Wild Cruel Thing – Part 2
Wild Competition entry
Continued from yesterday …
‘The road to Benalla is completely blocked. Just down the road from here there’s a huge mess of about ten cars mixed up in a huge accident. Apparently some people panicked all trying to dodge the smoke and the fire just down the road. It’s hard to see where you’re going in thick smoke and it ended in a huge mess. You won’t get through this way today. Best beat it back home I reckon, while you can.’
‘With a ‘thanks’ thrown out of the window, they turned the car and headed back home. Dead silence in the car again as everyone watched anxiously for signs of fire. The smoke was now thicker and spreading, and Dave started to shake. The lives of Kath and I, our two kids and Tom’s boy depend on whatever I do from now on. I must do everything right, he thought.
It was peculiar to be arriving home again after fleeing in fright only moments ago, it seemed. Embers were arriving, the advance guard of a big fire, and Dave leapt out of the car calling, ‘Everyone into the bunker kids, I’ll start dousing the embers.’
Kath herded the children, now thoroughly frightened, into the bunker, turned on the light, and calmly reassured everyone that they’d be safe in there no matter what the fire decided to do. ‘No-one’s going to come to any harm here today. I promise you that. You all have your water bottles? Well there’s plenty of water here in the tank, and plenty of chairs. Make yourselves comfortable, and I’ll go and help Dad.’
There was an immediate outcry. Judy started to cry and Michael called out, ‘We’re frightened Mum. Please stay with us,’ he begged.
Torn on what to do, she stayed, settling each child by giving them a little job to do, handing out blankets, handing out a torch to each, arranging the chairs and getting out the drinks and biscuits. She looked outside, couldn’t see Dave, but with horror saw the bottom fences and a tree on fire, and her heart sank. Where was Jake and can small red parrots outfly a bushfire? she wondered
Eventually, Dave came in, with a burnt smell, and indeed had several holes in his shirt where the embers had landed. He was still shaking after seeing a huge wall of flame racing down the mountain to him. He’d never been so scared in his life.
‘Well now, let’s settle down cosily,’ he said unsteadily. ‘We’ll be here for about half an hour at most. There’s plenty of water, and stuff to eat. Here’s the chocolate biscuits and lollies. Anyone want a lemonade?’ There were three takers. ‘I’ll just pull this blanket curtain across the door. That’ll keep the radiant heat out. Everyone comfy?’
As he pulled the blanket across there was a fevered scratching and whining on the door.
‘It’s Jake!’ they all called out together. In he came with a big rush, and everyone brightened. He was fussed over, given a dish of water, and his arrival seemed to break the tension – someone else to worry about instead of themselves perhaps. Shut in again, they were alarmed to hear a huge noise as if a train were bearing down on them. Next there was the added sound of breaking glass, and Kath stiffened. She knew her house was being attacked.
That’s when the light went out.
‘Torches on,’ said David, trying not to sound alarmed while his heart was beating a tattoo. ‘Now’s the time to wrap yourselves in your blankets, covering your heads – not that’s it very cold,’ he tried a laugh, ‘but it’ll keep the heat out.’ He was thinking, it takes ten to twenty minutes for a fire to pass, but the vision of that wall of flame and listening to all the noise outside, was sitting vividly in his mind.
In another attempt to cheer everyone up Dave said, ‘You know this is what the wombats do. They dig their tunnels further into the ground and simply wait for the fire to pass, and that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’ll have to call this bunker ‘Wombat Hollow’ or something. What do you think? Anyone got a better name for it?’
While they were competing with different names, Dave tried the back of the door. It was still hot to touch. ‘We’ll have to wait just a little while longer before we go out,’ he said reassuringly. The children started playing with their torch beams, now relaxed a little since the idea of getting out soon had been suggested.
Another ten minutes went by. Dave tried the door handle again and it was cooler. He ventured to turn the lock, and looked outside.
‘It’s OK we can come out, but be careful; everything is hot on the ground.’ Kath was the first out, gasped. ‘The house is gone Dave. It’s all gone. The trees too. We’ve lost everything.’ She sobbed uncontrollably, while the children gathered round her.
She looked at the desolation with shock. ‘This bloody fire,’ she cried ‘it’s a cruel wild thing. And discriminatory.’ She was looking at Maurice’s house standing untouched, staring at them.
‘We’re all alive love. We made it through the fire. And no, we haven’t lost everything, come and look. Our big shed and everything in it has escaped, and I put our car in Maurice’s garage. It seemed safer than our carport. I think we’re lucky. I hope Margaret and Tom have been too, but they’re not answering their phone.’
Eventually they heard how Tom’s family had escaped – house included. When the fire approached Tom and Margaret walked into their big cold dam up to their armpits, each one holding a small child, huddled together under a wet blanket covering them completely like a tent and breathing through wet cloths. Next thing they heard the helicopter, and listened to the wonderful water falling.
They’d be over to get Josh as soon as the roads were clear.
They heard from Maurice too. He was so grateful that his property had been cleared probably saving his holiday home, he told Kath and Dave they could ‘live in it as long as you like, until you can build your own again,’ he offered.
Dave put his arm round Kath. ‘This isn’t too bad is it? It’ll be a fresh start. We’re insured so we can build something you like; we’ll still be living here, where we love it with the wilderness of the national parks nearby. We’ve survived this – we can survive anything!’
Bio: Shirley thinks trying to survive a bushfire can be the way to see nature at its cruellest. Yet despite that, families stay put because the wilderness around them is home.