House Fire is a chapter from my novel Thread of Steel, a work in progress.
House Fire, a short story
Firefighter Scott hesitated. She knelt with a charged hose line in her hands watching heavy black smoke push its way through the forced front door. Inside, it banked down to the floor, leaving zero visibility. If she entered without her officer, he’d chew her out and call her a freelancer, but if she waited . . .
Either way, she was screwed.
She glanced over her shoulder to look for him. Over the radio, she’d heard him finish his scene size up. He should be here. Fuck it. She was going in. Just then, Lieutenant Karson turned a corner, masking up as he walked and spotting her on the front porch.
“What the fuck are you waiting for?” he yelled. “Go!”
She stepped into the darkness. The blackness was thick as water, enveloping her. She ran a hand in front of her face to gauge visibility. Nothing. For a moment she waited for Karson. With the thermal imager he could read the heat in a room when all else was invisible. Through the smoke, he could see shapes, walls, floors, glowing like infrared. She waited for his hand to land on her shoulder and guide her through the obstacles. He knew she was blind. It’s what other officers had done. But, he didn’t come and she couldn’t stay there forever, so she moved into the pitch black, trying to reach out with her senses and feel where she was.
A few feet in, she tripped over something heavy and toppled to the ground. That’s what she got for standing. Total rookie mistake. She swept her hand over the floor, bracing for the sensation of a body, a feeling she hated. Her hand hit an obstacle and she groped like a blind man, trying to picture what it might be. It was round and ridged but empty in the middle like a donut. What the hell? Tires. Someone had a stack of tires inside their living room.
Welcome to Dade County, baby.
Tara moved on her knees deeper into the darkness, feeling her way forward.
“To the right. Upstairs,” Karson yelled through his mask. She heard him hit the ceiling with a pike pole, looking for fire that might be hiding above them.
In fifty pounds of gear, Tara crawled to where the stairwell should be, dragging the hose with her across the floor. Charged with water, it felt like a hundred pounds of steel. Her shoulder caught something and the sound of breaking glass rang out. She moved through it, sweeping a fallen table aside, and groped for the stairs.
Someone could be here right now, trapped. A mother or child. It was the dead of night with cars in the driveway and a pink Hello Kitty bike on the front porch, which meant she and Karson were the best chance they had.
Leave all rivalries at the burning door.
Tara scrambled forward in the dark, trying to visualize her sense of place, when Karson’s hand gripped her harness and guided her to the stairwell. Now she was oriented and she took the stairs, making sure not to fall through. They felt sound. She reached the top and turned the corner into the hallway.
Finally she could see.
A river of smoke darkened the hall, but light glowed from behind a bedroom door. Fire devoured the room, crackling and tearing at walls like a dragon. It triggered something primal inside her, a dormant instinct abruptly awakened, and she surged forward to meet it.
A wall of heat, sharp as an axe, slammed her to a stop. It singed through her gear, burning her ears. Panic whispered. She shot water at the ceiling, hitting the heat in short bursts, driving it back, inch by inch. The heat retreated enough for her to move forward. She felt the floor beneath her knees for softness or instability. Voices crackled over the radio in her jacket’s front pocket. Command barked orders. The sound of her respirator thrummed in her ears.
Breathe, she thought. Nice and easy.
At the bedroom, heat burned through the wall. She swept the door with the back of her hand then jerked back her glove. Goddamn it was hot.
Karson stood a few feet behind her, and in a violent burst, he slammed his pike pole through the ceiling, punching through in a powerful strike. She’d never seen him attack this savagely before, but firemen kept their power leashed, letting its full scope loose only in the heat of battle. Their wives rarely saw the true extent of their strength and Tara sometimes pitied them for that. She knew it too well. How men hid it until the perfect moment when they blasted it at something or someone like a bomb.
Her power was different. It was stamina and endurance and the innate gift she had to take the pain and live. It was a woman’s power. But, Karson never saw it, because he had stamina too and a masochistic love of suffering his manhood depended on.
Sprinkled with a dose of sadism.
Tara turned to the fire. She cracked the door and flame licked out, rolling along the ceiling like liquid metal. It was a stream of neon iridescence, twisting and flowing in orange and violet and pure, piercing white. Pivoting, she chased it with water, hitting it, driving it back into the room. Then she opened the nozzle and moved into the flames.
Heat fought against her, pushing her back, down into the floor. It bit at her neck. Instinct compelled her to retreat, but she refused. She’d die before she let Karson see her quit. She’d rather burn to death than submit to his vision of her.
Tara sprayed the room to knock back the flames and cool things down, but the fire morphed to steam and slid beneath her gear, scalding her. She winced. Her skin was melting. The air in her mask felt like boiling water, stinging her lungs with each breath.
Hot. It was too hot. She was burning.
In a flash, Karson moved to the window and drove his pike pole though it. Glass hit the tile floor and scattered across the room, skittering to rest against her boot. Heat fled through the window and she took a shaky breath, knowing Karson had just saved their ass.
Flames licked the room, but she searched for their source, finding it against the far wall. She slid on the floor, slippery from water and ash, struggling to keep her balance. The room was covered with debris. A lamp fallen from a dresser, a chair knocked over, clothes. She was crawling through it, tank digging into her spine, trying not to slip, when Karson grabbed her by the shoulder, yanking her back.
“The floor’s no good. Hit it from here.”
He gripped her hard through her gear.
Crouching, she attacked the fire. She wanted to kill it until nothing was left but smoke. Until the burn stopped and the light went out leaving the room in a Hades like haze. It was still cooking her and she wanted to send it back to hell. The heat leeched her strength, sucking her dry like a rabid parasite. Fire swallowed the water whole, a thousand gallons of water, like it was nothing, like there was an accelerant in the room telling them to go fuck themselves.
Time ticked by. Fifty pounds of nozzle pressure pushed her back, straining against her grasp. Her arms began to shake. Her breath came fast and shallow. She was fading.
Hold on. Finish it.
Suddenly, Karson was there. He leaned into her, taking some of the weight, breathing beside her. She soaked in his strength and adjusted her grip and together they reclaimed the room.
As the flames fell, darkness seeped back in, casting them in a veil of shadow and smoke. Karson didn’t move. Tara rested against him, hot and spent, when suddenly a great swell of emotion swept her, flooding her with feeling. It was like being broke open. It was gratitude and love burning through her heart. Life. And in that moment she truly loved him. She would die for him. She would give him anything he wanted.
But he wanted her to bid off his truck.
Karson pulled away and a hole split open in her gut.