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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Fire-fighter (10/05/06)

TITLE: A Three-Speed Catastrophe
By julie wood



“The kitchen’s on fire!”

Katie’s scream splits the air of her quiet suburban street. She’s pounding down the sidewalk, both arms flapping wildly and her flip-flops slapping, snapping sparks from the pavement. Her only thought is to reach Ian—her other half, her soulmate, her rescuer in times of danger—before the silver Honda he’s propelling down the street becomes a distant dot on the horizon. She’s forgotten all about her older daughter Lisa, who still sits in the living room before her computer console.

Lisa is calmly surfing the Internet, looking up websites entitled “How to Put Out a Fire.”

Mia cringes, scooches low in the backseat of the Honda. Through its rear window she sees neighbors lined up on both sides of the street. They are gaping at her house, then at the person gasping and panting between screams as she awkwardly lopes twenty feet behind the car. Mia exchanges eye-rolls with her friend scrunched down beside her, then calls out to the front seat. “Uh, Dad? I think that’s Mom back there! Should we stop?”

Her dad steers a bit longer, then hesitates, sighs, slows the car. “I guess we’d better….”

“The kitchen’s on fire!” Katie’s sobbing now, her chest heaving from the exhaustion of her Ian-chase. She’s stumbled back towards her house, where neighbors are collecting round to catch her in a protective net. Another scream erupts from her as the realization strikes: Her older daughter Lisa is still inside the house!

Lisa continues to surf the Internet, still scanning for websites on “How to Put Out a Fire.”

The net of neighbors scoops Katie back into her kitchen, where she watches one strange man dash a cupful of water in the general direction of the stove. At once she remembers the stove is electric. Isn’t there some rule about not mixing water with electricity? Thankfully, the water misses its intended target….

And Katie finds herself cradled inside her Ian’s arms. While the firefighters someone called are scouting out the damage. While her younger daughter Mia slinks back within the shadows, pretending she is not related to the tear-streaked lady trembling within her daddy’s arms. Or to her sister Lisa…who still calmly sits and surfs the Internet, checking out websites on “How to Put Out a Fire.”

There isn’t one, of course. Not any more. And when there was, it never did spread itself throughout the kitchen. It was contained within the oven, sparked by chocolate brownie batter spilled in there by Mia. Its flames danced behind the screen of glassy oven door, where they soon got snuffed all by themselves. Now only smoke belches out from the burned batter. The firefighters matter-of-factly finger their unused hoses. “Next time, just turn off the oven,” one of them advises Katie.

Mia doesn’t know which relative to call more crazy…her silent logged-on sister or her screaming freaked-out mom. They respond at opposite speeds to the crises in their lives, and it seems to her the right speed would fall somewhere in the middle. All she knows for certain is she’ll clean out the oven better the next time she bakes brownies. That, her daddy tells her, is a better job for her to do than worrying about her family’s sanity. At whatever speed they move, they’ve been spared one more catastrophe by the Firefighter who is also their Creator. And who still holds each one safe and unique within His protective net.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Mary Smith10/12/06
Hee hee... This is a cute, well written story! And, heh, the mother and the daughter, Lisa, remind me of my own mother and sister: my mother would freak, and my sister would probably look up "How To Put Out a Fire" on the internet. The repetition of that one line made me laugh out loud!
Donna Powers 10/15/06
Very interesting character study. Many families are like this: varying degrees of response to the same crises. Nicely told!
Glorey Wooldridge10/17/06
Yup I could picture it all - hmmm - maybe I've seen it all....is every family like this?