I went to a site that generates ideas and found one about a character standing face to face with an on coming wildfire. Since I live in an area where fire is a very real threat, this is what I came up with.
Wall of Flame
I was enjoying the late spring ride home from my friend’s Elizabeth’s family’s ranch. It was good to visit with her; we’re both seventeen and looking forward to starting our own families and ranches. She joshed me a little about a young cowboy we’d seen at the last rodeo, down the rim in Payson.
“Anna Haught, you’d better watch out. That Jimmy Young had his eye on you.”
“Don’t be silly, Elizabeth, he hardly spoke a word to me.”
“Even so,” she poked me in the shoulder. “He watched you the whole dance. Next rodeo I expect he’ll get his courage up.”
We both laughed.
Now, I was daydreaming my way across prime cattle grasslands, the chaparral of mid-Arizona with the occasional Juniper tree dotting the landscape. My horse, Coal, was keeping her nose pointed toward home and a breeze was keeping me cool even though the sun was blasting down out of a clear blue sky. Coal stopped so suddenly I slid sideways in the saddle, her head held high and ears pricked forward. She blew and tossed her head, and then I could smell it too, smoke.
We were too far away from our ranch for it to be smoke from the stove. I looked around; the grass was so dry it was crisp, the summer monsoons still a month away but that didn’t stop dry lightning from striking. The breeze was picking up and on the horizon, right in front of me, there was a line of smoke stretching as far north to south as I could see.
I kicked Coal’s sides, urging her forward. Riding to the top of a hill, I looked west, toward home. In front of me, about two miles away, a line of fire was stretching across my path. Coal tossed her head, stamping her feet.
I could feel the breeze picking up and pushing the fire toward me, it was coming fast. I looked back the way I had come; it was too far to get back to Elizabeth’s. I turned Coal back to the west. The fire was moving quickly, the smoke was thicker.
The only thing I could see was one of the hundreds of gullies that cross the grasslands, off to my right. Dry water courses, they were mostly stone, if I could get there, maybe we’d be safe in the bottom of it. I kicked Coals’ sides with my heels, “Come on Coal, we’ve got to get to that gully.”
She didn’t want to go, wheeling around and trying to run away. I pulled her head around, and she finally obeyed. There was little time. The fire was advancing; I could see sparks from the dry grass being blown around me. “Come on Coal, run!” I kicked her again. We raced to the gully, now just half a mile ahead. I leaned low over Coal’s neck, “faster, girl, faster.” She was beginning to lather up, her mane flying in the wind.
Now it was a race, the air was hot and smoky, the fire getting closer, the breeze whipping by me. I could see the flames ahead. The smoke was burning my throat and my eyes were tearing. Coal was struggling to breathe, “Come on girl. You can do it.”
I pulled up at the edge of the gully, throwing poor Coal onto her haunches. I needed a way down, the sides too steep here to reach the bottom, I pulled her head around to my right, where I could see where the side had collapsed. It was steep but she could do it. Across the gully, I could see the fire, not more than a quarter mile away. I kicked her in her sides, raced to the collapse and made her go down. It was a scramble, her hooves sliding in the gravel and rocks bouncing around us, at the bottom we stopped, her sides heaving.
I leapt out of my saddle and grabbing my canteen I soaked my bandana and tied it around my face. Poor Coal, her eyes were weeping and her sides heaving. We could hear the fire now, roaring; ash raining down on us, sparks flying everywhere. Coal began to panic, eyes rolling wildly and she kept trying to pull away, rearing up in the air, screaming.
It took all of my strength to hold onto the reins. I tried to pull her down, tried to get her to lie down but the heat and smoke made her wild, bucking and lunging, I couldn’t help her, she pulled the reins out of my hands and ran up the gully into the smoke.
There was nothing left to do. I laid down, in the middle of some boulders, my mouth to the ground where the air was a little less smoky. I tossed gravel over me, anything to stop the sparks from catching my dress on fire. I could hear the fire roaring, the hot air blasting over me. I pulled my bandana up over my whole face and waited.
I laid there, praying, trying to breathe. It seemed like a very long time but soon, I realized that the roaring of the fire was far away. I lifted my head, pulled down my bandana and took a peak. Ash was still falling, even a few sparks, but it looked like the fire had passed over me. I stood up. There were some burns on my arms, where I hadn’t had any gravel over me. I tried to beat some of the dust off, choking and coughing in the smoke smelling, ashy air then took a drink from my canteen and re-wet my bandana.
Climbing up the west side of the gully, all I could see was burnt grass. A few trees were still on fire. I looked east, and could see the line of fire moving away from me. There was no sign of Coal. I sighed. It was going to be a long walk home.
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