Flames growled and lurched, a living, breathing force that ravenously consumed everything within their reach. Yellow-gold death crawled over every flammable surface, sizzling and sending up clouds of silvery steam as it touched the streams of water raining over it.
Fabric wilted beneath the firestorm, melting to gaping holes and black smoke beneath its touch. Wood shimmered and darkened, its fibers giving way more slowly but settling into a lazy burn that fed and reinforced the raging conflagration moving through the once beautiful home.
The boy huddled beneath a metal and plastic table, tears drying in salty tracks on his over-heated cheeks almost as quickly as they formed. His chest burned under the toxic fog. Coughing had become a constant thing, his twelve-year-old form convulsing helplessly under the relentless need to expel the invasive smoke. But the heat was the worst. The terrifying, uncompromising furnace that seemed to surround him, cutting him off from everything he’d ever known and loved.
The sizzling, crackling, roaring enemy moved inexorably inward, converging on the tiny island of protection he’d found within the inferno.
He sobbed, curling himself more tightly into a ball on the floor. Reaching for anything that might soothe, he pictured his mother’s beautiful face. In his mind her expression was filled with worry. He thought he might never see that face again. Or feel the warm bloom of happiness when her soft hand encompassed his.
Over the angry growl of the flames, the boy thought he heard a scream. Or maybe it was a shout…a cry… No, it was someone calling his name!
His head came up and he shouted out.
He screamed over and over, praying someone would find him in time. Before it was too late. But even as he had the thought, the ravenous flame reached sizzling fingers toward his flesh. As a door across the room was flung wide, the heartless marauder bean to eat its way through the tender flesh beneath his clothes, ripping a scream of agony from his slender throat.
Duncan Yves lurched upright in his bed, his eyes wide and his shirt soaked through with sweat. He scrubbed a hand over his face, the shrill screams still reverberating through his mind. Then he heard the ringing behind the screams and shoved the ghosts away, reaching for his cell phone on the night stand.
His voice was rusty when he spoke into it and he had to clear his throat. “Yeah?”
“Hey. It’s Ash. I hate to do this to you buddy, I know you’ve had a rough week, but we have another fire over on Jackson. The Battalion Chief asked me to call. Can you come out?”
Duncan flashed a quick glance at the clock. Five AM. He sighed. “I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”