‘Where does a child hide …?’

Today’s writing prompt and my response.

Use the prompt however you like, one at a time, or pen a short story over as many as you like.
‘Where does a child hide in a small town like this?’

‘You shouldn’t have shouted at him.’

I paused briefly in my hurried walk along the footpath to stare at my husband striding beside me. I was furious. And uneasy. It wasn’t normal for Andrew to shout, or even to be angry.

‘He wouldn’t listen to me.’ He was truculent, worse than the four-year-old could be.

‘Not an excuse.’ I returned to my walking, my target now in sight. Granny’s house. That was where he would have fled to.

‘When he was ready to burn the house down?’

‘You shouldn’t have left those matches out.’

We had discovered Timmy’s love of flames during the first of the power cuts which had affected our small town over the past month. Cuts which no one could explain, least of all the power company. They lasted from five minutes to several hours, and we had stocked up with a camping stove, candles, and, with winter approaching, a gas heater.

While we knew Timmy loved his birthday candles, we hadn’t understood the extent of his fascination with flames until we found him in the shadowy kitchen, holding one of our emergency lights. He turned it, tipped it this way and that – dripping wax on the kitchen counter – giggling. I had been gentle, telling him no, it was dangerous, he could burn himself.

That had given him pause, but perhaps I shouldn’t have pointed out the next problem: that he could accidentally set the kitchen on fire. I chose to ignore the gleam in his eyes, which wasn’t from the reflected flame.

We kept the candles on a high shelf, when lit, and the matches in a tall cupboard. But we had forgotten to put them away after yesterday’s blackout. Timmy had been in bed when it happened; we were both exhausted from long, stressful work days, and too groggily tired to be mindful.

We reached my mother’s door. I knocked, opened it, called out.

Mum called from the kitchen for us to come in, and down the hall we went, me in the lead. She was sitting in her dressing gown at the kitchen table, tea and toast before her.

‘Getting my cuppa in before the next cut.’ She smiled, held the mug up. Spotting Andrew behind me, she set the mug down, frowning. ‘What’s happening?’ She peered around the two of us. ‘Where’s Timmy.’ Her hands went to her chest. ‘Is he okay?’

‘We don’t know, Norah.’

‘We expected him to be here.’

‘No.’ Her face was white. ‘You’ve lost him?’

‘He ran off after Andrew shouted at him–’

‘He was about to burn the bloody house down!’

‘I assumed he’d come here.’

‘No. Dear God, where would he have gone?’

‘He’s hiding,’ I said, glaring at my husband. ‘Scared of being punished.’

Andrew exhaled. ‘So now we have to think, where does a child hide in a small town like this?’

‘Somewhere,’ I said slowly, ‘he has a chance to see flames.’

We looked at each other, knowing we were both remembering the kindergarten visit to the local fire station. Timmy’s over enthusiastic babbling afterwards had been all about the huge flames on the big tower and how the firemen had to hose it all down, and – he had shaken his head, sad – put the pretty fire out.  

We’d laughed at the time and suggested he might like to be a fireman when he grew up.

‘Let’s go,’ I said to Andrew. And to Mum. ‘Call the fire station, ask them to search there for a four-year-old.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘He’ll be near the training tower.’

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3 thoughts on “‘Where does a child hide …?’”

  1. Simon woke to the comforting sound of far off waves crashing on the shore. The house was not near the beach but one could still hear the rolling surf if the wind was blowing from the right direction.
    This morning, the waves were louder than ever – pounding the sand mercilessly before receding out to sea, only to be swept in again as the tide turned.
    Simon loved the sea, which is why he had bought the house. Beachside homes in the area were far too expensive for a man on a modest freelance journalist’s income – but he could afford a three-bedroom home within hearing distance of the surf.
    His wife Elaine felt the same way and they had so far spent three happy years bringing up their two small children and getting to know people in the neighbourhood.
    It was an idyllic life – regularly filing stories for several magazines and newspapers while still being able to spend lots of time with Elaine and the children in a relaxed almost village-like setting that he felt was ideal for raising children.
    After he emerged from the bathroom showered and shaved, Simon’s thoughts turned to the day’s events.
    First on the agenda after a breakfast of cereal and toast was driving the kids to the local primary school.
    Jack, the eldest, was in Grade 4 – while his younger sister Phoebe was busy working her way through Grade 2.
    They both loved their school and each morning couldn’t wait to jump in the car for the relatively short ride to their classrooms.
    The teachers were happy with their progress and they certainly were among the top half of students for academic results.
    Sport was another matter. Jack tried hard to keep up with his classmates at various sports but seemed to lack their ability to catch a ball or master any of the other skills required to be successful at cricket, tennis or football – the main activities on which the school concentrated.
    Phoebe appeared to have no such trouble, even though she was two years younger than Jack. Physical activity came easily to her and, when it came to lunchtime games, she was one of the most popular in the class.
    Simon practised relentlessly with Jack, hoping for some improvement. But, however hard he tried, Jack just couldn’t seem to master the motor skills needed to be successful.
    By the time they left the house for the journey to school, the wind had become much stronger and Simon had to be careful of falling tree branches and other flying missiles as he slowly picked his way along the road.
    “Looks like a big storm is coming,” he said to the kids who were busy having a tickling match in the back seat.
    “Sit still,” Simon commanded. “You’ll make me run off the road. It’s hard to concentrate with all this debris flying around.”
    Jack and Phoebe stopped their game.
    “Lookout, Dad,” Jack yelled out just as a giant branch came flying through the windscreen.
    With an awful screech of tyres and almighty tearing of metal, the car veered off the road and crumpled into a ditch.


    “Where does a child hide from a terrible storm like this,” thought Jack, as he crawled from the wreck and looked back at the remains of the car.
    His father was still in the front seat, unconscious, blood pouring from a head wound probably caused by the destructive branch.
    Phoebe was trapped in her car seat and, when he called out to her, did not respond.
    “Help!” screamed Jack, as he rushed up to the road to flag down the first passing car.
    The raging wind had become considerably stronger and not many people appeared to be out and about.
    “Please, somebody, help!” he screamed again.
    “What are you doing out here in this terrible storm?” a reassuring voice came from the gloom.
    Jack could just make out the figure of a man bent double against the wind moving towards him.
    “Please mister, my dad and my sister are trapped in that car,” he said. “I think they might be dead.”
    Both the man and Jack moved to the car. Tall and strong, he managed to prise the driver’s door open and pull Jack’s father free.
    The head wound looked nasty and Simon’s complexion was pale as they lay him on the ground.
    “He needs a doctor,” the man said. “And urgently,” as he reached for his mobile phone.
    Once the emergency call had been made, the man returned to the car and, climbing precariously into the back seat, managed to extricate Phoebe who was still unconscious.
    “She doesn’t look too good, either,” he muttered.
    Just then the sound of sirens could be heard, approaching rapidly.
    Jack watched, trembling and in shock, as his father and sister were treated for their wounds before being loaded into the ambulance.
    Another paramedic threw a blanket around Jack as he sat shivering on the ground, mumbling incoherently.
    “Don’t worry,” he said reassuringly. “Your father and sister will be fine. We are taking you all to the hospital and your mother will meet us there. It’ll all be ok.”
    Jack was not so sure but was too traumatised to say anything.

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