Our family’s house was built on a hill. On the back side of that hill was a canyon where other rich people lived happily, thinking they were buying some of the safest land in the world. Never too much rain, snowfall happened but nothing you couldn’t dig yourself out from, summers never hotter than eighty degrees. In all ways the perfect place to build a home.
Unless it hasn’t rained seriously in a decade.
Unless all of the homes were built with nature all around them. Tall beautiful trees, right next to homes, surrounded by grasses, bushes and what would have under any other circumstance been considered nature at its finest.
Unless it is now raining down upon you as a deadly and fiery ash whipped up by seventy mile per hour winds, creating vortices of fire landing on homes and turning them into instant bonfires.
Then you might not feel as lucky.
Running out the back door to my family’s home in Colorado was exactly like that; it was a wall of heat, a veritable smorgasbord of flames, searing yellows, where plastics from my neighbors swingset burst into a pool of molten goo. Then we had the deep reds of burning tree limbs and trunks as they created the wall of heat that nearly pushed us back into the house. I say nearly because there were people with guns there, so we didn’t have a choice of going back.
Thirty seconds ago…
Three explosions sounded in the living room but I was already in action. Mind you, this was not action I was aware of. This was action my body was taking because I was still stunned by a flashbang. Action I approved of but could not have done on my own. A heavy crystal ashtray was flying at the just kicked open door as a masked man in a dark military kit burst through it. The ashtray, weighing one pound, four ounces, was hurled with enough force to break both his mask and his nose.
This also caused him to rear back and fire his weapon, involuntarily. The flash bangs might be mistaken for other sounds, gunfire has a unique signature. I grabbed Jacob’s hand and ran into the back of the house while the two other soldiers moved around their downed compatriot. He was shaking his head, probably from the flashbangs but he was strong and had a good sense of self-preservation. I admired that about him.
Without thinking we ran to the back of the house through the kitchen when we saw the fire. It was a lot closer than the news had mentioned when we went to bed. It was coming down the side of the hill like a landslide, grass and trees catching on fire while we watched. We had no time to contemplate. Jacob grabbed a bag he had at the back door and we ran into the smoky night.
We hugged the house closely and the smoke masked our movement.
I tried to bring up my mind’s eye interface. I’m more interested in knowing why we are being followed and chased. The response was immediate
Priority is current engagement. Recommend moving toward next domicile for cover and then heading downhill. Your vehicle is likely compromised.
“We are going to have to make a run for it.” Jacob had already come to the same conclusion, the implant did.
“Let’s go that way and hurry. The fire is almost here.” And it was. Our next neighbor’s house was near the top of the hill only about fifty yards from us and it was completely ablaze. The small road that they used to go to the row of houses up there was no longer visible from where we were standing. I could hear the screams of our neighbors getting in their cars. Some of them had already abandoned any chance of making a stand with the fire department. Others stood ready with garden hoses to protect their homes. I could see a number of what were probably legitimate National Guardsmen. They appeared to be helping people move equipment and ushering people back to town. They didn’t look much like the fellows who were following us.
The fire was no longer academic as the winds picked up and suddenly a pillar of flame appeared in the trees above us. We ran and jumped the fence into the neighbor’s yard. Something we did as kids when we wanted to grab an apple from their trees. Now those trees would be dying in a matter of minutes. I stopped to look at them and Jacob nodded before dragging me into the smoke and ash.
As we tried to round the house a crashing sound happened next to us. The fire had already claimed houses nearest to the road and the house next to our neighbor’s was already partially aflame from falling debris. An explosion sounded and screams were heard in the distance. But our path around the house had been obstructed. We would have to go through the house if we wanted to leave.
Jacob broke the glass to the back door without a thought. Kicking his way through the glass, we ran as fast as we could to the front door. The Swenson’s house was in a complete disarray as they had grabbed whatever they could and left. I was about to open the door until Jake looked out the peephole. There were two more of the black Guardsmen standing in front of the house. He signed to move away from the door and we went into what we knew as the Swenson master bedroom. There was a window on the side of the house which was in front of the fence yet out of the line of sight of the Guardsmen.
“I don’t think they can afford to stay much longer. Look outside, everyone is leaving.” I whispered to Jake. The emergency vehicles and police were pulling away. Fast. Everyone seemed to be in a bit of a panic, except for our watchers, who stood watching our house and the Swenson’s.
Jacob reached into his pack and pulled out a handgun. It was his Glock 17 from his days as a marksman. And he was very good at shooting at targets. He only learned to shoot to piss off our mom. He had given up the hobby when he went to college. “You realize this isn’t like shooting at cutouts, right?”
“Yes. And I have never shot a person. But today, if its him or me. I choose me. Unless you want to shoot. I have a spare.”
“No. You know how I feel about those.”
“I thought you might feel differently if we were going to die.” He had a valid point. I took it and checked it. We took the same marksman courses. He never let me forget he was first place for five years running. But I had no intention of shooting this if I could help it.
Then I heard the crunch of glass from the back door. They had run out of time, they were coming in to get us. I looked out the front and could see the two out there looking at their watches and the glow of the fire on their facemasks. They were not happy. The two in the house had given up on stealth and were moving quickly. They had split up and were checking the house, one upstairs and one down.
Jake made a sign telling me to take the other side of the door. There was not going to be a better time to try and take them than when they were apart. We could hear the one closest to us as he approached. He came into the room with his gun in front of him and I saw him swing around toward me. He hesitated, not expecting me to be armed, I imagine. Before I could take the shot, a well placed golf club, a driver from the look of it, took him clean in the helmet.
“Quieter than a gun.” He reached and took his gun. Checking his belt Jake found a pair of handcuffs and cuffed him to the leg of a very nice iron framed bed. Now we had an assault rifle and ammo.
Then I thought about it. He used me as bait. Bastard. If we live, I am so kicking his ass.
It was the logical choice. You are wanted alive.
Shut up. Who asked you?
Then there was a sound I had never heard before. Part train, part fireball, all we heard seconds before the explosion was a terrified scream from upstairs. Jacob grabbed me and both of us crashed through the bedroom window onto the lawn below. A pair of trees were now in the middle of the house, they had been in the backyard and as the trees above them fell, they were pushed onto the house. The two faux Guardsmen were already running down the street.
The heat was unbelievable. We staggered to our feet but it was like we had just stepped into an oven. There was fire all around us and the faux Guardsmen were already tearing down the road away from this new entrance to Hell.
We ran for what seemed like hours but the road was getting harder to recognize especially in the dark. As we went further south, there were still people leaving their homes but no one stopped to offer us help. Normally, driving up here takes about thirty minutes. Walking would take a couple of hours with the switchbacks. We weren’t going to last a couple of hours. We ran until the fire was a good distance away. This meant not immediately burning us alive. Let’s call it fifty feet.
That’s when we saw him. He was walking out of the fire and coming toward us. Smoke rose from his body and his clothing was still burning on him. At first all we had between us was a scream.
Then it became something worse. He seemed to recognize us and ran toward us. His uniform was nearly gone. We fumbled with our guns, partially from shock, partially from not knowing what we were seeing.
Jacob fired first. Six shots, six hits, center of mass.
He floundered, staggered and skidded to a halt at our feet.
His skin was covered with a rock-like crust. At first I thought it was burnt flesh, but it was glowing with the heat of the fire, like metal would. He was also missing his left arm. The one we had handcuffed to the bedpost.
We began to move back when his hand shot out and grabbed Jacob’s ankle. With what looked like only the slightest effort he flung Jake ten feet away. His next movement was to rise to his feet and even as I squeezed off a round, he slapped me across the left side of my face. I landed hard and he rose and began to lumber toward me. I screamed as my face seemed to have caught fire but I maintained enough fear-driven volition to try and scramble away.
I saw him take another six rounds, this time to the face. He went down. He didn’t move again. I saw Jacob stagger to me and then it got dark and I couldn’t see anything.
Overheating imminent. Activate secondary heatsink protocols, shutting down main core.
Countdown at the Memory Palace © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved