This is a story I origianlly wrote for the "camping" challenge. However, I decided it was too unrealistic, so I wrote a different one for the challenge. I thought some of my friends might enjoy reading it, so I am putting it here on my site for a little while. :-)
“There’s Orion!” Cassie crowed, pointing out the three stars that formed the constellation’s belt.
“There’s Leo,” Andrew pointed, “and Ursa Minor and Surpens and Cancer.”
“Where?” Cassie demanded.
As Andrew helped Cassie find the constellations, Valerie was content to simply lay still and gaze at the night sky. The stars shone so clearly here, out in the middle of the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. It was almost too much to take in. Valerie opened her soul and let it fill with prayer, very aware of God’s presence. No words seemed necessary: somehow just looking at the heavens was worship enough.
Valerie’s mom rose from the fire. “OK, kids. Time to go to sleep.”
The three of them snuggled deeper into their sleeping bags as their dad began their nightly tradition. “God is the creator of the heavens,” his deep baritone joined the frog’s callings and one by one the family added their voices to the song.
Valerie felt a shiver of delight. This was what camping was all about.
Sighing, Valerie gave one last glance around the empty campsite to be sure they hadn’t missed anything. She wasn’t ready to go home, but a glance at the green sky told her that they would be just in time to miss the thunderstorm. Brown leaves and grass crackled under the family’s feet as they began hiking to the car. Valerie hoped the storm would bring plenty of rain to water the dry land.
They were half-way back to the car when Mom stopped. “Did someone put water on the ashes?” They all looked at each other. Apparently no one had.
“I’ll run back and do it,” Valerie offered, eager to get a little more time in the woods. “Go ahead! I’ll run and catch up with you.”
Steam rose as Valerie dumped water over the campfire. She could hear thunder beginning to roll across the sky and she smiled. Maybe they would get a good lightning display on the way home.
Looking once more at the sky, she gasped. The sky wasn’t only grey from the approaching storm, it was filled with smoke! Already she could catch glimpses through the trees of flame catching the dry underbrush.
Valerie ran. Thanking God that the fire was behind her, she raced toward her family. But she hadn’t gotten far when a tremendous bang shuddered the ground in front of her. For a minute she was disorientated, not sure what had happened. But the smoke rising before her and the tingle of electricity that lingered in the air told all.
“God, no! Please!” Valerie raced desperately forward. She had to get around the flames before they spread. But with a sudden roar the wind picked up and the flames exploded, the heat already reaching her.
“Help me, God!” Panic constricted her throat. Valerie wasn’t afraid of death, it was the dying that scared her. And her family! “Oh, please God, let them get to safety.”
A rustle in the bushes caused Valerie to swirl around. A silhouette appeared against the dancing orange. It was a boy of about seventeen, with a round, reddish face ad almond-shaped eyes. He was smiling, not seeming at all concerned by the fact that the two fires were drawing closer together, sandwiching them in between.
“Hello. Beautiful flames, aren’t they?” His voice was slurred, and he was staring as though hypnotized at the fire.
“We’ve gotta get out of here!” Valerie cried. “We’re gonna get stuck in the middle!” If they weren’t already stuck. She ran parallel to the flames, the boy followed clumsily behind. Valerie stopped to cough. “Who are you?” she gasped.
“Folks call me Hell,” the boy said. Valerie froze and stared at him. He fingered a matchbox. “I started that first fire.”
A tree above them burst into flames. Valerie screamed. Their faces began to blister from the heat. “We’re going to die,” Valerie whispered.
The boy jerked as cinder rained down on them. His eyes grew wide and Valerie had the odd impression that he was feeling fear for the first time in his life. He put fingers over his burning eyes and whispered, “I didn’t know hell would be like this.” His voice slurred even more. “What’re we gonna do?”
“Pray.” Valerie dropped to all fours in an effort to get out of the smoke.
“I can’t pray--I’m Hell.”
“Yes you can. Anyway, I’m praying.” An idea struck her. “We’ve got to find water.”
“There’s no water around here,” the boy cried hoarsely.
Valerie forged through the smoke anyway. A cinder landed on her shirt and burst into flame. She slapped it desperately and it went out, leaving a blister on her arm. The boy behind her tripped and fell to the ground, coughing hysterically.
“Look!” Valerie screamed over the roar of the flames. “A pond!” She grabbed the boy and dragged him toward the water. They ran into it, gasping with the joy of its coolness.
“Here it comes,” Valerie stared at the flames licking at the edge of the pond. “Hold your breath and stay under the water for as long as you can. Only come up when you have to.” The brief gasps of air they took seared their throats and lungs.
The fire seemed to last forever. Perhaps it would go on for days. Valerie was growing tired. It was too hard to hold her breath. Too painful to breathe the hot smoky air.
Suddenly the boy pulled her up and she was coughing, gasping, choking. “Wake up!” he yelled, shaking her. Finally she found enough air to breathe, sucking it in past her raw throat.
“It’s over.” The fire had passed. Flames could be seen in the distance, but around them was only blackened trees and lazy smoke.
“I don’t want to go to hell anymore.” The boy peered over the water, his face blistered black.
Valerie felt her fear began to ebb away. Maybe this was the reason she had been trapped in the fire. “You don’t have to go to hell.”
“I’m not good enough to go to heaven,” he whimpered, slumping on the brittle bank.
She sat, dripping, next to him. “What’s your real name?”
He seemed surprised. “Nathan.”
“Nathan, have you ever heard of a man named Saul?”
Nathan shook his head, “no.”
“God got his attention through a blinding light. I think these two fires were God’s way of getting your attention, Nathan.”
Pausing only to cough or splash her burning face with water, Valerie told him about Saul and his transformation into Paul. Then she told him of the Man Paul followed, who was also her own Savior.
Nathan listened, and believed.
Valerie heard voices and realized that she had fallen asleep. She sat up and gasped with pain, trying to make her eyes work. Two firefighters in full gear were coming like a vision through the smoke.
“Nathan!” Valerie tried to call, but only a croak came out. But he, too, had heard the voices and suddenly they were both stumbling toward the men, wheezing and trying to call out.
One of the men ripped off his mask. “Are you Valerie? We’ve been looking for you!” He didn’t mention that they had already given up hope.
Valerie could only nod and cough. One of the firemen was talking excitedly into his radio and the other stared at them. “How did you make it through the fire?”
Valerie found some breath to answer, “We stayed in the pond.”
The fireman peered past her. “What pond?”
Valerie swirled around. Only black ground stretched out with not even a dip. Valerie and Nathan gaped at each other. Then they grinned. “A miracle pond.”
They learned that their families were safe and desperate about the two teens. A helicopter came soon to lift them over the fire. Oxygen masks brought wonderful air and were helped into the copter. Looking up around the mask and through the haze of smoke, Valerie found that night had fallen. Once again she was gazing at God’s stars. This time there were words needing to be said. “Thank you, Lord,”
PLEASE ENCOURAGE AUTHOR,
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