Our prompts were: fire, stripes, and stuffed animal.
In the first draft of this story, it was all about the fireman. But once we realized what a special little girl Lucy was, she became the main character of her own short story collection (The Damned Kid anthology will be forthcoming at a later date). In editing this for the blog, we realized that we needed to make significant changes to still tell the fireman’s story, but make it fit as part of the larger story cycle belonging to Lucy. In the process, we chopped over 200 words from the story.
Our engine company arrived just in time to see the first house in the subdivision flare up like a torch.
The fire seemed to have a life of its own. I’ve never seen one move so fast before. Or at right angles to the wind.
Jack finished pulling the hose down off the engine then hooked it up to the hydrant.
This whole area has been blanketed in smoke for days. These poor people probably don’t even realize that the fire’s snuck up on the greenbelt behind their houses.
Chief Johnson grabbed me. “Let Avon and Blake take that hose.” Pointing at a large home on the corner, he ordered, “You get that house cleared. The rookie and I’ll take the next one.”
I ran up the curving walk and pounded on the door. I was about to break in when it swung open.
There was no one there.
I looked down and down until I found a little girl in pink pajamas.
“Hi, sweetie. I’m Fireman Jack. Are your parents home?”
She shook her head, pigtails flying. “Nope! They’re not here. Went to work.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Lucy.”
“Well, honey, is there an adult home?”
She looked back into the house. “Rachel’s on the computer, talking to her boyfriend.” She rolled her eyes. “She’s always on the computer.”
I picked the little girl up and proceeded into the house, yelling, “Rachel? Ma’am? This is Fireman Carson, of the Traverse City Fire Department. We need to evacuate you immediately. The fire is coming this direction.” My comment was punctuated by a loud explosion from next door.
From a room down the hall, I heard a girl’s voice. “What! Gotta go, Jimmy! Firemen are at the door!” A lanky blonde teenage girl burst out of a room down the hall and ran my way. Grabbing the babysitter’s arm, I hustled them both outside.
“Noooo, I can’t leave Mr. Beelz in there,” the child wailed. “He’ll get all burned up!”
The little girl wiggled out of my arms and ran toward the house. I barely caught her before she made it back inside.
“No, honey. It’s not safe in there.” I knelt before her and shook my head. “I’m sure Mr. Beelz can find his own way out.”
“No, he can’t. He’s locked up in my room. He’s gonna get all burned up.” Her eyes glistened, then tears began cascading down her face.
I glanced over my shoulder at the house. It’s not on fire. Yet. If I don’t go get her pet, she’ll keep trying to sneak back inside. And I can’t keep an eye on her and help other people too.
I took a deep breath, then sighed. “Okay. Where’s your room? I’ll go get Mr. Beelz for you.”
She beamed up at me. “My room is at the top of the stairs, in the back. Mr. Beelz is probably on my bed. He’s stripey and yellow.”
Addressing the babysitter, I barked out, “Take her. Wait by the ambulance. I’ll be right back.”
I snatched my self-contained breathing apparatus off the truck and headed back into the house.
At the end of the upstairs hallway, I found a door with a paper sign covered with glued on daisies and glittering letters spelling out LUCY. Easing the door open, I peered through the smoky haze.
Dammit! Where’s her cat?
I lifted the sheets and looked under the bed.
In the closet?
Through the thickening smoke, my gaze landed on a bright yellow striped stuffed animal lying on the bed. It had horns and a huge medallion around its neck proclaiming it ‘Mr. Beelz.’
What the hell? I came in here for that?
I heard a loud crack above me. Shit! It sounds like the roof has caught fire!
I raced across the room to grab the damned thing anyway, but before I could reach it, the ceiling collapsed, burying the bed in flames and debris. One charred, striped leg stuck out from under the blazing mass.
That’s it, I’m outta here.
I spun around, bolting back down the stairs. I’d just grabbed the front door handle when I heard footsteps behind me.
Startled, I whipped around. “Is someone still in here…?”
The question stuck in my throat.
A horned demon strode down the blazing stairs, the fire creating a billowing cloak behind it.
It reached toward me with a taloned hand.
Outside, the little girl crossed her arms and harrumphed loudly. “Damn you, Beelzebub. Now I’ll have to capture you all over again.”