Happy Saturday! It’s one of my rare weekends off from work and I thought I’d share a segment of Chapter One from my next novel. I refrained from putting the entire chapter on here because of spoilers. No, I don’t have a title for the book yet, I always seem to leave that for the end. It’s just a quirk of mine, I guess. Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy!
June 6, 1889
“The tide’s out! The stream won’t reach!” cried a firefighter from Engine Company Number One.
The steam-powered Amoskeag chugged on as it sucked the frigid water from Elliot Bay, before sending it smashing against the only flameless wall of the Commercial Mill.
“Just push the dang thing into the depths!” A bystander suggested. He pointed a beefy finger towards the black smoke that poured from the pumper’s stack. “It’s only making things worse!”
This was the end of the mill, it was obvious, even to thirteen-year-old Danne Stromgren. The place where he’d worked with his father, Albin, for the past year, would soon be ashes. Mother had once told him that hope was the best cure for despair, but there was little of the former and plenty of the latter on the faces of Father and the other mill workers. Some of them shouted bad words at the firemen, the kind that would have earned Danne a mouthful of soap. Danne added one or two but Father squeezed his arm hard. The pain was far worse than the taste of Sapolio.
“It’s not their fault! Look around! Half the downtown is on fire! There’s not enough water in the pipes! We must get your brother from school and hurry home! Do you understand?”
The question was not meant to be answered, that became clear when Father pulled him into the street. Removed from the cooling wind of the bay, the sudden blast of heat gave Danne a new sympathy for melting candles. Smoke wasps stung his eyes and built hives in his lungs, he tried to cough them up. They dug in with lengthy stingers.
Swarms of people raced through the downtown. They fled from stores and businesses that had made their final sales. Piles of clothing and food had grown legs. Mr. Rennalls burst from his barbershop, with his latest victim at his heals. Half of the man’s face was still covered in shaving soap and blood. A young woman crashed into Danne from behind. The cobbletones beneath him sparkled with hundreds of orange, red, and silver stars. She dropped to her knees and hastily snatched up the necklaces and rings as she muttered to herself about stupid, clumsy boys.
Guilt overcame the “clumsy” boy and he stooped to help. He was yanked to a stand.
“Not worth dying for! Keep moving!” Father commanded.
Another block flew beneath their feet, and yet the inferno remained one step ahead. Heated tongues lapped greedily at an unused wooden fire hydrant in an apparent attempt to destroy the enemy. Danne’s expectation that water would burst from the hydrant in a counterattack, went unmet. His father’s words about the lack of water pressure came back to him.
A familiar, though blurry, sign came into view. Danne wiped away his tears. Wallack’s Seamstress Shop! Erik’s school was a stone’s throw away! A silent prayer for his younger sibling’s life was cut short by a loud explosion. He was shoved to the ground. The impact, along with a crushing weight on his back, stole what little breath he had.
“Stay down!” Father shouted into his ear. There was little choice, Albin was a large man.
Danne tried to scream for release. He pushed against the cobblestones, attempting to lift himself high enough to breathe and when that failed, was reduced to slapping the street in helpless desperation.
“Get up!” Father’s strong arms hauled Danne to a stand. His deprived lungs sprang into immediate action, filling themselves to the bursting point. Their good intentions were punished for failing to distinguish air from smoke.
Father paid no heed to his son’s coughing fit and pulled him forward with the power of a locomotive. The boy managed a quick glance backwards and saw that a fiery fist had smashed through the wall of the liquor store.
“Don’t look back, Danne! Faster!”
They were almost at the end of the street when the liquor store exploded. A fiery storm rained over the entire block. Falling embers landed around and on the two of them, but they’d escaped the worst of it.
“Keep up boy!” Father snarled.
Danne was yanked around the corner and onto Marion Street. This street, for the moment, was untouched by flames, but the smoke was beginning to creep in. Madrone Elementary, a half block away, came into hazy view.
They reached the school and were met inside the main entrance by Erik’s teacher. Her name always escaped Danne’s memory, but it sounded something like sausage. That’s what he called her, Mrs. Sausage. Leave it to him to think about food at a time like this. He could be forgiven for her name, he’d skipped a grade due to his intelligence and extraordinary vocabulary. He’d left the school a year before she’d arrived.
At the moment, Mrs. Sausage was frantic. She white knuckled the handle of a large-cloth bag and spoke quickly. She declared that Mother and Charlotte had already taken Erik home.
Danne was jerked backwards by Father’s hand, twisting his torso and causing a momentary twinge of pain.
The door opened to a scene from Pompeii. Pillars of soot moved over the neighborhood, like ghostly serpents, dropping bits of ash onto gingerbread trim and turning greenery into slate.
The boy’s stomach wanted to empty. If it were not for the strength of Father, he would already be lying in a pile of vomit, gasping for that last breath. A two-legged fish in a hostile world that he once called home.
Unlike Pompeii, this volcano actually moved! And with freight-train speed! The boy dared himself to look back but refused his own challenge. There was no need for him to see it. The wall of heat that toasted his back combined with the crackle of wooden bones splintering was proof enough. There was no outrunning or avoiding an iron horse that required no track. All seemed lost until they reached the intersection of Abbey and Thorn. A quick turn onto Abbey and they’d arrived! Mother, Erik, and his younger sister, Charlotte, stood anxiously in front of the fourth rowhouse on the left. A two-storey Gothic-Style that had been home to Danne from birth.
“Thank you, Lord!” Mother cried in relief. She embraced them both.
There was little time for a happy reunion. Abbey street would soon be a memory.
“Grab anything of reasonable size and value. Put them on the front yard!” Father ordered, “I’ll be back soon.” During their dash through the chaotic downtown, Father had noticed people hiring wagon drivers to move belongings onto ships docked at the wharves. The idea had yet to be generated in this neighborhood. The patriarch rushed off, not waiting to ensure that his orders were carried out. There was no reason for him to do so, his commands were always obeyed.
This is only a segment of the first chapter. To include more would include spoilers.