By Kayleigh Grian.
The smoke had grown so thick that Mason could no longer see his hands held out at arms length, let alone anything else. He knew the fire was closing in on him though. Even through all his protective gear, he could feel each degree as the heat rose as it inched closer. He was sweaty, thirsty and beyond exhausted, yet he continued to plow the shovel through the parched earth.
His team had been assigned to creating a fire break in a last ditch effort to keep the Amber Valley fire from reaching the nearby town. They had been at it for days and every time they thought they had the fire contained, the winds would shift, carrying sparks and embers across the breaks. The dehydrated vegetation, eager for a purpose, fueled the flames.
Mason had long been separated from the rest of his team. He didn’t realize he had wandered too far until he turned to go back and found the fire had closed his path. He tried not to panic, years of training taught him that nothing good comes from it, but he knew the situation had turned grave. His ears strained, desperate to hear the shouts of his team to no avail. The only sounds that met him were the roar of the fire, the howling of the wind, and the crackling of timber as the flames consumed it. He was not a religious man, but he prayed they would notice he was missing before it was too late.
Turning in circles he searched for a way out but it was useless. The flames appeared through the fog of smoke in every direction he traveled and soon he became disoriented. No longer sure which way lead to his team he gave up trying to get close to them. They had to know by now that he was gone. They had to be making their way to him. They just had to be. He couldn’t let himself think of any other possibility.
How long had it been, five minutes? Ten at the most? They hadn’t had enough time to break through the wall of flames, that’s all. Mason had convinced himself they would show up any time now and decided to stay in one place so they could find him. The thought of being rescued renewed his energy.
He dropped his backpack on the ground and paced out fifteen steps in one direction and began digging out a large circle around the center. It would keep the flames at bay and buy him time until the team could reach him.
His faith in a rescue began to fade as Mason finished the trench and there was still no sign of his team or anyone else for that matter. The haze distorted the sunlight and he had no idea where it was overhead, leaving him no way to mark time. It could have been hours since he became separated from the others.
He set about removing any vegetation or sticks from within his circle to deprive the fire of fuel inside of it.
Finally satisfied he’d done everything he could, he pulled his canteen from his pack and gave it a shake.
It was nearly empty, so he only took a few sips and put it away. If they didn’t come for him soon he’d need it later. His muscles quivered with fatigue and he plopped down next to his pack. Off in the distance he heard a rumble that resembled thunder. In the back of his mind somewhere he wondered if it was dry lightning as there wasn’t any rain in the forecast for at least the next week. Although he knew he shouldn’t, Mason closed his eyes. He wanted to rest, only for a minute. He drifted off and began to dream.
He dreamt of his late wife and their two girls, all reunited once again, as though she had never left them. In his dreams he could hold her once again. He watched as she played in the field with the girls.
He grinned as their giggles reached his ears, his heart swelling with love. He couldn’t remember a time when he felt so content and couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else. Soon he began to perspire as the afternoon sun beat down on them. There was a hint of smoke in the air that he dismissed as someone grilling nearby. The laughter of his daughters quickly turned to shrieks and then they vanished.
Mason jerked awake, angry at himself for drifting off. He glanced around and realized that while he was asleep the fire had moved much closer. The flames had nearly reached the trenches encircling him. His hand reached for under his jacket, instinctively clasping his wedding band dangling beneath his shirt. He pulled the chain over his clothing, and kissed the ring as he cried. He knew his sister would care for the girls but cursed himself for allowing them to become orphans at such a young age. How could he have been stupid enough to wander off? Irresponsible enough to then fall asleep in the middle of a raging fire? He begged forgiveness and then began to pray with all his might.
When he was done praying he prepared his fire shelter. He had no idea if it would keep him alive or how long it would work but it was his last hope. Mason placed his hands and feet in the straps at each corner and then lay face down on top of his pack. He didn’t know how long he lay there as time no longer had any meaning. As he drifted in and out of sleep he once again heard rumbling in the distance.
After what seemed like hours, he felt something pelting the top of his fire shelter. Confused, he tried to puzzle out what it could be without lifting the shelter and exposing himself to the flames. The pelting became more persistent until the sensation became something entirely different, more of a pounding.
Just as he dared to take a peek from the shelter, there was a deafening CRACK above him and the pounding intensified. His heart skipped several beats as a thought dawned on him. The feeling was rain!
It hadn’t rained in the Valley in almost a year.
As he felt the ground beneath him greedily absorbing the water, Mason sighed in relief. He lifted his arms, raising the fire shelter enough to look out from under. His plan had worked. Without any fuel to feed it, the fire had been unable to cross the trenches he’d dug. He let out a huge whoop of joy and turned his face up to the rains, thirstily swallowing all that fell in his mouth. He would survive.
The rains continued to soak the earth for days after Mason was rescued, but no one dared complain.
The storm turned the tide in the fire fight and soon the fire was extinguished, long before it reached the nearby towns. For generations the residents of Amber Valley relayed the story of the firefighter who’d saved the area with his prayers for rain.
Kayleigh Grian is currently a part time student working on her Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Computer Forensics and Security. She also works full time as a police dispatcher.
Kayleigh has always enjoyed writing, especially fiction and poetry. She is working on several projects including her first novel and a collection of short stories. Kayleigh enjoys reading as much as she does writing and will often go through a few books a week when she doesn’t have a ton of homework to do.