Monday 14 – Tuesday 15 March 2016
The trek had taken Pete and Sophie miles away from the national park’s car park, and he wasn’t sure that he’d be able to make it back there before dark. His feet were throbbing, he estimated that he’d sweated out more liquid than he’d consumed to rehydrate himself, and his shoulders ached from carrying a heavy backpack all day, but he’d stopped short of whining because the hiking expedition allowed him to spend time with the woman he’d lusted after since high school.
‘Sophie, are you planning on heading back to the car any time soon?’
‘Ah, didn’t you listen when we spoke on the phone to organise all of this? I told you we’d be out overnight. Why’d you think your backpack is so heavy? You’re carrying a shit load of supplies, and a swag.’
‘We’re camping out tonight?’
‘Yes, that was the whole point of coming out here.’
‘Great,’ he gave up the fight. ‘Do we at least have a tent to save us from the mosquitos?’ He stopped, and turned back to look at her sweaty face. She slapped the underside of her pack.
‘Yep, tent’s in here, buddy boy. Now, onward ho!’
* * * * *
5 January, 2012
His hopes of waking late were dashed at twenty past five when his cell phone rang. James threw his arm out, and felt around on the bedside table for his phone. His fingertips grazed it a few times before he was able to gain control of his digits, and fully grasp the phone. He looked at the calling display, and accepted the call.
‘What’s up, chief?’ The mumbled words were followed by a feeble attempt to rub his eyes awake.
‘We’ve gotta get back out there, Jimmy. Fire’s picked up overnight, and the front’s expanded. It’s on the move again. The wind’s against us. Aerial support’ll be in at first light, but we need boots on the ground now. So, get your shit together, and get over here.’
‘On my way.’ James disconnected the call, tossed the phone back on the bedside table, and rubbed his eyes with both hands. He looked over at Sophie, dead to the world and fast asleep, and decided against waking her to tell her he’d been called back in; there was no sense in both of them being awake at that hour when a note on the kitchen table would suffice.
Five minutes later, and James was out of the house, and speeding towards the fire station. Unlike his fire fighter mates, rock music was not pumping through the car speakers to elevate his adrenaline. James preferred Beethoven to get him moving, and this morning it was the Egmont Overture that filled his car. He’d copped a ribbing from the crew the first time anyone heard the classical music emanating from his car speakers, but over the years, they’d become used to hearing some piece of classical music if they were on with James. He thought that secretly they liked the music as well.
His mind wandered to Sophie waking up alone later that morning, with only his rushed note to explain his absence, as he arrived at the station, and ran to kit up. Like the crew with James’ choice of music, Sophie was used to him taking off in the middle of the night, or during family dinners, or nights out, or when they’d planned time together. It was part and parcel of marrying a fire fighter.
‘Ready Jimmy?’ Pete Finch’s voice cut through James’ thoughts of Sophie.
‘Yeah, buddy. Let’s get rolling.’
They could see the blazing fire front before they got anywhere near the physical scene. Flames reflected against the dark morning sky, bouncing back an intense orange glow to anyone who looked in the direction of the fire.
‘Shit, it’s huge,’ said Pete.
‘Wind won’t be helping. You know how it works, Petey. With a fire as intense as we had yesterday, you just can’t trust it to lay down and die.’
Pete glanced at James, then set his eyes back on the road, as he pushed the fire truck to go faster.
‘Calm down, Pete. We wanna get there alive, and there’s a good five k’s of gravel just up ahead,’ James ordered. Almost on cue, the tyres of the truck bumped from bitumen to gravel, spraying small rocks off the road as it went.
‘Jesus, Pete, where’d you learn to drive.’ From the back seat, Tiny Munson laughed.
‘Cornflakes packet, mate,’ James replied.
At their current distance from the fire, they’d soon begin to feel the radiant heat expelled by the fire front.
‘Ready for action?’ Pete looked in the rear view mirror at the crew behind him. A chorus of ‘yes’ bellowed back.
‘Then get serious, boys and girls.’
* * * * *
Sophie woke at seven, and rolled over to face her husband. His side of the bed was cold and empty, and that meant he’d been called back out to fight the fire.
‘Good luck, James. I think you’re going to need it today,’ she spoke to his empty place in the bed. With a little effort, Sophie dragged herself out of bed, and into the kitchen where she read the scribbled note from James.
‘Another day as a fire fighter’s wife.’ She wandered into the living room and switched on the television. It came alive with a news broadcast covering the fire that James was most likely in the midst of fighting.
‘Holy fuck, it’s huge,’ she whispered as the reporter continued giving whatever details she’d be able to get from the authorities on the scene.
* * * * *
‘We’re surrounded, James! What should we do?’ Pete screamed out over the roar of the approaching flames.
‘Keep that water coming,’ he screamed in reply, ‘but turn it onto the truck. No way do we have enough to put that out, but we’ve got enough to hose down the truck, and pray to God that it gives us some sort of protection from that. I want the fire blankets out, and I want everyone else back in the truck, and wrapped in the blankets.’
‘What about you?’ Pete yelled.
‘I’ll keep hosing the truck a bit longer. Get in, Pete. Look after that lot. Make sure they’re calm, and they’re safe.’
Pete didn’t wait to be told again, scarpering back to the truck, and wrapping himself in a fire blanket. Tiny Munson ensured the water valve was completely open, and then stood behind James, grasping the taut hose to help James control it.
‘Get in the truck, Tiny. NOW!’
‘Not until you do, Jimmy. You need help out here. We’ll hose it down until the last possible second, and then we get back to the truck. Don’t argue, Jimmy, ‘cause you’ll lose.’
James nodded, thankful that at least one of the crew was courageous enough to back him up as the fire front roared towards them.
. . . To be continued . . .