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"Blaze/Bear" by Emiliano Gomez


By midnight that year, California had lost 6 million acres. Fire also wants to live. Ember hails and stories of wisps-cum-whips: San Fernando, Rosa, Barbara, Francisco. Only white hillbillies thought themselves impervious. Can't happen here. Wrong, dead wrong. Night gusts rip roots. Caught in hurricanic winds, foothill oaks twist. White flash. Jon is up playing XBOX. Their neighbor's roof ablaze, a wall of fire across the street, chunks of tree smoldering about, hillsides seared like burnt bones, Jon smells smoke. Jon wakes Bob. Immediate alert. Calm rage. Get up. Get up. Jen, now. Daisy is carried to a car. At the porch, Jon drops keys. Gate closed. Broken open. Visibility at arm's length. Fire needs to eat. All-you-can-devour chaparral. Bob lets the pigs loose. Gives them a chance. They screech, sounds, smells, siteless. Raining Hellfire. Hell in a land casket. Curlicues alight. Torches leading down, down. Squeals haunt. Branches obliterate as they burst. Jen nears the rendezvous, Carl's Jr. at the edge of town. A survivor shakes, up down paces. Did everybody make it? Then everythings o.k. okay? Daisy kisses the just homeless. They were right behind me, Jen thinks. Jen calls 911. Fire? What fire? Rubber melting along the road. Horrific silhouettes: cherry cheekbones, stove top noses, burn mark necks. Snowflake cinders. Fire burns to breathe. She divines the cause, PG&E, line snap-cum-electric tsunami, copper spark-cum-crackle wall. Slobbish corporate undersight. Autumn oak frags. Bursts of furious scarlet. They were right behind. Back at home, Bob bellows. Jan snatches their deed and proof of medical insurance, exits into the moonlit ash. Jon on all fours, coughing pocked, scours. Fumes consume. Amber flares multiply. Snap. Explode. Expand.


Bruised indigo dawns; golden braids peek and scatter burnt nougat shadow. AM radio hazy: containment underway, successful; extensive damage. Late night ham radio had said: by morning or morning after next those with homes left will be able to be back. Jan's hand rests on Bob's trunk, not for comfort but from habit. Distant smoke, nondescript as a chimney. Sud denly, chaparral gives to char. Awful rolling hills of ash. Century-old oaks noir poles pulse ruby. Bob passes Lone Tree Way, palpitates, turns onto Loop Road. In a sea of ash, firefighters expel pressurized HO, extinguish flaming heaps, hushes burst like last breaths, and big red trucks are parked on their property. Their whole home butts up the foothill, unbothered, like a fire, what fire? Scorched Earth stops at the dirt bike perimeter. Bob searches his acreage for more hap. Tracks scatter about. Webs of hooves. Paws. As Bob clomps to the pig pen, gray puffs. Smells of branded flesh and fear shits smack. And. Milk. Ensconced beneath their mother's teat, fawn nuzzle, this doe, whose head perks up as Bob backs away, calm. To turn to see the front door ripped jagged off, claws slashed down each side. Fridge door, too. Food strewn, streusel, leftovers, eggs. Paws of ash and dirt lead to his California King. Lift the sofa. Load the shotgun. Creep forward. Cinammon brown ursus americanus—baribal—black bear—snoring like a babe. His dad ran him out of the house at 18. He could smell danger a foot away. He recalls Jen and Jon wrapped in his biceps, on his belly, breathing slow. He does what he didn't think he'd do. Wanton, his feelings seem. Not with fear, he creeps forward. He's seen men do awful things. Ursus raises its paws up and stretches to the sky and lets out the most paradisiacal yawn.

Emiliano Gomez was born in Marysville, a Gold Rush town. He attends the MFA at Notre Dame.

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