For those of you who read The Farmer’s Daughter installents here, I know you are wondering what happened to Jason Tanner’s part of the story so this week I am starting back in the beginning, a bit, for any new readers. I will follow the story of Jason and Ellie and Robert and Annie (maybe even Molly and Alex a little) for the next few weeks, if I can figure out what I am doing with the story. The thing is, I want to start the book off with some excitement, but if I do that, I want it to be after Jason and Ellie had their issues (if you already know this story, you know what the issue is). At the same time, I don’t want to toss out all that background with their story so I’m trying to figure out if I should start at one point and go back or if that would be confusing. Anyhow, regardless, this is something I wrote up this week in case I decide to go with the whole “here is the story after Jason and Ellie talked about Lauren.” It’s very rough, will be rewritten at some point, but I’m still going to share it for my blog readers.
For anyone new, Fiction Friday is where I share a work in progress. Often this is the start of a future novel for me and it’s usually a first draft so there are often typos, plot holes, and it may not be the most polished piece of fiction ever. I share my work in progress on here for fun and to get feedback from my blog readers. I often change it before I put it up on Amazon or B&N to sell as ebooks. I’m less concerned about selling the books than in having fun with interacting with my blog readers.
Anyhow, enjoy reading Jason’s continuing story.
Prologue or beginning of Chapter 1
Smoke choked at his throat, burned his eyes, but he kept walking.
He had to.
The woman’s voice was full of panic. “Help me! I’m over here!”
“Don’t move, Mrs. Weatherly. I’m coming. Keep talking to me okay?”
A series of coughs to his right.
He changed direction, kept walking, slammed his arm off a door frame, glad the fire suit was padded. Air puffed into his mask from his oxygen tank, but the smoke was still stifling, and he wondered if it would overtake him before he could get to her.
He couldn’t hear her coughing anymore.
Nothing but the crackling of the flames licking up the wall, across the ceiling of the kitchen.
His foot hit something solid, almost sent him sprawling. He regained his balance, crouched, felt the floor since he couldn’t see through the smoke and felt a back, then an arm.
“Ann, it’s me, Jason Tanner. Can you hear me?”
A soft cough from the direction of the body told him she was at least alive, but most likely overcome by the smoke to answer.
“I’m going to lift you and we’re going to get out of here, okay? Try to stay calm. You’ll be on my shoulders. It will be the easiest way for me to carry you.”
“No, ma’am. It’s Jason. You’re going to be okay.”
“John . . .”
He found her arms, slid his hands under the trunk of her body and swung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. He couldn’t carry her through the back door. It was already engulfed in flames. He reached out to feel the wall and when he found it, he made his way along it until he felt the open doorway to the dining room.
If he hadn’t visited this home many times over the last year to deliver produce to Ann and John Weatherly from the country store on his way home, he wouldn’t have known that the kitchen led to the dining room, the dining room to the living room, a short hallway and then the front door. He winced when his hip slammed into the dining room table, or at least he thought it might be the table. The smoke was billowing from the kitchen now, filling the rest of the house. Above him he heard crackling, breaking wood, fire ripping across the ceiling, shredding the wooden beams between the floors.
“John . . .”
“We’ll be out soon, Mrs. Weatherly.”
But he wasn’t really sure of that. He had thought the living room was right in front of him, but now he was bumping against walls he didn’t remember being there. Had he turned wrong and ended up in the laundry room instead? Or maybe even a bathroom. He felt out with a gloved hand, touched a wall, then something hard, metal. It was the washer. He was in the laundry room. The laundry room that didn’t have a door or window. He had to turn around, and he worried he might hit Mrs. Weatherly’s head when he did. He slid her down from his shoulder, both worried and glad she was a thin, frail woman in her 70s. He cradled her in his arms like he would a child..
Smoke was coming from below and above him now. He knew the fire must be spreading across the top floor, and he wondered how long it would be before it fell down on him.
Chief Cody Bracken’s voice boomed from somewhere to his right. He felt for the wall, moved forward a few steps and stopped when his foot kicked the edge of the doorway.
“Jason! Are you in there?!”
His breath fogged up the shield of his helmet. He was even more blind than before, but now he at least had the sound of Cody’s voice to follow.
“Jason! The roof is about to collapse!”
Shuffling he tried to ignore the crackling and snapping above him. With the next step, a firm hand gripped the front of the turnout gear and yanked him forward into bright light and cool air.
“Guys! We got a patient!”
Mrs. Weatherly was lifted from his arms and he stumbled forward, pulling at the mask, falling to the ground in his hands and knees as he gulped fresh air into his lungs. Behind him he heard the snapping of wood and the shattering of glass, and he knew the top floor was caving in. Two hands snatched him under his arms and dragged him forward across the grass, further away from the burning house, as he continued to gag and gasp for air.
“Did Denny get out?!” he yelled as soon as he could breathe again.
He looked up, his vision blurry with sweat and smoke. Denny was guzzling water a few feet away by the fire truck, pouring it over his head and then drinking again. Two other firefighters, James Lantz and Duane Trenton, stood above Jason,breathing hard, wiping sweat and soot from their faces. Jason had a feeling they were the ones who had dragged him across the yard.
Cody hooked an arm under Jason’s, help to his feet. “No one is sure where Mr. Weatherly is. Denny was in looking for him, but the flames in the dining room pushed him back. Did you see him?”
Jason shook his head, taking the fresh water bottle Denny offered him. “I could barely see anything in there. Mrs. Weatherly was in the kitchen. If anyone else was in there I didn’t see them.”
He sucked the water down in one gulp, looked up at the firefighters still battling the flames, trying to save the house even though they all knew it was going to be a total loss.
Brittany Manahan pressed an oxygen mask against his face and hooked the band behind his head. “Sit.”
Brittany, an EMT with the Spencer Valley Ambulance Company, wasn’t afraid to order the first responders around if it was for their own good.
Jason sat on the ground, legs up, propping his arm on his knees as he breathed deep, coughed, and breathed deep again.
He remembered Mrs. Weatherly’s pleading voice inside the house. “John.”
Oh God. No.
“Cody!” He pulled the oxygen mask off his nose. “John is still inside!”
He leapt to his feet but Cody pivoted, press his hands against his chest. “Slow down there, big guy. You aren’t going anywhere. The second floor’s collapsed. There’s nothing we can do.”
“She tried to tell me. Mrs. Weatherly. Ann. She — she couldn’t breathe and was passing out, but she was calling for John. I didn’t understand.
Cody shook his head. “You couldn’t have carried them both out. You had her and needed to get her out first. It wasn’t your fault. We’ll know more when the fire is out. Maybe John is at the store or somewhere else. Let’s not jump to conclusions.”
Jason nodded pressed the oxygen to his face again and breathed in deep, glancing to his right and watching the paramedics attending to Mrs. Weatherly, giving her oxygen as she laid prostrate on her back on the stretcher.
Part of him knew Cody was right. He couldn’t have carried both Mr. and Mrs. Weatherly out of that house, but if he had only stopped to listen, to understand what Mrs. Weatherly had been saying, he could have tried. He could have pushed forward only a few more feet. Maybe Mr. Weatherly had been on the floor near his wife. He pushed his hand through his hair, clutched at it and let out a long breath into the oxygen mask. Or maybe John Weatherly hadn’t even been home when the fire broke out. Maybe he’d pull into that driveway in his old blue 1970 Lincoln Continental and be perfectly healthy and alive.
Jason slumped back against the side of the fire truck, fought the emotion choking at his throat. Something deep in his gut told him John would not pull into the driveway, not today. Never again. He was inside that house, now almost down to the ground, flames shooting up from the rest of the first floor. Ann Weatherly hadn’t mistaken Jason for her husband. She’d been trying to tell Jason her husband was still in the house.
His jaw tightened as he heard the ambulance siren wail, saw the red lights swirling. It took him back nine months before, to that rainy day in the lower field, when it had been his dad being loaded into an ambulance.
He had felt emotion stuck in his throat that day in the lower field and head had swallowed it down hard, shoving the fear of losing his father tight inside the same hollow spot in his chest where he’d shoved his heartache over Ellie.
He hadn’t had time for emotion then, and he didn’t now.
He shoved his guilt over John Weatherly right against his shame from that night with Lauren Phillips, right against the grief he still felt over the loss of his grandfather, right against the hurt he’d caused Ellie.
Maybe one day all that hurt would crack his chest wide open for all the world to see, but right now he had to get back to the fire hall, take off his gear, clean up and get back to his full-time job at his family’s farm.
This job was a volunteer gig.
The one he’d taken to take his mind off his guilt, his shame, his worries about his dad who was still recovering, but most of all off Ellie.