Smoke poured out of the hallway and tumbled into the living room, jolting me from my lethargic attempt to wake. I threw my cup of coffee onto the table adjoining my Lazy Boy and got down on my knees as fast as I could. Time was wasting! I had to rush to my bedroom and get my baby to safety. Everything else was secondary.
The heat stabbed at my head and back, the flames already sending tendrils of horror into the hallway. I had left the door open when I got up so I could hear my son if he started to fuss. Now the doorway itself was totally engulfed by the fire, the crackling sound getting louder as pieces seperated from the wood, floating into the surrounding air.
Damn! Why didn't my wife wake up and grab the baby? Was she overcome by the thick, black smoke?
I surged on, moving much faster now, not caring that I could barely breathe, the stench of my seared skin meaning nothing.
The white walls changed their color to gray, then black, before exploding into flame. Shit, the fire was racing through the house. How the hell was I going to get my baby out of this?
Black smoke and multi-colored flames greeted me as I forced myself into my room. Even the floor was excruciatingly hot to the touch, my hands and knees joining my back and head with fast forming burns. I felt my way to the crib and pulled myself up.
I panicked! My baby was not in the crib!
That's when I saw her: a young, Native American girl, maybe ten years old. She was holding my little Robert in her arms, completely oblivious to the raging fire forcing itself throughout the room. Her long, black hair tumbled down onto her dress, an old garment, like in the settlers' pictures going back to the latter 1800's. A luminescence formed around her and engulfed Robert, appearing to protect him from the flames. Her jet black eyes drilled into mine as she handed him to me, motioning that I should stay close to her.I did as she asked, and we ran out the door just as the fire trucks arrived. After handing Robert to a fireman, I collapsed onto the lawn, seeing my wife at the side of the yard.
The words I wanted to say stayed in my throat, trapped by the smoke and overriding panic still dwelling in me. As soon as they put the oxygen mask over my nose and mouth, I passed out.
I spent thirty pain filled days in the hospital, wondering as to the whys of the fire, thankful that my baby had suffered no injuries at all: not so much as a scratch. My other children, thank God, had spent the night at a friend's house.
But my wife...
The cause of the blaze was attributed to an escaping fire from the wood stove in the downstairs family room. I never used the damned thing; it wasn't safe. The venting just wasn't easy to get right. Janice, my wife, on the other hand, was determined to use it, and on that night, she did. Our bedroom was directly above the stove, easy pickings for the escaping fire. It ran right up the wall: straight to my baby.
Janice had tried to stop the fire but couldn't get the fire extinguisher to work. She panicked, bolted up the stairs, and ran outside. It must have been when I was crawling to our room. One thing that clouded my mind was: exactly when had she gone downstairs? Was I so tired when I got out of bed that morning that I failed to notice she wasn't there? I don't know. What difference did it make? She went downstairs and wham: one fire in the making. It wasn't even her that called the fire department. My neighbor did.
My family moved back into the house a week before I left the hospital. I thought it would be burned to the ground, but the fire department worked a little magic. Shit! They did some major magic.
There was still a bit of smoke-tingued odor in the house, but it wasn't overpowering. My nose, Teutonic wonder that it was, was pretty sensitive and could pick up scents that most other people didn't notice.
Everything else was back the way it had been before the fire, and in some instances, even better.The walls were bright white and the trim was new and freshly finished. No soot tracks were anywhere.
I couldn't understand one thing, though: Robert's crib was virtually untouched. It had been in the middle of a blazing inferno and was unscathed. My bed was trashed and had been replaced, but the crib...
The furniture in my other children's rooms, as well as the rooms themselves, had also been spared.
Janice acted weird when I returned home. No hugs, no kisses, no explanations. In fact, other than cursory conversation, she said nothing. My children were glad I was back and rushed to greet me when I walked in the door, and Janice told them not to jump on Daddy because of the bandages and all, but not much else was said.
No one mentioned my little Native American friend. I must have been the only one to have seen her. There was no way I was going to ask Janice about her: she was already acting strangely and I didn't need her flying off the handle about what a nut case I was for seeing ghosts. She was harboring something weird inside her; something she wasn't going to open up about. This went well beyond any guilt she might have had about starting the fire.
I knew my little friend was real: as real as a ghost can be. She had saved the lives of my baby and me. It didn't matter what kind of stress I had suffered that night. She had been there. Why hadn't I seen her before? Maybe, just maybe, she was only there the one time we needed her. Would she move on now, or was she attached in some way to the house?
Her clothing confused me. My house had been built circa 1950. The dress she had been wearing was 1880 or 1890'ish. Costume maybe?
I was stuck in the house for awhile. Until my wounds were completely healed, there would be no work for me. I had one of those jobs that required crawling around on my stomach in tight places and manuevering on my back as well. All of this would certainly tear the dressings off of me and aggravate the burned areas. It wasn't easy hanging around the house, but I had no choice. My non-stop work ethic had to back off a bit.
There was a bright side to my forced work inactivity: I would get to spend more time with my children. My work usually kept me away from them far too much.
My sleep patterns didn't deviate from my norm. I was used to getting up at 2:00A.M., and my natural alarm clock just kicked my ass out of bed at that time. Rather than try to fight it, I stayed with the routine: at any rate, it would be easier to return to work if I didn't have to adjust back again.
One morning I was sitting in the recliner drinking my coffee, and I saw her again. She stood no more than eight feet away, still wrapped in her veil of luminescence. Once more, she wore her old dress. She was a beautiful child: long black hair and eyes to match, and a beautiful bronze complexion to her skin. For a long time she just watched me, and I have to admit that I was totally entranced by her. I suppose most people would have been freaked out by her presence, but she had a very calming effect on me. It was...it was like she was there for a reason: a very important reason.
She left the living room and walked down the hallway, vanishing before my eyes. I got out of the recliner and tried to follow her path.
I opened the first door to the right - my daughters' room - and there she was, smiling down at my youngest daughter, Mary, only three years old. She looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back, not quite certain what was going on but having a pretty good idea.
We left the room. I allowed her to leave first because I wanted to see where she would go next. My question was answered as she vanished at the door to my sons' room. Once more, I opened the door to find her inside, tenderly looking down on them.
From there we went into my room, and the look on her face changed dramatically. That tender, smiling face changed into one of complete disgust when she looked at Janice. Her entire body shook, and the edges of luminescence turned darker, almost black, the longer she looked at her. It was only when she turned her eyes to Robert that her sweet smile and brightness returned. Obviously, she did not like Janice.
"What's wrong? Why are you staring at the crib?"
I looked at Janice, sitting up now on the bed, staring in my direction.
"Just making sure the baby's okay," I said.
Janice showed no awareness of seeing the little girl, even though she was still in the room, tendrils of black forming once more around her.
"Don't wake him up," she said. "If you do, you'll have to hold and feed him."
I merely nodded at her. It appeared Robert was safe, and that was all that mattered to me, but there was some kind of powerful force at work in this room; a force that made the hairs on my neck bristle with alertness, waiting for something to happen; something that was not good.
Once Janice went back to sleep, I reached down and picked Robert up. It just didn't seem right to leave him there. All the nerves in my body were painfully aware that all was not right here. Everything was okay in my other childrens' rooms, but in this room, there was a foreboding of evil.
My little friend looked at me and smiled, telling me I had done the right thing. We left the room, and I took Robert to the Lazy Boy. When I sat down with him, the little girl was gone, but somehow I still felt her presence.