Courage in a Fire

Courage in a Fire

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul

Courage in a Fire

Melinda Clark pulled the blanket up under Courtney’s chin and whispered, “Good night, Corky.” It was 10:00 P.M. and time for bed. Melinda grinned and patted the huge lump under the covers created by Courtney’s three-foot panda. The two sisters shared the same room, but 13-year-old Melinda didn’t mind at all. Courtney, who was only four, seemed like her baby, too.

Melinda jumped under her own covers, but she didn’t pull them up. Even though it was February and there was snow frozen on the ground outside, it seemed unusually warm that night, especially for Everett, Pennsylvania.

Something wet slopped along her cheek. “Oh, Beau. You’re a good dog.” The miniature collie licked her again. His tail thumped alongside her bed as she rubbed his sable fur.

Melinda’s nose twitched at the smoky odor in the air. It was probably just the wood stove downstairs. Fumes traveled up the staircase easily. Melinda shut her eyes.

Two-year-old Justin startled her as he burst through the doorway. He ran over to Melinda’s bed and banged his fists on her. “Mom hurt!” His face flushed red.

“What?” Melinda jumped up. The carpet felt very warm as she dropped her bare feet onto the floor. The smoky smell was stronger as she stood up.

What was going on? She rubbed her tingling cheeks and ran into the hall between the two second-story bedrooms. She paused. As she opened the door at the top of the stairs, smoke sucked up the steps in swirls. Orange flames crackled and leaped toward her like snatching fingers. She covered her hot face and screamed.

“Wayne!” She turned and yelled for her 12-year-old brother. Although his bedroom light was on, she couldn’t even see his bed through the ballooning smoke. But Wayne fought through the gray haze and stumbled into her. He was in his underwear.

“My window!” Melinda yelled.

Together they ran into Melinda’s room to the double windows, where Wayne began struggling with the stubborn latch on the chest-high ledge.

“Pull! Shove it.”

“I’m yanking!”

The fiberglass curtains melted down the sides of the window. Flecks of hot plastic burned into Wayne’s bare back.

Melinda smashed her fist against the latch. If they couldn’t get it open, they were going to die . . .

Wayne banged at the latch, too.

Suddenly it budged, then slipped open. But as they shoved on the window, it held tightly shut, swollen from the waves of heat.

Courtney yanked on Melinda’s pink nightgown, screaming and crying. She coughed and choked in the acrid fumes.

Melinda’s eyes stung. She gritted her teeth. They weren’t going to die from these flames! “Shove, Wayne!

Together! Now!” They banged on the window. “Again!

Harder!” She coughed. She threw all her 100 pounds behind the thrust.

Wayne shoved, too, and together they finally forced the stubborn window open.

Melinda told Wayne to climb out on the plastic porch roof. She handed Courtney over the window. Then Melinda pulled herself over the window ledge.

The three children walked to the edge of the roof, looking for a way down.Wayne jumped to the ground to catch the younger kids.

Suddenly Melinda looked at Wayne, her eyes round circles. “Justin. Where’s Justin? Justin!” She screamed. He had been right with them!

Without pausing for a breath, she turned around and climbed back over the hot window ledge.

“Justin!” she called.

She dropped onto her hands and knees and crawled low on the hot carpet. She found the closet and felt her hands around. No Justin. She tried to call, but she choked. Her throat felt like hot coals. Yanking on the tangled nightie under her burning knees, she bumped into Courtney’s five-foot-tall toy dog and duck, knocking them both over.

Could Justin have gone back into his bedroom? If he had, she’d never make it through the smoke and flames, which now sucked up the open staircase and window as if a vacuum were outside the window.

Stretching out flat, she felt under Courtney’s bed. No Justin.

She coughed in spasms and grabbed at her throat. She couldn’t breathe. She wasn’t going to make it.

As she crawled toward the window she heard a noise coming from under her bed. She scrambled across the floor and reached underneath the bed, her hand bumping into fur. Beau. He whimpered again and licked her hand. She searched her fingers past Beau and touched hair. Justin. He was there hiding, too. Thanks for whimpering, Beau, she thought.

She grabbed Justin by his hair and pulled him out. He clung to her like a baby koala as she crawled back toward the window.

She lifted him over the window ledge and climbed out behind, gasping for mouthfuls of air. But as she stepped onto the plastic roof, her foot crashed through melting plastic up to her knee. She ripped her leg out of the hole and moved to the edge of the roof.

A second later, the picture window below them exploded. Shattering glass flew out 30 feet.

Courtney and Justin screamed and pulled at Melinda’s arms.

“Beau!” Melinda yelled. She looked behind at the flames licking out the bedroom window. “Oh, Beau!” She tried to swallow, and without another pause, she pushed both younger children off the roof and into the snow 18 feet below. She leaped behind them, practically smashing Justin as she hit the ground.

A trooper who had seen the fire from the road scooped up the children and carried them across the glass and snow to his car.

“Mommy!” Justin cried.

“Where’s Mom?” Melinda asked. She ran up to the neighbor’s porch just as her mom ran across the snow to wrap Melinda in her arms. “I was calling 911,” she choked, as she grabbed Wayne in a hug. “I was down in the basement changing the wash. I saw you at the top of the stairs.

I yelled at you to get out.”

The trooper carried the little ones into the neighbor’s house. They called their dad, who was working the night shift at Everite Door Manufacturing.

Melinda dropped onto a beanbag chair. The voices and faces swirled around her. She passed out for a few moments. When she came to, she was in an ambulance. The red light flashed. The siren screamed. She drifted in and out of consciousness several more times before reaching the hospital.

Melinda was treated for smoke inhalation, as were her brothers and sister. Melinda’s nightgown was melted in spots and although it stuck to her skin, her body beneath it wasn’t burned.

Both she and Wayne suffered minor burns, however. Melinda’s leg was scratched and burned from where it had broken through the roof, while Wayne’s back was burned in small spots from the fiberglass curtains. Courtney and Justin received scratches in their tumble from the overhang. Their pajamas were scorched. But all four children were alive.

Justin kept repeating, “An angel picked me up and threw me out the window. It was a real angel. I know it.”

Melinda smiled. She hugged Justin and closed her eyes.

No one could determine the cause of the fire.

“It wasn’t until the next day when we went back that I got really scared,” Melinda remembers. “When we walked into the downstairs, it was really strange. Some things were burned, and other things weren’t. Like the fish was still alive, swimming in his bowl in the dining room. But our bedrooms were ruined.”

Her brown eyes suddenly filled with tears. “Beau didn’t make it.” She looked down. “I had to leave him under my bed.”

But Justin didmake it becauseMelinda crawled back into the flames to save her brother. Her fast action and courage wouldn’t let her give up. She was an angel, indeed.

Barbara A. Lewis

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