The Last One Out

Apparently some study once showed that nicotine is ten times as addictive as heroin. It’s harder to quit smoking than it is to quit “crack.” Friday Fictioneers must be somewhere in the middle — it’s pretty hard to quit, too.

Every Wednesday, in the wee hours, the Blue Frog express chugs out of the station over at Word-shy Wisoff-Fields’ blog. This Inlinkz engine carries the precious prompt photo to some terrific, but ever-so-terse, writers. One by one they hitch their links to the express and off it goes around the globe collecting tales. To see all the links, go to Rochelle’s blog and click the blue frog under the prompt photo — which, by the way, belongs to Douglas MacIlroy and you may not use it without his permission.

I thought I had nothing to share this time around, and no time, either. But a few days ago I was reading about Compassion International worker Dan Woolley, who had the misfortune to spend three days trapped in his hotel lobby after Haiti was hit by a big earthquake. (The title of his book is UNSHAKEN.) Then yesterday thoughts started coming together, this story emerged, and I felt I should post it. Initially a longer and more detailed account but I managed to pare it down.

(Note: “Wings of a Dove” was a country-gospel song written by Bob Ferguson in 1958.)

Photo prompt Douglas M MacIlroy

The Last One Out

Ashton regained consciousness, remembered the hotel floor shaking, walls cracking. His head throbbed; dust gagged him. He shifted some, found one leg was pinned. He tried calling, only managed a squeak.

The ground trembled again. Aftershocks. Plaster crumbled; he prayed the ceiling a metre above him wouldn’t fall. His throat was a chalkpit.

Hours later he heard rustling. Rats? No. Somebody’s bird!

“M’aidez,” the myna squawked.

He grabbed it. Keep singing, sailor.

“M’aidez! M’aidez!” it screamed.

Two hours later help reached him. “We thought no one here survived. Haitian workers heard you calling.”

“On wings of a dove,” Ashton whispered.

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The Fire That Changed Her Name

One evening in Hull, England, Maud and her mum decided to go to the “flicks” (silent movies) — and see Norma Talmadge in Camille. Maud says that wonderful actress “could really turn on their waterworks.” While they were sobbing trough tear-jerking scenes at the theatre, another “scene” was rolling at their home, one that would change their lives forever.

The house had been shut up and some washing, set in front of the fireplace to dry, caught on fire. At least this was the conclusion they came to. The fire smouldered until Maud’s  father had come home from his club and opened the front door. Fresh oxygen fed the blaze and hot flames flashed out at him. It was too late to save anything; the interior of the house was an inferno.

After the movie, as Maud and her mother got closer to their street, they saw “a huge orange cloud lighting up the sky.” They began to run and soon realized the awful truth: their house was the one burning! Several red fire engines raced by them and stopped in front of their house. Firemen piled out and dragged hoses along, pumping water from a tank on one of the trucks.

Panicked, Maud and her mom ran toward their home. A crowd had already gathered. Maud was determined to rush in and save some of their belongings but one of the firemen caught her as she reached the door and put paid to that idea. So she stood outside with the others and watched the house burn, feeling herself the heroine of a great drama. She hated to lose their piano but wasn’t sad about all the old trinkets and whatnot her mum had collected over the years.

After the fire her mother decided to stay with her maternal grandparents, the Waites, who lived nearby, until the house could be restored. Maud could have joined them but some of her school friends were offering her a place to stay and that had a lot more appeal. Maud found being an only child rather boring, and had no qualms about accepting when best friend Phyllis Holmes invited her to come live with them awhile.

Here was a family where there would always be some action going on! Phyllis’ older sister, Cathy, was engaged to be married. She also had three brothers: Ted, the oldest, was an organ builder in Scotland; Harry was a cowboy on a ranch in somewhere out in the wilds of western Canada; Noel, still living at home, was an office worker. Phyllis, three years older than Maud, was an incurable romantic and a tease. She’d often say, “Just wait till Harry sees you. I’m sure he’ll fall for you!”

Phyllis did Maud a great favour while she was living at their home. Maud had always hated her name, especially when pronounced with a broad Yorkshire “u” — and even more when folks called her Maudie. Yuck! One evening she and Phyllis went to the theatre to see Peg O’ My Heart. Afterward Phyllis said, “She’s just like you! From now on you’re not Maud, you’re Peggy, and I’m never going to call you anything else.”

Maud — now Peggy — was delighted. She had some qualms about telling her parents, though, and her name change did indeed bring on a major row when she informed them, but they finally gave in and she was Peggy ever after. Some years later when she moved to Alberta with her husband, she was so thankful Phyllis had dubbed her Peggy, since it seemed every mule in Canada was called Maud. 🙂

You see, when Phyllis’ brother Harry came home from western Canada on a visit, he changed Peggy’s last name to Holmes and took her off to the bush country north of Edmonton, Alberta, to live on his homestead. 🙂

That proved to be a very useful fire indeed.

Word Press daily prompt: qualms