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December 2019 - Writing Challenge

  • 14 Jan 2020 3:34 PM
    Reply # 8573399 on 8198534
    Gloria A. Gould-Loftin

    Fire fills the sky

    Red, yellow, blue, green

    My mind is set in motion

  • 24 Dec 2019 11:03 AM
    Reply # 8376021 on 8198534


    Steve waited for the fireworks show on his 22-foot cabin cruiser with his wife and five-year-old, who was trying mightily to stay awake. Before the birth of their child, they would have gone out on the town to celebrate New Year’s Eve rather than sitting on a boat in a chilly wind waiting for the midnight fireworks.

    Their boat was anchored close enough to George’s boat that they could carry on a conversation in a normal voice; they had all been friends since their high school days. George and his girlfriend were both drinking beers, but Steve stuck to hot coffee from a thermos to stave off the cold. They had come out early to anchor in a spot just beyond the buoys set out to mark a safety zone around the fireworks barge. There had been some rain squalls earlier, but luckily the sky had cleared in time for the show.

    A barge was used to shoot the fireworks over water for reasons of fire safety. The rockets were fitted on racks along the side of the barge so slanted that the flames would extend over the water, but the bulk of the fireworks consisted of mortar shells about six inches in diameter. Most of the paper-mâché spherical shells were filled with a black powder blasting charge in the center to scatter and ignite the chemicals that created the various colors, but some of the mortar shells were ‘reports’ stuffed entirely with black powder to make a loud boom.

    Three ‘powder-monkeys’ had set up the fireworks. When the show started, one would work the electrical board that controlled the timing of the rockets which were fired by electrical squibs. The other two workers would load and fire the muzzle-loading mortars by dropping a shell down the tube and lighting flammable fuses with butane lighters. Each mortar shell was propelled upward by a small cake of black powder fastened to the bottom of the round shell, and the mortars themselves were sections of steel tubing about a foot tall welded to a steel I-beam which formed the base.

    Then it was time. The fireworks lit up the sky as the particles of burning chemicals slowly fell into the river downstream. Spectators crowded the waterfront to ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ at the colored stars and the rockets streaking upward against the stars. Dozens of other small boats were scattered upstream of the fireworks barge, and they added to the spectacle with their running lights of different colors.

    Then one of the mortar shells misfired. Perhaps the charge had gotten a little damp from the earlier rain, but only enough black powder fired to barely propel the shell out of the end of the barrel, where it fell in the middle of the cardboard boxes of remaining shells. One of the workers picked up the shell to toss it safely in the water, but it exploded in the air just as it left his hand. The flaming chemicals scattered around the barge and set their clothes on fire.

    The explosion dazzled their vision, but the three men stumbled to the side of the barge and jumped in the water. Other fireworks exploded in a chain reaction. Rockets screamed off in all directions and exploding shells illuminated the scene in a hellish light. Loud explosions punctuated the hissing of rockets and burning chemicals.

    Steve heard other boat motors roar to life as people tried to get away from the scene. Making a split-second decision, Steve pulled on the line between the boats to pull them close together, and told his wife to get aboard George’s boat with their child.

    “What are you doing?” George yelled.

    “Get the hell out of here,” Steve replied. “I’m going to pick up the firework crew.”

    “I’m coming too,” George said. “Your wife can drive my boat.”

    They bumped into a buoy while slowly approaching the fiery maelstrom. Splashes alerted them to one of the men and the spotlight picked up his bobbing head. Steve carefully maneuvered toward the struggling man and George extended a boat hook to pull him close so he could climb aboard using the ladder.

    Multicolored burning particles were thrown high into the air by the exploding shells. A fiery green piece fell in the back of the boat and George used a fire extinguisher in an attempt to put it out, but it continued to burn. He used the extinguisher’s nozzle to nudge it into a cup that he then threw overboard.

    Then they spotted another struggling swimmer and headed in his direction. Steve idled the motor and went back to help George pull the man over the gunwale. The first man they had rescued was no help because he laid sprawled out on the deck nearly unconscious with shock.

    Flames from the barge helped illuminate the scene and they continued to shine the light on the water, but didn’t see any sign of the third man. Most of the fireworks had already burned out but the barge itself was on fire.

    A boat with a revolving blue light nearly rammed into them. One of the Coasties used a boat hook to pull the two boats together, and the crew transferred the injured men to the Coastguard boat. The crew’s rescue swimmer stayed with Steve and George to look for the third man while the Coastguard boat roared off to a spot on the other side of the river where there was a field large enough for a helicopter to land.

    “Look here,” said the Coastie while pointing to the bow cowling where a burning particle had melted a hole in the deck. “That could have set fire to the fiberglass.”

    “Thanks for pointing that out,” Steve said with a lump in his throat as the extent of the danger hit home.

    “No,” the Coastie said while extending his hand. “Thank you for rescuing those men.”

    Last modified: 02 Jan 2020 10:38 AM | Michael Worthington
  • 06 Dec 2019 5:05 PM
    Message # 8198534
    Kimberly Riggs (Administrator)

    Share your story or poem in one-thousand or less words by uploading it here as a reply. All genres and levels of writing welcome!

    1 file
    Last modified: 06 Dec 2019 5:08 PM | Kimberly Riggs (Administrator)
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