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When the Home Fires Burn

What was supposed to have been a five-minute glance into her closet to decide what dress to wear on her date later that night had turned into a regular spring-cleaning frenzy, only in Autumn.  Fable Blanchard’s bed was now piled high with clothes while the floor was the designated discard bin.  Pants, shorts, dresses, and gym wear lay strewn about in specific piles.  One heap for what no longer fit.  One for what still fit but she didn’t like anymore.  And one for why did I even buy that in the first place?  Only the articles of clothing on her bed were things she planned to keep.


A quick rap at the door caught her attention as her sister Beryl walked in.  “Well, I see you are in another one of you fashion overhauls,” Beryl said sliding over enough clothes from the corner of the bed to sit down.


Fable poked her head out of the closet with a lone coat hanger gritted between her teeth, a peach-colored silk blouse dangling on it.  Through her teeth she grunted, “I have a date tonight with a new guy and I was trying to find something to wear.”


Beryl gave her a sarcastic smile and replied, “I certainly hope you found something after all this.”


“I did,” Fable smirked, rehanging the blouse.   “I’m wearing your green mini dress.  I took it out of your closet a little while ago.”


Beryl rolled her eyes.  Sisters.


“How was your day?” Fable asked while thrusting an armful of coats from the closet onto the bed pile.


Beryl sighed.  “The same.  Nothing big.  I had a little boy come in with a broken collar bone.  I performed a slow heal and told his parents it was only cracked.  In a day or two it’ll be back to new, and he won’t have any more pain.”


Dr. Beryl Blanchard often had to disguise her healing powers by purposefully misdiagnosing something to explain the miraculous healing she’d magically applied.  Of course, gossip abounded around the hospital regarding her.  It was a rare thing for Dr. Blanchard to lose a patient.  And almost all the people under her care experienced total and expedient recovery.


“I was hoping maybe you’d want to see a movie tonight,” Beryl admitted as she began inspecting the pile of clothes on the bed and withdrawing the items which rightfully belonged to her.  “But if you have a date, I’ll see if Yaz or Seth are free.”


“Want me to see if my guy has a friend?  You could double date with us.”


Beryl scoffed and answered, “No.  I’ll pass.”  Her eye caught sight of something wedged under the clothing pile.  She pulled free the lavender sweater she’d been searching her own closet for only yesterday.  She stood up to see herself in the wall mirror as she placed the sweater against her.  It looked okay on her.  But with her honey blonde curls the light purple kind of washed her out.  It probably did look better on Fable with her dark wispy hair.  Beryl tucked it back into the pile.


“You always take a pass on dates I set up for you.” Fable remarked.  “You need a date, big sister.  When was the last time you spent more than five minutes with a man who wasn’t having a massive coronary?”


Beryl laughed.  “It’s been a minute.  But honestly, Fable, I am emotionally spent after a day at the hospital.  I’m really not interested in dating right now.”  Beryl was readying herself for her snappy retort once Fable made her argument as to why dating was exactly what beryl needed, but something caught her attention.  A strange tapping sound was coming from somewhere in the room.  She scanned her sister’s bedroom and couldn’t see anything suspicious until her eyes reached one of the windows.  A large black crow was hovering on the other side of the windowpane, flapping its wings to stay afloat as it tapped the glass with its beak. 


“Friend of yours?” Beryl asked her sister.


Fable ducked her head out of the closet to see the bird.  She went to the window only to see the bird lower itself and swoop down below towards the porch.  “Let’s go see what this is about.”  Fable called to her sister as she left the room.


Beryl and Fable went downstairs and out the front door to the large wrap around porch.  Their grandmother’s hanging baskets had been freshly planted with impatiens for the season in an array of colors.  Orange, yellow, and burgundy mums lined the porch railing beneath the hanging baskets.  The crow was perched on the side rail of the porch steps, but it wasn’t alone.  Gathered together in a little group on the top two porch steps were a squirrel, a skunk, and a rabbit.  Behind them on the lawn stood two deer—the male with tall 8-point antlers, and his mate beside him.


“What’s happening?” Fable asked the crow.  The crow began to squawk but was instantly interrupted by the squirrel who dashed up the railing and took position closest to Fable.  He began chirping in franticly.


“Oh my god!”  Fable gasped, stepping off the porch, dodging the little animals as she made her way onto the front lawn.  Peering over the roofline of the house, she saw what the creatures had come to report.  “Beryl!  The woods are on fire!”


Black smoke was encircling the bright blue skyline over the back acreage of the Blanchard property.   Over the treetops birds were abandoning their nests to take to the air for safety.   Fable dashed across the yard towards the trail leading into the woods while Beryl darted back into the house and up the staircase.  Seth Blanchard’s bedroom was right next door to Fable’s.  As Beryl pounded her fist on his door, her cousin Yasmine came out of her own room to see what the ruckus was about. 


“The woods are on fire!”  Beryl shouted.  “Is Seth even in here?”


“I’m sure he has his headphones on again,” Yasmine huffed, twisting the doorknob and opening the door unannounced.


She was right.  Seth was sitting on the edge of his bed, still in his gym shorts and tank top, headphones in his ears, air drumming to something playing much too loudly in his ears.


“Seth!!!” Yasmine shouted as she reached forward to swipe the earpiece away.  “The woods are on fire!”


Within seconds, Seth, Yasmine, and Beryl were in full sprint across the meadow to the wooded trail.  The Blanchard woods were thick.  Entering them was like entering a walled off world all unto itself.  Patches of sunlight pierced through the fragmented holes between limbs and leaves.  The glow of light streaming through the colorful autumnal leaves cast a canopy which looked like orange, red, and yellow stained glass.  They could smell the smoke now.  They were getting closer.  And the dry, brittle leaves covering the ground would surely accelerate the fire spread.  The further they dug into the woods the stronger the smell of burning timber became.  Soon a hazy smoke covered the trail as they continued.  They caught up with Fable down the trail.  She was sending out her mental call to animals in the vicinity to evacuate the woods and take shelter in the safety of one of the large meadows.  Added to this message was her plea to the woodland creatures to regard this as a time to look out for one another and not make prey of one another in the field.


Seth ventured deeper down the now smoke-obliterated trail, feeling his way among branches when he could not get a visual.  It wasn’t long before the hot red blaze broke through the blinding smoke.  The fire was all around him.  He watched as glowing red tendrils stretched up tree trunks like long fingers, choking the life out of the magnificent oaks, pines, and cedars.  Chipmunks scurried overhead, jumping from engulfed branches hoping to land to safety anywhere else.  Ants marched down tree trunks, abandoning whatever work they’d been doing on higher limbs above.  Baby birds cried out from nests for their mothers who fluttered anxiously nearby, unable to abandon them but unable to perch on incinerating limbs. 


Seth took a few steps backwards and closed his eyes.  This was going to be a big endeavor.  He’d never really done anything this big before.  True, he’d conjured up small rain showers to water his grandmother’s roses or his Aunt Artemis’ vegetable garden, but this…this was a raging wildfire.  This would be nothing he’d done before.  Doing his utmost to tune out the sounds of crackling bark and screeching wildlife, he evened his mind into a singular hum.  He pushed away all thoughts unrelated to the skies.  He swallowed down any fear of falling limbs or the hot flames encroaching near his toes.  Seth Blanchard’s mind now carried only one thought…one.  Rain.  He kept his eyes shut tightly even after he heard the rumbling of thunder above.  The fire was crawling closer to him.  His thighs, bare beneath his gym shorts, were feeling very hot now, almost like standing at an open oven turned to broil.  He wanted to take a step backward but that might unravel his concentration.  He remained steady, tuning out the burning sensation on his legs.  His only thought, the sky.  He concentrated on air pressure dialing up in places, dialing down in others.  Clouds moving across the blue sky in all directions to align together, fusing all their combative differentness.  The result was the massive dark gray cloud coverage hovering directly over the Blanchard family woods.  Thunder clapped.  It vibrated down to Seth, almost causing him to fall.  His legs were blistering now.  It was unbearable.  Yet somehow, he held his focus.  He held it to save the forest.  He held it to save the animals.  He held his focus to save the history of all Blanchards who had once lived here or were yet to be born here.  Seth held his concentration until at last he felt the soft wet blessings of the sky fall down upon his now scalding face.  The rain intensified.  The thunder raged like a heavy metal band drummer with a chaotic solo.  Seth opened his eyes to see heavy rainfall pouring from above, crashing into the tops of the burning trees.  The water pushed itself forward, rolling down sizzling limbs until suddenly a soft hiss penetrated the air.  The hiss of fire being doused.  The smoke the fire created was nothing compared now to the foggy haze of rain extinguishing flames.  Seth choked from the inhalation as he staggered backwards towards his cousins.  His legs would barely cooperate.  They were swollen and painful.  He looked down to see his scalded flesh red and pink and bubbling up beneath the singed skin.  He fell back to the ground. 


He didn’t remember very much after.  He barely felt his cousins grabbing him under the arms and dragging him away.  Seth had passed out after only a few feet down the path.  When he regained consciousness, he was in the meadow.  The sun was coming out, prying its eager head through the still heavy cloud coverage which was only beginning to release its grip.  Over the horizon Seth could see the fire was completely out with only traces of smoke dissipating above it.  He looked around.  Beryl was knelt beside him, her hands still on his legs.  Fable was sitting on the ground at his left while Yasmine was directly behind him.  In fact, he was laying against her chest with her arms wrapped around his shoulders.  Behind his cousins stood a menagerie of animals he’d never seen grouped together before.  Deer.  Coyotes.  Rabbits.  Badgers.  Possums.  Squirrels.  And at their feet slithered snakes, skunks, spiders, ants, roaches, frogs.  Almost every type of woodland creature big or small.  He now gathered the courage to look at his legs.  They were healed.  No more burns.  His face felt normal again too now.


Yasmine gave him a squeeze.  Fable wiped a tear away from her eye.  Beryl was simply smiling.  “Seth, you did it.  I can’t believe that storm you manifested!  That was a doozy.”


“I told Beryl to leave your legs and face the way they were,” Fable teased.  “You could use a good dose of humility.  But she insisted on making you pretty again.”


Yasmine wasn’t in the joking frame of mind.  She pressed her wet cheek against her cousin’s ear and whispered, “I was so scared Seth.  I thought we’d lost you.”


He patted her arm with his hand.  Then in his signature Seth vapidness, he stroked his fingers across his scorched tank top.  “This was a Jed North!  Why can’t your power extend to the clothes the people you heal are wearing too!”  Beryl smacked him on the head with the palm of her hand, then helped him to his feet.

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