Raging Wildfire- A 'War of the Elements' Story
In the chaos of a war between the Four Elements, a little girl is forgotten in the basement of a house reduced to rubble, having been ordered to stay there by her parents, who sure are taking their time of fulfilling their promise of coming back for her. Only when she’s older, driven by the fear of the tendrils of fire that dance around her day and night, does she dare emerge into the sunlight for the first time in years to find a world unlike any she could imagine, filled with unlikely allies and impossible enemies.
Clara Chase knew this because she was gazing at the dusty old clock on the top of the dusty old town hall while her mother haggled the price of some fruits. No one bothered to clean the building much since they could be re-covered in a coat of volcanic ash any day. But that dusty old clock was good enough for the little girl, because the date and time were forever burned into her brain, seared onto her heart.
The first thing little four-year-old Clara noticed was the sun being blocked out, like the solar eclipse she had watched last year from the courtyard of her school. She had just enough time to look up before the giant boulder, bigger than any house the girl had ever seen, fell onto the town tall, reducing it to rubble with a clang of protest from the clock.
Then the screaming started. And the running. And the general chaos that could only be described by screaming and running by a four-year-old brain.
Clara’s mother nearly yanked her daughter’s arm out of her socket as she dragged her daughter along behind her, shoving through the panicked crowds as she forged her way towards home. When a particularly burly man ran into the woman, she accidentally dropped Clara’s hand. She stumbled, fell, skinned her knee, and started to cry. She didn’t normally shed tears, but the pain combined with the confusion was too much.
“Come on, baby, we’re almost there, we’re close,” Clara’s mother said, scooping up her daughter and continuing to run. Little Clara clutched the fabric of her mother’s crimson shirt in her tiny fists and buried her wet face into her mother’s shoulder, which rocked with each heavy footfall. There was the sound of another building being demolished, and more screams echoed through the street.
They rounded the corner and almost immediately ran into Father, who hugged them both close once he realized who they were.
“The first one… from the direction of the market… I-I didn’t know if…” he stammered as he embraced them, a bit too tightly for Clara, who was squashed in the middle. Nevertheless, she was relieved to see her father. He smelled just like he always did- of woodsmoke and leather.
Finally, her mother pulled away. “We have to get to shelter. The basement- “
“Isn’t deep enough,” Father cut in. “We need somewhere safer.”
“Where else is there?” Mother asked, an edge of panic creeping into her voice. “The Town Hall bunker is buried under a pile of rubble; we’ll never get in.”
“The McLean’s house,” Father said firmly, his calm grey eyes locking with Mother’s swirling gold ones. “We go, ask if we can shelter with them. They’ll most likely say yes, they’ve always been good trading partners.”
“But what about Clara? You can’t seriously say we can drag her through that infernal warzone,” Mother pointed out, her voice turning steely and hard as she gestured vaguely to everything. Suddenly, both Clara’s parents were staring down at her, but all the little girl could think about was the word warzone. Was that why the boulders were falling? Were they at war?
“I heard about the riddles, but I never thought…” Father trailed off. “I’ll stay here while we check,” he decided firmly after a moment of thought. “It’s better than nothing,” he added gently as Mother opened her mouth to protest.
Reluctantly, Clara’s mother loosened the little girl’s arms from where they had moved around her neck, planted a kiss on top of her loose ginger locks, and passed her over to Father.
“You be a good girl while Mommy and Daddy are out, okay?” Father told her while he carried her over to the house, miraculously not flinching when rubble sprayed in their direction, or fresh screams filled the air, or another volley of boulders sailed across the ash-colored sky.
“We’ll be right back, but you have to stay here, alright? Don’t make any noise, don’t let anyone know you’re here, and don’t leave until we come back for you. And I swear, Clara Chase, that we will come back for you. We always have, always will,” he continued as Mother opened the heavy wooden doors on the side of the house that led to the cellar. Clara flashed back to last summer, wherein the heat of the day, the family of three climbed down there and had a secret picnic on the cool stone floor, complete with lemonade and cookies. But now it looked dark and stifling and unwelcoming. She whimpered.
“Hey, now, baby, it’s okay.” Mother took Clara from Father, who started climbing into the cellar, and rocked her in her arms as another boulder slammed into the ground, closer this time. Something had caught on fire, and the air was full of smoke. “You’ll be safe here, I promise. I swear on my freckles.” She tapped her daughter’s nose, which was covered in the same light brown dots as her mother’s. This, at least, got a weak laugh out of the child.
But then the woman was passing Clara down into her father’s arms, who gently lowered her onto the hard floor, and the fear washed over her all over again.
“Don’t leave!” She hollered, running over and clutching her father’s leg as he started to raise himself out of the cellar.
Her father quickly dropped himself back in, kissed his daughter’s head, muttered “We have to, sweetie. Be brave for me. Be strong,” then hauled himself back out before the little girl could stop him again.
Mother blew Clara a kiss with shaking hands as father grunted, pulling one of the doors closed. The girl whimpered again.
Mother moved and put her arm around Father’s shoulders as he pulled the second door to its halfway point, standing straight up in the air. “We love you, baby,” she said, and Father let go, dropping the door into place, cutting off all but a few pinpoints of hazy sunlight.
Clara stayed in the same spot Father had left her for a while, having no choice but to listen to the screams and cries from above. The only change was she was now sitting down, curled into a ball.
Eventually, the bits of light faded, then came back hours later with the morning. The attack seemed to have stopped, and an eerie quiet fell over the cellar, except for the occasional muffled sobs of people who passed. Apparently, the basement that hadn’t been deep enough was sufficient after all. Hunger gnawed at Clara’s stomach, but she couldn’t bring herself to move. She was so absorbed in her loneliness and worry and fear, she didn’t notice the tendrils of fire that were snaking around her arms and legs and spreading out across the floor.
Finally, as the daylight started to dim for the second time, Clara got shakily to her feet. By then, the fire had disappeared. A quick exploration of the closet barrels to her revealed murky water and salted crackers. She ate and drank with gusto, then surveyed the rest of the room. It was ginormous, the back fading into the gloom, and every available space, expect the spot they had cleared for the picnic last year, was covered in barrels.
No matter how long Mother and Father take to find somewhere safe, Clara vowed determinedly, I will stay here and wait for them, always.