Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Family Reunion (06/05/08)
By Holly Westefeld
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Attempting to moisten parched lips with what little saliva she could muster, Mildred elbowed the blistered ribs of yet another contender for her prime spot. Flailing at the thick smoke, she cupped her hands over nose and mouth, inhaling as deeply as she dared, unable to fully escape the fetid air. The essence of roses that she and the other garden club ladies had planted during annual town beautification was a distant memory.
She bit her knuckles to try and postpone the inevitable haze of exhaustion, which never amounted to rest, but did afford another the opportunity to shove her off the slab into one of the countless molten pools, initiating the cycle once more. Just as those near her became confident of her stupor, the sound they dreaded most scattered them as far from Mildred as they could retreat, without landing in a pool themselves. Thus it was that the scratch of scales and a sibilant voice roused her instead. "There'sss sssomeone you ssshould come and greet. Sssamuel hasss arrived."
"Nooo!" Mildred followed as though on a leash, lest some additional torment be devised just for her. Sure enough, her husband of forty-seven years, with whom she had reared Tanya, Sylvia and Rachel, stood before her with eyes wide in stark terror. "It's true? What Rachel tried to tell us all these years was true!"
Mildred turned and walked away without a word. There was no comfort she could give him now. "God, if you would listen to the plea of a condemned mother... Please help Rachel to reach her sisters! How I fear that they have not fallen far from the tree, though Sylvia does take her boys to Sunday school. Please?"
Distracted, she didn't notice the fissure belching flame, until her eye-brows trickled as ashes down her cheeks. Turning aside, she noticed a cleft between two boulders, just the right size for her to crouch and squeeze between, rocking and sobbing, though her dehydrated eyes could shed few tears.
She had no idea how much time had passed--did time have meaning anymore--when fingers slithered into her hair and jerked her from the crevice, slinging her into the nearest bubbling morass. Crawling out, Mildred tried to shake off the fiery slime as fast as she could, but blisters already puckered over much of her body. Her assailant smirked with cracked lips and laughed.
"You're so young!" How Mildred could tell in the dimness, through the soot they all wore, she was not sure.
"What's it to ya? Age don't got no privileges here," he sneered.
Mildred shook her head and moved away toward a darker, but seemingly less populated area. The darkness, however, was nearly as stifling, and had, if possible, a more oppressive presence than the ruthless mob. Still, she sought a place to try and recuperate from this round of blisters. Finding a boulder in deep shadow, she slumped to its base. She found blowing on the burns to be ineffectual, since there was nothing remotely cool about her breath. Feeling more intense pain on her foot, she realized that something was crawling on it. Flicking it away, she paced toward an area where flames gave a semblance of light--more smoky and malodorous, but also, apparently, less favored by creepy crawlers.
From behind, that chilling voice spoke once more. "There'rrre sssomeones you ssshould come and greet. Tanya and Sylvia havvve arrivvved."
"Nooo! Not both of them, and together!" Again she followed.
"Yesss, togethether. I arranged a niccce little accident for them on the way to sssee Rachel'sss daughter in the Passssion drama. That had the potential to be mossst dangerousss."
"And Sylvia's boys?"
"Too young for me to have, ssso I mussst be sssatisssfied with their mothersss."
"Yes!" Mildred's moment of exultation was swiftly followed by a howl of agony as the scaled tail whipped across her blistered legs.
"Tanya, Sylvia--I am so sorry. This is not a family reunion I ever wanted, though if there is any thankfulness remaining in me, I am grateful that Rachel, her family, and the boys are missing it.
Sylvia and Tanya turned, and walked away.
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