The flames were 25 feet high. Or maybe 6. Possibly 20. I was never good at estimating, plus I never actually saw the fire. But I smelled it and talked about it with the other kids, our hushed whispers mimicking the whispers of the adults’. It was coming closer, speeding through the already sun-burned grasses, burning off the prairies, paying no attention to the property lines or the barbed wire fences along the way. The air was cloudy, the faint smell of smoke getting stronger each day.
In prayer, we read the book of Revelations and spoke of end times. When the end came and darkness fell, we were to light candles in the windows and fall onto our knees, begging for forgiveness. Those who were left outside would immediately turn to grains of sand. If the end came while you were away from home, you could never go back again. Briefly, I hoped I’d be at a friend’s house when the final judgment came – at least we’d have a few more minutes of play before the great reckoning.
And the fire came closer. Ash began to fall from the air. The adults became more fearful and finally decided they had to do something about it. The men were sent out to fight the fire with water hoses and buckets. They beat out the rogue grass fires with old shirts. But it wasn’t enough.
My mom brought us over to the Webers where we prayed the rosary around the clock. Then she announced she had to go too. She tied a bandanna around her head and around her mouth and as evening fell, she walked down to where the fire was.
We lit candles in the windows. Night fell. The children were told that their prayers were extra special; God listened more closely to children. We had to pray fervently in order to stop the fire and save our parents. It was end times.
I thought of both my parents faced up against a wall of flames, exhausted, dirty, unable to breath. I prayed my Hail Marys and cried. Their lives and our homes were in my hands.
It feels like days passed, but I’m not good at estimating. Finally, my mom reappeared, blackened from soot. I felt like I could see the reflection of flames in her eyes; she looked haunted. The fire was under control, she said. A road grater had happened by and dug a ditch to stop the fire. Everything was going to be okay.
I took a deep breath. Everyone was hugging and crying and talking about how the prayers of the little children had earned a miracle. I smiled, but inside I couldn’t help wondering if we were running out of miracles.