ewhightower

Skyfire Part III

In Fiction, Sci-Fi, Skyfire, Writing on May 23, 2015 at 4:26 am

We found the cave by accident.

So many people on the freeways, the streets, so many accidents from people watching the fireballs instead of the road. Mom had given up calling the FBI to find what had happened to Tony. She said we had to get out, and she would call once we got settled. Something in her eyes told me I’d better not ask more questions just then. She packed us up like we were going camping, making room for Maxwell next to me in the back seat, heading toward Tesla Pass to get to Tracy and beyond. This seemed to be in alignment with what Mr. Amberson had told me, and I assumed he had texted my mom. I thought we were on the right path.

We weren’t the only people trying to avoid the gridlock on the freeways, though. We got stuck in traffic on Tesla before we ever got to the pass. Mom turned onto Mines Road out of frustration, saying there was another way to the Central Valley. A military roadblock stopped us from reaching the alternate route, so we just headed up to Lake Del Valle, thinking we’d wait it out. It was packed — the main parking lots looked like a flea market — but Mom knew a fire road that went back behind some stables. Text messages still worked, then. She let a couple friends know about it. Pretty soon, we had three extended families sharing our camp. All of the adults were people with knowledge: engineers, physicists, architects. Mom was very selective. We’re pretty lucky she made that choice, I think.

I had taken it upon myself to ‘train’ Maxwell, and I was overjoyed to be able to explore what I thought of as wilderness with him. I would make him sit down all the time, telling him, “I love you. Be safe. Stay.” Positive reinforcement, you see.

Meanwhile, what we thought would be a few days became weeks, then months. And being in camp was so much fun. It felt like a long, nervous Memorial Day Weekend, in the beginning. While I played with Maxwell and my friends, our parents were making forays out onto the various fire roads to find another way around the roadblock that prevented us from getting out. They learned that there were roadblocks on every road leading out of the Bay Area; it was rumored that these fireballs were only hitting this region, but there was no way to make certain. The media were unreliable. But our parents filtered as much of this as they could. It was a vacation.

Maxwell wanted to play all the time. He loved everyone. Back on the day of the first fireball, we had called the number on his tag, but the operator said there was no 925 area code. Not here, in the Bay Area. Not anywhere else in the world. So we had kept him with us and posted fliers in the days before the agents took my brother. No one ever called, no one ever came for him. Maxwell became my dog. He might be the best thing that ever happened to us. To me, at least.

It was while we were playing hide and seek with Maxwell, beyond the confines of our secret camp at the far southern end of Lake Del Valle, that we found the cave.

It went like this: we would make him lie down and we would sneak away. Once we were all hidden, he would follow our scents and find us one by one. He loved this game, and he kissed us all every time he found us. Stinky breath dog kisses. Then he would lead us back to camp and we would play again until our moms made us do chores or something. One day, though, Maxwell nosed and herded us in camp until we all sat down in a circle. Then he barked at us once and walked toward the edge of camp.

He stopped and looked back. At us.

At me.

I got that pain in my forehead again, that dizzy feeling. And I knew. “He wants us to count to one hundred,” I said.

The other kids played along.

When we followed, we saw him walking far ahead, following a cow path that lead up over a distant hillside, farther than we’d ever explored. We ran after him.

He stopped and looked back, in the same posture he’d used at the edge of camp. He barked once, then ran. We chased, laughing, but when we caught up to where he had been there was no sign of him. We searched for hours, but he was nowhere to be found. We started to get scared, and Anselm wasn’t looking where he was going. He tripped, falling into some wild sage. When he didn’t get up right away, I asked him what he was doing. He said, “The air is cold here.”

In some mud near the entrance to the cave was one paw print. Maxwell had been there.

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