If I Say No
Say Something Series
Release Date: 12/30/14
8 years earlier
Black smoke billows up into the sky as I pull down the driveway that leads to my brother’s house. The flashes of red and blue I see in the distance force me to press the gas pedal to the floor. I race down the road and curse when my wheel plunges into a pothole and the front end of my car bangs against the ground. I don’t care though and keep speeding forward, careful to avoid as many large holes.
When I finally pull out of the dense trees, a cloud of black engulfs me. My eyes sting even though my widows are closed. I can hardly see through the dark smoke pouring toward me, and I brake just before I smash into a fire truck. My car is barely in park before I am scrambling out the door. Shouts come from several directions, calling for more water on another side of the house. I walk toward the burning home. It’s completely engulfed in flames. Heat radiates against my skin. My chest tightens, my heart is pounding, and I can barely breathe. Not because of the smoke, but because I am afraid. Afraid the two people I care for most might be trapped inside.
Fear, worry, and the prospect of asinine heroics overcome me and I sprint toward the house. “Lily!” I scream over the crackle and roar of the flames. “Lily, where are you?” The heat intensifies as I get closer. Red and orange and yellow flames fill the front door, eliminating my way in. I can see the fire hasn’t reached the left side of the house and head that direction. The smoke and heat feel like burning fire in my lungs, but I keep pressing forward. I have to get to her…I have to get to him.
I reach the side of the house that hasn’t been affected by the flames and see a window big enough for me to squeeze through. I think it’s the dining room window, the opposite side of the house to where I want to be. I try to slide it open.
“Damn it!” I pull my hands back. There’s no fire over here, but the frame is scorching hot. I have to get in…
I bend my arm, pull it back, and send my elbow crashing through the glass. The broken shards shred my sleeve and cut through my skin. I ignore the pain and the blood trickling down my arm. I poke my head inside. It feels like I’m in a sauna turned up to five hundred degrees.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” A pair of hands pulls me back, and a man wearing a helmet and the biggest boots I’ve ever seen shoves me to the ground. “Do you have a death wish or something?”
“I have to get in there!” I push myself off the ground and try to get past the large, older man blocking my way. “My sister in law…there’s a baby…”
“Once we get the fire under control, I’ll send my men in to search, but until then you have to wait out here.” He looks at me and frowns. “What’s your name, son?”
“Reid,” My mouth is dry and I swallow the lump in my throat. “Reid Harder.”
My eyes flick to the house and my stomach churns. By then it could be too late…
The man places a firm hand on my shoulder and shakes his head.
“Please don’t make me have to throw you in the back of a cop car. Let us do our job.”
I’m not one to give up easily but I know a stupid thing when I see it. I nod my head and walk back toward my car. I sit on the hood, watching and waiting for what seems like a lifetime. It takes nearly two hours before the firemen can get the flames to subside. By then, the house is nothing but charred wood. A stiff breeze might take down what was left. If anyone was in there, there is no way they survived.
Tears sting the corners of my eyes and I wipe them away. Get a grip man…they probably aren’t even in there. I squeeze my eyes shut and turn my head away from the chaos. I try not to think of Lily, the way her golden hair shines under the sunlight, her sweet laugh, and her big, beautiful, blue eyes. The hardest thing to avoid thinking of commandeers every thought in my head: Ollie. …only seven months old. He’d just started to learn how to crawl. With his father’s dark hair and his mother’s cute dimples and big blue eyes, he was sure to be a heartbreaker when he got older. Thinking Ollie might not have a chance to grow, to learn and to make mistakes, to be the best man I could teach him to be—because let’s face it, my alcoholic, drug-abusing brother wasn’t going to do shit for the boy. It breaks my heart into a million pieces.
Please, let them be okay…
My eyes snap open when I hear a shout to the fire crew to head inside and search the rubble. I move closer to the house now, my heart pounding through my chest like rapid-fire bullets from a machine gun. I stop next to the man who kept me from entering the house earlier. He looks over at me, his lips in a straight line, and shakes his head slightly. I watch the flashlight beams bounce around. In the pale moonlight, I can see the man next to me has graying hair, making him older than I had originally thought. He holds a radio in his hand near his head, and I strain, trying to make out what he’s saying.
“Damn it all to hell,” is all the man says before he storms away without looking back.
Out the corner of my eye, I see a stretcher being pushed along the burned ground, and all the air escapes my lungs in one breath.
I stand there, not moving, just watching as the men try to maneuver the stretcher through the burned down house. I close my eyes again when I see them lifting a body onto the stretcher in the distance. I will not watch the scene unfold in front of me. If I don’t watch it, it won’t be real.
“I’m sorry, man.” The voice belongs to the only person I have interacted with since my arrival. “We found two bodies, one a woman possibly, and one a child.”
What the hell happened here? I pick up a rock and chuck it across the yard toward my car. The sound of shattering glass echoes across the night sky. I pick up another rock and another and another, throwing them toward my car, screaming, cursing, again and again until I collapse to the ground, sobbing uncontrollably. Why Lily? Why Ollie? What the hell did they ever do to deserve such a tragic death?
“I love you…”
That’s the last thing I say before the world around me falls into a pit of despair.
Copyright 2014 Brandy Jellum