Flash Fiction Week Second Place Winner!
BY CONNIE COOK
Copyright is held by the author.
The fires move fast, down the west side of the Rockies, rolling in from Alberta. The air sultry and smoky. Nickolai and Vinnie stand looking out of the living room window at the cut banks. Trying to find the late afternoon sun in all that haze. Even a fragment of it, to prove it still exists.
There, Vinnie says. A faint orange silhouette peeks out of the sky.
Maybe it’s time. Should we go ahead before the evacuation alert? They had talked about this last night in bed, in the stifling heat, not daring to open their windows.
Three pets, all in cages. Canned food, a can opener, water, medication.
A battery-operated radio. Their marriage certificate on the wall over the bed.
The next morning they rise early before Vinnie goes to work, looking at a map of BC. Fort St. John on evacuation alert. Charlie Lake, Rose Prairie, Coffee Creek, communities all displaced.
After Vinnie leaves, Nickolai wanders from room to room, assessing what to take. The dogs are restless, underfoot, uncertain where to be. Puffing in the heat.
At noon, Vinnie comes home. Most days he has lunch downtown.
The fires? Nickolai says. Is that why you’re home early?
Vinnie nods, opening cupboard doors looking for lunch items, finally settling for crackers and cheese and cucumber slices. They stand in the kitchen nibbling food, flipping through their phones.
When do we go? Nickolai asks. The dogs wait for an answer.
Vinnie sighs. Tomorrow morning. Highway 16 is closed near McBride. We can only go west to Prince Rupert.
Overnight, the fires accelerate, flickering red and orange.
Social media reports the haunting cries of animals in the wild, too close to the flames, unable to outrun the inferno. Their babies wandering aimlessly along the perimeters. Cows and horses and chickens let lose by their owners, given a small chance of escaping. But of course, they won’t.
At daylight, Nickolai and Vinnie load the SUV with their belongings. What does one take, or leave behind?
Finally, Nickolai stands under the mountain ash in the front yard, hands in his pockets. Digs his fingernails into his palms to stop any tears. Crows scold above him. The city awakens, rattling and humming with noise.
We’ll be back, Vinnie says. Drapes his arm around his husband’s shoulder. This place hasn’t seen the last of us.
A southerly wind scatters white balls from the cottonwood trees. Too bad if they all burn, such pretty trees. The lilacs dance on dry, flimsy branches.
Vinnie coughs, wipes his mouth on his shirt sleeve.
Connie Cook is a semi-retired social worker, currently employed at a local library near the shores of Georgian Bay. She has three children and six grandchildren. She belongs to two Writer’s groups in the area and is working on her first novel. She has a Bachelor’s degree, major in Sociology, as well as a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. Her hobbies include bike riding, gardening and travel. If there is any spare time after the aforementioned, she likes to read and admire the works of Michael Crummey, Alice Munro and Souvankham Thammavongsa. She is also a long-time fan of CommuterLit.com and has had several stories posted there.