This is another short story from the Writing Challenge competition on the Harlequin Community boards. The story had to include a Firefighter and a dog. I include it on my blog today in honour of the So You Think You Can Write Competition raging merrily at the moment.
If you would like to read my entry you will find it under After the Funeral in the new Kiss imprint section. There are some fantastic submissions and I recommend you go browsing. I've found quite a few that I am desperate to read so I can see them have their Happily Ever After.
Some of my favourite recommendations can be found on some other blogs here and also here and here and here.
But don't restrict yourself. There are dozens of Supernaturals, Historicals and Suspense as well as Inspired and Heartwarming. And don't forget Medicals. Over 600 entries to browse through in 19 different categories.
If you like any of the stories be sure to vote. You get to cast one vote per day until the 11th October. Use your power wisely.
The taste of smoke sits uneasily on her tongue, drying her mouth. She can’t see it, but it lingers in her nostrils after every breath, stinging her eyes, making them water. It must be long past midnight, that gulf of darkness when everyone is asleep.
The silence is broken by a frighteningly insidious sound. A crackling, a sudden gasping roar as something succumbs to the ravenous monster. The curtains in the lounge room across the hall perhaps. Those thick, dusty velvet drapes would cling to the heat, welcome the licking flames like a lover.
Her phone must be somewhere. Fumbling across the bedside table, she knocks something to the floor and kneels down to scrabble on the carpet. The mobile must be in the kitchen. Probably on the bench beside the microwave. Groping her way into the hallway, she dismisses the morbid thoughts that stir. Which way to go? The front hall tempts her with its promise of freedom only metres away. Yet if the fire has taken hold in the lounge... The kitchen holds the best hope. But she has to find Abby.
‘Abby. Abby. Here girl.’
Is she stuck in the laundry? The polished timber, cool under her bare feet, comforts her as she moves along the hallway, hesitating at each doorframe. If only she could see.
Sweat trickles down her spine under the thin cotton nightdress. Not far now. A faint whisper of fresh air greets her at the open door of the kitchen. From the window over the sink. More confident now she walks around the table to the bench. Her reaching hands find the microwave, and in moments, close over the mobile phone.
Nothing happens as she keys in the emergency services number. A dead battery. Dropping the phone with a clatter, she presses her hand to her racing heart. So this is fear. Changing direction she aims for the back door, her hands clutching at the knob, fingers reaching for the key on the deadlock. Finding nothing.
She left it back in her room with the rest of the keys. Dare I go back for it? The windows, all with security bars, aren’t an option. Back in the hallway the smoke fills her lungs with just one breath. Coughing she staggers across to the laundry. The door is shut, but opens easily and she almost falls into the room.
‘Abby? Please, Abby.’
Her fingers close over a coil of leather. She’ll need it, if she finds Abby. It’s becoming harder to breath. They say to go low and crawl to escape the smoke. The laundry is empty. Abby must be elsewhere. Is ringing in the ears a sign of smoke inhalation? Coughing, choking, she lies on the floor, the tiles cool under her damp cheeks.
He didn’t think they’d find anyone alive, the way the fire took hold at the front of the old Queenslander. The slender figure, lying on the tiled floor of the laundry caught him by surprise.
‘One adult female.’ He informs his team as he rolls her over, ready with the portable oxygen.
She coughs as she draws clean air into her lungs. Cornflour blue eyes stare up at his mask blankly.
Recovering his voice, he nods. ‘Yes, what’s your name sweetheart?’
‘Sarrah.’ Her voice, husky from the smoke, still sounds like music.
‘Saaarrah. That’s pretty. Now we need to get you out of here.’
Light as a feather, she curls against his chest trustingly. From nowhere comes a surge of protectiveness, well beyond his usual fierce determination.
Her hand clutches at his collar, bumping at the mask. ‘Wait, you must find Abby. Have you seen her? A big golden Labrador.’
‘We’re searching the whole house Sarrah. One of us will find her.’
She settles then, holding the mask against her face in one hand, the dog harness in the other.
Reluctantly he relinquishes her to the paramedics. Her hand comes out wildly, snagging his gloved wrist as he moves away. ‘You will find Abby wont you?’
Enveloping her fine boned hand within his large ones he squeezes. ‘Sure we will, sweetheart.’
Lying back at the behest of the paramedics, Sarrah sighs, releasing her grip on the coiled leather. If anyone could save Abby, he would.
From the moment she heard his voice in the darkness, that hammering of her heart eased. His strong arms and broad chest embraced her easily. Like home. Her fears melting away like willo-the-wisps in the dawn.
A loud crash, followed by a thunderous roar and she struggles against the restraining arm of a paramedic. ‘What happened? That noise…’
‘The roof caved in on the house, love. Now, just lie back and put that oxygen mask back on for just a tic.’
Fighting back the moisture building in her eyes, she slumps back on the gurney. Abby and the fireman are still in there somewhere. She can hear yelling and people running past the door of the ambulance. Oh please let them both be ok.
A scuffling noise and a protest from the paramedic alerts her and she wrenches off the mask. A large bundle of damp fur lands on her lap. ‘Oh Abby. You’re safe.’ Burying her face in the rough fur, she surreptitiously dries her tears.
Extending her hands in the direction of that deep, reassuring voice, Sarrah lifts her chin, revealing her blank stare to the man standing at the door of the ambulance. ‘Thank you. You don’t know what this means to me.’
Warm hands return her grasp, tightening convulsively, as if he feels the same magic. ‘I think I do sweetheart. I think I do.’
One hand pulls away, the leather harness replacing his clasp. She grips his remaining hand tighter. ‘You do understand.’
A touch on her cheek answers her, a feather-light grazing of firm lips, a finger tilting her chin. ‘I’ll be seeing you, sweet Sarrah.’
It sounds more like a promise than a goodbye.
Thanks for Reading.