I woke up to the sound of the alarm on my phone. I eased away from Feena who had snuggled into my back as I lay between her and the closet door. I did not want to get up but that wasn’t the point. I was the mom. I was the adult. And I was alone. Who else but me?
I crawled out of our hole and then stood up realizing that although I was nowhere near old, twenty-something was still too old for sleeping on bare hardwood floor. Snap, crackle, pop. If I had to do it again I told myself I was going to put a comforter on the floor first.
Remaining quiet because two in the morning was too early to deal with Feena I tried to decide whether to look out the window first or hit the bathroom for a break and a quick ablution to wake me up. The window won because although I needed to go to the bathroom, I wanted to see what was going on even more. After peeking through the window I almost wished I’d hit the bathroom first because fear contracted my bladder.
It was smoky. I cat footed up to the attic and looked through the window up there and sure enough I hadn’t been seeing things. The sky was relatively clear with a bright new moon and hugging the ground was a nasty looking soup of smog that was coming off the water. It smelled funky too. I flipped the light switch and realized the power was off. I would have to throw a lever out in the shed where the batteries were stored to switch to drawing power from them but I couldn’t wait. I had an idea … that I enacted after a quick trip to the bathroom.
The ladder that we had used when the guys had done the bee repair and insulation had never gotten put back in the barn. I pulled the flashlight from my pocket and winced at the tender spot where I had slept on it. Sticking the little LED flashlight in my mouth and then opened the ladder under the “escape hatch” that exited onto the old widow’s walk on the roof.
The widow’s walk wasn’t big – it looked faux and completely ornamental – and the wood around it used to be rotted beyond safety, but when I had the roof redone everything up there had been repaired or replaced. There used to be stairs up to the walk but they had been taken out when Papa was a little boy because he had climbed up there and nearly fallen off the roof. The hatch was locked and barred but a few deft turns and that was no longer in my way. The hatch was also heavy and on a powerful spring that didn’t want to cooperate until I literally put my shoulder into it. Finally I was climbing through but just managed to reach down and save the ladder from being knocked over making my return trip through the hatch way more interesting than it needed to be.
I was kicking myself momentarily but then stopped dead in mid mental kick. I had a perfect view across the river which is what the widow’s walk had been built for. The other side of the river was on fire.
It wasn’t leaping giant flames but it was scary enough. I went back through the hatch, ran down to Cal’s room, and then grabbed the binoculars I knew that hung on the back of his bedroom door. I didn’t think he would mind. Then it was back up to the attic, back up the ladder, and back onto the widow’s walk. There was barely enough light to see much at all but using what landmarks that I could I was pretty sure I was seeing the homes along Canal Street and Manatee Avenue burning. I couldn’t tell if all of the agricultural areas behind the houses were burning because it was too dark.
That’s when I realized I heard no sirens, no emergency vehicles, nothing. That was more frightening than the flames themselves. Then suddenly I heard a very fast boat … two or more of them. Boats have sounds that are just as distinctive as cars. I’m not one that can tell you what kind of boat makes what kind of sound but I can tell the difference between something that trawls along, a fast sports boat, and the larger fast boats like those that belong to the Coast Guard or Fish and Wildlife.
I’d no sooner started wondering who would be out boating on a night like we were experiencing then I heard faint pops and a much louder series of pops. Then into view, coming around the small islands that dot the mouth of the river, came two boats … a small one being chased by a bigger one and I figured out what the “pops” where when a fire ball blossomed from the rear of the small boat.
The sound of shouting carried to me on the wind but not clearly enough to understand what was being said. More shots rang out and the large boat circled the corpse of the smaller one briefly until another boat arrived on the scene to take over and the bigger boat then took off into the Bay again. I watched the small boat pulling stuff out of the water and then it left as well. The small boat drifted and looked like it was taking on water but a few minutes later, due to tidal action, it fetched up on one of the small islands and rested there.