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Tom had nearly sapped his reserve of strength as his muscular legs strained to run a little faster. The forest fire he was battling had exploded due to a fierce easterly wind and he had been given the terrifying order to “get the hell out of there”. He had long since lost the team he had been assigned to as the fire pushed him in different directions, now it seemed Tom was running for his life.

Getting caught on the bad side of a fire had happened many times to Tom, but it felt funny today since Tom had spent much of the prior Sunday sitting in his apartment holding a shotgun and contemplating his own demise. He couldn’t seem to bring himself to pull the trigger though. Something had been wrong, not that he minded ending his life, he had been miserable since his Dad left him and his mom alone when he was fourteen. He could hardly remember a happy day since that summer. Tom and his dad spent several days hiking in the woods and Tom had learned a great deal about the man his father really was. Yet something bothered Tom, something felt wrong about killing himself, but he couldn’t for the life of him come up with what it was.

Then he got the call...A large fire had been raging in the Sierra’s and they needed fire jumpers desperately. He had dreamed of being a firefighter since that Summer with his Dad and it was one of the few passions that kept him going from day to day.

Sadly, when you fight forest fires, it’s an all or nothing proposition during the season. You can sit for weeks with nothing to do, waiting for the call, waiting for anything, waiting. “The devil’s in the details” doesn’t apply to fire jumpers...no, to fire jumpers “The devil’s in the waiting”.

Running across a small ridge Tom’s legs pumped up and down. The smoke filled his lungs, the heat, My God, the heat. Feeling the skin on the back of his neck begin to sear Tom smelled the aroma of his own flesh cook. If he could only reach the end of this ridge he would be running at a down hill slant and could make up some ground, but the fire was so fast and wanted him desperately, it was pulling him in.

Tom saw a dry creek bed ahead of him and for a moment he considered jumping into it, covering himself with his heat reflective blanket and praying it would burn over him, leaving him alive. He pushed that thought out of his head quickly, flashing back to the previous summer and the two firefighters bodies they had pulled out charred and still smoking after the “Batch Creek” flash fire that had consumed them. If he was going to bet on something, it would be his ability to save himself, not mother Nature.

The roar of the fire was deafening, he felt the sound as much as he heard it pushing ever closer to him. He could now see the fire was actually ahead of him on his left side. If it got too far ahead of him, he’d never make the ridge, it would turn uphill and surround him. His mind flashed back to the Shotgun, his lips wrapped around the barrel. He began to laugh.

Tom pictured what he must look like, running for his life, grinning ear to ear, laughing. He laughed even harder. The laughter seemed to propel him. With one great leap he cleared a fallen tree and crossed the ridge break, turning downhill Tom got a breath of air that wasn’t smoke filled and it felt as good as anything he could remember. He was truly alive. As the fire turned uphill as it always does, Tom headed down the hill and into a clearing. He slowed only enough to turn back and see the fire heading away from him.

The clearing Tom had reached covered several football fields in length and Tom didn’t stop running until he had reached the other side. He finally slowed, feeling once again safe he pulled his gear off before flopping on the ground in a heap of exhaustion. Looking back in the direction of the fire, Tom waited for other team members to make the clearing, their was ultimately only one way to head and it was toward this clearing. This thought brought on another fit of laughter. As he sat and laughed into the clearing none came and Tom sat, alone.

***

“Was anyone injured, or were they all in good shape when you saw them last?” The Chief asked.

“No, they were all able bodied, Sir”. Tom’s eyes shifted from the ground to the back of the ambulance as he tried to look concerned for his team. “Has any of them called in on radio?”

“No and we fear the worst, but we will keep looking, you just get yourself well, Tom. You are lucky to be alive. I‘ll keep you updated as we know more.” The Chief pulled the door of the ambulance shut leaving Tom inside.

As the ambulance pulled away Tom leaned back for the ride. He took great breaths of oxygen and smiled.

“Are you cut somewhere?” The paramedic asked while staring at the blood on Tom’s pants through impossibly thick glasses.

“No, one of my team members had an accident with a chainsaw yesterday.” Tom’s muscles tightened slightly.

“Oh...I guess it can get pretty rough up their?” Paramedic asked.

“You’re telling me.” Tom relaxed.

***

Beverly Marsh drove the forty seven miles to visit her son Tom in the “Men’s Correctional Facility” every Sunday. The visits had become a habit the past two years since that horrible trial. Them accusing her little Tom of all those atrocious things. The families of those poor dead firefighters screaming at Tom, well it wouldn’t bring their loved ones back. Besides, Tom could never hurt people and as his attorney had explained, their were reasons those people died in the forest that day and none of them had anything to do with her son. That was just ridiculous, but she supposed until Tom got a new trial she would be making this trip.

Beverly enjoyed her visits with Tom and they got to know each other better than ever before. They would talk about everything, well...all but two things. Those two things would never be talked about, they just were. For one, the dirty little magazines Tom insisted she bring for him and two, the summer Tom came home from hiking with his dad and Beverly had found blood on his clothes. Then when she heard about the big fire up in Echo Woods, well that was a secret that had to be kept. Lately, Beverly was finding it best to keep that secret even from herself. It made the Sunday drives easier. Besides, Tom has had a hard time since his Father’s been gone.

***

Tom bent to reach the back of the grill and scrubbed with passion. He didn’t like being in prison but he had found purpose and routine there, which was comforting. Working in the kitchen wasn’t as exciting as firefighting, but it had its moments. He had decided against ending his life too, as he realized that he was meant for other things.

“Tom, Hurry up with that, it’ll be time to start cooking lunch soon.” The Kitchen Director pulled a hair net on his head and motioned to Tom.

“Someone better clean out these grease traps soon, boss.” Tom Smiled brightly. “These things could catch fire and someone could get killed.”








------
It wasn't my fault...I fell asleep and missed my stop.



Comments

The following comments are for "Secret in Echo Woods"
by Jeff

Okay, info for the slow people
Jeff,

Tell me... I know I'm being slow here. Did his Dad murder some people? Did he murder his Dad? Did he kill some people before setting the fire to cover the crime?

Sometimes I'm callenged... can you help me out here?

And as for critique: not to worry, it's one of the most common spelling mistakes...

There - a location
Their - belonging to them
They're - they are

Thanks for posting.

Felicia


( Posted by: FeliciaStone [Member] On: January 27, 2005 )

Apparently I need clarity
Felicia,

Thank you so much for the insight. I don't think you're slow. Obviously if you read through my story and didn't get the answers to the questions you mentioned, I have some re-writing to do.

I find that it can be a fine line between telling the reader the obvious (which is irritating) and leaving the reader wondering what the heck is going on.

Again, I appreciate your comments, I will make some adjustments and re-post it in a few days.

Thanks,

Jeff

( Posted by: Jeff [Member] On: January 27, 2005 )





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