It’s odd how — in the midst of a disaster — time freezes; each moment engraved unmovingly in granite.
Waves of heat lick my face.
Barely can I keep my eyes open; even if I could, it does no good because the smoke is too thick. The two children trapped with me on the platform are hugging my left leg, too terrified to move; inhibiting my abilities to save us. Sally, the younger one, buries her face in my pant leg, holding Sasha, her dolly, tight against her for protection.
“I’m scared,” she wails over the snapping sounds of fire. “I want my mommy!” With that, she clinches tighter, attempting to climb inside me, hoping to make herself big with my courage.
If she only knew, she wouldn’t even try. Inside, I am sand, not concrete. In front of us, I see Death, a wall of licking flames blocking us from the barn door and the cool safety outside.
Using one arm to try and comfort Jason and Sally, I use my other to hold a towel across my face; fending off suffocation. “We’ll be OK,” I shout at the kids, voice raised to be heard above the crackling inferno. “Help will be here in time.” I pause. “Help is on the way,” I repeat more quietly, more to assure myself than them.
What is taking so freakin’ long? Someone had to have noticed the thick smoke and called 911. Shouldn’t we be able to hear sirens by now?
There’s no time to wait; this is up to us.
I try and slide one arm our from between the children; they respond by grabbing tighter. “I’m not going anywhere,” I reassure them while extracting my limb and directing them to hold each other. They do, cheeks pressed together.
Reaching into my backpack, I find my jackknife and rope; my boy scout days have served their purpose. Using the closed knife as a weight, I tie the rope to it and toss its heaviness over the rafter above us, making sure not to let go of the trailing end. Grabbing the knife as it swings back after looping the beam, I tie the rope in a slip knot around itself, pulling on it so the knot rises to the rafter, leaving us a Tarzan vine of hemp. Tugging on it, I test its strength. It ought to work. It has to; we don’t have much time.
“Give me your belts,” I tell my young friends. Nervously, they oblige, trying to hold back tears. Fastening their belts together and around them and my leg, I strap them to me. “Hold on to me. Don’t let go! We’re going to swing through the fire very quickly. When we get to the other side, I’m going to let go of the rope. We’re going to fall down. It’ll hurt a little but we’ll be OK.” I manage a weak smile.
They look up at me, eyes as wide as planets; they nod silently in unison.
Before we jump, I have one more task. We had brought a thermos full of strawberry punch for our picnic. I open the top and pour it on the children. “This will help protect us from the fire,” I tell them, in response to their confused look.
Sally holds up Sasha. “Her too?”
“Of course.” I pour the remainder of the precious red liquid on Sasha. “We’re all in this together.”
I take a deep breath and offer up a prayer.
“Ready?” I shout. They nod; dirty, ashy faces already buried in my leg. “Don’t let go!” I roar and jerk on the rope, preparing to swing us through the flames and to freedom on the other side. The thought “To infinity and beyond,” crosses my mind. How silly is that?
“Scott!” I hear my mother’s voice.
“What the…?” I think. Where’s that coming from? I must be hallucinating. Isn’t that what happens in the last seconds of life?
“Scott! What in God’s name are you doing?”
The scene melts. My mother stands, hands on hips, at the door to my bedroom, perplexed, glaring at nine-year-old me standing on my bed. Draped around my neck, hanging from my back, is a towel serving as a cape. My terry cloth bathrobe belt tied is tied to the overhead light, the other end is in my hand. Belted to my leg are two of my favorite stuffed animals, Puppy and Bear-Bear. All of us, including most of the bed, a good section of the floor, and several nearby pieces of furniture, are drenched in strawberry punch.
Life can be tough when you’re the mother of a superhero.
Fade to black.
About the author: Scott “Q” Marcus is the CRP (Chief Recovering Perfectionist) of www.ThisTimeIMeanIt.com. When he’s not leaping buildings in a single bound, he can be reached at 707.442.6243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.