This is a creative piece that I had to write for a year 9 short story writing assignment. It definitely is not one of my best pieces of writing, but I hope you enjoy reading it.
Stephanie Edgell waits, half-watching TV, eagerly anticipating her husband Charlie’s return from work. She flicks on the news, and watches a young, blonde-haired female news reporter covering the devastating bushfire that swept through the Victorian countryside that day. “Many rural areas have been affected, and charities are providing support for those who have lost their homes,” says the news reporter in a grave tone. To emphasise her point, a little girl clutches a dusty and ash-covered teddy bear, crying to go back home. There is plenty of footage of houses engulfed by rising flames, and the mere piles of rubble that remained afterward. Half a dozen people died in the fire, but the death toll is likely to rise, and there have been many buildings lost. As the reporter reads out the towns affected, Stephanie thankfully realises that the bushfire is kilometres away from her house. It has burnt quite near the road where Charlie is travelling home, but that part of the fire is now under control. Just before she turns off the television, Stephanie hears the reporter say gravely that the fire may have been deliberately lit.
Stephanie sighs. Waiting for Charlie to get home is always the worst part of her day. She feels exhausted after a long day at work and has spent the remainder of her energy cooking a meal. She yawns, considering picking up the phone and calling him, but decides against it as he is probably driving home right now and doesn’t need to be distracted. “It can wait until he gets home,” she says to herself under her breath. “It’s nothing to worry about. Everything is probably okay.”
Stephanie gets up and shakily pours herself a glass of wine to calm her nerves. She tips the glass back and drains the blood-red liquid, trying to contain her anxiety. She paces back and forth across the kitchen.
“Where are you, Charlie? Where are you?”
Charlie drowsily keeps his foot glued to the accelerator of his old ute, driving along the rough roads of the Victorian countryside. It is getting late, but no later than when he normally travels home from work. He pays little attention to the radio, but he gets the impression that there has been a bushfire somewhere nearby, which has devastated people’s homes and the landscape. What he is really interested in is how long it will take him to get home and see his wife again. He often says that she is what makes his eight hours of gruelling work at the mines each day worthwhile. She keeps him going through adversity and makes his life truly worth living.
Charlie continues driving, passing few cars, before he notices a man on the side of the road. He is sticking his thumb out, the universal symbol to ask for transport. Charlie abruptly stops the car at the side of the road. He gets out of the ute and turns to face the man.
“Why are you here?” he asks solemnly. He inspects the man closely and notices that he is covered in ash and has dark, bloodshot eyes. The tall, gaunt figure of the man is lit by the soft glow of the car’s lights.
“My house burnt down. It’s the most horrific thing I have ever seen. My beautiful house, nothing but ashes now. I don’t have insurance, so I have nothing now. Please take me to the centre of the nearest town. They should have shelter for survivors like me there. I will stay the night and see what I can do from there.”
Charlie nods. He can scarcely imagine what the man has gone through. The least he can do is help him to safety. He deserves that.
He turns the key, and starts up the engine again.
“Did you have any family nearby?” asks Charlie as they drive along.
The man sits for a moment, as if thinking. “Yes, my darling Marissa and two kids, but I haven’t seen them since the bushfire struck. The fire came when I was at work, and I only just managed to get out. The kids were at school. I hope they’re OK,” he says, with a shiver in his voice. Charlie notices his face is expressionless as he says this, as if he has no connection to his family whatsoever. He also has a slight suspicion that the man is not telling him the whole truth.
“That’s terrible. If you want, you can try to ring your wife on my mobile,” says Charlie, handing the man his mobile phone.
“No really, it’s fine, I’m sure she’s okay. I’ll call her later, when I’m at the town hall,” says the man, handing Charlie’s phone back. “Where do you live?” he asks Charlie
“Just down the road past the Red Mountain general store. I made the white picket fence and painted it myself. The house is quite old, at least fifty years, and some of the paintwork is a bit faded and peeling but it’s still a beautiful house.”
“Sounds nice,” the man says stolidly.
For the rest of the journey, the two men sit in silence. There is nothing to say on either side. One has suffered a devastating loss, while the other wants to get home as soon as possible. Neither want to talk about what they had experienced that day.
Soon they arrive at the town hall and Charlie opens the door of the car, firmly placing a foot on the pavement outside. The town hall is a monument to the sheep farmers of the nineteenth century, dimly lit by streetlights. Charlie checks the town clock mounted on the hall. He could just make out that it is half past ten. It is dead silent, and they seem to be the only people there. Charlie says nothing as he opens the door and waves goodbye to the tall, thin man.
Charlie watches for a few seconds as the man hobbles away, calling a weak “thank you,” as he walks off in the direction of the town hall and is enveloped by the darkness. There will be a phone in there where he could get help.
“He’ll be fine,” Charlie says aloud, encouraging himself to believe this is true. He cannot help doubting that the stranger outran a bushfire, and was going to the town hall to find help. At the same time, Charlie cannot not think of any reasonable explanation why the man was at the side of the road at half past nine on a weekday. He continues his drive home.
In ominous silence.
When Charlie finally arrives home at eleven o’clock, Stephanie is very relieved to see him. They briefly chat, before being overcome with fatigue and going to bed.
Sometime later, Charlie suddenly wakes up groggily. High-pitched screaming pierces his ears. He coughs to clear his lungs and is surrounded by a loud crackling noise. Bright orange flames curl their fingers around the walls of the house, blackening them with ash and sucking the oxygen out of the air. The smoke alarms ring in his ears and his lungs are desperately trying to cough out the smoke. The heat is overwhelming, and Charlie feels perspiration trickling down his skin. His eyes water, a mix of tears and perspiration trickling down his face. He vigorously shakes his wife, who wakes drowsily.
Over the loud snaps and pops of the house burning, Charlie can just faintly hear a loud cackling coming from outside. He pulls Stephanie with him to the window to try to escape. He can just make out a tall, thin man laughing madly as he disappears into the night.