Even at midnight the wailing alarm was more compelling than any siren’s song. Half-asleep and stumbling out of bed, Christine rushed from the Master Suite, across the long hallway, and down the stairs to the ground floor, where her daughters’ bedrooms sat on opposite corners of the house.
At the foot of the stairs, she hesitated. Kaitlyn, the younger of the two, down the hall to the right was a heavy sleeper. She probably couldn’t even hear the blaring alarm, nothing woke her. Besides, Ava’s bedroom had an exterior door that opened onto a patio. Christine could wake Kaitlyn, and the two of them could climb out of her window and go for Ava.
The crackling flames from the kitchen had already spread across the foyer and licked at the heavily lacquered staircase.
She rushed to get her daughters out of harm’s way. By the time Christine reached Kait’s room, she’d awakened and moved toward her door.
“Out the window,” Christine grabbed the girl’s flannel-clad arm and pulled her around the daybed.
“But what about Ava?”
The crackling of flames had risen to roaring, the fire reaching into the hallway and blocking the path to Ava’s room.
“We’ll go to her door from the outside. It’ll be okay.”
They dropped out of her low window and ran around to Ava’s room. Christine banged on the door repeatedly, but got no answer. She screamed for Ava to respond. Still no answer. Turning to Kait, she grabbed her youngest daughter’s shoulders and spoke firmly.
“Run around to the front of the house and wait for the firetrucks to come. I don’t care what you see or hear, don’t come back in the house.”
Kaitlyn did as she was told.
Christine hefted a small, wrought-iron chair from the bistro set and tossed it at the glass doors. They cracked and shook in their frames. She dragged the chair away and lifted it again, staring at flames illuminating the heavy curtains in her daughter’s bedroom. Intense heat inside the room weakened the glass, spreading the cracks further.
Christine threw the chair again, and the glass shattered into the room. The chair landed on the rug beside Ava’s bed. The brief intake of air hadn’t cleared enough smoke from the room for her to see the bed. Thick, dark gray clouds expanded through the door and into the night.
Christine ran across broken shards of glass, stumbling when a sharp corner pierced a nerve in her bare feet, but moving on through the pain. She prayed silently for Ava’s safety, all while the alarm continued to wail.
Sirens announcing the arrival of firetrucks tempted her to retreat to safety, but their song was weak compared to the pull of the alarm inside the house, and Ava’s bed. She reached out her hands, unable to see through tears and smoke, until she found the chair and cast it aside. She sank to her knees beside Ava’s bed, and spread her arms out, feeling along the mattress for her daughter.
On the front lawn, Kaitlyn stood crying and staring at the house. Flames shot out of all the windows, even the ones on the second floor.
Firetrucks pulled up to the hydrants, and the night was alive with flashing, red lights, yellow rubber-clad men, and the smoke and fire that hid her mother and sister.
As the firemen sprayed the house with hoses as thick as her arms, Ava came running into the yard. Stunned, Kait barely managed words.
“Where were you? Mom was looking for you.”
“I snuck out to meet Brayden. Kait, where’s mom?”
Both girls turned to watch the firemen put out the fire.
The rest of the night and early morning passed in a blur. The fire was put out, but it still wasn’t safe to go inside the house yet. They promised they would let the girls know when they found their mother. Ava and Kaitlyn followed a neighbor home until their dad could pick them up.
The firemen found Christine still kneeling at the side of Ava’s bed. Her hands clasped together on the ashes that had been a blanket. Her head rested in the cup her hands had formed. Christine’s charred remains looked as though, even in death, she still prayed for the safety of her daughter.