Morning dawns on the little town of Bigwood Falls. The sparse sunlight filtering through the beautifully colored leaves makes the Cove seem even darker and older than usual. Taïga is up early and has breakfast with Granny. Excited, she keeps talking about what will happen tomorrow, about the secret costume her grandmother has helped her fix and all the fun she’ll have with her friends.
Granny tunes out her happy yammering, sipping on her Earl Grey tea. Tomorrow is Samhain, an important day on the old Celtic calendar and of utmost importance to witches all over the world. She will, as usual, spend the day with the North Coven. They should have met here, it’s her turn to house their meeting, but she doesn’t want them to know about Taïga just yet. They’ll meet at Fontayne Barlow’s home, go through rituals and, of course, socialize. She wants to ask for the other witches’ help to take out the Lemur, and as that’s something that has to be done after dark she doesn’t know what time she’ll get back home to the Cove. She can’t leave Taïga home alone for too long – the fact that her granddaughter was invisible to her magic efforts still troubles her so she mustn’t forget to discreetly ask around to see if someone has ever heard of loopholes in a location spell… She takes another sip, almost burning her tongue. She really has to go through her stock of medicinal herbs today. She hopes Augusta will be there, she’s got all kinds of unusual herbs in her inventory, and Granny would like to grow some wolfs bane. Just in case.
‘-have you bought enough sweets?
Granny looks up from her steaming cup of tea. ‘Sweets?’
‘Yes, Granny. It’s very important. It’s for the kids who’ll come trick and treating tomorrow night!’
‘Err… Yes, of course. Trick or treat.’ Granny had forgotten all about this commercial aspect of Halloween, or Samhain as she prefers calling it. Sweets… She has so much to prepare for tomorrow’s meeting and now she’ll have to go shopping this very morning.
‘And when shall we start decorating?’ Taïga asks.
‘Decorating? I think our house looks spooky enough as it is.’
Taïga frowns, she has never thought of the Cove as looking spooky. ‘We’ll have to decorate! Otherwise the other kids won’t come knocking for sweets.’
But that would be just perfect, Granny thinks. But she can’t let her grandchild down. Last year she taught Taïga how to carve pumpkins, the child could start on that while she goes to town for sweets.
‘We could use Mrs. Brown’s stuff in the basement,’ Taïga continues.
The old housekeeper was quite fond of traditions, so it seems logical that she had some Halloween decorations stocked away in the basement. Granny hardly noticed the holidays before Taïga came to stay. She used to spend the dark months in her study, only sporadically making an appearance for the principal meals. Mrs. Brown brought her a tray more often than not, as the old witch frequently forgot to feed.
Granny goes outside to fetch some pumpkins while Taïga does the dishes after breakfast. The huge vegetables are extremely heavy. Huffing and puffing, she struggles up the four steps to the porch carrying one of the bigger ones, her mouth a thin white line with the effort. She almost smashes it to pieces as it slips out of her hands when she tries to put it down without breaking her back. Leaning against the railing she looks out over her little garden, counting the pumpkins. She gives up at thirty-something, deciding to use magic. It’s not as if she was expecting company anyway.
Taïga comes rushing as soon as she’s finished her chores. Wide-eyed, she watches the heavy pumpkins float weightless in the air, dancing and bobbing in rhythm to Granny’s movements with her wand and singsong incantation. Ducking under the steady flow of bright orange balls, she catches her Grandmother’s warning glance. The pumpkins are moving quite slowly, but Taïga understands the danger of getting in the way. Being bumped by one of the 20 lbs (9 kg) pumpkins would surely knock her out cold.
Being a kid, she just has to touch them. It is too tempting. Cautiously she pushes one of them with her finger. It’s just like touching a balloon, it gets out of line but continues bobbing forward.
Laughing and dancing, she accompanies the pumpkins on their way up onto the porch. Joining Granny in the incantation, she sings the old words to the rhythm of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo, accelerating the flow and making the pumpkins dance higher. Granny can’t help smiling at the young girl’s enthusiasm, letting her take over the singing all together. Laughing they stop when the heap gets so big it reaches the roof.
‘There’s no way we’ll use as many pumpkins,’ Granny says thoughtfully.
Taïga nods. ‘I don’t think even Mrs. Brown would have known what to do with all these.’
Granny taps her chin. If the old housekeeper had still been among them to cook and do whatever she did with the abundance of Granny’s garden, she wouldn’t even have had to think about such trivia. ‘Why don’t we share with the townspeople? I’ll bring as many as possible into town when I go shopping for candy. Maybe I can dump them at the fair or somewhere else suitable…’
Taïga claps her hands. ‘That’s such a good idea. Shall we move them to the car now? Please.’
‘We’ll need the trailer, there’s surely not enough room in the backseat of the car.’
Together they move the pumpkins, and afterwards they go down to the basement to look for the Halloween decorations. They’re going through the three cardboard boxes they’ve found when the doorbell chimes. Granny is actually relieved to see the Vargas Brothers on the porch, eager to help out. She hands out not too sharp knives and some old newspapers for them to protect the wood on the porch from getting stained, and gestures towards the still impressive heap of pumpkins.
‘Go ahead – you can carve as many as you want!’
The kids settle on the porch and start carving Jack O’Lanterns. After all the pumpkins Taïga carved last year, she’s pretty good at it now. Their friendly talk gradually dies, leaving them concentrated, working on their masterpieces in companionable silence.
Granny watches them for a while, making sure they know how to handle the knives. Reassured, she leaves to buy the famous candy and get rid of their impressive stock of pumpkins…
Derek dries his knife against his jeans and stretches. ‘I’m done! Do you need any help?’
‘Yeah, I think my knife is stuck…’ Taïga grimaces, pulling at the handle.
‘Let me see…’ Swiftly he draws out the stuck knife. ‘We have to head home, Ted. I guess mom wants some pumpkins carved too.’
‘But I’m not done yet!’ Teddy protests.
‘Well, get a move on,’ he says impatiently, adding to Taïga, ‘She makes a decent pie, I’ll bring you some tomorrow, to you and your Grams.’
Taïga brushes away a strand of hair falling into her eyes, leaving a smear of orange on her forehead. Derek reaches out to brush it away, but stops with his hand in midair. Granny, who’s back from town and checking on the children’s progress, is irritably knocking on the window, interrupting him.
He smiles apologetically at the old lady over his shoulder, ‘We were just leaving, Mrs. Grey.’
But Granny ignores him, she can’t hear through the window anyway. Walking briskly over to the door, she flings it open and looks sternly at them all. Teddy swallows and swipes at a stain on his protective glasses, but only succeeds in smearing them even more.
Straightening her back, Granny clears her throat, ‘Lunch is soon ready. For all of you.’
She shuts the door behind her without waiting for an answer. And where did that come from? Why on earth did she invite them to lunch? Grumbling about her own stupidity, she retraces her steps back to the kitchen. She remembers Mrs. Brown talking about Spaghetti Bolognese; a kid’s favorite, which seems easy enough to swing together. At least it did when she absentmindedly listened to the old housekeeper rambling on about it…
But when she checks the freezer it’s deceivingly empty.
No meat… Of course. Mac and cheese?
But there’s no cheese neither.
Making do with what she finds in the cupboard, she thinks of the many ways there are to take care of the fruits and vegetables from her garden. Mrs. Brown made both jam and conserves apart from apparently deep freezing them. There are still some glass jars with exotic sounding names like ratatouille and pesto, which she grumbling mixes in a copper pan, tasting it now and then. Satisfied with the result, she calls the children in to have lunch: Spaghetti with veggie sauce à la Grande-mère. Voilà!
Granny is still struggling with the worldliness of household chores. Every day she discovers new things Mrs. Brown took care of. Not only the bills, decorating and cooking, but also cleaning and shopping. Which she herself did for the first time this morning, but, of course, she had not checked the fridge or the cupboards first so she only brought back the famous sweets. She realizes she has to make lists so not to forget anything…
The children are happily unaware of the trouble the old lady has gone through to make the simple veggie sauce. They dig into their plates appreciating the pasta as most kids do, wolfing down their portions without actually tasting it. Granny can’t help feeling pleased when they ask for second servings and gladly empties the pan to accommodate the ravenous youngsters.
She hasn’t thought of a dessert, though. But she found a recipe for pumpkin pie when she went through the cookbooks earlier, and after the success with her veggie sauce, she’s ready to give it a shot. There’s no reason for her to fail if she follows the detailed instructions in the margins about spices and such and there’s no shortage of pumpkins if she has to try more than once. So while Granny sets to work in the kitchen, the kids return outside to clean up after their carving.
As soon as the porch is reasonably clean and the carved pumpkins displayed in a happy array along the pathway to the house, the Vargas boys leave to help their mom get things ready for Halloween. Taïga looks after their departing figures, then she finishes her own handiwork. She can’t believe it’s been a whole year since she came to live with Granny and she’s so excited for tomorrow. It will be her first Halloween with friends her own age!
Granny sets off to her meeting with the North Coven early the next morning, leaving Taïga on her own at the Cove. The interesting day flies past, and it’s just before dusk when the old witch tears herself away from her friends to rapidly check on her granddaughter.
She parks the car, watching a couple of disguised kids on the porch. Seeing the dinosaur costume and the gangly height of the pirate, she recognizes the Vargas boys who have come to pick Taïga up. So early? She checks her watch, realizing how late it actually is.
Granny is relieved; like that she doesn’t have to linger at home, waiting for her granddaughter to leave. Now she can join the other witches at the cemetery to help with the preparations to get the expulsion of the Lemur done. She puts the car in gear, but thinks better of it. She’d better check that it really is the Vargas kids, not some wicked dwarves or leprechauns out to do their evil deed… It is Samhain after all, and there are some frightful creatures walking the streets tonight. Luckily she has cast a protection spell on her granddaughter. She probably should have included both Vargas boys, but whatever. They have parents to look after them, don’t they? She flings the car door shut behind her. Hard, just for the pleasure of seeing the kids jump and look her way.
The dinosaur looks expectantly at her as she walks up the path, ‘Trick or treat, Mrs. Grey?’
Granny mumbles an inaudible answer, heading for the bowl of sweets just inside the door. Better get this over with, so she can leave again.
‘Nice outfit Mrs. Grey! What are you? A witch?’ Derek asks, making Granny flinch.
She can’t wait to get rid of the nosy children at her door. ‘Go ahead Taïga, I still have some important matters to take care of, but I’ll put the sweets right outside for the children. Hurry up and leave now!’
‘But I have to change, Granny.’
Granny brushes her off with a wave of her hand. ‘Right. But do it quickly. I’ll wait here.’ She stays on the threshold, watching Derek and Teddy with her arms crossed. Teddy fidgets, glancing at the candy but the old lady’s stern posture is far from inviting. Better stay put until Taïga comes.
It doesn’t take long for the little girl to jump into her new costume and dash out again. Granny tut-tuts at the sight of her grandchild clumsily rushing downstairs in the ungainly, but cute, bumble bee outfit.
‘Be careful, dear child, and make sure to get home before nightfall.’
‘But… Granny! It’ll be more exciting after dark! All my friends are allowed to stay out at least until 9:00. Isn’t that true?’ She searches Derek and Teddy’s faces. Both boys nods solemnly.
Granny frowns. Will she be back before nine? Probably not. She gives in to her granddaughter’s pleas. ‘You can stay with your friends then, until they have to go home. But I want someone to accompany you. No walking the streets or the woods alone.’ She throws a meaningful glance at the boys who nod solemnly.
‘No worries, Mrs. Grey. We’ll walk her home.’
Satisfied, but still a little worried, she waves them off, trying to keep a straight face as she watches Teddy and her granddaughter struggle to get on their bikes with their awesome bulks.
Taïga has trouble keeping her balance, laughing so hard at herself and Teddy she almost falls off her bike. This is going to be so much fun!
They join some other kids in town, and start knocking on doors, giggling and holding out their baskets for candy. Most girls are fairies and princesses and the boys are fearsome monsters but Vilhelmina is a tiger and Felicity is dressed as a Disney dwarf complete with a thick brown beard. They catch up with them a bit further down Huckleberry Lane, outside a beautiful pink mansion. The two girls are bubbling with stories and eager to show Taïga everything.
‘It’s Zoe’s place!’ Vilhelmina says proudly.
‘And Zack’s. I hope their parents will let them out tonight,’ Felicity says, giving Vilhelmina a meaningful glance.
‘They’ve got the best candy in town, you see, but they are terribly strict with their kids,’ Vilhelmina informs Taïga as they walk up the well-kept lane. Taïga looks at the beautiful mansion and the immaculate garden. She’d love to live here, but what’s the point if you’re not allowed to have fun?
‘Who painted your face, Teddy? You look awesome!’ Felicity scratches her brown beard, inspecting Teddy’s uniformly green painted face as they wait for someone to answer the door.
‘Mum did! She’s good, huh!’ Teddy growls and claws at the air, trying his best to look terrifying.
Derek just grimaces at them, making his painted face seem hideous.
Felicity focuses on him for a brief moment. ‘And you – I wouldn’t have recognized you, wasn’t it for your eyes! But I think you should have worn a pirate hat, though.’ She squints at the shock of black hair escaping from his bandanna. ‘Is all that hair real?’ She reaches out but Derek dodges her hand.
‘Hey, do I ask about your beard!?!’
The door opens on Mr. and Mrs. Durwood. Zoe and Zack are hovering in the background, and Taïga can hear her classmate trying to convince their mother to let them go trick or treating with the other kids. Zoe, wearing purple astronaut gear, is giggling trying to recognize her disguised friends.
Felicity was right, the Durwood’s won’t let their kids out before Vilhelmina’s older brother, Waylon, who’s carrying little two-year old Gator around on his first Halloween, promises to stay with the younger kids and keep an eye on them. Zoe is overjoyed to finally be let out, thanking Waylon profusely as they continue down the street. Zack insists that it was all thanks to him, but his twin sister shuts him up, claiming that he would need real superpowers to accomplish such a task, not just only a stupid costume! Zack is miffed, but follows the little group as they all continue running from door to door collecting candy. Taïga is amazed at the sheer quantity of sweets, chewing gum and chocolate that find the way into her basket. At this pace, they’ll soon have enough candy to open a store!
Waylon is constantly checking his watch, eager to join his teen friends. They finally head towards the MacDuff’s old Victorian home by the river where Faith and her fearsome brothers are waiting. James and Joe are sitting motionless on rocking chairs by the door, feigning to be creepy decorations and scaring the hell out of any kid venturing onto the porch. They let their little sister and her friends get as far as ringing the bell, waiting for their reaction when their father answers the door.
It opens on a funny bunny and a dreadful monster.
‘Trick or treat, Mr. MacDuff!?!’ they yell in unison, holding their bags forward.
Little Gator screams of fright, letting go of his basket as he tries to crawl away but Felicity stops him, laughing, ‘Don’t be afraid, he’ll give you candy… Look! A bunny!’ She points at her pregnant mother, dressed up as an oversized pink rabbit.
All the kids help picking up Gator’s candy, putting it back into his basket, but, thumb firmly stuck in his mouth, he holds on to Felicity’s coat, keeping a watchful eye on the candy giving monster. He refuses the candy offered, not even wanting to hold his basket anymore. Shrinking back, he watches with curiosity the huge pregnant bunny jumping around making grimaces and funny noises…
Serena Wilkins and her BFF have also arrived. Knocking on doors being too childish, they don’t even have any baskets, counting on getting their share of candy from the other kids.
Zoe hates their guts and unwillingly lets the uppity princesses have some of her hard earned sweets. Serena takes a handful but freezes when she sets eye on something far more interesting than candy. With fierce resolution and a lame excuse she picks up her sheer pink ball gown, leaving her friend ransacking poor Zoe’s candy basket. Princess-like she strides over to Derek, making a big show out of batting her eyelashes and fluffing her hair in her attempt to catch his attention.
She doesn’t have the time to say much before superhero Zack is coming over, trying to be interesting.
‘Wow, you’re pretty my princess. Are they real flowers?’
It might not be such a clever move touching her elaborate hairdo, though, even if the gesture is accompanied by compliments.
‘Why don’t you eff off, Zach. Go and play with the other kids,’ she says, shrinking away from his touch.
‘Hey, no need to be rude.’
Turning her back on the annoying boy she purrs, ‘Why don’t we have a sleepover at my place?’
She’s actually talking to Derek, but Zack picks up the proposition, hollering it out to everyone. ‘Hey, guys! Sleepover at Serena’s tonight!’
The proposition is too great to be ignored and is answered by yelling and whooping, putting Serena in a position where she can’t refuse without losing her face.
The fuming girl is surrounded by excited children suggesting activities. Finally she puts an end to the commotion deciding they should bring their candy and watch horror movies.
Serena is seething, but at least Derek will be there, and she’ll corner him at one moment or another. He can’t seriously be interested in a kid dressed up as a fat bumblebee, can he? No, definitely not. With a wave of her hand, she motions for her suite to follow her, turning her back on Derek and Taïga who head in the opposite direction to pick up their bikes from the ditch were they left them.
The MacDuff residence is situated on the outskirts of town, so it’s logically the last stop for all trick or treating kids. The teens wait for the last of them to disappear, before taking off too. Waylon has forgotten all about looking after Zoe and Zack, too excited to go to the Halloween ball at their High School. But first they’ll drop little Gator off…
Taïga struggles hard to keep Derek’s pace. Her little pumpkin bag with candy is swinging from the handle bars and threatening to tip over at every pothole in the road.
‘C’mon Taïga. We don’t have all night!’
Derek washes quickly off his mask in the kitchen while she runs up to her room, throwing her PJ’s in her school rucksack together with all the candy. She hesitates before slipping out of her costume and into her old jeans and a sweater. She’s had enough of stumbling around not seeing her feet.
Derek is waiting for her outside, his face still wet and the cap he forgot the other day replacing the bandanna.
‘There’s no way I can carry the sleeping bag too,’ she huffs, laden with stuff.
‘No worries, I’ll take it.’ Derek slings her backpack over his shoulder, fastening the sleeping bag on his bike. ‘Did you tell your Grams?’
‘No, she’s away the whole evening. But I left a note…’ she nods towards the door.
‘Here,’ he fishes out his cell from his pocket, ‘text her…’
‘Are you crazy? Granny with a cell?’
Derek grins, ‘You’re right. She’s probably more at ease with a messenger pigeon!’
‘Aww. You’re mean, Derek!’
Bantering they leave the Cove…
Granny arrives not much later, exhausted after expelling the Lemur. She parks, but stays with her hands on the steering wheel, feeling too tired to get out of the car. They had found the remains of Constanza, sprinkled them with salt and burned them. It had all in all been trying, especially as the remains were not to be found in the graveyard, but in the crypt under the mausoleum, and it took five witches to hold the furious Lemur off while they did their grim deed.
With a sigh she exits the car, slamming the door shut behind her. She nods approvingly at the lighted pumpkins as she follows the festively lighted path towards the dark house.
A piece of paper is nailed to the door. She snatches it off, thinking it’s some kind of prank, but it’s only a message from Taïga, telling her she won’t be home tonight.
Sleepover at Serena’s!
Smiling to herself, Granny lets herself in. She’s not happy about the sleep over, but at least her granddaughter left a note. Now she can soak in a hot bath…
She stops on the threshold, sniffing. What is that smell?
At the same time as her brain registers the fire, she can see it. Running into the den, she racks her brain for an ice spell. But the flames are spreading too fast. Like malevolent tongues they are already licking the stack of wood and the mats in the vicinity of the blazing fireplace.
Suddenly she can hear the crackling of fire behind her as well. Granny is shocked to find the whole ground floor alight! The windows, the floor boards and the furniture are rapidly consumed by the roaring flames.
Bravely she strides into the inferno, reaching for her wand and chanting. But as soon as she puts out some of the flames it seems the fire is getting more intense, burning even more fiercely, somewhere else. She quickly realizes even magic is not enough to put an end to this blazing conflagration that hungrily tears away at the wooden structure of the Cove. Raising her eyes, she watches in horror the flames licking the ceiling. She can hear the fire roar upstairs…
Oh, no! It can’t be too late!
With a desperate scream she rushes towards the stairs. ‘OhMyGod. My Elixirs! And the spell books!’
The flames are snaking along the ramp and she hesitates. She needs to call the fire department. She retraces her steps towards the old Cove’s only telephone. Coughing, she covers her face with her long skirt and gropes through the thick smoke for the phone at the side table. Breathless she dials 911 before heading for the stairs once again.
Fighting the heat, she reaches the second floor. She must get up to the attic in time to save her treasured spell books and magic paraphernalia accumulated by her ancestors over the centuries. The fire gains intensity on the first floor, fueled by the wooden paneling and the stuffing in the old furniture. The second floor is also a blazing furnace and the devastating flames are soon spreading to the third floor as well. Within minutes almost the whole Cove is ablaze.
Granny hurriedly collects her most cherished items, tripping on the now hot floorboards and fumbling through the smoke for her things. Eyes burning, she can hear the windows downstairs crack and splinter through the deafening roar of the fire.
She opens the biggest of the many chest and empties it make room for the real valuables. The irreplaceable palantìr goes in first surrounded by scrolls to protect it, followed by her rarest ingredients, quickly folded in soft leather. Spell books and other items are thrown in until the wooden chest is so laden she can hardly close it.
Hastily she casts a spell on the heavy chest, sending it flying through the only window and away into the dark. She leans out into the night, filling her lungs with the chilly air, but she knows she can’t get out this way without getting hurt. If only she had had her broom, but she left it on the first floor, lost forever. With a last deep breath, she closes the window behind her, not wanting the flow of air to speed up the fire.
She tries to reach the stairs, but impossible, the shattered windows downstairs have fueled the fire even more and the heat is now too intense to dare an escape that way. Like a furious dragon it’s breathing in her face and she backs further into the attic, watching in horror as one of the heavy wooden rafters comes tumbling down.
Her last conscious thoughts are of her granddaughter, thanking the goddess for the sleepover party…
Taïga and Derek are on their way back to the Cove to pick up Taïga’s toothbrush when the wailing of sirens reaches them. Derek is still trying to persuade her to use tooth paste on a finger like he himself would have done and like he probably will do tonight by the way. The young girl refuses to listen to him, thinking about all the candy she’s already eaten and probably will eat before the night is over. Arguing, they are overtaken by the firetrucks. They have to jump off their bikes and retreat to the other side of the ditch to let the two huge engines enough room to manoeuver past them and onto the dirt track leading to the Cove. From the distance, they can see a pink halo over the treetops and thick smoke billowing into the dark skies, obstructing the thin crescent of the moon.
‘OMG! It must be the Cove!’ Taïga doesn’t hesitate. She jumps back onto her bike and starts pedaling after the wailing engines.
Taïga is not prepared for the vision of horror meeting them. The whole Cove is ablaze, fire reaching out of the windows on all floors, threatening the nearby trees and the garage. Firemen are rolling out hoses in all directions, spraying water on the garage roof and the surrounding trees, cutting some of them down with their “K-12” circular saws.
She jumps off her bike without stopping, sending it crashing into the bushes. She starts towards the house but is brutally stopped by a fireman grabbing her arm.
He pushes up his visor, looking sternly at her. ‘Are you the one called in the 911?’
Taïga shakes her head. ‘No. I just got here-’
‘You can’t play here, it’s dangerous,’ the fireman interrupts. ‘Go home!’
‘But I live here!’ Tugging at her arm she looks desperately at the firefighter, but he doesn’t let go.
‘Taïga! Wait!’ Derek jumps off his bike and shrugs off Taïga’s heavy backpack. The air is heavy with stinging smoke, and his eyes water from the sheer heat emanating from the burning house. He can’t hear anything but the fire, his senses totally useless in the vicinity of the blaze. He starts around the firetruck but gets almost run over by a team of yellow clad men carrying heavy water pipes.
‘Get out of the way, son!’
He stops and looks desperately around him. Where is she?
Firemen are running in every direction, shouting out orders and directives trying to get heard over the roar of the flames. Thick water hoses are laid out, pumping water from the little pond and making it hard to progress without stumbling. He can see her just a few feet away, struggling with a fireman.
Derek skids to a halt next to Taïga. ‘It’s all right, Sir. She lives here.’
The fireman looks him over. ‘And what about you? Do you live here?’
‘OK.’ He turns back towards Taïga. ‘I’ll let go of your arm now but I don’t want you to rush off towards the house. You understand? Is there someone else in there? Your parents? Siblings?’
Taïga shakes her head vigorously. ‘It’s just me and my grandma.’
‘Is your grandma at home right now?’
‘I don’t know. I… I don’t think so. I don’t know.’ She starts crying, ‘I… I… don’t know.’
‘If your grandma is in there, we’ll do all we can to get her out.’ The fireman’s radio crackles to life. He adds to Derek before answering, ‘Can you both just keep away so we can work here?’
Derek nods, protectively putting an arm around Taïga’s shoulder to steer her away. ‘We’ll wait over there, c’mon.’
‘We might have a victim trapped… third floor… Roger that…’ The fireman’s voice fades away as he hurries towards the other firetruck.
Taïga lets herself be guided across the dirt track and into the woods opposite the Cove. Derek is heading straight towards one of the numerous boulders, climbing up first and then helping the hiccupping young girl.
Halfway up Taïga stops and ventures a look behind her. She gasps at the sight, almost falling backwards. Derek reaches out and stabilizes her, keeping his arm around her, taking in the action only a few yards away. The two firetrucks’ lights compete with the flames and the brightly colored trees, creating a hellish vision in reds and yellows, black smoke darkening the sky even more.
Suddenly the activity is getting more intense as a firetruck with a turntable ladder is backing up, crushing the old wooden fence. The huge ladder is already swiveling towards the winter garden as it’s telescoping up. Taïga gasps as a firefighter starts climbing it, agile despite his heavy equipment. But the roof is now on fire and the ladder can’t be positioned safely. The firefighter guides his colleagues, trying to get as close as possible.
‘He can’t get down on the roof, he’ll fall right through,’ Taïga gasps.
‘I don’t think he’s doing that. He’s just trying to check the third floor window…’ Derek’s voice trails off. They can both see the man excitedly gesticulate towards the window to Granny’s study. He’s talking into a radio on his shoulder, gesturing for the truck to advance. Suddenly flames are shooting through the roof followed by an explosion and the whole roof seems to collapse.
The racket is intensified as several positive-pressure fans are actioned, blowing smoke and debris away. When the smoke clears again, the ladder is broken and the firefighter is gone. Derek thought the whole third floor had blown away, but only a portion of the roof has collapsed, leaving a huge gaping hole.
Taïga has turned her head towards Derek’s shoulder, sobbing. He pats her hair, mumbling reassuring words to calm her, even if the gas explosion terrified him, too. He tries to see through the smoke, but his eyes are burning from the intense heat and he can hardly make out the firefighters in full turn out gear with their pickhead axes getting ready to move in.
‘The smoke divers are getting ready,’ he mumbles, watching them pull down their Nomex hoods and tucking them in their yellow turnout jackets before hauling their heavy gear and fastening it on their backs. Geared up in their SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) they pair up, checking each other’s regulator hoses, calmly waiting for their colleague to break down the door with his pickhead axe.
The two kids are helplessly watching the Cove burn. ‘Where can Granny be?’ Taïga ventures. ‘What if she’s inside? What if she-’
‘Maybe she’s not even there. And if she is,’ Derek says, stressing if, ‘I bet they’ll save her…’ He coughs, the horrible acid stench of the fire is overwhelming his young werewolf senses and he’s feeling dizzy. Burrowing his nose in Taïga’s hair, he breathes in her reassuring smell. He can’t bear thinking about what would happen if her grams dies, about Taïga’s loss. First her mother abandons her, then Mrs. Brown passes away in an accident, and now her grandmother. He shudders, making Taïga worriedly look up at him. Maybe her grams isn’t inside that burning inferno. Maybe she’ll soon come knocking on his shoulder, icily asking him to let go of her granddaughter. He’ll never think badly about the austere old lady again…
Looking into Taïga’s huge green eyes, he knows in his heart that it won’t happen. He saw her grams’ car parked in front of the garage when he ran after Taïga. Luckily she didn’t see it, and at the moment it’s hidden from view behind one of the firetrucks. It’s far easier just reassuring the young girl, not having to handle her full-blown terror. Not yet, that is…
Taïga turns around in his arms, facing the fire. ‘They have been inside for a long time now, haven’t they?’
Derek just nods, unable to tear away his eyes from the drama in front of him. He thinks he saw something moving on the second floor, and is waiting for the smoke divers to reappear.
Over the next few minutes, the fire intensifies. Suddenly there’s more movement and the firefighters surrounding the building, busy drenching it in water, back away some and concentrate on the entrance.
Derek can hear the shouts to evacuate, and not long after the smoke divers exit the building, two by two’s, immediately taken care of by the medics waiting with a stretcher ready.
‘Why do they have a stretcher? Is it for Granny?’
‘I don’t know. It could be for their crew – it’s dangerous in there – the heat, the smoke… err… and they can fall through the floors and get trapped. Things like that.’ Derek speaks without taking his eyes off the fire. He wants to save people, too. Do good. Be a part of a team. He wants to be a firefighter, too.
The thought of the possibility of the firefighters getting hurt has never occurred to Taïga. They are there to save people, being injured in the process just seem so farfetched. But after the explosion she understands how heroic these men and women are. Putting their lives in danger to save others. Or just to save things. Suddenly she wants to tell them their house doesn’t matter. They mustn’t get hurt just to save their belongings. But they must save Granny. If she’s in there…
Suddenly there’s more movement by the door. A firefighter stumbles through the flames obstructing the doorway, carrying something – someone. He falls to his knees, holding on to his precious burden.
Realizing it is Granny, Taïga tears out of Derek’s arms with a scream. Startled by the violence of her reaction, he tries in vain to hold her back but his only choice is to run after her.
Taïga gets into the well-powered Advanced Life Support Ambulance with her grandmother. Terrified, she gets strapped in a seat in a corner where she watches the paramedics swiftly go about their business covering her grandmother’s face with an oxygen mask and setting up IV’s, all the while talking into a radio.
‘Ambulance 8768 to central.’
‘Central here. What have you got?’
‘An elder lady with second or third degree burns covering a large area of the face, hands and upper body, associated with a suspicion of carbon monoxide poisoning due to inhalation of smoke. She doesn’t respond to stimuli and her heartbeat is erratic. We’re giving her oxygen and- wait, err… oxycodone or morphine?’
The radio crackles something unintelligible, but the paramedic seem to get it, ‘Morphine? OK, copy that.
They are closing the double doors when Derek appears, coughing and with runny red eyes.
‘I’m sorry, son. Just family aboard.’ The paramedic adds, ‘Now, back away, please.’
‘I’ll wait for you at the ER-’
The doors slam shut, and the ambulance sets off with wailing sirens. The team is busy cutting up her grandmother’s burnt clothes so they can fix a cardiac monitor, which immediately starts beeping. Nobody takes any notice of the scared little girl in the corner, who holds on to her seat with white knuckles, keeping her gaze on her grandmother’s blistered face.
Part I – End of Chapter 17