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American Drama Fiction

We have plenty of time, she yelled, slow down! as Todd threw bags into the back of the SUV. The gray air stank of old campfire and heat. Don’t panic. We can’t panic.  

    She waddled to him with a load of photo albums bouncing against her 29-week belly. Why oh why hadn’t she had the damn things digitized last winter when they were just sitting around? If the house was going to burn, so be it. They had more than enough to replace it. But her babies were going to be able to hold a picture of their grandmother in their own little hands if it killed her. 

    The sky looked scary bad. She opened the passenger side door. She’d been asleep on the great room couch when the sheriff pounded on the door. They wouldn’t have waited so long to warn us if it was that dangerous, would they? It’s not like it’s the first time this has happened. They had to see this coming, right? We have time. 

    Don’t we? Please dear God, give us time. 

    Where’s the dog, Allison? Todd said, slamming the hatch closed. 

    I thought you had her, she said, clutching her belly as she race-walked back to the house. Molly, come here girl. Where was she? Shit. Shit. Shit. There, white fluff of tail sticking out from under the couch-- Molly, right now.  

    The floor was so far away. She dropped to the scratchy wool carpet, knees wide, child’s pose, to grab Molly’s collar. Her over-stretched core muscles strained to pull the dog to her. Molly squirmed against the pressure as she pushed herself to a stand with her trembling right arm. She tucked Molly’s spotted backside securely into her armpit like a football. She could feel the poor thing trembling. 

    Let’s get outta here, girl.  

    Cranberry light on the kitchen windowsill caught her eye as she took a last look around the house she and Todd had built from dreams. Her great-grandmother’s candy dish from Germany. She snatched it up with her free hand.  

    Going down the steps seemed harder than going up. She was so wheezy. Smoke. It must be the smoke. The nuclear orange sky above the trees beyond their driveway jolted her into motion. 

    Molly freaked out even more when Todd grabbed at her, writhing, claws digging into neck and hip. Todd’s elbow knocked the candy dish out of her hand. As it crashed into the gravel drive, Molly launched herself after it and disappeared into the scrub. 

    God damn it, look what you did, she said flinging her arms to the smokey universe. Go get her. 

    No, he said. We have to go.  

    I’m not leaving without her, she said. 

    Be real. You’d risk the twins for a fucking dog? Now get in the god damn car. 

    Broken glass crunched under his shoes. She hated when he was right. 

    On the canyon road, Todd took her hand in his and kissed her fingers. 

    She’ll be ok, he said. She has instincts. She’ll find her way out.  

    What about us? she said. 

    He laughed, patting her belly.  

    You have instincts, he said. I wish I had a video of you running out of the house. I didn’t think it was possible for you to move that fast.  

    I didn’t either, she said. That wasn’t instinct. That was adrenaline 

    Brake lights appeared out of the haze, a line of their neighbors’ cars jammed up behind the sheriff. Beams of light from the top of fire trucks tore through her eyeballs. A firefighter in full fluorescent gear trudged down the line, leaning in each window, dragging himself to the next.   

    Uh oh, she said. This looks bad. 

    Don’t say that, Todd said. Why do you do that, always go negative? 

    Look at his body language, she said. Does that look like good news to you? 

    Finally, the firefighter reached them. He leaned his forearms against the car door, perspiration coursing down his face. “Folks, the road ahead is not passable.”  

    Todd’s head jerked back. So, what are we supposed to do? he asked.  

    We’re still working that out, said the firefighter, pulling away to a stand. 

    Fuck this, Tood said, inching the car back and forth until they were heading back up the canyon. 

    What are you doing? What the hell are you doing? We have to talk about this. 

    We have all wheel drive, we’ll go cross country to connect with the highway, he said. 

    No. No no no. No.   

    Look behind us, he said. It’s coming straight for us. I can’t just sit here and wait.  

    Better to die trying, she said. 

    We aren’t going to die, he said. There’s a road to Trudy and Josh’s pasture. 

    He pulled into their downhill neighbor’s driveway, across their manicured lawn to their paddock. Allison got out to open the gate then shooed the horses out. Might as well give them a shot at surviving. Todd kept going through the paddock. She tried to run to catch up but she couldn’t do it. By the time she got there, the horses following behind her, he’d driven right through the wooden paddock fence. They limped along the trail, the smokey wind pushing them along. 

    Going around a rutted downhill curve, smog cut off visibility. The tires whomped over rocks. Pine boughs screeched against the paint. There was a hard splat as the SUV tipped over on her, thudding into rocks or trees until friction overcame gravity. Then darkness. 

    Molly was barking. Todd hated to be woken by the dog. Damn, she’d have to get out of bed to let her in. 

    Wait. Todd. Where was Todd?  

    It took her forever to find her seatbelt release. Todd hung suspended by his shoulder harness. In the dimming light, she could see blood gushing from his nose and forehead. OK, good, his heart was pumping blood, he was alive. She felt for his seatbelt release, but stopped. If he fell to the bottom of the car, she would not be able to lift him out. 

    She got the door open and crawled under him onto the ground. Molly yipped and licked her face. It was real. She was alive, too. It was a sign.  

    How to get him out? She wrapped his arm around her neck and held on to his belt loop before she pushed the release button. His top half fell out over the threshold. She was able to pull the rest of him out. He was so quiet. His pulse was still there if she used her imagination. 

    Hot wind blasted down on her from the west. She could hear the roar of the advancing firestorm, the orange glow in the sky from the direction of their house. It was coming. Toward the east, she could see lights on the highway. He had been right. He got them this far. The babies moved against her sheltering hand.  

    If she didn’t do something, they were not going to make it. She found a flashlight, grabbed their wedding album from the jumble in the car, kissed Todd goodbye, and made her way toward the lights. 

September 11, 2021 03:49

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