Flamedrops (ShoStoBloMo #8)
A cave is not a very comfortable place to live. You can try to make it comfortable, but no matter how you dress it up, a cave is a cave. There are no windows. There is no plumbing. We have a good stash of food, though, which I think is better than most people. A lot of what we have are those ready to eat meals the military dropped. Pretty much all of them are scorched, but as long as the wrapper is intact, the food is fine. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever tasted, but it’s better than eating cave bugs for dinner every night.You probably think I’m going to launch into some kind of tale about pollution and the greenhouse effect and how everyone should have listened to Al Gore and blah blah blah. But I don’t really need to do that, do I? I mean, isn’t it evident by now that everyone screwed up? Wasn’t it obvious the first time we had the flamedrops?I admit I was one of the ones who joked about them at first. How seriously cool are flamedrops when you first think about them? (And when they’re landing on someone else’s house two continents over?) I made up songs with my friends that we recorded on our blogs. I bought one of those stupid flamedrop bracelets for Stacey, even. I know. Shut up.“Flamedrops are falling on my head. Pretty soon my scalp is gonna be-ee sort of red. Crying out to me….”It was all a big joke until the clouds rolled in. John and I were walking home from school and I saw them come up over the hills in the distance. At first it just looked like a regular springtime thunderstorm, but then I saw the edges of the clouds. They were smoldering, like embers in a fire. It was beautiful, and mesmerizing. John and I stood there, watching the clouds get closer and closer, not saying anything. People came out of their houses and stood on their porches or out on the sidewalk, just watching. Finally, someone yelled, “Hey kids! You better get on home!” and that kind of snapped us out of it.We were probably still about a quarter of a mile from home when the clouds burst and the first flamedrops started falling. One of them hit me square in the middle of the head and I could smell the scorched hair before I felt the pain. Then, YIKES. John was beating on me with his bare hands and I was screaming. We were still trying to run while we scrambled to get the flame sout and ended up getting our legs tangled and falling on top of each other. More and more of the flamedrops were hitting the sidewalk and the grass around us, erupting in little pyres everywhere.John grabbed me by the arm of my jacket and dragged me under a tree. Not a great idea, but we didn’t really have a choice. We had made it as far as Smithtown Park, which was pretty close to home, but far from anyone else’s home. We should have ducked into a stranger’s house as soon as we saw the clouds. But it’s a good thing we didn’t, I guess.The flamedrops picked up the pace, falling all around us. We held our backpacks over our heads to protect ourselves from the burning leaves and twigs falling from the tree. All around us, everything was on fire. Benches, slides, even squirrels. It did not smell great. Cars were flying down the street, wipers melting to their windshields. We tried to flag down a big truck, but the driver wouldn’t stop. He didn’t even stop when he plowed right through a parked car.John and I stayed under the tree for a good 30 minutes, waiting for the storm to let up, but it just kept getting heavier. Soon, the wind picked up, like a blast from Hell, blowing ash and flaming debris into our faces and skin. We tried to hide as best we could behind the tree’s trunk, but the wind wasn’t coming from one direction. We were like the kernels of popcorn dancing around the bottom of the pan just before they explode.Finally, the flamedrops stopped. John and I wasted no time running home as fast as we could. Everything was on fire. Sirens wailed, people fought the flames shooting out of their homes with buckets of water and hand-held extinguishers. John and I kept running even as people shouted for help. Our baby sister was at home, with the sitter, with Dingleberry and DumDum our stupid cats.We could see the flames from the end of the street. “Oh no! Oh no no no!” John shouted, running even faster. I did my best to keep up with him, abandoning my backpack in the middle of the sidewalk so I could hopefully pick up speed. He beat me to the house by just a minute or so, and even though I was breathlessly shouting at him, he ran into the shooting flames. I screamed his name over and over. Screaming and screaming, the flames too hot and too high for me to get past. I was helpless, standing between scorch marks in the driveway, ducking and covering my head as the heat and the pressure of the smoke blew the windows out of our upper story. Down the street there was an explosion. I guessed it was a car parked on the street. We’d seen it, engulfed in flames and John had shouted to me to run faster, that it was going to blow any second.I whipped my head around, shaking glass from my burnt hair, looking for anyone who could come help us. Any grown-up at all. But hardly anyone was around. Were they trapped in their houses? At work and day care? I had no idea. But no one was there to help and John had been inside the house too long.After what seemed like eons, he burst from the flaming doorway with Hayley in his arms. Dingleberry and DumDum were clawing into his neck, fighting over who was going to get to sit on his head. I ran to them; they were a monstrous sight of burning clothes and hair and cats. I tackled John with my jacket, knocking him and Hayley to the smoking ground. The cats hissed with anger and ran off a little distance away. Hayley was screaming as I batted at her frantically and rolled her in the dirt. But John was calm. Even as I beat the flames out on his arms and chest, he was quietly saying, “hush, Hayley, everything is OK now. Everything is OK.”I rolled off him, exhausted, and we took stock of our injuries. Hayley, while soot covered, and a little toasty, seemed to be fine. John had burns over a lot of him, but his clothes had taken the brunt of the damage. I was OK. Hoarse from screaming, and burned in pockmarks all over my body, but not too bad. The house was not in great shape, though, and the sitter hadn’t emerged.“Where’s Kelly?” I asked. John just shook his head.The cats walked back over to us, mewing pathetically, and we all sat together in a stunned heap, waiting for our parents – someone – to come save us. We waited for a long time. It had been dark for hours, the horizon edged with orange and red, when finally, a car drove into the driveway.Before the car even stopped, Mom flew out of the passenger side and ran to us. Her clothes were blackened, her face streaked with soot and tears. She couldn’t even speak, she just crushed the three of us in a suffocating hug. A minute later, dad was there, too. His hands were bloody, and there was a big cut under one of his eyes. His lower lip was swollen, so his smile looked lopsided and grotesque, but he joined in the hug. Everyone was talking at once, but soon it was just Mom. She explained how Daddy had to fight a man who tried to steal their car, how they had to drive carefully along back roads and away from the city so that they could try to make it home. She told us how lucky we were that she and Daddy’s offices were so close together and how she was able to run to meet him in the lobby of his building. She said their only plan was to find us. They had gone to the school first, thinking we might still be there, but there was no school left.We all huddled together on the driveway, watching the last of the house burn to the ground, when we saw the smoldering clouds appear again. Even in the darkness of night and smoke, their outline was unmistakable. “Car. Now,” was all Dad said and we scrambled to our feet. Once we were in, he said, “Keep your doors locked.” John and I buckled Hayley into her car seat as the car screamed down our street.We were lucky to survive. We were lucky to find this cave. We were lucky those MREs fell so close by. We continue to be lucky that none of the scavengers and black marketeers have found us yet.A cave is not a very comfortable place to live. But it’s our cave. And at least it’s fireproof.