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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Australia or New Zealand (01/15/09)

TITLE: Fire Down Below
By Chely Roach


She could smell the smoke days before the fire line ever approached. Carly sat on the veranda’s creaky wooden swing; her whispered prayers brushing the first light. “Help us Lord, shelter us and our home. Build a hedge around us. Give us strength and the courage in the face of terror, because, Jesus, I am so afraid…”

The sense of pending doom reminded Carly of losing her beloved Thomas. His cancer was like a bushfire; they spent months putting out the little fires, praying they could save the structure, but eventually, the inferno won. Ashes to ashes.

And now, with the smoke flooding their valley, she was alone. Alone with their two boys, feeling completely inept to help transform them into the men she and Thomas wished them to be. Tommy was almost fifteen, and stood almost a head taller than Carly. She knew that Liam—who just turned twelve—was on the verge of that hormonal growth spurt that tested her so with Tommy; but three years ago, there was a man of the house to temper him.

The screen door slammed and Carly saw them race off the porch and jump the stairs. She smiled. They had been doing that since they were dragging their bunny-rugs behind them. Part of her wanted to scoop them up and run for it, but they all knew that if they did, there would be nothing to come home to. That far out in the bush, the volunteer fire fighters were not going barrel down the rocky drive and save them; it was either “stay or go”, and they chose to stay.

“Hey, blokes, are we ready run through our checklist? It looks like this thing is going to happen today.” All three looked to the northern ridge, where an endless line of eucalyptus trees met the vast blue sky. Not too far beyond the tree line they could see the plumes of smoke, undoubtedly fueled by their oil soaked leaves.

“We’re ready, Mum,” said Tommy, with Liam nodding behind him.

They walked the perimeter of the land, clearing the last minute brush. They checked the hose on the pumper truck and the 6,000 gallon water tank, and filled several buckets with water to plunge mops.

As each minute passed, the blue expansion overhead was blotted out with black haze, speckled with flurries of burning embers. It was the embers that destroyed most homes in the Australian scrublands; their only line of defense was dousing them before they caught and spread.

The broiling wind picked up and Carly covered her face with her sleeve, “Tommy, you and I need to gear up and start soaking the house and the outbuilding. Liam, I need you to fill all the sinks and the tub, and then shove rolled up wet towels under all the doors to keep the smoke out of the house. Also, have water and wet washcloths ready for us when we come to the door.”

Though Carly and Tommy were melting in the fire resistant gear, they became quite thankful for it as the smattering of embers morphed into a fiery hailstorm. The pair crisscrossed the perimeter, drowning the plethora of miniature explosions with a wet mop and fire hose. Carly glanced at her eldest son darting across the yard, surrounded by a thousand glowing fists pummelling the dry earth. The sight of him paralyzed her. She couldn’t shake the mental vision of Pentecost; the heavens pouring down fire and the Holy Spirit. The vision calmed her, filling her mind with a lifetime of Scripture hidden in her heart. A certain truth was pressed upon her; today, she and her grieving family were being refined like silver…tested like gold. And like the infamous Old Testament servants of the Most High God, today they would survive this fiery furnace, by His grace.

Just as quickly as the embers assaulted, hours later, they dissipated. Tommy ran to his mother’s side, both dumbstruck by the sudden stillness. Carly squinted, noticing several wallabies and kangaroos coming in from the bush. An entire family of possums scampered onto the veranda and hid beneath the swing for shelter.

Then a great wall of smoke rushed into their valley like black lava, with the fire front on its heels. A mere breath later, every direction was burning, and the deafening roar was like a freight train that never ceased. With tools in their hands that resembled the humble rock and slingshot of David, they leaned on faith, and stared their Goliath in the face…

~Acts 2:1-4, Zechariah 13:9, Daniel 3:19-27, 1 Samuel 17

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This article has been read 736 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 01/22/09
Wow—this was an aspect of Australian living I hadn't thought about. Fascinating—the descriptions are as vivid as though you had lived them? Did you?
Jan Ackerson 01/22/09
A masterpiece of pacing--with the climax at the very end! Now that's good storytelling...I suspect that those two young men are going to be just fine.
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/24/09
You are a masterful storyteller. I really like how the mc was strengthened by her faith physically and emotionally.
Leah Nichols 01/25/09
Why did you stop? I want to know more! :)

Very well-researched and thought out. I agree - you're a masterful storyteller!
Eliza Evans 01/25/09
Very well written! Great job!
Eliza Evans 01/25/09
One note.. And just my personal opinion.

I realize you wanted to make an analogy between cancer and the bushfire but to me, the mention of her losing her husband is depressing.. and not much else.
The last paragraph is very intense and the situation overwhelming. Personally, I would rather see the whole family working together or something really tangibly hopeful at the end.

That's just my opinion. :)
Catrina Bradley 01/25/09
POWERFUL writing. I was caught up in your words and got lost chasing embers and ducking smoke. I love the vision of Pentecost, and Old Testament "trial by fire". The MC's faith shows the result of a lifetime of burying the Word in your heart.
Joy Faire Stewart01/25/09
Very well thought out storytelling with a wonderful message. Excellent writing!
Beth LaBuff 01/25/09
Wow! Amazing, gripping story. I can't imagine doing what they did. Your description of the family "being refined like silver…tested like gold…. Survive this fiery furnace, by His grace" was awesome. Your story is only topped by your message.
Betty Castleberry01/25/09
Very visual, very unique; in a word, excellent. I enjoyed this piece very much.
Connie Dixon01/26/09
Great writing here. I loved that you left us hanging, but also looking to a positive end. You sucked me in from the beginning.
Karlene Jacobsen01/26/09
The scene was painted so vividly, you held me captive.
Joanne Sher 01/26/09
Just excellent. I love all the imagery and parallels. It made this visual piece even more so to me. Excellent.
Bryan Ridenour01/27/09
Two thumbs up. Left me wanting more! Great writing!
LauraLee Shaw01/28/09
Okay, wowzer. THAT was one of the best endings I've ever seen. We all know what happened to Goliath! Love it. This is an excellent piece, filled with great description and an engaging plot.
Loren T. Lowery01/28/09
There is so much to love about this, not only the story itself, but the way it is written as well. Breathtaking and intense are two words that come to mind as well as the authentic use of language/dialogue.
Joshua Janoski01/28/09
Some people are born to write and are extremely good at it. You happen to be one of those people. My jaw drops every time I read one of your pieces. You have such a way with words, and this story is no exception. I love how you inserted Biblical references throughout, and the ending left me excited. One of my favorites this week!
Beth LaBuff 01/29/09
Michele -- just wanted you to know, this is one of my favorites for the Australia challenge.