As it turns out, starting a new job in the new year takes up quite a lot of energy. My apologies in advance.
I had spent days on that speech. Days of writing and rewriting and then rehearsing in front of the mirror to make it as perfect a speech as I could possibly give for graduation, and now the auditorium was on fire and it was all for nothing.
It was a terrible thought. Even as I was thinking it, I knew how selfish I was.
“We need water,” my brother Jake yelled beside me. The fire roared, people screamed.
Water, yes. There were buckets in the supply shed on the other side of the hill. My feet moved on their own, ran towards the shed. I slipped on the icy grass, but eventually I made it. It was locked, of course, but my hand knotted itself into a fist and punched through the window. I was amazed at myself, even as I was crawling through the hole and throwing the buckets outside. My mind had trouble catching up with the rest of my body.
Jake waited for me beside the pond in the plaza where he’d gathered a few of the other students. I threw the buckets at them and yelled, “Water.” They immediately knew what to do.
Technically, we all knew what to do. We had emergency training days every year, because the closest fire brigade was ten miles out. I’d been there a few times as a kid and I knew they weren’t big enough to handle a fire like this. Flames lept out the windows. The edges of the wooden door were gleaming from the light inside. The next bigger department was another ten miles away.
That’s what you get for going to school in the middle of nowhere, I thought. You prepare a speech for days and then the auditorium catches fire and all your work was for nothing because there is no proper fire department in yelling distance and all there is is buckets and a bunch of students forming a line.
Terrible, selfish thoughts.
“We need more people,” Jake yelled. He ran up and down the bucket line. I ran towards the closest person I could reach. Hannah, from English class, stared at the flames through tears streaming down her face.
“Go to the bucket line,” I yelled, but she didn’t move. There was a sound, and when her eyes focused on me, I realized I had slapped her. “Bucket line,” I yelled and pointed. She moved, awfully slow, but she moved. I went to the next person. And then the next.
I heard the sirens of the fire brigade. I felt someone push me away from the building.
“You did good,” Jake said beside me. “Better than last time.” I turned my head towards his voice, but he wasn’t there.
“May!” Mom’s voice echoed over all the noise. “May!” She wrapped her arms around me before I’d even seen her.
And then I remembered that Jake was dead.
“Are you alright?” Mom asked, wrapping my head in her hands. I struggled to nod.
“The fire,” I said, remembering a similar sight two years ago. The flames, the noise, Jake yelling instructions. Then Jake, running into the building for someone who was stuck. No, not someone, Hannah’s sister. Neither of them coming out.
“It’s under control,” Mom said, then, apparently reading my mind, she added: “The auditorium was empty.” She drew me in for another hug. Around her shoulders, I catch Hannah’s eye.
She’s still crying and her cheek is red. She touches it, then mouths something, but I can’t make out the words.
Original photo by LearningLark on Flickr.
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