2016 Honorable Mention: FIGHTING THE FLAMES by Adaline Griffiths

So there I was, gathering my children in my arms as my husband tried to beat back the flames climbing through the broken glass of the window.

“Go for help Marcia!” Jack shouted. I wished I could, that I could run and somebody would come and save the day.

But the whole town was ablaze. Anyone I could go to was either fighting the flames or already gone. I bent down to my eldest daughter Lydia.

“Keep the children back, Lydia. I have to help your father. I’m counting on you. When I tell you to go, take the little ones and run to the river. You’ll be safe there.” I brushed the hair out of Lydia’s frightened ash-streaked face and handed her the baby. “I love you.”

I pushed up my sleeves, filled with grim determination, and snatched up the nearest rug. I joined my husband at the window, ignoring his protests.

It wasn’t long before my back began to ache, but I wouldn’t give in. I have to keep going. I have something worth fighting for I told myself when my body began to fail. As I whipped the rug around my home I remembered life in the house.

It had been through that very door that I had first carried Lydia through, swaddled in her hand-me-down blankets. It had been that corner where I rocked Lydia for hours, and sang her to sleep. It had been on that fireplace carpet where Lydia had taken her first steps, and then later cuddled with the little ones.

I looked at my beloved children, huddled in the back of the room and scared to death. But I was snapped from my reminiscing to the present when I felt my hand stinging.

“Marcia!” Jack called, his voice tight. I looked down to find that the fire had crept up the cloth to my fingers without me noticing. I flung the flaming rug away and grabbed a nearby towel still unscorched, not letting myself feel the pain. I started again, but stopped when I looked up at Jack. He was still beating at the flames, but slowly they crept nearer as exhaustion set in. Then I saw that the door was starting to crumble under its frame.

“Run!” I shouted to Lydia. “And don’t look back.” I pushed my children through the door-frame seconds before it collapsed on my arm. I screamed as the wood crushed my burnt hand.

“Jack!” I cried out. Jack stopped and rushed to me.

“This is going to hurt, honey.” he warned.

“Just do it.” I gritted my teeth as Jack scrambled to free me. My arm came loose, and I clutched it to my chest as the pain overcame me. We slowly started to back away from the front of the house.

“We’re stuck Jack.” I whispered, panicking and trying to hold the tears back.

“I’m right here honey.” Jack soothed me as he held me closer, but his voice cracked. The fire was steadily inching closer and closer until it was almost upon us.

“Jack.” I said quickly. “We can’t just stand here to die. We have to at least try to escape.”

“There’s nowhere to go Mar-” Jack started, but then stopped when he realized my plan. “Marcia, no. We’ll be killed, it’s too high!”

“As opposed to the alternative of slowly burning to death.” I snapped. My voice softened. “We have four beautiful children who need us, and who are going to be orphans pretty soon here if we don’t do something. Now help me with this window.” I was scrambling one-armed to open the back window.

Jack surrendered and rushed over to help me. Together we wrenched the window up and Jack punched out the screen. I stared at the distant ground.

“I’ll go first.” Jack said. “Maybe I can at least break your fall.” He quickly kissed me and then jumped out of the window.

“You always have to be the hero.” I whispered into thin air. I tried to look for him on the ground, but the smoke was filling the space, and it was too hazy to see.

“I’m coming.” I shouted, so he would be ready.

I struggled to ease myself on the windowsill. I hesitated for a moment, but looked behind me at our burning home.

Then I let go.