is incredible! I don’t know how you were exactly on word count, but if you could do this or something similar in under 1000, several flash fiction publications would probably pay you for it. Your writing is superb and you get a big idea across to the reader in so very few words. It’s always tempting to go as long as possible, but you prove that, in short stories, less is more. And choosing to tell it in two parts like that was also brilliant. It clearly divides the ‘then’ and the ‘now’ which makes it easy to follow. And, even in a k...

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Phebe Emmanuel
22:45 Aug 12, 2020

Wow, Jonathan. That makes my day. Thank you!

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D. Jaymz
00:26 Aug 11, 2020

A tender and well-written story.

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Phebe Emmanuel
00:28 Aug 11, 2020

Thank you!

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