Copyright 2016 by E.C. McMullen Jr.
I don’t believe in magic, so what happened to us after the fire I can only chalk up to a reality I’ve never experienced, that can be rationally explained by a knowledge beyond my understanding.
The night before the fire our little house was rumbled by thunderstorms – lightening storms to be accurate I guess. It was all more electric than rain. Living in a farm house about 30 miles from our nearest neighbor and around 100 from the nearest town, we thought it was safest to stay indoors and not attempt driving to a safer place.
The next day we awoke to smoke.
Connie bounced off of the bed, her feet already moving, in air, before she touched floor. She ran to the window, throwing the curtains aside.
“Our farm’s on fire!”
Fearing the worst, we got on the roof. Everywhere we looked our fields of sorghum were ablaze. We were surrounded by fire.
Thinking fast I ran to the tractor to hitch the furrow while Connie got to the water pump and brought it to full pressure.
The fire closed the circle around us, so at a risky, yet not fool-hardy distance, I followed along the closing circumference of the ring, digging a shallow trench of dry moat around our house. Connie tossed the water hoses into the ditch. Then, all we could do was wait as the water slowly filled the moat.
Our house was the axis pin of the approaching fire, our livestock were getting fidgety, and I didn’t want them running into the fire to escape. it. Animals make weird choices in a panic so, except for the chickens, we tied all the livestock to the posts closest to the house.
Firebug embers floated overhead.
“We should have watered down the house,” Connie said.
“I know,” I answered. “One thing at a time.”
I ran to the wheelhouse where we kept all of our fire extinguisher canisters. Though a fire this large was unheard of, crop fire isn’t an unknown quantity on the farm.
The heat created a smoke typhoon, choking us, so back inside the house we went. Either the moat was going to work or it wasn’t. Whatever was going to happen now was out of our hands.
We opened our front door and the cat ran out.
I should correct myself.
At that time in our lives, “a” cat ran out, as we didn’t own a cat.
She ran out of our house, tail in the air like a question, and toward the moat and fire. Not knowing what was going on, but instinctive to me as a man born and raised on a farm, I immediately ran after it to bring her back to the relative safety of the house. You gotta save the livestock.
She ran through a still dry part of the moat and right to the fire’s edge. Where she approached – and this is what knocked me for a loop so hard I could only stop dead and stand there, jaw agape – the fire stopped, then retreated.
She slowed to a walk and instead of running toward one part of it, she walked along the edge of the ring. The fire backed away, the circle began widening. She walked the large ring around our house and the fire not only retreated, it shrank. That part makes sense to me. It already consumed the fuel of our fields behind it. It had nowhere else to go.
In an hour the approaching fire was out. In two hours the smoke stopped. In the distance, we could make out the rest of the fireline still burning as it moved outward in the opposite direction away from us and into adjacent farms. The circle widened as far as the eye could see. We became an oasis.
The cat that saved us, now our cat, sat on her haunches near one side of the burnt rim. And there she stays to this day.
She never moves away from that rim, even when it rains. And when it does rain, there’s no more lightning.
Year after year, little by little, our crop circle grows, extending further out into the char, and they grow well. That’s good because, for whatever reason, neither Connie or I can step beyond the circle of plant life and into the burnt area. It’s not like we bump against a wall. More like we try to move into the burnt ash and our bodies just won’t obey.
It’s the same with our livestock. Nothing that can walk or fly moves into the ash. Hopefully in time, the ring of plants will extend enough that the burnt circle isn’t there any more. Connie and I would love to see our friends and family again.
In the meantime, at least we’re alive.
Electricity works, but not the phones, the Internet, no communication at all. No planes fly overhead. I’m glad we have so many books.
Another weird thing is our kitchen. All of our food in the cupboard never runs out. Not the flour, the rice, the coffee, nothing. It’s always full.
If I was superstitious I’d think we were dead and this was some unheard of afterlife. Obviously the thought has visited my mind. Connie and I spend a lot of time searching for answers and finding none.
As for the cat, she never seems to eat. If I go out to her, she appreciates a kindly pet on the head or scratching her back a bit. She purrs, but remains at her post. She stays there at the edge of the circle, staring at the charred rim as if defying whatever is on the burnt side to confront her.
One more thing I should write down here is, we never named her. To us she is The Cat. The Cat who came into our lives at just the right moment. Considering the circumstances, we feel we belong to her as much as she belongs to us.
Fact of the matter is, she’s the one who chose to come into our lives and she’ll be the one who chooses when to leave.
Story by E.C. McMullen Jr.
Art & Artist: Unknown. If you can prove you are the artist, please contact me and I’ll credit you.
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