Columns of fire, jets of fire, spirals of fire! Hot and orange and sparking all around me.
“Come on, Joey,” Preston said with Maureen’s scared voice. “Come on.” He gave me a last backward glance through the veils of smoke. He walked a few more steps, and then I couldn’t see him anymore.
“Preston!” I tried to go after him, but something had me by the belt. “Preston!”
I couldn’t move forward, I couldn’t move backward, and Preston—I had to save Preston.
A door. I saw a door. I banged on it with my fists, but it wouldn’t open. “Mom!” I shouted, but she didn’t answer. “Mom! Mo-o-om!”
Orange. Orange all around. Orange and black and soot, and where was Preston? Where was Preston, and where was Pete? Where was Pete and where was Cheryl and where was Jamaal and Donnie and and and—
Mr. Bednarik showed up, a black shadow against the orange. He had a crowbar, and we were going to get in after all. Everything would be fine.
But the crowbar melted when it touched the door. The door melted too, and flowed around my feet like hot lava. All I could see behind where it had been was orange and black and black and orange, all roaring and jumping and snapping sparks.
Mr. Bednarik pulled me away, but I fought him. Why wouldn’t he let me go? I knew we could still save them. I knew we could put on our fireproof suits and still save them. The fireproof suits—they were just over there, just out of sight, but I couldn’t get at them with Mr. Bednarik pulling on me like that. Shaking me.
“Wake up, Joey.” Shaking me. “Wake up.” Shaking—
I opened my eyes. Dad was bent over me, his hair all spiky from his pillow, and I was sweating on the kitchen floor. Preston’s green eyes looked down at me from a windowsill.
Dad stopped shaking me, and I sat up. “You were having a bad dream,” he said. “You were shouting.”
“I couldn’t open the door,” I mumbled. “I tried.”
“I know, Joey. Get up. Get up and get a drink of water. Get rid of the dream.”
As if I could.
But I got a drink of water, and then Dad and I went outside to stand together in the backyard. It was probably quiet out there, but I still felt the rage of the fire.
“There’s the Big Dipper.” Dad’s voice cut through the flames, and they got farther away, became less bright. “See it?” He slapped at a mosquito.
I looked for it. “No, but I believe you.”
He put his arm around my shoulders so our temples almost met and our eyes were on the same level. The flames moved off some more, and I felt the cool of the night. Dad pointed with his free hand.
“See it?” He slapped at another mosquito.
While I stared, the random stars came together, and I saw it. The Big Dipper. Right. There. Anyone could see it.
After a few more minutes of constellation searching, the bugs were really getting to Dad. He swatted and swatted.
“Okay now?” he asked. Swat! Swat! We climbed the steps to the porch. Swat! “Do you think you can sleep?”
“I’ll be fine,” I said. “It was just a dream.”
We went back inside, and I returned to the sleeping bag by the kitchen’s sliding glass door. Preston was still stretched out on the windowsill, his eyes reflecting the light Dad hadn’t turned off in the dining room yet.
“Meowrr?” he asked.
“All okay, Preston,” I answered. I punched up my pillow before lying down on it. “All okay.” Lying down on it and feeling that hole I lived in. The gray hole that never went away. Not all okay.
© 2009 Susan Shaw