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Wind Direction

Choosing a Path

By KJ AartilaPublished about a month ago 5 min read
7
Wind Direction
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The light breeze buffeted the back of my head, raising a small tuft of hair. It may even have been the breath of a whisper. I cupped my hand around the cigarette dangling from my mouth, while I tried to keep the tiny flame of the match from being extinguished. I inhaled deeply and exhaled a stream of anxiety, relaxing into getting started on my plans for the day.

When I turned back around upon achieving success with my habit and shaking out the match, a hungry flame stuttering its way through the prairie grass caught my eye. I moved to stomp it out under my boot, but just as I stepped forward, a gust of wind fanned the blaze into three, before I could get there. I tried stomping out all three frantically, but instead, they kept growing and moving with the blustery wind. My heart beat a staccato rhythm hard in my chest as I tried to quickly decide what needed to be done. Soon, I knew the fire had grown beyond control and I needed to escape.

I started to run. The flames sprinted after me, pushed by the now strong and steady wind.

I’m not sure what was hotter that day – the wind on my neck, or the fire taking chase.

I had come to visit the remains of the homestead on this prairie; to sketch the ghosts of my ancestors. I wanted silence and answers. A roaring prairie fire is not what I had expected, but it was a dramatic response, which provided me with clear choice and direction. That is what I was looking for.

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The strong wind pushed at my back. When I turned to look over my shoulder, the sharp air caused my eyes to fill with prickling tears and blurred the scene on the horizon. The distant flames melted into an orange/bronze color pallet. It looked like the sunset.

I looked ahead again, comforted by the buffeting wind at my back. I had outrun the flames on my heels, fueling themselves on the hot wind and prairie grasses.

I was running toward the river.

I couldn’t swim, but I jumped in anyway – I floundered and thrashed, yet I did not drown. I made it to the other side, where the fire couldn’t follow. No matter how it licked and jumped with the gusts of wind, the river was too wide. I watched the flames across the bank, mesmerized by the red intensity. Then the winds shifted, and the angry beast started moving away, letting me alone. I watched for a moment in its retreat, greedily consuming the grasses in another direction.

I pulled my eyes away from the insistent orangish storm and headed into the sparse woods on my side of the river. Maybe sparse, but it felt like the grip of a hand gently leading me.

It was getting on twilight. I needed shelter to I could rest safely for the night; get my bearings in the morning.

When I found a place to rest not too far into the edge of the forest, my body trembling at the thought of what had happened in what felt like floating in a surreal moment, but even as I closed my eyes, I could still hear the crackling of the flames, reminding me of the realness of the day.

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When I awoke, a lighter breeze was rustling the leaves of the trees, moving the mottling of sunshine back-and-forth on the forested ground. The morning light was welcoming, but the air was already stifling My lungs struggled to refresh themselves in the hot air. I could still hear the crackling of the hungry blaze across the river, building itself back up with the sunrise. I wanted to get moving, to be heading somewhere.

I wanted to get a look at the land I had left behind. A glimpse was all I needed to show me the intensity of the fire. The charred prairie left me feeling overwhelmed and sad. The pieces of my ancestors left on the prairie most likely gone. From the bank of the river to the small rise where my family’s homestead had been, was blackened.

A barely noticeable deer path appeared to my view. I chose to follow it, not knowing where it led, but I didn’t know which way to go, anyway. All I knew, is that I wanted to move in the opposite direction of the fire.

I wandered down the path for several hours, not quite knowing where to turn. When the sun shone highest in the blue sky, I decided to sit, and I scrounged around in my small bag for the snacks I had packed for the originally planned day trip. It had survived my run and swim, along with the contents. My sketch pad hadn’t fared so well, as I left it sitting on a piece of stone jutting from the ground, where the fire started. I took that as another sign to develop a new direction.

I finished my snack and decided to go down a new path I could barely make out. It branched off from the slight deer trail I’d been following and looked a little different and maybe just a tad bit more obvious. It looked like it moved deeper into the forest and further from the river, though. I still moved forward with determination, even though I hadn’t the slightest idea where this would end, nor how to survive another night in the forest. I did notice, though, that the singing of the birds and the chattering of the squirrels was becoming more prominent than the sounds of the fire.

I started down it, soon noticing my surroundings getting a little darker, and the wildlife, quieter, as the growth thickened. The tall trees started to make me feel a sense of foreboding, instead of peace.

I needed a chance to sit and rest and think.

I made my choice, and when I stood to head forward, I felt a slight breeze once again at my back. Instead of continuing down the path before me, I would make my own.

********************************************************************

Thank you for reading! This story is based on a prompt from Reedsy:

https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts

"Begin your story with the sensation of a breeze brushing against a character's skin."

Young AdultShort StoryAdventure
7

About the Creator

KJ Aartila

A writer of words in northern WI with a small family and a large menagerie.

My Substack

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Comments (7)

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knockabout a month ago

    Horrifying reminder of how quickly a flame might spread on the prairie when the grass is dry & the winds are high. (Yet we still occasionally have people lighting burn piles during high wind & burn advisories.) But for the river to provide a sufficient fire break on the prairie if it's here in the United States, it practically has to be the Missouri River, & to swim that (where it's sufficiently wide) without knowing how to swim & with a backpack on represents quite the feat.

  • Heather Hublerabout a month ago

    Wow, well written and what a direction to go from the prompt!

  • Cathy holmesabout a month ago

    This is truly wonderful. While the fire itself was terrifying, I like how it'd the character down a new path. Well done.

  • C. Rommial Butlerabout a month ago

    Sometimes we burn the bridges to our past unintentionally, eh? But, then, the unconscious has a way of manifesting itself that only seems accidental! Well-wrought!

  • Esala Gunathilakeabout a month ago

    Wonderful writing! Keep going.

  • Caroline Cravenabout a month ago

    Gosh this would have been terrifying. Fire scares the hell out of me. You wrote this so well. What a great piece.

  • ROCK about a month ago

    "I had come to visit the remains of the homestead on this prairie; to sketch the ghosts of my ancestors. I wanted silence and answers." I love this sentiment; also jumping in the water unable to swim made me think of how wild our minds go in a disastrous situation. I really enjoyed reading your craft tonight ( in Sweden that is).

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