Story Go Round 08/30/2003, round 1, #4

The Burning

Hal smelled the burning before he saw the fire. It was near his home, crackling through the oaks like a signal of pain through nerves. He patted his little girl's butt and said, "Sissy, go tell John we'll need the truck! Go!"

She ran off across the arroyo, eyes wide with uncomprehending seriousness. She took the steep embankment, passed through the sheep and barking dogs, through the copse of dogwood trees, and at last rounded the corner at the bottom of the hill atop which stood John's tumbledown shanty. He was working outside at the wood pile, ax hefted over his head in mid-swing, when she came running up to him. 'John--John, we need the--"

"Go ahead girl, tell me whachube needin'"

"The truck. Dad says we gotta have the truck! I think that there's a fire!" John studied her with a crooked grin, searching for signs of nonsense. They had just played three bears that morning, and he knew she could get carried away with the excitement of being important to an adult.

"No foolin', John! Dad needs the winch truck." Committing herself to the gravity of the situation, her face took on a look like her father.

Just then the wind picked up, and they both turned their heads and raised their noses. "I see," said John grimly, "You're all seriousness today. I'll get old Betsy warming up."

"Hurry, Uncle John!"

"You get in, Litt'l'in, and tie my hankie around your nose like this," he held up the dirty rag to show her how it should look when she was done. While she tried to follow his directions in a capable I'm-not-a-little-girl manner, he tried to get his truck revved. He heard the familiar blatting of the carburetor. They jerked a few feet and it died. The columns of smoke over the woods were getting thick. John jumped out and foot-pushed it to the downhill slope of the dirt driveway. "Hang on, Sissy!"

She clutched the dashboard in one hand and the window with the other, and the truck started rolling down the hill. A moment later, he got the engine going throatily. He swung in the open door and slammed it shut. Then he gunned the motor and they plowed down the path towards Hal's place.

Within a few moments they both spotted figures ahead. It was Hal and the sheriff. Hal's face was covered with soot and streaked with tears. The sheriff looked grave. John pulled up, the truck squeaking like a rusty boxspring.

Sissy jumped out, into his arms. They hugged fiercely.

"It doesn't look good, Sis," Hal said into her shoulder. "I think you'll be needing some new dolls."

Amber is purple; John is pink; Alan is blue; Terry is orange