Save the Best for Last

Postaday for January 29th: Burning Down the HouseYour home is on fire. Grab five items (assume all people and animals are safe). What did you grab?

Heat cocoons, heavy and thick, but a sweet spear of cold beckons, pulls, a line of oxygen, collapsing fast as I stumble out of the room, bounce off a doorway, through the hall. Out the front door and all is smoke and choke and black, I’m falling, dropping out of the haze and the heat onto the cold wet grass, thank god.

Something shifts under my head. I crane to look up at a tower of canvas and crude stitching. A gloved hand is thrust in my face. I grip at and I’m hauled to my feet. My knees buckle under the sudden head rush. When my vision clears, a muffled voice behind sooted plexiglass shouts something that ends with, “do you understand, Mr. Edwards?”

I open my mouth to reply, and cough a thick gray cloud, ripping my lungs to pieces, twisting my gut into knots. Finally I manage “What?”

The roar of the fire subsides a few notes as I’m pulled closer to the road. Bystanders bathed in shifting blues and reds, wide eyed andf cringing against the hear of the blaze. “I said you have to go back in there! Mr. Edwards! Your family and pets are safe, but you have to go back in there and bring back five things! Do you understand?”

I blink a few times, my eyes somehow finding moisture inside themselves. “I don’t have any pets!” I yell.

“Okay, good! Five things, Mr. Edwards!” He grabs my shoulders and spins me around.

“Why?” I manage to shout. Just turning to face the fire, it’s tripled in heat, and too bright to look into.

“It’s for the daily prompt! Now go!” He pushes me, and like a fool in rush while angels stand aside cowering, I go back into my burning house.

Sweat pops up on every inch of body, a refined mixture of water and sebaceous secretions, covering me in a protective coat of wax. I throw an arm up against the searing brightness, hide my mouth in the crook of elbow against the smoke. Through the front door and up the stairs, with each step rising the heat gets hotter. Down a dark hall that’s more smoke than fire, into my office. Yank my computer from below my desk, cords flying as they pop out of peripherals. All my photos, my word docs, my stupid video games. I hurl it at my office window, hoping someone outside might catch it.  The computer punches through the glass, and the sudden intake of air sets the entire room on fire— the blast launches me out the door and back into the hallway.

Five things? Think! I crawl on hands and knees towards the guest room. That’s where the book case is. Books. If they’re not so much ash right now.  I grab few rare paperbacks, old dime-store copies of Ross H. Spencer’s early works. Not because they’re valuable. Just because they’d be hard to replace. I haven’t read them in years. Shove them down the front of my pants.

My breath is labored and heat has sapped most of my strength. I crawl across the hall into my bedroom. Reach up on the dresser and pull the watch winder down, which bounces of my head. A hot wetness, I’m bleeding. One eye closes against the sting of it. I rip the watch out of the winder. A gift from my wife, to congratulate me for my first marathon. She had it engraved.  Shove it in my pocket.

Crawl out of the bedroom and to the stairs again. I try to stand up as I descend them, a feat in combination with the flames that results in my tumbling all the way down. I lie at the bottom for a moment. The books in my pants have afforded me a few odd bruises. I stand up and move around the corner. Into the living room, the small bar there. Open it, grab a rare bottle of premium rum we got on a trip to Puerto Rico. Tuck it under one arm, trip over a burning beam that falls from the ceiling. Am I even breathing anymore. Go through a doorway.

Into the kitchen. This is where the fire must have started. This is insane. This is an incredibly stupid reason to risk death. I open the refrigerator, and grab a half-eaten bowl if my wife’s potato salad. I’m lucky if she makes it once every few years. No way I’m letting this one go to waste. No damn way.

And the rest is momentum. I’m blind at this point, my skin and muscle and bones a collection of white-hot rocks scraping together. I’m running as wood and glass and stone and brick explode around me. I’m careening across the porch, my shoes in flames and dragging behind me as fall, one more time, onto the crisping lawn.

The fireman catches me, hauls me towards the street. He’s pulling my saved items from me, pounding me on the back in congratulations, shoving an oxygen mask in my face. I have never consumed anything more delicious. My eyes are shut but I can I still see the white hot flames dancing.

A nudge on my shoulder. I open my eyes. My wife’s face. Pristine, untouched by the fire. “What about our wedding album?” she screeches, her eyes wide.

I turn to the firearm. “This stupid prompt. Is it set in stone? Can it be six items?” I start to cough, my stomach a clench ball of knives.

The fireman just shrugs. “It’s your word-count, pal.”

I grab my wife, kiss her fiercely, and then run back towards the flames.

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